My CAD Lights PLS-50 Elite Install & Review

Discussion in 'Protein Skimmers' started by Matt Rogers, Aug 21, 2014.

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  1. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

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    The CAD Lights Aquariums new PLS-50 Elite protein skimmer truly is the "cutting edge of nano protein skimming" in that it is really small. So small with little details that when I pulled it out of the box I thought I was looking at a 1/10 scale protein skimmer model. I was not prepared for this. Somehow in the marketing details I missed the part that said "by removing the control pipes, valves, wedges etc. we have reduced the size by 40%." Indeed they have. And I'm not sure why. The 1st generation PLS-50 had a radically small footprint allowing for sump positioning, yet the skimmer itself was nearly average size. That was the genius of it even with its water line stability issue. In my mind that was all they needed to address with this updated version. But Cad Lights had other ambitions with the PLS-50 Elite by putting the 'nano' in nano. Read on for how it performs.

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    The 1st generation PLS-50 and the PLS-50 Elite. Somebody shrunk the kid.


    Once out of the box, as with the 1st generation, there was not much to the assembly of the PLS-50 Elite as there are only a few parts to put together. This is a good thing as I couldn't find instructions in the box. In what I thought was a desperate move, I ripped out the shipping label sealed on the outside and was surprised to find that the other side of the paper actually had the instructions on it - for the wrong skimmer model. Oops. Ok, well as a testament to their design anyway, unless you are new to the hobby, anyone that has owned a skimmer before can put this one together and figure out the controls.


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    THE MOUNTING BRACKET

    The first thing I was interested to try was the new mounting bracket as I was not a fan of the suction cups on the pump used on the 1st generation and still an option on the Elite as well. Studying this bracket, I did appreciate the notch used on one side rather than having a thumb screw on each side. This would make adjustments easier I thought. (A bit on quality here, I did note that the notch had settled at a slight angle after gluing. Fortunately, upon assembly, it was not enough to really tilt the skimmer that noticeably.)


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    THE PUMP

    The TIA pump, like the skimmer, is very small. About half the size of the one used previously and moves nearly 200 gallons an hour at only 7.5 watts draw. Checking it out I did appreciate the addition of the gasket and o-ring on the pump that were not found on the older model. The gasket and the low draw obviously contribute to the "less than 5dB over audible sound" in the feature list.

    After attaching the pump, I noted the holes for the air line on the skimmer and attached the tubing and silencer. Unlike the old model, there is not a mounting bracket for the silencer and it dangles off the side with the excess tubing. A lot of tubing is provided for different skimmer mounting positions I supposed. I let this pass at the moment, anxious to install the skimmer in my sump.


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    THE INSTALL

    It was time to install the PLS-50 Elite in my sump and I quickly hit a snag. The mounting bracket was not wide enough for the rim of the sump. Perhaps the rim on my Neo Nano sump is thicker than most? I am not sure, but I don't think so. This made me pause a bit, I really didn't want to use the suction cup option. Fortunately it occurred to me I could use my sump baffle instead so I began to install it there.

    Without the instructions I was going through this blind without knowing recommendations, so I decided to mount the skimmer as high up as possible to reduce the chance of flooding the cup when turned on. This is when I started to struggle more with the bracket. The thumb screw would not tighten enough by hand to hold the bracket in place. It was also awkward to adjust underwater. So I had to pull the skimmer out and use a screw driver. I was not thrilled about this but I tried to rationalize this by thinking that once adjusted correctly, I would not be doing this again.

    Once mounted, it was nearly time to turn this on but first I double checked the drain holes and noted that they were about 80 percent all the way open. In my experience with the 1st generation skimmer, this was a good place to start. (The internal drain holes are part of the unique design of the Cad Lights Skimmer, eliminating exterior pipes and valves allowing for the small footprint.)

    So I flipped the power switch. Before I looked at the skimmer again, I listened... and I did not hear anything. Just as advertised. But when I did look, I saw this:

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    Note: the sump water shown here is 9.5" deep

    That was underwhelming. There were hardly any bubbles and the water line was very low in the skimmer body. I thought big adjustments were needed so I turned it off and pulled it out again to loosen the bracket and lower the skimmer so it would be deeper in the sump. In hindsight it didn't occur to me to use the controls to adjust the drain holes smaller to raise the water height. This would have worked to some extent, but with water line was so low, dealing with the mount first I feel was the right approach. So I adjusted the mount so the skimmer would sit to within an inch or so of the floor of the sump.


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    THE CONTROLS

    Turning it on again, I was in the ballpark and began to adjust the skimmer using the control knob for the drain holes. I should note first that I left the thumb screw on the other side very slightly loose so that I could turn the skimmer body and clamp down with the control knob.

    Turning the skimmer body on a CAD Lights PLS-50 is still a touchy affair and a bit of an art to master. Adjusting it to raise up seems a bit easier, but going the other way results often in big drops. After a bit of this up and down, you have to take a few breaths and get a light touch like a safe cracker. Again without instructions, I put the waterline at the base of the skimmer sup which seemed about right and then tightened the control knob. Having the control knob to clamp down the drain hole size was nice. It was the one thing I thought the 1st generation needed. I still don't like turning the skimmer body though. I think CAD Lights effectively dealt with this issue on their bigger models by using gears not found on the PLS-50. I am not sure those would scale down for the Elite and perhaps that is what CAD Lights thought too.


    THAT DANGLING AIR SILENCER

    During the dial in process I struggled with what to do with the dangling air silencer. It really caused a massive delay in setup time as it would fall from the top of the skimmer cup where I placed it and land in the water. To be fair, the solution I came up with based on the pics I saw was probably mentioned in the missing instructions - that was to cut the tubing to just above the last mounting hole below the skimmer cup allowing the silencer to stand mostly up on it's own out of the way. Let me amend that. And this will save you a lot of setup time. Note the length of tubing to do so, then MAKE THE CUT FROM THE PUMP END OF THE HOSE. Trust me, the provided tubing is the diameter appropriate for the nipple on the pump and actually quite skinny for the silencer. Do not remove the hose from the silencer. I had to pull out the skimmer again, remove the hose and use the lighter trick and a lot of swearing to get that hose back on the silencer. I found myself sweating at this point. Again the instructions may have saved time here.


    THE SKINNY ON THE INSIDE

    With the skimmer dialed in a bit, I began to look at the air in the skimmer body more and more. It was disturbing. The PLS-50 Elite is the nano of nano in every way except for the air diffuser inside the skimmer body. This roughly 1 inch wide tube with the diffuser plate on top actually stretches 3/4 of the length of the skimmer body to within a few inches of the neck. The only reason I can think of was to reduce air bubbles outside of the skimmer in the sump. But in doing so, the reality of what you are left with is skinny tube for mixing air and water. The small area near the top of skimmer body just above the diffuser plate is the only place where you get a mix that takes advantage of the full width of the skimmer body. This engineering appears to disregard the basics about maximizing air contact time with the water - on a skimmer body that is only 3" wide to begin with.


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    Well it's been roughly 30 some hours since I set this skimmer up and my skimmate is really watery. I believe I need to lower the waterline to someplace right below the cup. This new PLS-50 skimmer could require a longer break in than before, so I follow up on skimmate production.


    WHO IS THIS SKIMMER FOR?

    At this point after my install experience and rereading the marketing on this skimmer, I am wondering a lot about what was CAD Lights motivation and target hobbyist with the PLS-50 Elite. I believe they wanted to see how small they could make a skimmer and still retain some features found in their bigger skimmers. With this goal, they went as far as you can go in my opinion. The details and scale do give off an impression of awe. But I feel succeeding in this goal came with great sacrifice. With such reduced contact time, the actual skimming will be a fraction of what it was before. The 1st generation version could produce and had good froth even though it was touchy and couldn't hold a line. When I manage to find that sweet spot with the PLS-50 Elite, the collection cup is quite small compared to a full size skimmer and will fill fast. So who will benefit from this skimmer? Perhaps the real nano crowd, those with 10 or 20 gallon all-in-one tanks that have a compartment in back just wide enough for this skimmer. They may benefit by having such an adjustable and small skimmer. But at $134, they may look around a bit too.

    5g - 60g?

    I noticed that the skimmer is ranged for 5 to 60 gallon aquariums. While not unique to just CAD Lights, I think this range is greatly exaggerated. I have 26 gallons of water volume and I think that is a bit high in this case. If it were up to me, I would have put the clamp control knob on the 1st generation PLS-50 and called it a day by naming it the PLS-50 ELITE. That would be a solid skimmer with that upgrade. And I would call this one the PLS-20 and make it cheaper for the target consumer.


    matt


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    More:
    http://www.cadlights.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=56&products_id=289
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
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  3. Vinnyboombatz

    Vinnyboombatz Giant Squid

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    Great review Matt!;)
     
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  4. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

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    Thanks Vinny although I am not sure why you are winking. :)
     
  5. Vinnyboombatz

    Vinnyboombatz Giant Squid

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  6. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

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    Update:

    I lowered the waterline to just below the cup and this did not improve the skimmate. I have yet to see the rhythmic froth I had going with the original model. Mysteriously it has filled the cup up twice now with water mostly. I am not sure when it goes off like this. I've been busy, checking periodically, but this needs attention. I am thinking of raising the skimmer more out of the sump, then dial up with the controls. If that doesn't work, then my day-to-day skimmer goes back in.
     
  7. Toallhisdoom

    Toallhisdoom Dragon Wrasse

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    What would you recommend this or the tunze 9001? Need something for my nuvo fusion 30L build.
     
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  9. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

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    I don't have experience with the Tunze, but my experience with this was not good. I liked the full-size PLS-50 much better.
     
  10. Toallhisdoom

    Toallhisdoom Dragon Wrasse

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    Guess I will go with the tunze 9001 then! :p