The Marineland Emperor 400 is the best power filter I have ever used. The Emperor Series power filters in general are the best power filters for their relative size classes, but this article will address the Emperor 400 in particular as it is a good base filter. You may need to have two or three of them as your aquarium size increases or you can add a smaller Emperor or Penguin Series filter, but the Emperor 400 is an excellent “main” filter. I now use them exclusively after trying several different brands in the past. This review will discuss some of the aspects that set this filter apart from the rest as well as the few negative aspects associated with this filter.
One of the major benefits of this filter is the fact that it comes standard with a very long intake tube. My 58 gallon aquarium is 24” deep and I had to cut the intake tube with a hack saw to get it to fit. This extra length enables you to place the intake at the very bottom of your aquarium which is beneficial in eliminating dead zones and making sure your aquarium’s water is completely filtered.
Another advantage is that the intake tube actually has two intake sections – one at the bottom and one mid-level one. This again helps in completely filtering your tank as it strains the water from two vertical sections of the aquarium. The mid-level intake is also adjustable.
The filter features four filter pad slots, two on the right side and two on the left side. This ensures that all of the water passes through two pads. This also gives you the option of using some of the slots for media bags filled with carbon. In fact, two media baskets are included with the filter. These can be filled with any filter media you like and are a very nice addition. I personally use filter pads in the two slots furthest from the aquarium and fill the remaining two slots with media bags of carbon (there is plenty of room for large media bags). This lets the filter pads capture the large debris and the carbon can then filter out the smaller particulate matter.
This filter also features two BIO-wheels. There is still a great deal of debate on using BIO-wheels as some people dislike them while others swear by them. I am in the group that swears by them. BIO-wheels are excellent biological filtration devices and I personally believe that much of the effectiveness of these filters is a result of this feature. BIO-wheels serve as biological filters and are simply wheels that rotate in the filter. The bacteria you need to break down the toxic chemicals ammonia and nitrite into the less toxic nitrate then grows on the surface of these wheels.
The most often stated reason for not liking BIO-wheels is that they get stuck too often. However, I have never had a problem using BIO-wheels with the Emperor 400. I think this may be due to the design of the filter which lets some of the water pass underneath the BIO-wheel while the rest is sucked up into a spray bar that sprays the BIO-wheel and causes it to rotate. The only time I have had my BIO-wheels stop rotating is when the spray bar holes get filled with debris or little pieces of carbon. Once the spray bar was cleaned, however, the BIO-wheels turned just fine.
As always, NEVER clean your Bio-wheels. You should never touch them unless there is something wrong with them physically that is making them not turn. If you clean them with tap water, a significant amount of the bacteria in your aquarium will then be dead. If you rinse them in aquarium water, they will start to stink. Just leave them alone and let them work their magic.
The price of this filter is generally not much more than similarly-sized power filters. They may be slightly higher, but the performance is well worth the price and they are considered by many to be the best power filter as well as the best value.
These filters are also very durable. I have yet to have one break or leak and have been using them for quite a while. Other filters tend to show wear after a while and can become quite noisy after extended use. I have not seen these characteristics in the Emperor series.
While I have always found the Emperor 400 to be a very quiet power filter, it needs to be pointed out that there have been many people who find them too noisy. I cannot comment on why I have never experienced this noise problem, but nonetheless, you should be aware that this may be something you experience.
Also, while the spray bar design is fantastic and makes the BIO-wheel more reliable, it can become stopped up fairly easily. As I said earlier, I use carbon mesh bags in my filters. Sometimes, small pieces of carbon can get loose from the bags and will end up getting caught in the spray bar holes. Also, debris and junk can cause them to stop spraying. However, to remedy this problem, a tube cleaning brush is included. It is very easy to pop the tube off, run it under some water and use the brush to clear the holes. You just need to make sure this is part of your regular maintenance schedule.
If the Emperor Series is out of your price range then a good cheaper alternative is the Penguin Series, also by Marineland. They are not as good of quality in my opinion, but I would certainly rank them the second best power filter as they share many of the same features as the Emperor filters and are pretty durable.
If you are going to buy a power filter, the Emperor series is the way to go. They are durable, reasonably priced, and offer you the best filtration with this class of filter.