Best Reef Tank of 2021 Reviewed and Compared

Some of the most unique and brightly colored fish you can imagine come from coral reefs such as the aptly named Queen Angelfish and majestic Mandarin fish.

But if you’re not lucky enough to live near any coastal areas like the Bahamas or Florida Keys to view these species in their natural habitat, a reef tank is your next best bet.

However, there’s a lot you need to consider when selecting a reef tank…

As this enclosure will be home to live fish, you need it to be sturdy and durable. The worst thing you’d want is it leaking or breaking!

I’ve had this happen to me once many years ago due to a poor-quality aquarium, and it was a nightmare. Not only was the water a pain to clean up, but I lost a few of my fish in the process.

Here I’ll be looking at the best reef tanks to make sure you don’t find yourself in a similar situation.

Best from the review

Top Pick

Top Pick

Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank

A great looking tank that’s the ideal size for small apartments. It comes with almost everything you need to start a reef tank.

Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank

If you’re after a stylish but practical reef tank, my top pick is the Fluval Sea Evo V due to its superb quality and the variety of useful accessories it comes with, including a filter and LED light.

Best Value

Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium

A great looking tank that’s the ideal size for small apartments. It comes with almost everything you need to start a reef tank.

Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium

The Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium is a stunning yet affordable reef tank. Its superior construction shows you can have a high-quality product without emptying out your bank account.

Editor’s Choice

Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium

A nano aquarium with a stylish rounded design that includes all the equipment you need to start keeping saltwater fish.

Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium

In my personal opinion one of the best nano reef tank kits you can buy is the Coralife LED Biocube. This gorgeous rounded tank kit provides you with most of the supplies you need to begin your marine journey.

Top 6 Reef Tanks

Top Pick

Fluval Sea Evo V

A great looking tank that’s the ideal size for small apartments. It comes with almost everything you need to start a reef tank.

Fluval Sea Evo V

Personally, I think one of the best reef tanks is the Fluval Sea Evo V – not just because it looks great, but because it works great too thanks to its sturdy construction.

This nano reef aquarium can hold up to 13.5 gallons, so it’s a decent capacity for some saltwater species and corals.

While 13.5 gallons is considered nano (small), it’s still suitable for fish like the Yellow Clown Goby, Yellowtail Damselfish, and Ocellaris Clownfish.

Size

Additionally, it’s the ideal size for a small apartment or house as it can fit on a desk or kitchen counter. This would be perfect for helping you relax while you’re working or cooking dinner.

The reef aquarium comes with almost everything you need for keeping marine species, including a 3-stage filtration system with oversized filter medium and a bright 14000K LED light. The light is powerful enough for many types of corals, helping with growth, color, and conditioning.

Lighting

You can easily switch between day and night illumination just by touching the light, which is a handy feature. The lamp has an aluminum waterproof casing to increase the durability of the LEDs.

Another convenient aspect of the Fluval Evo V is the easy-feed door on the canopy, allowing you to feed your marine creatures without needing to get your hands wet.

My only real complaint with this nano reef tank kit is that the light can break after a short period of use (occasionally after 3 months). The filter might also be a bit weak for some species of fish, especially those with large bioloads.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 23.4” x 13.5” x 15.6”
  • Weight: 26.7 lbs
  • Material: Glass
  • Capacity: 13.5 Gallons

Pros

  • Ideal size for a small spaces like a desktop
  • Comes with a three-stage filtration system
  • Includes a powerful lighting system
  • Easy-feed door and canopy

Cons

  • Light can suffer from durability issues
  • Filter can lack power

Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium

A budget-friendly tank with a sleek design that has a lot of great features.

Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium

If you need a quality but budget-friendly nano reef tank, the Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium is a solid pick.

The tank has a rimless design with invisible glue joints, giving it a polished finish.

Accessories

You get a few accessories with this nano reef tank like a built-in filter with a silent submersible pump, bottom insulation, top drain, and filter media. This is almost enough to get started, barring a few extra purchases such as substrate and, most importantly, livestock!

I really like that the tank includes a built-in filter as it means you don’t need to purchase one separately, saving you time and money.

Design

My favorite aspect of the Lifegard Crystal Aquarium is its striking appearance. It’s made out of low iron glass to make it look crystal clear.

While clear glass is perfectly fine for an aquarium, low-iron glass is more aesthetically pleasing as it doesn’t have a green tint. It can really bring the “wow” factor to your reef tank.

Filter and Pump

I think this tank is excellent value for money and has a lot of great features, but the quality of its filter and pump is a little poor.

I’d advise purchasing a separate filter and pump just to be on the safe side – the worst you’d want is either of these two devices malfunctioning.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 18” x 12 x 12”
  • Weight: 20 lbs
  • Material: Reduced Iron Glass
  • Capacity: 9.98 Gallons

Pros

  • Stunning design
  • Comes with mechanical, chemical, and biological filter media
  • Includes a filter, quiet pump, and a few other extras

Cons

  • Quality of the filter and pump isn’t the best

Editor’s Choice

Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium

A nano aquarium with a stylish rounded design that includes all the equipment you need to start keeping saltwater fish.

Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium

If you can afford to spend a bit more on a reef fish tank, the Coralife LED Biocube is worth considering as it includes all the equipment you need for keeping saltwater species in just one kit.

Design

The reef kit has a rounded edge design that looks sleek and stylish. It’s sure to be a real focal point of any room it’s placed in! With a water volume of 32 gallons, this coral reef aquarium kit is a great size for many marine fish and corals.

I think a couple of Ocellaris Clownfish would look spectacular in this aquarium, complete with some live rock, corals, and plants!

Accessories

You get a huge range of accessories with the LED Biocube Starter Kit such as an aquarium hood with a hinge-top design, integrated LED lighting system, submersible pump, dual intakes, and filter.

The LED light has an integrated 24-hour timer that allows you to control the 3 independent light channels: bright white, sparkling blue, and color enhancing. All these options let you select the perfect mood and ambience.

Light Settings

Another feature I like about the light is it has an automatic 30-minute sunrise/sunset and 60-minute moonrise/moonset function. This gives your aquatic pets a natural night and day cycle to provide them with a more organic habitat.

The filter included with the kit is built into the back of the aquarium, making it less visible. It’s relatively easy to set up too – you can basically plug and play!

Filter

Unfortunately, the included filter with the Coralife LED Biocube can have a couple of issues. Firstly, it can be a bit difficult to clean due to it being built into the back of the fish tank. And secondly, the return pump is a bit noisy and cannot be adjusted to a higher or lower flow.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 27.5” x 25.5” x 27”
  • Weight: 56 lbs
  • Material: Glass
  • Capacity: 32 Gallons

Pros

  • Great saltwater aquarium starter kit – comes with everything you need!
  • LED system has several lighting channels and a 24-hour timer
  • Filter is built into the back of the tank to save on space
  • Attractive rounded design

Cons

  • Filter can be hard to clean
  • Return pump can lack power and be a little noisy

SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquariums Complete Package

This tank comes with basic essentials for fishkeeping and has a rimless design, that gives it a refined and smooth appearance.

SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquariums Complete Package

Next up is the SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium Kit, which provides you with the basic essentials for marine animals. The tank itself sports a rimless design, giving it a refined and smooth appearance.

Size

It has a water volume of 50 gallons, so you have a wide range of stocking choices. You could keep some small species like gobies and blennies, or even some larger species like the Tomini Tang.

Accessories

You get a protein skimmer, return pump, sump, and cabinet with this reef aquarium kit, so you have practically all the equipment you need to start keeping marine species.

I particularly like the cabinet the kit comes with as it’s well-built and spacious.

As someone whose house is filled to the brim with aquarium supplies, a roomy cabinet like this one would come in handy. It would definitely make my home look less cluttered.

Setup

The only downsides of the SCA Starfire Glass Aquarium Kit are its fiddly setup (mostly because some parts are a bit hard to slot into place) and mediocre circulation pump.

You could replace the pump with a higher quality unit, so I don’t think it’s a huge concern for an otherwise great marine aquarium kit.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 24” x 24” x 20”
  • Product Weight: Not Specified
  • Material: Glass
  • Capacity: 50 Gallons

Pros

  • Stylish rimless design
  • 50-gallon capacity – ideal for an array of saltwater fish species!
  • Includes a variety of aquarium supplies, like a protein skimmer, sump, and pump
  • Comes with a spacious cabinet

Cons

  • Setup can be a bit fiddly
  • Pump isn’t the best quality

GankPike 8-Gallon Saltwater Aquarium

A tank that includes everything you need to get started. It also has a beautiful curved design that allows you to view the tank from all angles.

GankPike 8-Gallon Saltwater Aquarium

Another excellent nano reef tank is the GankPike 8-Gallon Aquarium, boasting a curved design so you can view the tank clearly from all angles – All you need to do is fill the tank with fish and you’re ready to go!

Features

The tank is equipped with mechanical and biochemical filter medium, an adjustable pump, and a protein skimmer for pristine water quality.

There’s a built-in filtration area at the back which gives the aquarium a tidy appearance and saves on space.

Alongside a filter, the saltwater tank comes with a heater, LCD digital thermometer, lid, and even an LED light. As you can see, you get a lot of supplies for your money.

LED

The LED light included with the GankPike nano aquarium kit features 3 color modes with 5 dimming levels. There’s also an auto-off timer so you don’t have to manually switch your LED lights on or off.

While the capacity of this fish tank is a little small, I still think it’s a decent option for beginners as it includes all the tools and equipment you need to start a marine tank.

Stocking Options

Some small species like the Neon Blue Goby (any dwarf pygmy gobies would work) or Anemone Shrimp would be my preferred stocking choices for a tank this size.

However, some of the accessories included with this nano reef tank are a little lacking in terms of quality, particularly the protein skimmer.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 13.8” x 11.8” x 11.8”
  • Weight: 12.87 lbs
  • Material: Glass, Acrylic
  • Capacity: 8 Gallons

Pros

  • Great nano tank kit for beginners
  • Comes with a filter, protein skimmer, LED lights, and more
  • Appealing curved design

Cons

  • Some of the included accessories don’t work as well as they should

Fluval Spec Aquarium Kit

A durable tank that features led lights good enough for fish and most live plants.

Fluval Spec Aquarium Kit

Last but not least is the Fluval Spec Aquarium Kit, featuring a striking etched glass design with a smooth aluminum trim. I really like Fluval products as they’re built to last, which is why the Fluval Spec isn’t the only Fluval aquarium in this list!

Features

The kit includes a 37 LED light which has a 7000 K color temperature. Although the light might be a bit insufficient for growing corals, it’s plenty powerful enough for fish and most live plants. If you want to house corals in this tank, you could purchase a more suitable light separately.

Filter

There’s a built-in filter on the side of the nano tank that has a pump output of 55 to 88 GPH, so it should have no trouble keeping your water clean.

The filter is also equipped with BioMax bio rings, activated carbon, and a foam block to maintain superb water quality.

My only gripe with the Fluval Spec Aquarium is that the filter chamber can be a bit hard to clean.

Specs

  • Dimensions: 20.5” x 7.5” x 11.6”
  • Weight: 13.9”
  • Material: Glass
  • Capacity: 5 Gallons

Pros

  • Stunning etched design with an aluminum trim
  • Provides you with LED lighting, filter, and filter media
  • Powerful pump keeps your reef tank water clear and clean

Cons

  • Filter chamber can be hard to clean

What Is a Reef Tank?

Reef Tank
Reef Tank

A reef tank primarily houses invertebrates, corals, and fish that play a part in keeping coral reefs healthy.

Not all saltwater invertebrates and fish are reef-safe, which is why you need to do your research when selecting appropriate tankmates for this type of setup.

Things to Consider

Price

Aquariums can be pricey, especially those with large capacities. If you need a budget-friendly tank, a nano aquarium might be a better option.

While stocking choices will be limited in nano tanks, they can still look as striking as large tanks with a bit of creative aquascaping

Maintenance

Additionally, nano tanks are easier to maintain on account of them being smaller. You won’t have to perform huge water changes or care for as many aquatic creatures.

Marine species are usually quite costly, so a smaller tank means you won’t have to spend as much money to achieve a lively, full aquarium.

Furthermore, operation and maintenance costs will be cheaper as equipment like your lights won’t require as much power or resources to run.

Quality

Quality is a crucial factor when selecting a marine tank. It needs to be sturdy and durable as it will be home to corals, marine life, and plants.

Coming home to a leaking tank is sure to be a nightmare, especially as corals and marine fish are often pricey.

The materials need to be able to withstand the weight of water, fish, corals, aquarium equipment, substrate, and any other decor.

Material

Empty Aquarium
Empty Aquarium

Aquariums are usually made out of glass or acrylic. While both are equally strong, they each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Glass is a little clearer than acrylic, so you’ll be able to see your tank’s inhabitants better. It’s also more resistant to scratches from an aesthetics standpoint.

Saltwater aquariums made out of acrylic, however, are lighter and more impact resistant. If you accidentally drop something against an acrylic aquarium, it’s less likely to crack or break.

Type of Reef Tank

Next you’ll need to consider the type of marine aquarium you want to set up. Reef aquariums are split into 3 basic categories: soft coral aquariums, traditional reef tanks, and FOWLR aquariums.

I’ll go into more detail about each type a little later, so be sure to stick around!

Maintenance and Size

Reef aquariums require more time and effort to maintain than freshwater or coldwater tanks. Corals need optimal lighting, food, water movement, and pristine water quality to survive in an aquarium.

Marine invertebrates and fish can also have specific diets that require a bit more work than simply throwing in some fish flakes and calling it a day.

A minor slipup can have disastrous consequences on your aquarium. Nano reef tanks are less time-consuming to care for as water changes are smaller and there are less marine animals to look after.

Smaller Setups

However, in smaller aquariums, there is little room for mistakes due to there being less water.

You’ll need to be diligent in your maintenance routine.

A minor fluctuation in water parameters or temperature will have a greater effect on a nano tank than on a large aquarium.

Protein skimmers are helpful in marine setups as they assist with water quality by helping your filtering unit run more efficiently.

Protein skimmers are particularly beneficial in big aquariums such as a 75-gallon tank that houses large species and invertebrates.

Types of Reef Tanks

Yellow Tangs in a Reef Tank
Yellow Tangs in a Reef Tank

FOWLR

FOWLR setups contain no corals, just fish and live rock.

The addition of rock gives the aquarium depth, providing your aquatic pets with plenty of rocky structures to explore.

Personally, I think nano aquariums work well with FOWLR setups. Although corals can be kept in smaller tanks, maintaining a stable water chemistry can be difficult.

Soft Coral Reef

Soft coral reef aquariums focus on (yep, you guessed it!) soft corals like mushroom corals and polyp rock.

Compared to stony corals, soft corals are easier to care for as they are less sensitive to water parameters.

Traditional Saltwater Aquarium

Traditional reef tanks are usually home to different types of stony corals.

Compared to soft corals, stony corals are harder to care for as they are highly sensitive to water parameters and light intensity.

They also need supplements such as magnesium, calcium, and iodine to aid with growth.

Here’s a video that talks more about the types of reef aquarium

Beginner Guide To Saltwater Aquariums

FAQs

Why Is Lighting Important for Reef Aquariums?

As reef tanks normally contain live corals, lighting is important for ensuring their growth and survival. Corals require specific lighting conditions to survive, which is why they can be so challenging to keep.

It’s generally accepted that corals thrive best under a full spectrum of light that is heavier on blue hues.

NOTE

Additionally, proper lighting encourages the growth of algae, which is a food source for many marine creatures.

Are All Saltwater Fish Compatible with a Reef Tank?

Saltwater Fish
Saltwater Fish

Unfortunately, not all saltwater species are compatible with a reef tank.

The majority of saltwater fish will destroy corals and consume other tankmates.

When selecting fish for aquariums that house corals, invertebrates, and other marine fish, you’ll need to choose reef-safe species.

What Is the Best Temp for a Reef Tank?

Most reef tanks are kept at temperatures between 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Many marine creatures and corals do well at this temperature, though certain species may prefer lower or higher temperatures.

What Is the Best Salinity for a Reef Tank?

The best salinity levels for a reef tank are between 1.024 and 1.025. However, if your salinity levels are a little higher or lower than this range, there shouldn’t be any issues.

What Are the Best Fish for a Reef Tank?

The best fish for a reef tank is open to interpretation, but some species that are widely regarded as suitable tankmates in this type of aquarium include:

  • Neon Blue Goby
  • Clownfish
  • Mandarin Dragonette
  • Banggai Cardinal
  • Starry Blenny
  • Firefish
  • Yellow Tang

The size of your aquarium will need to be considered when choosing the best inhabitants for a marine tank – some species won’t thrive in a nano reef tank.

What Is the Best Lighting for a Reef Tank?

The best lighting for reef tanks depends on the coral types and plants it contains. That said, most corals need a full spectrum light that leans more on the blue side.

The light should output 3.5 watts per gallon of water for soft coral types and 4.5 watts per gallon of water for hard coral types.

Final Thoughts

Top Pick

Although all of the aquariums I’ve looked at have their highlights, I think the best nano reef tank is the Fluval Sea Evo V Saltwater Fish Tank.

It has a stunning design that feels high quality, so you don’t have to worry about it bursting or cracking.

The Fluval Evo 13.5-gallon tank also comes with a 3-stage filter, canopy, and LED lighting that’s strong enough for growing healthy corals. Whether you’re a beginner or veteran fishkeeper, it’s a great reef tank that’s sure to last you for many years to come.

Best on a Budget

If you’re looking for a more affordable reef aquarium, the Lifegard Aquatics Crystal Aquarium is my next best choice. Despite being relatively inexpensive, it’s well-designed and constructed out of superior materials – perfect for small marine species, and some live rock!

Editor’s Choice

My other recommendation is the Coralife LED Biocube Aquarium. If your budget allows it, this tank is worth considering as it comes with all the tools and equipment you need for keeping marine life. Its large capacity also opens up your stocking choices.

Share Your Thoughts!

I hope I helped you find the right reef tanks for your needs. Which one is your favorite? If you’re having trouble selecting tank mates or equipment for your new tank, take a look at some of our other aquarium-related guides.

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Mollie Newton
Mollie Newton
Founder of PetMeTwice. I love all types of animals from fish to fluff-balls! I also enjoy writing short stories and helping train animals 🤩