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Best HOB Filters For Aquariums In 2021 -Top 8 Ultimate Reviews

What’s worse than losing fish to unseen dangers in the water? Nothing! Well, besides having to see cloudy, dirty-looking water all day.

Your filter plays a vital role in the aquarium ecosystem. Treat it like the important piece it is and it will pay off immensely.

The right filter gives you cleaner, clearer water that will improve the health of your fish. But what makes the best HOB filters for aquariums better than others? And, which ones are the best?

Find out here…

HOB Filters For Aquariums

Top 8 Best HOB Filters In 2021 Reviews

1 Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter 

For the home aquarium hobbyist, this filter comes in 5 different sizes. The Aqua Clear fish tank filter comes in 20, 30, 50, 70, or 110-gallon sizes. The basic design remains the same throughout all the size differences.

With an energy efficient 14W pump that keeps a consistent flow rate, this filter is fairly reliable. Water is filtered and then most of that water is re-filtered again to allow great contact time with the filtration media. All three types of media can be installed using loose media.

From the smallest to the largest size, the filter pumps at these speeds in gallons per hour: 100, 150, 200, 300, and 500. You can adjust the flow rate lower if needed.

Maintenance in this filter is simple. Beginner hobbyists can clean this filter without any trouble. Media pieces only need replacing every 1 to 3 months.


This is a reliable, well-built filter that’s available in a wide range of sizes. Whether you’ve got a small tank or a large tank, there’s an Aqua Clear filter option for you. That makes it really convenient for most home hobbyists.

Let’s spill the tea on what’s working for and against this filter…

Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter
Our rating:3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

  • 3 filtration media pieces included with the filter
  • Quieter water noise than other similar filters
  • Filter media from any brand is usable within size constraints
  • Simple to set up on most tanks
  • Powerful filter will keep the water clean and clear
  • High flow rate for a HOB filter
  • Not very compatible with sand substrates
  • Pump does not handle power outages well and may burn out
  • Sponge filter gets dirty quickly
  • Does not react well when contacted with hot water (in cleaning or in the tank)

2 MarineLand Emperor Filter Systems 

From MarineLand, this HOB filter is a powerful option for tanks up to around 80 gallons. It’s only available in one size.

The flow rate for this filter goes up to 400 GPH maximum. It’s adjustable to accommodate the needs of your tank. Water returns to the tank through two separate openings.

The MarineLand Emperor filter achieves all three types of filtration. You will use rite-size E filter cartridges or similarly sized cartridges to get the right effect. Cartridges mix and match to give the right balance of media.

For more biological benefit, two rotating BIO-wheels attach to the front of the filter by the return spouts. These wheels collect and house beneficial bacteria, helping your tank maintain the proper cycle all the time. Wheels are not replaced at the same time as cartridges.


If you’re looking for a more compact and sleek filter, this is a great option. The BIO-wheels are a nice feature to keep your biological media intact even when you’re cleaning the filter. Overall, it’s a solid choice for medium to large tanks with a normal fish load.

What else is there to know? Here’s the scoop…

  • 4 cartridges at once give you flexibility on filtration priorities
  • Cartridges are easy to replace
  • Keeps the tank very clean
  • Easy to set up on most tanks
  • Good alternative to a canister for limited space
  • Motor can be very loud if not set up exactly right
  • Flow rate isn’t strong enough for large tanks
  • Filtration media is not all included

3 Fluval C Power Filter 

Fluval’s C power filters come in three different sizes. The C2 is good for tanks up to 30 gallons, the C3 is for up to 50 gallons, and the C4 is for up to 70 gallons. All three filter sizes have a similar design.

As far as the flow rates, they operate at these maximums: 119 GPH for the C2, 153 GPH for the C3, and 264 GPH for the C4. All three filters attach to the tank edge with a simple clip.

The largest filter has 5 filtration levels, including cartridge slots. You can pick and choose which cartridges to use, as long as you stick to the proper sizing. Water is cycled through the filtration area multiple times to improve water clarity.

Within the filter, the bio-media poly film has an indicator that tells you when it needs to be cleaned. This gives you a good idea when you need to maintain the filter and helps you stay on a consistent schedule.


There’s a good size range for different tanks. You’ll get a great flow rate on each different C filter to match whatever size tank you use it in. It keeps tank water clear without excessive maintenance.

Here’s the rundown…

Fluval C Power Filter
Our rating:3.7 out of 5 stars (3.7 / 5)

  • Won’t interfere with sand substrates
  • Filter maintenance is simple and straightforward
  • Deep intake tube works well for taller tanks
  • Easy to customize the filtration
  • Good size range for aquariums up to 70 gallons
  • Impeller can make noise during operation
  • Top mechanical filter clogs easily
  • Parts are made with lower quality plastics

4 MarineLand Penguin Power Filter 

The MarineLand Penguin power filter is offered in four sizes. You can get models that operate up to 20, 30, 50, or 70 gallons.

Flow rates for each filter are as follows: 100 GPH, 150 GPH, 200 GPH, and 350 GPH. The 20, 30, and 50-gallon versions have one filtration area and return while the 70-gallon filter has two of each.

In all 4 sizes, the filter uses cartridges and BIO-wheels to clean your tank water. The only difference in filtration between the four is that the 70-gallon filter has twice the cartridge spots and two BIO-wheels. Each filter gives all 3 types of filtration with the right cartridges.

This filter is very easy to set up. It has all the equipment and accessories in the box for immediate use, including filter cartridges and media. Replacement cartridges and BIO-wheels are available for each filter when necessary, though they use different sizes.


This is an affordable, simple option for keeping your tank clean. You can get the right size for most home tanks. Cartridges and BIO-wheels make it easy to maintain your filter so your tank never suffers.

Is there something else you should know about this filter? Check it out…

MarineLand Penguin Power Filter
Our rating:3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

  • BIO-wheel keeps biological media intact during cleaning
  • All cartridges and media included with the kit
  • Extra space in the filter for loose media
  • Simple attaching mechanism
  • BIO-wheel makes noticeable noise when first installed, lessens over time
  • Impeller design grinds against housing, may be an issue in the long-term

5 Seachem Tidal Filter by Sicce 

Meant for 55-gallon home tanks, this Seachem Tidal filter is a sleek black HOB filter option. The color helps it remain inconspicuous on most tank setups.

You get a flow rate of up to 250 GPH. This can be adjusted downward to suit smaller tanks or pickier fish.

Intended for both freshwater and saltwater tanks, this filter has a built-in surface skimmer and an adjustable flow rate. The media compartment is open for use with loose or bagged media that fits into the basket, rather than using cartridges.

A few extra features that make it stand out are the self-priming pump, built-in maintenance monitor tools, and the self-cleaning impeller. Hang the filter on the edge of your tank without thinking about clipping it in place or making manual adjustments.


When you want something that’s not going to look out of place or clunky, this is a nice choice. The color and style of the filter are more subdued, so the focus remains on your tank instead of the accessories.

What’s not to love? Well, maybe a few things…

Seachem Tidal Filter by Sicce
Our rating:3.7 out of 5 stars (3.7 / 5)

  • Looks sleek and attractive on your tank
  • Runs very quietly
  • No manual priming needed after turning it back on
  • Full filter media customization
  • Built-in surface skimmer works well
  • Simple maintenance
  • May not fit well on tanks with trim around the top
  • Flow rate adjustor isn’t always effective
  • Filter basket can clog easily
  • A large area of the filter is inside the water

6 Penn Plax Cascade 

You have a lot of buying options with the Penn Plax Cascade. There are 6 different models based on the GPH flow rate: 20, 80, 100, 150, 200, and 300 GPH.

The flow rate for the largest filter makes it appropriate for tanks up to around 100 gallons. The smallest filter is for nano tanks no larger than 7 gallons. All the other sizes fit in between these two extremes.

Filter media is contained within cartridges, giving you the option to choose what types of filtration you want in your tank. Larger versions have more filtration options and extra space for loose media or sponges. Each filter also contains Bio-Falls for consistent biological filtering.

For simpler installation, this filter self-levels on all tanks that it can fit over. It’s easy to go out of the box and intuitive to set up, even if you’re a beginner.


If you want a simple HOB filter that checks most of the boxes, this is a good option. You can get it in a large size range for any tank. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to confuse you if you don’t understand aquarium management very well.

Penn Plax Cascade
Our rating:3.7 out of 5 stars (3.7 / 5)

  • Available in 6 different sizes
  • Bio-Falls help you retain healthy biological media constantly
  • Effectively oxygenates the tank while filtering
  • Flow rate adjustment controls work well
  • Runs quietly
  • Smaller sizes are great for nano tanks
  • Filter system can get noisy over time if it clogs up
  • Flow rate can only be adjusted by minimal amounts
  • Some models allow too much water to bypass the filter cartridges

7 Aqueon QuietFlow LED Pro 

There are 5 different purchasing options for the Aqueon QuietFlow LED PRO. The sizes are as follows: 10, 20, 30, 50, and 75 gallons.

Each filter has a flow rate appropriate for the tank size. They operate at these flow rates, respectively: 100, 125, 200, 250, and 400 GPH. These maximum flow rates are great for most home tanks and are higher than other similar filters.

All three types of filtration can be achieved in these filters. Cartridges contain different types of media so you can arrange it as you please. To quiet down the return flow and boot biological filtration, a diffuser grid is placed at the very end of the filter cycle.

The built-in self-priming pump is an attractive feature if you’re worried about power outages or pump burnout. You won’t have to prime it yourself in order to get it started up again. The filter hangs on the edge of the tank rather than clipping on.


Here’s a good filter when you need a higher flow rate. It’s great for notoriously messy fish species, larger fish loads, and even small turtles.

What else could you want? There are a few things to note before you make the leap…

Aqueon QuietFlow LED Pro
Our rating:3.4 out of 5 stars (3.4 / 5)

  • Good for messy fish and turtles
  • Lots of options for small to large tanks
  • Thin profile is attractive and easy to install
  • All necessary media included in the box
  • Very quiet
  • No loose media or bags can be used
  • Cannot fit easily onto tanks with trim around the top
  • A large part of the filter sits inside the water
  • Longevity can be an issue

8 Tetra Whisper EX Silent 

Depending on what you need, you can find a Tetra Whisper EX Silent filter to match your tank. This filter is available in the following sizes: 20, 30, 45, and 70 gallons.

While the larger 70-gallon version uses twice the filtration media, the 3 smaller options have a single chamber area to hold filter cartridges. Flow rates for each of the models are 110, 160, 240, and 340 GPH respectively.

The motor for this filter is submerged in water, which helps it operate more quietly and relieves some of the maintenance. Timestrips on each filter cartridge change colors to show you when the cartridge needs to be replaced.


This is a simple filter to go with a regular home tank. Though not ideal for fuller fish loads or very large tanks, it’s a good option for the casual hobbyist. It won’t break the bank and is likely to get the job done.

What more is there to know? Quite a bit, actually…

Tetra Whisper EX Silent
Our rating:3.4 out of 5 stars (3.4 / 5)

  • Ready to use right out of the box
  • Return flow valve helps oxygenate the water
  • Self-priming for easy start
  • Tetra provides good customer service
  • Simple operation is easy to understand and manage
  • Return valve can create a lot of noise
  • Leaks may develop over time and slow the flow rate considerably
  • Newer cartridges may not have the replacement warning strip anymore
  • Leftover waste can be put back into the tank immediately after cleaning

HOB Filter Buying Guide

What does a hang-on-back (HOB) filter involve? There are a lot of considerations to make when you’re choosing the best HOB filter. What’s really at stake here?

Make the wrong choice and you’ll be stressing about your tank constantly. Here’s what to look at if you want to make the right decision the first time around…

Saltwater or Freshwater


Most HOB filters aren’t powerful enough to keep up with saltwater tanks. They’re more likely to work well for freshwater tanks. Saltwater tanks need more maintenance and a stronger filter to keep up with the waste. Some HOB filters may work well for small saltwater tanks.

Best HOB Filters for Aquariums Reviews

HOB filters do work for freshwater tanks. You can use them with most types of fish unless your fish don’t like heavy water flow from the top of the tank. Some tiny freshwater fish may also have an issue with HOB filters because of the water intake suction pipe.

Tank Size

While HOB filters can accommodate most tank sizes, they do have difficulty with tanks that are too large. Because they hang on the edge of the tank, HOB filters may not be efficient enough for very large tanks.

Sometimes reach can be an issue. Tanks that are too large can make it hard to balance water input and output. A HOB filter will struggle to cycle water from all over the tank.

Tank Shape

Along with the size of your tank, your tank shape also plays a role in the effectiveness of a HOB filter. They work best on rectangular or square tanks with similar height and width measurements. Tanks with too much difference in their height and width are hard on HOB filters.

Best Reviews HOB Filters for Aquariums

As the name suggests, a hang-on-back filter attaches to the back of the tank, usually in a corner. If you have a long horizontal tank or a tall vertical tank the filter may not be able to reach all the water. Water cycling is a problem if the filter only reaches a small portion of the water.

Flow Rate (Pump Speed)

Depending on your fish load, your aquarium setup, and your tank dimensions, the flow rate of the filter will make a big difference. Choose a filter that has low flow for a smaller talk or more sensitive setups. High flow rates are great for larger tanks, larger fish loads, and nano reef tanks.

Filtration Stages

Most HOB filters are flexible in terms of filtration stages. You can get all three stages of filtration (mechanical, biological, and chemical) in varying setups. There are two main ways filtration works in these types of filters.

A common setup is a single cartridge or a series of small cartridges in the main chamber. The cartridges contain filtration media of different types. When multiple cartridges are used, you will combine them as you wish and swap specific ones out for maintenance as needed.

HOB Filters for Aquariums Reviews

Other HOB filters have open areas for you to put your choice of filter media inside. When you’re not confined to cartridges, you can set up the filtration stages however you want. You get more options in an open filter, though it is harder to maintain.


With a larger fish load or tank comes more maintenance. If you have a tank that produces more waste, you want a filter that’s easy to maintain. Most HOB filters are easy to clean.

Maintenance usually requires swapping out cartridges, cleaning the filter pieces to remove gunk or grime, and replacing it all. Cartridges or media are replaced at different times depending on the type. Some filters will have numerous biological filtration sections so you can keep your bio-media alive and well in the tank.

HOB filters using loose media are harder to clean if you set them up without bags or nets. When the filter has a separate bio-media section, that should be left alone most of the time. Bio-media rollers are a good option to protect bio-media even when you’re cleaning often.

Operational Noise

Most filters create some kind of noise. The water output from the filter determines the level of noise you can expect. HOB filters will usually have noise, but you can choose a model with a less noisy water output.

Filters that drop water unceremoniously back into the tank from the edge will be louder. More water falling from a high location always leads to noise. For quieter operation, get a filter that drops water a shorter distance through a more controlled dispenser.

HOB vs. Canister Filter

Canister filters and HOB filters are two popular types for aquarium owners. While they can both be effective, there are some important differences, including…

Ease Of Use

HOB filters are very simple. They are intuitive to use and clean, and easy to set up. You don’t have to be an aquarium expert to get started with a HOB filter.

Canisters are a little more involved. They are more difficult to set up and do take a little extra work when it’s time for maintenance. You need to know more about filtration media, organizing that media, and managing water inflows and outflows.

Tank Size

Most HOB filters are not suitable for larger tanks. Anything larger than about 75 gallons will be difficult for a single HOB filter. However, tanks that size or smaller are a great fit.

Canisters are powerful filters that work well for all types of tanks. There are even enormous canister filters for the largest tanks. Your only concern with a canister would be overpowering a small fish tank.

Fish Load

Just like larger tanks need a stronger filter, larger fish loads also do. The more fish you have, the more you’ll want a powerful filter. HOB filters can only keep up to a certain point before you’ll want a more powerful canister. However, most normal fish loads do well with a HOB.

Filtration Media

There’s little difference between the types of filtration you can get with HOB or canisters. If you get the right model, both filters can give all three filtration types. HOB may use cartridges or loose media, while canisters will use pre-shaped bags or loose media.

Best HOB Filters for Aquariums

Canisters give you a little more freedom to decide how or arrange your filtration media. HOB filters are more restrictive with space and design. Larger media allowances in most canister filters also mean less frequent replacements.

However, changing out media in a HOB filter is ridiculously simple. Those that use cartridges involve a simple swap that takes only a few seconds.

Noise Levels

Not all canisters are quiet, but they are generally quieter than HOB filters. HOB filters usually trickle water back into the tank straight from the filter. This tends to make noise, and you may have to buy an attachment to make it quieter.


HOB filters are almost always the cheaper option. Many canisters are expensive to purchase and may need some extra parts to get them fully set up in your tank. A good HOB filter usually costs less than an equivalent canister filter.

Space Requirements

For a canister filter, you need space to put the larger filter itself. You’ll probably have to put it below the tank in a cabinet, which can be difficult to manage and may ruin the aesthetic. HOB filters attach to the edge of your tank on the back, out of site.


When it comes to good aquarium HOB filters, there’s no perfect option. Remember that every product has its good and bad points. Because of that, you have to jump in and get the one you feel would be best for your setup.

For a good overall choice that’s easy to manage, try the Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter. If you’re keen on the aesthetics of the tank, the Seachem Tidal Filter by Sicce looks great and works well.

The top HOB filters for aquariums may not all be the best choice for you. Look at what’s most important in your tank and buy what makes sense to you.

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