Aquarium canister filters are the gold standard in freshwater systems. Most freshwater hobbyists, at some point in their “career”, move away from the undersized internal or hang-on back filtration and convert to a canister filter. In contrast to that, saltwater aficionados have long demonized the use of canister filters, stating that they are nothing more than nitrate factories, rather than a reliable form of filtration. However, that is all changing. Fueled by a rise in nano reef setups and an overall better understanding of saltwater tank filtration, canister filters are quickly gaining popularity in the hobby. The biggest problem that has faced aquarists with canister filters as a primary form of saltwater tank filtration is its tendency to accumulate debris and release it back into the display tank in the form of harmful nitrates. That concern is still valid, but reefers have learned how to properly maintain and clear their canister filters. With proper care, a canister filter can be a very effective tool for mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, often surpassing the “false back wall” filtration that is hard to clean properly. A segment of the saltwater hobby that finds canister filters especially beneficial is in the keeping of very large reef aquariums. Being a completely sealed, closed-loop system, canister filters work great as a supplemental mechanical filter or as a media reactor. Canister filters of all shapes and forms exist on the market and as the industry has grown, the design and functionality of canisters has improved. Aquatop Forza series, the subject of today’s review, represents the latest iteration of this aquarium technology. It’s based on a proven, functional design, pioneered long ago by companies like Eheim or Hagen, while having some interesting additions that may be useful in a fish tank environment. Let’s look at the specsheet of Aquatop Forza.
The Forza UV canister filter line consist of 3 models; I will be reviewing the smallest one, codename FZ7. It has following specs:
- Filtration turnover of 295 gph
- Built in, replaceable 7 Watt UV bulb
- A patented, one-pump prime button
- Is rated for 60-90 gal aquariums
- Can be used in freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Comes with filtration media
UNBOXING & FIRST LOOK
Forza comes in a retail box with an image of the filter itself on the front and a diagram of all the components, as well as filtration media, printed in the back. My first impression of the canister is a positive one- the clean white plastic that dominates the filter looks and feels solid, as do the four clips that hold the pump assembly and media compartment sides together. The filter is quite compact, measuring roughly 13″ tall (33cm) and 8-1/2″ (21cm) in diameter. First, let’s look at the top part of the filter; there’s quite a lot going on there. To detach it from the canister, you pull on all four clips and lift the pump by its handle. On top of the pump assembly, there is an on/off switch that controls the UV light, which is covered by a transparent, protective cap. Further back, there are two holes, into which the hose’s quick disconnect is fitted. Forza uses a single assembly for both intake and return, which you snap onto the filter and lock with a valve lever. It allows you to remove the canister without having to pull the hoses from the filter, a standard feature in high end devices. Another thing seen in upper shelf filters, and now, Forza- it is equipped with a priming switch, and according to manufacturer, it only takes one pump of the lever to start the filter (I will be checking that claim later). As I mentioned before, the UV light has its own on/off switch and it’s protected from accidental splashes by a transparent plastic cap. Unfortunately, it lacks a dedicated cord for the UV, and therefore it’s fully manual.
The impeller and the UV bulb sit on the underside of the pump assembly; to get to the impeller for cleaning, simply twist off the cap, just like in a standard return pump. You can access the UV bulb by unscrewing two stainless steel screws and removing the plastic cover and then the quartz tube that protects the bulb itself. Aquatop recommends changing the UV bulb every 6-8 months. One interesting feature is a built-in safety switch- if the filter is tilted 30 degrees off level (in any direction), the UV lamp will automatically switch off to prevent it running “dry” and damaging the bulb. Now we come to the contents of the canister. The Forza line of filters comes with a truly impressive amount of media. Each of the three baskets inside the FZ7 has a small, collapsible handle and they all fit together easily. As with most canisters, the water enters the filter through a hole at the top that extends to the bottom of lowest basket . It goes through the UV light enclosure first (which is a little odd, UV is usually the last filtration module), then gets dispersed through the bottom basket and sucked back to the top, out the return line. Each basket comes loaded with filter media- there are three cut-to-shape sponge filters (one coarse and two fine), a bag of plastic bioballs, another bag of ceramic rings, and a basket-shaped chemical media that contains activated carbon. Obviously, Aquatop has replacement media specific to each filter model available for purchase. In addition to the canister filter with all the media mentioned, Forza comes with a cardboard box full of all necessary plumbing parts. The content of this box is as impressive as the media included: On the intake side:
- 5 feet (1.5 m) of 16/20 diameter (5/8” equivalent) semi- transparent black hose
- A U-bar that features a hand-tightened hose clamp and an adapter (on the in-tank side) that can be shortened to desired length
- A roughly 12” (30 cm) spray bar with another 12” extension piece
- A lock-line style jet outlet (as an alternative to spray bar)
- Set of O-rings to seal all connections
- 5 feet of 16/20 diameter black hose (same as intake)
- A U-bar with ahand-tightened hose clamp
- A 12″ rigid pipe complete with removable strainer
- An inline surface skimmer that branches off the inlet pipe (there’s also a plastic cap provided in case you don’t want to use the skimmer).
I set up a temporary fish tank to test the Aquatop Forza FZ7 filter. I wanted to try out the One Pump EZ prime button, see how much noise the filter pump makes, test the UV lamp protection sensor, and see if there are any leaks in the system. 1. EZ Prime button The pull sitting on top of Aquatop Forza and resembling a marine toilet flush pump is what is used to prime the filter. The tank must be higher than Forza for it to work (like for any canister filter) and it needs to be in the “down” position at first use. Aquatop states that only one pump action is needed to prime Forza; I had to pump it twice, but that was because I set it up on a very small tank – 7 gallons, instead of a 60-90 gallon tank that the canister is designed for. On a larger tank, one pump is all it takes. I have experience with several different brands and there were situations were I had to shake the canister or manually suck on the return to let bubbles out. I’m happy to report that the Aquatop prime function works fine, and you can get the filter to start running just by pressing the EZ Prime button. 2. UV lamp tilt protection switch There is a tiny see-through window that illuminates when the UV bulb is on and sure enough, when you tilt the filter, it shuts the light off. I don’t quite know when this feature would come in to play (in other words, if you have your filter sitting at 30 degrees off level, you’re doing it wrong) but it’s there and it works just fine. 3.Noise level Canister filters tend to be silent devices and Aquatop is no exception. It is not dead quiet, but you have to get very close to the impeller to hear it. The noise meter I use registered a 5 decibel increase, which is equal to the noise a small powerhead makes when you put your ear to it. 4.Leak test & flow rating No leaks registered. I didn’t tighten the hose clamps while doing the test, but that didn’t affect the results. The manufacturer gives a suggested tank volume rating of 60-90 gallons, and the tank I tested the filter on was a 7g cube; the flow created by FZ7 was a little bit too strong. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this canister filter on a 10g tank, if I wanted it to have a lot of water movement.
PRICING & WARRANTY
The three models in the Forza line are priced as follows (average price taken from online retailers): FZ7: $140 FZ9: $165 FZ13: $195 All Forza canister filters come with a 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty, and the company is working on a 1 + 1 Year Warranty Program with registration through their website.
Aquatop Forza is a fine canister filter. While it doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, it presents a package of great value with a very competitive price tag. The media and UV filter alone often cost more than what Forza is sold for. On top of that, the design and quality of each element is on par with more expensive filters on the market. On the downside, the surface skimmer, while a great addition, could be positioned a little higher (you can modify the pipe though). A separate plug for the UV light would be nice addition too. In summary, if you’re looking for a canister filter for your freshwater or saltwater project that doesn’t cost an arm and leg, has included media and UV sterilization, and you’re willing to give a newcomer company a try, the Aquatop Forza line is a true bargain for what it offers. All images by author