We’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the AI Vega on our 29 gallon coral aquarium for over a year but with the release of the Hydra 26, it was time to try something new. Having our AI Vega in white be replaced with a nearly identical, white fixture which is smaller but equally bright is quite a surprise, especially when you’ve been looking at the same corals under the same light for so long, but it really only took about ten minutes to adjust.
The Vega has 20 LEDs and a power rating of up to 95 watts while the Hydra 26 has 26 LEDs and a power rating up to 90 watts. While we never ran the Vega at full power, especially the red and white colors, its spread out LEDs really helped to fill the roughly two foot cube with light in every corner.
The spread of light from the Hydra 26 was going to be our main sticking point since its LEDs are clustered more centrally but AquaIllumination did an amazing job of engineering the light spread and color mixing. With all of its diodes grouped into two tight clusters, the Hydra 26 clearly has much better color mixing than the widely spaced diodes of the Vega.
When the water flow rippled the surface quite strongly, the color spread of the Vega had a noticeable disco-ball effect that wasn’t that distracting, but could be a problem in other tanks with more surface agitation. With the new Hydra 26 on the tank, the tightly grouped LED clusters create almost no disco-ball effect and the lighting is impressively uniform throughout every corner of the tank.
It’s hard to compare the light color of two different LED lights with different LEDs inside of them but with the white, green and red channels reduced to 20% and all other shades of blue and pink cranked up to 100%, the color differences of the two lights becomes noticeable. The AI Vega with its rich blue and no UV appears definitely more cool blue in color. Meanwhile the Hydra 26 with its omission of regular “bright” 460nm blue and use of shorter wavelength UV and Violet LEDs is a pronounced more purple coloration, like an old-school T5 spectrum in many ways.
The quantity and quality of the light is nearly indistinguishable between the Hydra26 and Vega LED lights and AquaIllumination really pushed the limits of how much light can come from such a small package. We might miss the slightly brighter fluorescence of orange and yellow colors that regular blue LEDs offer but this is an acceptable tradeoff to have much more pink, purple and red colors being rendered by the short wavelength diodes.
The photos in this review of the Hydra 26 next to the AI Vega do a good job of showing the approximate color difference between the two lights but the real point here is that AI has squeezed as much power and functionality into a $400 light as they previously offered for $600. Despite its small size, if the Hydra 26 can go toe-to-toe with the previous flagship AI Vega LED it goes to show that the AI Hydra 26 is most definitely not a nano LED light, even if its form factor suggests as much.