Ultra Reef has been making protein skimmers for over a decade, but being based in Europe the only time we ever got to spend with these fractionating machines was brief stints during trips to Europe. Well finally we have our hands on the brand new 2020 edition of each of Ultra Reef’s protein skimmer models and boy are we smitten with the build quality of these reef aquarium devices.
We’re going to kick it off with the Akula UKS 180 protein skimmer and before we even took it out of the box, the fit and finish of this skimmer is glaringly obvious. But as perfunctory for our in-depth reviews, the first thing we did was take apart the entire machine to get intimately acquainted with how it comes apart but mostly, how it comes together.
The first thing that makes the Ultra Reef protein skimmers unique is that they use a special edition of the industry leading Sicce PSK needle wheel pumps with a ‘+’ designation as in the case of this PSK 1000+ for the Akula UKS 180. The other thing you’ll notice is that the pump has a clear housing and white needle wheel impeller so you can easily observe the air & water mixing chamber where all the magic happens. Additionally, at first it appears that the pump itself is green but in fact the entire housing is also clear, revealing the green epoxy potting that seals the motor.
Moving on from there, every part of this skimmer that is not acrylic is precisely machined with incredible attention to detail, and and very tight tolerances everywhere that parts and pieces come together. The venturi intake is machined, it looks pretty standard issue but inside there is a smooth, rounded profile to optimize the gradient of pressure leading to optimized venturi effect – it probably doesn’t really affect the performance, but it’s nice to see that Ultra Reef cared enough to make it this way.
The gate valve is also quite methodical with a high thread count to the knob that raises and lowers the gate valve, for very precise adjustments of the water level. This extra scrutiny to detail extends to the large, voluminous air silencer that also includes a machined screw (who even does that?) with a wide diameter and tight thread count – again you wouldn’t really notice it but this larger adjustment screw will give users much greater control over the airflow intake. One nice surprise included with the Akula is that Ultra Reef saw fit to include a custom made tool to get into the very tight fitting volute of the PSK pump that we’ve struggled with opening in the past.
Another awesome detail that seems minor at first but will translate to much better user experience is that the Akula is perhaps one of the first skimmers that we’ve seen that doesn’t use an O-ring for the skimmer cup. Instead a specially designed gasket that gives a firm, satisfying feel to removing and replacing the skimmer cup, and a similar gasket is used to make the riser tube inside the cup removable for cleaning as well.
It’s a shame that American reefers haven’t had access to the level of craftsmanship that Ultra Reef puts into their protein skimmers, and is probably the most ‘handmade’ aquarium device we have in our entire lineup of reef gear at the Reef Builders Studio. You can probably tell by this overview of the Ultra Reef Akula skimmer that we’re a little bit smitten with the sophistication and quality of this skimmer; it’s so clean and white it almost seems like a shame to put into a reef sump but hey, that’s what this skimmer was made for. We have no doubt that the performance of the Akula will live up to its build quality so stay tuned for a full, in depth review once we summon the courage actually put into use.