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Nanocube 12 DIY retro w/ 27 LEDs


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#1
sliceOreef

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I know this isn't a first but I wanted to share how easy and inexpensive it is to convert a nanocube 12 to LEDs. With some help from you guys in the LED aesthetics thread, I came up with what I hope turns out to be a fantastic looking highly efficient and long lasting lighting solution.

After almost 2 years of life without a tank I decided to get my Nanocube 12 DX back into action. I had started out with stock lighting 4 years ago then eventually decided I wanted to go metal halide. After completing an in hood DIY retro with a 70 watt MH with 36 watts of actinic CFL, I had the power I wanted to keep clams or SPS. The only problem was the incredible heat issues in the summer months. I tried everything short of an expensive electronic cooling system to keep things under control. In the end, having to float ice and promote evaporative cooling (this required daily topoffs) on hot days left a sour taste.

This time around I decided to gut my entire lighting system in favor of an LED system from Aquastyles Online. After reading up on color choice aesthetics and getting some feedback from some pioneering folks, I decided to go with a 27 LED design including exotics like red, cyan and violet actinic running on 3 separate dimmable channels.

All LEDs are either bridgelux or epileds
Driver 1: 4 cool white: 2 neutral white, 2 deep red 660nm, 2 royal blues 460nm, 2 cyan 495nm.
Driver 2: 8 royal blues 460nm
Driver 3: 7 Trues Violet 420nm

The 3 drivers are Aquastyles dimmable maxwellan drivers that are designed for 7-12 LEDs. I am also using one 12v DC power supply for the fans. I decided to use the original JBJ Nanocube ballast box for this design to keep things clean, safe and cool.

These are driven at 680ma max but I prefer them dimmed 50% (adjusted for proper color balance). there are 2 60mm fans moving air into the hood and 1 80mm fan blowing down on the heatsink which is 30cm x 80cm. Imounted the heatsink inside the hood of my Nanocube 12dx using 7/8" standoffs. I secured it with 4 screws into the plastic mounting holes in the hood.

LED layout
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Here are the goodies straight out of the box from Aquastyles.
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Gutting the hood and gluing the standoffs in place. You can see the remnants of the metal halide DIY where I had to glue ceramic posts from a security light.
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Here you can see my 80mm fan that I decided to use just for overkill glued to the top of the heatsink. It's a nice Silenx fan that was included in the kit. The fan is silent but doesn't move much air. I also used a paper template to drill holes in the heatsink that lined up with the holes I glued the standoffs on.
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Test-fit after mounting heatsink. You can see my LED template.
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Switching over to the driver box. Those of you with nanocubes will recognize this one. It works awesome as a driver box with some minor tweaks. I retained the power switch and the inline fuse.
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Soldering in the pots. These are the weak link in the kit. Very grainy and poor linear scaling of light output but funtional. I had to drill a few holes in the side of the aluminum driver box to mount these. I will say the CNC aluminum knobs are nice!
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I wanted to have a 12v DC power and the one included in the kit worked well enough once I removed it from the case and gave it a protective coating of electrical tape.
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Finishing up the wiring. I decided to leave as much spare wire as possible in case I needed to use these drivers somewhere else int he future. It doesn't look pretty but I will live with it.
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LEDs mounted using using heatsink plaster. 2 tubes were supplied and I used half of one. I actually was hesitant to use this stuff in place of screws but once its dried overnight the bonds are easily strong enough. Provided you press hard enough to spread it as thin and as completely as possible, I can't see why anybody would bother with all the drilling and tapping associated with screws.
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Admiring how clean the setup looks looks with splashguard in place before I commence soldering.
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Soldering these LEDs in place took longer than expected due to the learning curve with learning to use flux and tinning pads and wires. I was a bit worried working with the 7 star cluster being as cramped as it is but it all turned out out well.
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Splashguard in place and all fans and LEDs wired up and ready to test!
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It was a Clark Griswold Christmas Vacation moment.
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Hood in place.
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No livestock, so Buss Lightyear! My son couldn't wait to populate the tank. I laid down a white sheet of paper to see how well the colors blended. Initial impressions are great. There is some slight banding of colors but nothing obvious. I will update once I get water and livestock. Color looks great and I can easily adjust for how much blue or actinic I want.
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Really cool looking prism like effect out of the corners of my tank. The blue and violet don't really show in the picture but its pretty apparent each led has its light focused in a laser like line.
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The light output is incredible and I will never be able to run this thing at max. It appears plenty bright at 50% which is the output level I used for the photos. Color appears to be great but I want to get the tank filled and see what it looks like before I give a final opinion. Most importantly, I want to see what corals look like under it.

I took some initial readings for power usage using a Kil A Watt and this is what I found:
completely dimmed: 7watts
Full power: 71 watts
Temperature registered 10 degrees above ambient at the center of the led cluster so things appear to be running nice and cool.

I'm excited to see this thing finished and I hope sharing my experience will help those Nanocube 12 owners who want to go LED and keep the stock hood. Given the total cost was about $130 shipped, one can easily justify going LEDS if you are inclined to DIY.

Thanks for checking out my project!

*UPDATE*
It's been 5 months now and my tank has been doing great. I had one driver go in the first 4 months but Ray sent a replacement no ?'s asked. Growth has been good and I've slowly added a few pieces. One of the first pieces I added was a small frag of green birdsnest. It has become my showpiece and shows no signs of slowing.
Here is a full tank shot with adjusted white balance so it looks as close to reality as possible.
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Edited by sliceOreef, 14 August 2012 - 05:15 PM.


#2
mikellini

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Very nice! Now where's the water?

#3
sliceOreef

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Very nice! Now where's the water?


Tank should be wet by Thursday. I'll be heading to Premium Aquatics to hand pick some liverock this Friday or Saturday. I hope they have a fresh load of Manado rock in...

#4
rO.oster

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Nice work! Looks clean, can you comment on why you went Bridgelux vs. Cree? Anxious to see some rock and sand in there for a better determination.

#5
sliceOreef

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Nice work! Looks clean, can you comment on why you went Bridgelux vs. Cree? Anxious to see some rock and sand in there for a better determination.


Cost and availability of colors mostly. The Crees are better from a standpoint of efficiency and light output but some would argue depending on model and bin, the difference can be negligible. AquastyleOnline only sells Epiled and Bridgelux LEDs. Their prices are outrageously low for DIY kits.

I will be getting water rock and sand later this week.

#6
ecogirl22

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27 3 watt LEDS on a 12 gallon!!!???? I did rapid led 12 led for my 12 AP. Acros are growing nicely. Bridgelux i read here is only at worst 66% of the output as cree (very roughly) , did you put so many LEDS in because with those extra colors you don't get the "growing par" ? Curious.
Sep 25 2007, 04:13 PM PeachesInMich "I still say that mushrooms do not sting seahorses they might eat a dwarf but they don't sting."

#7
sliceOreef

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27 3 watt LEDS on a 12 gallon!!!???? I did rapid led 12 led for my 12 AP. Acros are growing nicely. Bridgelux i read here is only at worst 66% of the output as cree (very roughly) , did you put so many LEDS in because with those extra colors you don't get the "growing par" ? Curious.


I know its ridiculously over lit! I got carried away when I started adding exotics. I had problems with the cookie jar as a kid too... I'd say I could easily transplant this array to a 24 or 28 and still have good results.

My thoughts were that I wanted great looking lighting with minimal downsides (spotlighting, disco effect, uneven color-blending). I tried to go with a dual light-source design using densely packed clusters. I wanted the shimmer similar to that of metal halide too so I was trying to avoid a design that would give the disco effect and subsequently require a diffuser (diamond lens sheet or similar) which kills the shimmer.

This design would have created 2 very bright spots in the middle of the tank so i decided I'd add 4 mini-clusters to the 4 corners and just drive the entire array at lower power so I can get the even coverage I wanted.

The actinic (true violet) LEDs are something I decided to add into the design because at this point why not? It's a bit of an experiment really. Most people who just try a few TV LEDs say they can't tell they are on with the rest of the lights on. I didn't want that problem... It's there to play with on a separate dimming circuit so we'll see just what difference they make.

Water and sand are in the tank now and rock is going in tomorrow after i pick it out at Premium Aquatics.

#8
rO.oster

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looking forward to seeing the results

#9
jedimasterben

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The actinic (true violet) LEDs are something I decided to add into the design because at this point why not? It's a bit of an experiment really. Most people who just try a few TV LEDs say they can't tell they are on with the rest of the lights on. I didn't want that problem... It's there to play with on a separate dimming circuit so we'll see just what difference they make.

Human eyes can't see part of the spectrum that 420nm violet LEDs put out, this is why they appear very dim. However, 420nm is where zooanthellae do most of their photosynthesis, so this is not so much for the look as it is for the corals.

I would also not put the white LEDs on the same driver as the red and cyan. You'll want to control those separately, if you turn down the whites, you're also turning down the ones that really make your color "pop".

#10
sliceOreef

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Human eyes can't see part of the spectrum that 420nm violet LEDs put out, this is why they appear very dim. However, 420nm is where zooanthellae do most of their photosynthesis, so this is not so much for the look as it is for the corals.


Yep that's my understanding too, though I will add that the visuals it provides to light green corals are very pronounced.

I would also not put the white LEDs on the same driver as the red and cyan. You'll want to control those separately, if you turn down the whites, you're also turning down the ones that really make your color "pop".


That was my original line of thought too. It turns out that the cyan and red when combined with a royal blue make for a bright white. People say they make a noticeable difference despite this. If money was no object, I'd surely wire a separate circuit for each color just to be able to play but I figured I could cut out a driver or two by just combining them with royal blue on the white driver. I can confirm that it does indeed look very white. I just lose my ability to give my tank a red or cyan hue.

Unfortunately I can't attest to any "pop" yet. Tank just started its cycle today so it will be weeks before I have coral in it.

#11
rO.oster

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maybe put some different color plastic in there, viewing it under the sun as a reference, then putting it in the tank and playing with the levels to achieve a close match? When I went from PC to LED (just the 2:1 NW:RB) I lost all my bright yellow colors, and the red, orange, and coralline became very drab.

#12
kevlow

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following along.

I like the amount of LEDs. It gives you coverage and color blending. If needed you can always dim them back. Also you are hitting all the major points for photosynthesis in both Chlorophyl A and B.

By starting with sufficient lighting, you use timers and dimmimg to control duration and intensity.

By starting with too little or barely enough lighting, you cannot add to or modify spectrum, intensity, and coverage that was not there to begin with.

#13
gbru316

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I've decided to do something similar regarding number of LED's. I'll end up with 36 over a 10g, probably for similar reasons. I was concerned about spotlighting, dark spots, and I figured it's easier to dim than to add more if needed. Running the LED's with less current is also more efficient.

Build looks good, keep it up!

#14
Paleoreef103

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Very well done. Get that tank filled!
My Thread. 40 breeder, LEDs, SWC 150 BMK, Vortech and Tunze powered
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

#15
ecogirl22

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yeah looking forward to seeing the tank!

I avoided spotlighting by not using lenses and with even spacing of LEDS :D Whats up with the clustering thing-what are the benefits? If you evenly space your LEDS you'll get perfect color blending over the entire surface, right?.
Sep 25 2007, 04:13 PM PeachesInMich "I still say that mushrooms do not sting seahorses they might eat a dwarf but they don't sting."

#16
sliceOreef

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yeah looking forward to seeing the tank!

I avoided spotlighting by not using lenses and with even spacing of LEDS :D Whats up with the clustering thing-what are the benefits? If you evenly space your LEDS you'll get perfect color blending over the entire surface, right?.


With only one or two colors (white and royal blue) you can get away with even spacing and it does solve the spotlighting problem. As the distance between two distinctly colored LEDs increases, parallax causes anything that casts a shadow in your tank to separate the blended light into correspondingly larger and more distinct bands of the various colored LEDs (this is referred to as "disco effect"). Water ripples cause a similar problem but I believe it's a result of refraction.

With enough distinct light sources of each color spread evenly, the disco effect is minimized. The effect is still there but reduced to the point it is difficult to distinguish. When you reduce the number of light sources as commonly done with exotic colors, you consequently increase the color banding caused by parallax.

I chose to do 2 things in my layout to reduce this effect. First, I chose to cluster LEDs as close as possible to reduce the size of the color bands that parallax creates. Second, I chose to add a 2nd light source which is really just a duplicated light cluster. The effect of this is to reduce the intensity of the color banding which, while reduced in size by clustering, is definitely not eliminated.

There are films and panels that can be used to diffuse light but they have a side effect of reducing the shimmer effect. If you compare a tank lit by metal halide to a tank lit by fluorescent bulbs, you will get an idea of the result.

Edited by sliceOreef, 05 March 2012 - 10:05 AM.


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ecogirl22

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Wow, that was really informative! Thanks! Definitely something consider for my future larger arrays:D
Sep 25 2007, 04:13 PM PeachesInMich "I still say that mushrooms do not sting seahorses they might eat a dwarf but they don't sting."

#18
Mhayes462

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Any updates?

#19
sliceOreef

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Any updates?


I'm very pleased with the LEDs and really like the coloring I'm seeing on what little I have in the tank.

Tank completed the initial cycle about 3 weeks ago. CUC is in place and doing a good job. I cycled with chaeto in the fuge so I never had a diatom or algae bloom. Nitrates peaked at about 22ppm and steadily declined to undetectable levels on my API test kit. I've had a purple firefish, cleaner shrimp, 3 frags of zoas and a couple shrooms in the tank for 3 weeks now. They are all doing really well. I plan on adding some birdsnest soon along with an acan or two if I can find any I like locally.

It's still a very empty tank but I've started to experiment with tank photos and apparently I can't shoot this tank! The best I've been able to do is raw mode on my canon Powershot s3is and then temperature balance in Raw Therapee for post. It's close but still not exact. I need to investigate more on shooting tanks with LED lighting. My shots are really cold blue right now and they need heavy post processing to warm them up to how they should look.

As far as the performance of the LEDs and my layout goes, I have this to share:

-Shimmer is heavy with a very slight disco effect if surface water is agitated. If there is condensation on the splashguard then shimmer is cut in half and no disco at all. I will likely try some film at some point but I could live with it as is. It's subtle enough that it isn't readily noticeable.

Coverage is fantastic. I don't have anything to back this up in the way of par readings but visually it looks as though I could grow coral at any location in the tank.

Color blending is excellent and there is zero spotlighting.

Color balance is a little on the white side for my liking (I prefer 20k), so I'm having to run my blue channel higher than my white. I'd say with my ratio I'm closer to a 14k with LEDs at balanced output. Coralline algae looks good and doesn't blend into the rock work as much as it does on cool white and RB LEDs I've seen. IMO , the rockwork and coralline algae look better at 14k but corals look better at 20k. It's hard to find a sweet spot. My reds and oranges are rich and greens are bright. I've only got 3 zoa frags and a shroom but I'm very optimistic on the future performance based on the results I've seen so far.

Intensity is phenominal! I have a kill-A-watt on it to help me dial in exact intensity and I'm running at 21 watts right now out of a maximum of about 70 watts. I only have softies in there right now so I'm being conservative. I've had incredible polyp growth in the last couple weeks. I can't foresee any reason I'd ever run these LEDs at max, they are too powerful. At least while using the light on a 12g. I think this light could light a 28g effectively but would have to be run at near max for SPS.

I will get pictures up, maybe after I get couple more corals in there and find out how to shoot them properly.

#20
mopiko

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I'm doing up led for my 12g nanocube too.
Subscribing to more pic updates for yr tank.

#21
sliceOreef

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I added a quick and dirty full tank shot to OP. I need to work on my photography as the shot doesn't so the tank justice.

#22
Chino

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This is an insanely brilliant LED upgrade. If I had anywhere near your DIY skills I would've taken this route. I'll receive my Steve's LED upgrade tomorrow for my 12g NC DX from someone on this forum. All installed because Im not so handy. The upgrade I got was 9- Royal Blue Luxeon ES 3 watt LEDs and 5- 5,000K Neutral White Luxeon ES 3 watt LED for well over what you paid but it included the hood plus labor, shipping, and paypal interest. Im hoping the blues will bring out the color I want without having the violets like you do. Looking to try some sps for the first time. I have some frags under stock lighting for about a week now and they are looking healthy but Im sure under pc lighting they will lose their color.

Great job on the LED DIY. I'll be following if you do any updates.

Edited by Chino, 16 August 2012 - 12:49 AM.


#23
jedimasterben

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This is an insanely brilliant LED upgrade. If I had anywhere near your DIY skills I would've taken this route. I'll receive my Steve's LED upgrade tomorrow for my 12g NC DX from someone on this forum. All installed because Im not so handy. The upgrade I got was 9- Royal Blue Luxeon ES 3 watt LEDs and 5- 5,000K Neutral White Luxeon ES 3 watt LED for well over what you paid but it included the hood plus labor, shipping, and paypal interest. Im hoping the blues will bring out the color I want without having the violets like you do. Looking to try some sps for the first time. I have some frags under stock lighting for about a week now and they are looking healthy but Im sure under pc lighting they will lose their color.

Great job on the LED DIY. I'll be following if you do any updates.

Steve's royal blue Rebels are much lower wavelength than most out there - the peak is about 445-446nm. Most Cree are about 455nm peak, and most Aquastyle Bridgelux are 460nm (the newer stuff, from about March 2012 on, is lower, around 455nm). Steve's will definitely have more color pop, but will not do what violet can.

#24
sliceOreef

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This is an insanely brilliant LED upgrade. If I had anywhere near your DIY skills I would've taken this route. I'll receive my Steve's LED upgrade tomorrow for my 12g NC DX from someone on this forum. All installed because Im not so handy. The upgrade I got was 9- Royal Blue Luxeon ES 3 watt LEDs and 5- 5,000K Neutral White Luxeon ES 3 watt LED for well over what you paid but it included the hood plus labor, shipping, and paypal interest. Im hoping the blues will bring out the color I want without having the violets like you do. Looking to try some sps for the first time. I have some frags under stock lighting for about a week now and they are looking healthy but Im sure under pc lighting they will lose their color.

Great job on the LED DIY. I'll be following if you do any updates.

Thanks! I think you will be surprised at how good things will look compared to the stock lighting. SPS will definitely be possible. I run my lighting at approx 50% and have pretty amazing growth on some of my SPS. Water quality is something I've finally figured out on this tank. With SPS there's a little more to it than just the light but once you get it figured out it's really nice to watch things take off.

Steve's royal blue Rebels are much lower wavelength than most out there - the peak is about 445-446nm. Most Cree are about 455nm peak, and most Aquastyle Bridgelux are 460nm (the newer stuff, from about March 2012 on, is lower, around 455nm). Steve's will definitely have more color pop, but will not do what violet can.


I have to say I was expecting a little more pop than what I got from the TVs. I actually run them fairly low to avoid that slight purplish tint they give the tank if I crank them. Past a certain point, I don't think the slight increase in pop I get is worth the purple glow. The primary benefit is additional growth spectrum.

If I had to do it over again, I would have swapped out 2 or 3 of the TVs for RBs. As I have it setup, I have to run the RB channel harder then the TV and White+DR+Cyan channels. It's all easy to adjust thanks to the dimmers but I think having them all closer to the same levels would help from a longevity standpoint.

#25
jedimasterben

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I have to say I was expecting a little more pop than what I got from the TVs. I actually run them fairly low to avoid that slight purplish tint they give the tank if I crank them. Past a certain point, I don't think the slight increase in pop I get is worth the purple glow. The primary benefit is additional growth spectrum.

If I had to do it over again, I would have swapped out 2 or 3 of the TVs for RBs. As I have it setup, I have to run the RB channel harder then the TV and White+DR+Cyan channels. It's all easy to adjust thanks to the dimmers but I think having them all closer to the same levels would help from a longevity standpoint.

That's strange, I never have had that issue, both with my older violets that were 380-430nm, or with my new Epistar violets, 410-420nm. The higher wavelength is more visible to the naked eye, but I can't tell that they are on at all besides the extra 'pop' I get.