View Full Version : Coralife Calcium Reactor review

02-01-2008, 11:37 AM
Product: Calcium Reactor
Manufactorer: Coralife
Review Type: Initial Report
Overall Rating: NA

Inexpensive compared to competition, Small footprint

Pump underpowered and may need to be manually primed

In Depth:
Well I just finished installing my first calcium reactor yesterday morning. I've used kalkwasser and two-part solution for a few years, with great success. With my crazy SPS growth though I find that I'm having to dose more and more and I figured I might just give a Calcium reactors a try... as the thought of having things automated on that front is very appealing.

What is not appealing is the relative high startup cost for most calcium reactors. So, I bought a cost-effective setup from Sam at aquabuys. Yes it is a coralife. The bundle Sam sells includes a milwaukee CO2 regulator, milwaukee ph controller, ARM media, silicone tubing, and of course the coralife reactor. Including a 5# CO2 tank from some other site the total cost was about 350 for everything.

You know you've been in this hobby too long when dropping 350 for some tubes filled with sand and gas seems reasonable to you...

Anyways here's the starter kit:

Initial take: The plus side of this unit is that it has a small footprint. I was able to squeeze the CO2 tank and the reactor in my stand easily. My wife won't let any tank paraphernalia extend into the living room, so compact size is a must :). The downside though is that, instead of using a separate feed pump and circulating pump this unit just uses a small pump to do both. The problem with that is apparent in that the pump does neither job very well. As such, getting it to move water from my sump and output it in my separate refugium was a PITA. The fuge is at a slightly higher gradient than the sump, so it should be reasonably attainable for the pump.

Anyways, once it finally did start to flow, it seemed to be fine. Getting it to that point though required me inhaling a bunch of water... yuck. If the power though was cut, the pump would once again need to be manually primed... As such, in order to avoid further saltwater in my lungs I ended up putting the feed in the overflow and the output on my remote refugium. Water then was basically gravity feeding through the reactor. Not an ideal solution, but at least it works now. Perhaps I'll add an aqualifter and set it up the way I wanted to initially...

Other than the feed/circulation pump being too weak everything else was easy to setup and is working quite well. I heard some negative things about the milwaukee regulators and controllers from various online sources and reputable hobbyists but as far as I can tell right now they work just fine... They were easy to calibrate and are easy to tune. Whether they stay tuned is the real question that only time can answer.

So far after 24 hours of operation my pH has dropped from 8.25 to 7.91. I'm not sure how far the pH is going to drop, hopefully it won't be too bad. I can always increase the concentration of my kalk slurry in my ghetto kalk reactor (trash can from bbb) to compensate though.

I tested the effluent from the calcium reactor this morning and wow this lil reactor is potent! The Ca and Alk was 600 and 18 respectively. My tank had a Ca and Alk of 420 and 8 which is nearly where I want it to be. So for the first time in a long time... I don't have to dose the tank this morning. Woo! :)


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02-01-2008, 12:08 PM
best of luck to you.

02-01-2008, 12:54 PM
Great write up. Keep them coming as I love to read reviews of gear.

02-01-2008, 1:04 PM
nice man, good to hear. Dang thats a great start up price....too bad that kit wont work for my tank.....sigh.

02-01-2008, 1:18 PM
For 25 more you can get the CR500, which is supposed to be support a 500 gallon tank... Dunno how much I trust coralife's estimates though :).

02-01-2008, 3:44 PM
Sweet bro! Glad it's working for ya.

02-25-2008, 8:03 PM

pH has been a real problem spot for me, but this is unrelated to this specific CR. I would have this same issue with every CR out there. So I am putting in a second reaction chamber by using old ro/di canisters. Hopefully, this will help enough... Otherwise I was considering drilling a hole to get some fresh air for the skimmer and piss my wife off in the process :).

Anyways, I decided to take the feed line out of the overflow and instead tap the CR feed into the return line. So far so good. The pressure in the return line is more than sufficient to feed the CR and it elimates the need for a feed pump. The little pump on the reactor is strong enough to cycle the water sufficiently it seems as the effluent is consistently at around 600 for Ca and 20 for dkh. That's an estimate as my test kit doesn't measure high enough... The point is that its clearly strong enough. This CR is not fancy, and its not perfect... but its cheap and it works just fine.

As for the impact on my corals... WOW. Some of my SPS has literally been growing before my very eyes. My cali tort for example has grown more than a centimeter on all 12 of its branches. That's a lot of growth for less than a month for that coral as prior to the calcium reactor it would take 2 months or so to get that kind of growth. I had pretty decent growth on my corals before... but some of them are really taking off now. It may not be related necessarily to the CR, but at least I can rest assured that my corals are getting all the Ca and Alk they require.

02-25-2008, 8:43 PM
Jin...Im having you over for dinner...we need to do this to mine...Im so lost

04-03-2008, 8:32 AM
Any new update? I have this reactor as well, but haven't set it up yet. I have been concerned about the low ph problem as well, as I already buffer mine weekly-biweekly. I was wondering if you found a solution?

04-03-2008, 8:40 AM
When you stop by my place tonight I'll show you my setup. Adding the second chamber really makes a difference on your PH.

04-03-2008, 8:53 AM
Agree. I've never seen my pH below 8.1 Generally it's around 8.25-8.45

04-03-2008, 8:57 AM
Wow what a coincidence.

I just got the rest of the parts I needed last night to make my second chamber. I'm putting it together today. I'm sure it will make a difference as Mark and Lee testify to. I'll keep you guys updated.

One other issue I had with my reactor is algae build up in the tubing and reactor. I keep all my equipment in my stand which is litup with t5s from end to end. So there's a lot of light in there which promotes algae growth in the tubing. The algae eventually clogged up the line so very lil water was making it through. It was an easy fix with aluminum foil and electrical tape to block the light. Most people won't have this issue but its possible with any amount of incidental lighting.

04-03-2008, 9:00 AM
You can also use conduit covers that will block out the light. They sell them as cable organizers too.

04-03-2008, 9:04 AM
Hmmm... That's a great idea. It would look much less ghetto than my tinfoil and tape method. LOL.

Thanks man.

04-03-2008, 9:18 AM
Jin, how are you building your second chamber?

04-04-2008, 2:14 PM
I'm using a clear discarded DI canister. I plumbed it in this morning after the silicone had set. The tank ph today at 3pm is 8.15 vs. 7.90 at the same time yesterday. That's pretty good and since the canister was free, the total cost of this mod was tree fiddy. Not bad.

04-04-2008, 3:50 PM
Nice man! I love to mod stuff.

04-05-2008, 3:19 PM
I'm using a clear discarded DI canister. I plumbed it in this morning after the silicone had set. The tank ph today at 3pm is 8.15 vs. 7.90 at the same time yesterday. That's pretty good and since the canister was free, the total cost of this mod was tree fiddy. Not bad.

Very cool. I may be bugging you again later when I set mine up. I'm gonna have to read the directions a few more times and make sure I get it at least close to right.

I do have one for now though... When you set the reactor up on a SMS 122 controller, does it just run all the time unless the PH gets too low? Is that how it works? What plugs into the controller relay, the regulator cutoff solenoid or the recirc/feed pump?

04-05-2008, 3:53 PM
What does the second chamber do? Do you put kalk in it or something? I don't understand how adding a second chamber helps the ph?

04-06-2008, 12:33 AM
Cris - Yah the regulator solenoid plugs into the controller. You set the controller so that it will shut off when it hits a certain pH. On my tank I set the pH to 6.5.

Barb - The first chamber of a Ca reactor has a pump that circulates the water in a loop. This chamber is kept at a set pH, typically 6.6 or less which is the necessary pH to efficiently dissolve the media. The output effluent from the first chamber goes into the second chamber where the water passes through more media. The second chamber is also filled with the same media as the first but there is no circulation pump and the water simply flows in one end and out the other. The primary purpose of this second chamber is merely to help raise the pH of the effluent. It does not bring it back very much but it does raise it enough to make a difference on overall tank pH.

04-06-2008, 12:38 AM
Congrats bro.

04-06-2008, 12:45 AM
err thanks Alan. :) Go to sleep!

My Achilles ate a bunch of PE mysis today. His ich also disappeared. He also has a taste for crocea... and is starting to bully other fish. :sad:

12-20-2008, 10:55 PM
Would you still rec.. this calcium reactor setup?

12-21-2008, 8:55 AM
I'm still using it and its more than keeping up with my demands. I had to tune it down the other day. I'm still on my first 5lb container of CO2 as well. I would recommend getting the larger unit though so you don't have to replace the media quite so often. I've replaced the media twice so far. The ARM media I was using seemed to stop dissolving at some point... like i was "spent". Yet there was still plenty in there.

Speaking of media... get the gen-x media when you do a fill up. IT is amazingly better than the ARM small/large media. The ARM stuff is like crushed up sea shells and so forth while the gen-x media is actual acros and other stoney corals which is precisely what stoney corals need :). I think the gen-x stuff should dissolve to a greater degree than the ARM stuff but only time will tell. The ARM media definitely hit a wall in terms of dissolving and its not clear why... Also, the gen-x stuff also allows for better flow in the media chamber. It's large pieces are tumble polished and this makes them a lot more uniform and allows for nicer flow than the other media. It essentially eliminates the need for a spray bar imo. I'm still using the ARM media though in my secondary chamber though and its not bad stuff per se. It worked just fine for a year.