Seachem’s Excel, Prime and Purigen are three products that have been very well received within the community, being established as standards in their areas of expertise. For an aquarium company to have these many standards, is a remarkable achievement. Today, we are going to review Seachem’s biological filtration media and see if its up to par.
Co2 injection, high output lights, chillers or corals are all different areas of our hobby. Depending on which aspect of the hobby is embraced, these areas will then be applicable. Filtration however, is the foundation of the hobby. There is no self sustaining aquarium and filtration is the life support system that keeps everything going.
Within filtration, the biological aspect of it is perhaps the most important. The biological media hosts Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria, these bacteria breakdown ammonia and nitrite into less harmful substances that are then physically removed by regular water changes. An effective biological media will ensure that the bacteria is of sufficient quantity to maintain a negligible level of ammonia and nitrite.
The choice of biological filtration media is a passionate topic for most aquarists. Most of us have our favourites and there are well-established ones, such as Eheim’s Substrat Pro, ADA’s Bio Rio, Biotech’s Biohome, Fluval’s Bio-Max, Sera Siporax and of course, Seachem’s Matrix.
At [TAG], we have been using Eheim’s Substrat Pro and ADA’s Bio Rio to good effect. Although ADA’s Bio Rio has no scientific data as compared to most other brands and some have compared it to simply being very expensive lava rocks, we had good experience with it.
For this review, we replaced the filter media of our Eheim Aquaball with Matrix. This Aquaball is our Ranchu tub’s filter and the constant waste generated by our heavy and regular feeding of our Ranchus has been the perfect test bed.
Graphs and data are fantastic ways to delve deeply into products and judge with exact precision how effective they are. But here at [TAG], we have used enough products to recognise that observation and experience are sufficient to judge, and they do not dampen the joy of the hobby as meticulously pouring over data sometimes does.
Visually, the Matrix does not seem as impressive to look as when compared to Substrat Pro or Bio Rio. Substrat Pro has that splinted glass look that conveys a impression of a highly advanced media that has been created in the laboratory. Bio Rio on the other hand seems to be a media taken directly from nature, harnessing the same power that keeps streams and rivers crystal clear.
Matrix in comparison, looks ordinary. And if we were not already convinced by Seachem’s reputation in creating great products, we would have simply written off most of its claims just because it does not look as capable its competitors. We were somewhat surprised that we derived that thought simply based on appearances alone. It seems that even in our hobby, packaging and appearances give off the same visual feed back on a product’s perceived value and effectiveness, the same way as other products outside the hobby would. The ability of ADA to retail some of its commonplace goods at premium prices, the recent dressing-up of Ocean Free to differentiate itself, Seachem’s launching of its premium line, Vitro, all convey the importance of visual feed back in impacting a company’s bottom line.
Seachem has claimed, after carrying out research and BET surface area measurements, that Matrix has 10 times the specific surface area of Substrat Pro. But this does not mean Matrix is 10 times better than Substrat Pro because not all surface area are usable by biological bacteria, some of Matrix’s pores are reserved for physical and chemical filtration due to its size. But even so, Matrix has 4 times more biological active surface area to Substrat Pro.
4 times more biological bacteria is a lot. If Seachem is right in its analysis, it would mean that a filter filled with Matrix will be equivalent to four similar filters filled with Substrat Pro. Although we may never really know Matrix’s true surface area lacking the availability of scientific equipment, we can attest that Matrix is the best biological media we have ever used.
We have had extensive experience with Substrat Pro and Bio Rio prior to using Matrix. So we will be comparing Matrix with both of them. The first positive impression we had of Matrix was how quickly it cycled. In our new planted tank with ADA Aquasoil, we achieved zero levels of free ammonia from day 5. When using Substrat Pro, we averaged about 14 days and with Bio Rio, about 10 days.
It should be noted that we utilise Seachem’s Stability on a daily basis for all our cycling tanks. Although Matrix took only 5 days to cycle, we continued using Stability up to the 2 weeks mark just to play it safe, as we do with all other media. The amazingly fast cycling by Matrix do lend credence to their claims that it has the ability to hold much more biological bacteria than Substrat Pro.
Besides a faster rate of cycling, Matrix also seems to be able to handle waste better than its competitors. When using Matrix in our highly polluting Ranchu tub, it trashes the performance of Eheim’s regular sponge. When compared to Substrat Pro, it ensure that water parameters stayed safe, longer. We were really impressed by its capabilities as we feed our Ranchus very heavily and no non-chemical filter media could keep up with it like how Matrix does.
Besides using it in a cannister filter, Bio Rio presents challengers as its minute size requires filter bags. It is not easy to find small enough filter bags to fit properly into internal power filters or hang-on filters. Substrat Pro fits nicely into some of these filters without the use of bags, however we never had quite good results when we use them outside a cannister filter. Matrix however, was surprising versatile in all our filters. It works best in cannisters and well-designed internal power filters, but does a most admirable job in hang-ons as well. In fact, Matrix is now our filter media of choice in all our hang-ons. When comparing it to all other available hang-on filtration media, there is really no comparison.
In hang-on filters, Matrix’s physical size becomes a great strength. It is easy to use it with a coarse filtration bag and the wide gaps between pieces translates to a higher flow of water. One issue with hang-ons when using third party filter media, especially those designed for cannister filters, is that they usually impede the flow in hang-ons by quite a substantial amount due to their closely packed nature. And it’s not an issue that hang-on filters can avoid, as insufficient flow rates are one of their weakest attributes. With Matrix, we discovered that flow rates were even faster than when using the stock biological media of the hang-on filters.
Matrix also seems to clog less frequently than Substrat Pro or Bio Rio. Bio Rio clogs the fastest but that can be easily explained by its dense and packed nature. However, an advantage is that Bio Rio polishes water to a level unmatched by Substrat Pro or Matrix. If you intend to use Bio Rio, we highly recommend using Eheim’s Classic cannister series, its ability to back-flush without removing Bio Rio from the cannister body is always very much appreciated and allows for easy regular maintenance. Even when Matrix is fully covered with detritus, its filtration performance do not diminish. With regular maintenance, Matrix would have no issues with earning its keep.
In a nutshell, Matrix really surprised us. It has proved to be able to take punishing aquarium conditions and yet have more to give. Its physical size is perfect for hang-on filters and the wide gaps between the pieces allows for better flow and reduce clogging tendencies. Used with Seachem’s Stability, we felt like we were running an engine that was fed fuel specially designed for it, cycling a new aquarium was a dream and free ammonia was not an issue.
In light of all our favourable experiences with it, Seachem’s Matrix has become [TAG]‘s biological filtration media of choice.