Stevehman's LED Buyer's Guide

Thread starter #1
Stevehman's LED buyers guide:

I've been answering questions about which LED to buy, how to use them and which company is best for the past year. First let me say that I am not an expert in LEDs, so all of my opinions are just that–my opinions. Also, I'm not going to debate LED vs. HPS, CFL, MH etc... They all are capable of growing quality meds. This is written with the premise that the buyer has researched the other light systems and decided that LEDs are the way to go for their situation.

I have been using LEDs for the past year and have 4 successful grows under my belt and have journaled them here on 420, I try to keep a detailed record of my successes and failures so that I can track what I've done and what I should either replicate or avoid. There are so many vendors out there; I won't make any recommendations on which one to buy in this thread (if you want my opinion, just read my journals). The only recommendation I will make here is that you buy from a sponsor of the site; it helps keep the community going.

When it comes to purchasing an LED lighting unit you should do your research and know what you're goals are. Let's start with a quick checklist of information you need to compile before you start the search for the "perfect" lighting system for your grow:

Pre-purchase checklist:
1) Budget (LEDs are more expensive than other lights, about 2~3 times more than a comparable HPS system)
2) Size of grow space (both foot print and height are factors to consider)
3) Style of grow (SOG, SCROG, LST, Bush, tree etc...)
4) Cooling requirements

Once you know what your requirements are, you then need to see if an LED unit is the best value for your needs (notice I didn't say cheapest or cost effective). Although LEDs are much more expensive than other types of lights, they do have some offsets that help make up for the price gap. They require little or no cooling (depending on your space), they have a lifespan that is several times longer than other lights (CFLs are a close one though), they use less electricity, and they have a low profile (perfect for height restricted spaces). If after you've looked at all of your data you've decided that an LED is in your future it's time to decide on which unit is going to be best for you.

First let's look at the foot print. Just about every manufacturer lists their "core coverage" numbers on their sites. Take most of those numbers with a grain of salt. Here are my recommendations:

Foot Print Light Size
2x2 a single 180-240 watt unit should be adequate for this space
2x3 a single 300-400 watt unit
2x4 two 180-240 watt units
4x4 four 180-240 watt units, a pair of 300-400 watt units or a single 600+ unit
4x6 three 300-400 watt units or a pair of 600+ units

For spaces larger, just take the recommended numbers and apply them, for example a 4X8 tent would use twice the lights of the 4x4. Also when planning your grow there is a "third light effect" when using two lights. They way that works is the space between the two lights has the effect of having a third light over it. Let's say your core coverage is 2x2 and the are outside that is dropped down to 50% effective (say out to 30 inches) , if you have the light from another LED unit covering that with its "outside" coverage as well, you have 50% from each light hitting that spot and effectively having the power of a third light covering that gap increasing your overall foot print. So, when laying out you lights, take that into consideration. If you core coverage is 2x2, place your lights about 30~ inches on center from each other, your eight above canopy will be a factor in this. Place your lights into the space and adjust them prior to putting your plants in.

So you know you are ready to purchase an LED, and you know how many and what size you need, now which one to buy?

What watt is what?
This is usually the first question I am asked; how many watts do I need? First you need to understand that all watts are not created equal (will actually a watt is a watt). Watt isn't equal is how manufacturers label their units. You should look at the watts a unit actually uses and not the "watts on the board". Let's take for example a unit that has 288 3watt LED chips on the board, 288x3=864 so I have an 864 watt unit right? Nope! You have a unit that is capable of 864 watts if driven to its capacity. When you drive a unit to its max you are going to produce a lot of heat and shorten the lifespan of the unit considerably. So most manufacturers only drive their units to a fraction of that and balance the fine line of performance and reliability. So that same unit that has a board wattage of 864 may be marketed as anything from a 360 to a 800 watt light. The key here is to forget what the name is, look at the actual power draw of the unit. In my experience these units have about a 10% overhead draw for fans and power supply (so a 360 unit draws about 400watts). Beware of lights that purport to be 90watt units but only draw 18watts!

1watt vs. 3watt
LED chips come in several wattage outputs, from less than a watt up to 100watts (very expensive and experimental). The common sizes you'll see in a grow light are 1 and 3 watt chips. 3 watt chips are better suited for applications that require more penetration. If you are doing a low profile grow, or cloning then 1 watt chips will be fine. For anything else a 3 watt chip is the only way to go. Now not all 3 watt chips are made alike. There are companies that manufacture them in the US, Europe and China (we're talking the LED chip, not the light unit). It is widely accepted that the better quality chips are going to be US made, names like CREE and Bridgelux are the leaders in LED research and manufacturing)

Wavelengths:
What is best? 11, 9, 7 4 wavelengths of color? Is UV required, what about white LEDs? What is the PAR rating? All good questions, I'm not a scientist so I can only base my opinion on my own observation. I have found that the 11 bandwidth units I use do a fantastic job; they don't use white LEDs, but do have UV. They claim to have peak PAR values and without the proper test equipment I can't give quantifiable data (if anyone wants to send me a PAR meter, I will be glad to run an exhaustive series of tests on several lights).

Buy US made?
There is a lot of rhetoric about "don't buy cheap Chinese LEDs", well that is true, to a point. Almost every LED grow light is assembled in China, but where their design and parts come from is the important part. Are they using high quality powers supplies (the part most likely to fail), what type of heat sink are they using, are they using all US made chips, or just a few, or none at all?

Drop shippers vs. brick and mortar:
In the world of the internet, anyone can become a vendor. All you need is a website and a point of contact in China to accept orders and ship them for you. IMHO about 80% of the vendors in the industry (to include hydro companies) never even carry inventory. They take you order, accept your payment and then place your order with their supplier who in turn sends it to your address–all from the comfort of their college dorm room. I'm all for the entrepreneurial spirit and if your buying low cost items that won't break (net pots, nutrients etc...) then why not put some spare change into a starving college kids pockets. If you are buying something that may break and you need to call customer support and have it replaced, there is no substitute for an actual company with a real warehouse and a customer support line (that will actually be answered).

There are a bunch of "one-man" operations out there drop-shipping lights from China, and some of them are OK units. The issues will start when the unit breaks, has a faulty driver, fan stops etc... If they ask you to send the light back and THEN they will send you a replacement, that is an issue, they should send the replacement out immediately and allow you to return the light in the box the replacement came in--postage paid!

Unless you are prepared for the potential headaches, DO NOT buy LEDs from drop shippers. If they don't have them in stock and can have them to you in 3~5 days, they are most likely a drop-shipper (unless they just happened to sell out their entire inventory–which happens).

What's the word on the street?
Check out other people's journals, look for reviews, Google the name of the company and if possible the name of the owner of the company. T here is a whole internet full of information out there and if you don't take the 5 minutes to research the company that you are about to send $1,000 of you hard earned money to, shame on you. There is at least one company out there that is known to have reputation of poor customer support and going as far as calling the local sheriff's office on one of their customers because they weren't happy with the result of a customer service dispute (avoid any company that has threatened to put additional charges on your credit card, or that they will call LEO and report your "illegal" grow, sounds odd, but it has happened).

Read grow journals that have the lights you are interested in, when possible look for comparison grows. Beware of company's own website testimonials unless they're linked to a known grower. Check out YouTube as well for grow information, but again, be aware that some companies are posting their own videos and passing them off as satisfied customers.

Research the company. How long have they been in business, check out the whois.net to see when they registered their company site, where they're located etc...

Do you own research and make your own decision. At the end of the day you are the one that pulled the trigger and spent the money and the one that will have to live with the results if your decision was made in haste.


When you do decide to make a purchase, here are some questions you want to ask the company:
1) How long is your warranty?
2) What is your replacement procedure?
3) Are your units in stock, or do you drop-ship them from the factory?
4) How many employees do you have? (some companies claim to have in-house scientist, ask for their credentials if they are making that claim. Some one-man operations are fine, but then one person is taking, filling and shipping orders and handling customer service)
5) Ask for details on the light, number and type of chips, actual wattage, recommended core coverage and height above canopy etc..
6) When will this unit ship, and when can I expect to have a tracking number?

I am sure that you have more questions now that you've read this, that's a good thing. It means you're doing some critical thinking. Now it's time to do some homework of your own, fire up the search engines, crack a book or magazine article open and make and informed decision. If you find some information to share feel free to put it here. The only thing I ask is that you keep everything here company name free and not make specific endorsements on a manufacturer. If you want my recommendation I will send it via PM (or you can read my journals)
 
Excellent post Stevehman. I know this is my first post but I've been lurking here for a long time. A few things I would like to add from my personal research: Companies that claim to be 100% American made and have 660+ nm led's in their product are not using 1 watt+ leds or they are not American made. Not all companies claiming to use 3 watt leds are... they are using 3 - 1 watt leds (chips) on a single "star" or cluster. That "star" or cluster is 3 watts but it is actually 1 watt diodes.

I personally disagree with you on the white led usage, but that is just from my personal research/testing. It does fill in some of the mid-range spectra. UV is proven to help increase resin and oil development as a protective response mechanism.
 
Thread starter #3
Hosebomber,
I've never used a unit with white LEDs so I can't comment on their effectiveness (if you re-read the post you'll notice I didn't say anything negative about them, just that I haven't had any experience). I do believe however that you are correct in the resin increase with UV. I just finished trimming up 6 Gigabuds and my gloves are stuck together, had to change them 3 times.

You are correct on the chips as well, before someone buys they need to do research and make an informed decision.

Thanks for stopping in and becoming a member of 420. I'm honored you made your first post here.
 
Hi, first time poster here. Thanks for all the great info. I have narrowed my first LED purchase down to Growstealth's 600W Quantum vs Advance LED's 360W Extreme Flower. Is there any info that would suggest one is better then the other? I have gotten this far but deciding between the two has not been easy. Big difference between the two is # of wavelengths and actual wattage output. Any advice would be greatly appreciated by anyone out there. Thanks.
 
Thread starter #6
Hi, first time poster here. Thanks for all the great info. I have narrowed my first LED purchase down to Growstealth's 600W Quantum vs Advance LED's 360W Extreme Flower. Is there any info that would suggest one is better then the other? I have gotten this far but deciding between the two has not been easy. Big difference between the two is # of wavelengths and actual wattage output. Any advice would be greatly appreciated by anyone out there. Thanks.
Greenhairball,
I would look at journals using both lights. I have used the Advanced and Jozo-sha has the Stealth, Both are great units. You know where my bias lies, but please check out several journals and decide for yourself. If may be worth waiting a week or two though to see what Advanced is coming out with.

Welcome to 420 and again, I am honored that another member has chosen this to be their first post!
:Namaste:
 
Thanks to you Steve I ended up calling Advanced today and ordered the new Diamond Series 800W. Can't wait to see what this bad boy can do. They said that the price I got was a promotional price for previous customers (although it was my first order there) and that the promo prices will be locked in for a full year if I buy before they release on their website. The prices are going to be higher once they release the new series on their website in the next few weeks. If anyone out there is planning on buying the new Diamond Series then I would get them now while the price is lower. Just give them a call. Im glad I didn't wait, saved some $. This will be my first LED grow. I might have to do a journal. Should receive my light within 2 weeks. Sooo excited, thanks again Steve!
 
Thread starter #13
Current LED sponsors and grow journals showing off their products

Advanced LED Lights
http://www.420magazine.com/forums/j...0-vs-180-multiple-strains-nft-grow-4-0-a.html
http://www.420magazine.com/forums/j...oned-s-720watt-led-god-s-gift-hydro-grow.html


Grow Stealth LEDs
http://www.420magazine.com/forums/j...bloom-white-widow-ak47-amazon-aeroponics.html
http://www.420magazine.com/forums/j...eaturing-super-silver-haze-mr-nice-seeds.html


Dorm Grow LEDs


Haight Solid State


LED Grow Lights Direct








I was unable to find current, or completed journals for all of the sponsors, if you know of one, please send me a PM or post it here. I can ask the mods to edit the post to complete the list. Also, if I missed a sponsor (manufacturer, not reseller) let me know and I will have them added as well, that will give us a "one-stop" resource for relevant information.
 
Disregard LEDs that use white, IMO. You're going to want the 525nm to get the green which will help photosynthesis.

I never really understood the 11 wavelengths, as all my research shows that's more than needed. Some of those wavelengths, I'm sure are wasted light. Well, I'm not sure, let me take that back, it seems from research are wasted.
 
Disregard LEDs that use white, IMO. You're going to want the 525nm to get the green which will help photosynthesis.
While I believe that having more than red and blue led's is better, I have to disagree with the use of 525nm green leds. There is only one peer reviewed study that has used green leds. That study proved that the more green added the less fruit yield off tomato plants, cucumbers did grow better with around 20% blue (400-500nm), 40% green yellow orange (500-600nm), and 40% red(600-700nm). MMJ is closer in growing characteristics to the Tomato than just about any plant.

You can read that study here!

White leds spectral distribution covers a large range of wavelengths and MAY (there have not been any peer reviewed studies that go into great depth as of yet) be a better option than using multiple led colors and bins to hit the void between red and blue (which have been proven to be peak photosynthetic response ranges). You can view the Luxeon Rebel Datasheet here!
 
I've read that study as well as the Oxford one.

The one you're speaking of; they tested multiple combinations of different ratios of green, red, and blue light and yes, depending on how much of any wavelength was tested altered the end results. The proper balance of the 3 wavelengths is what gives optimal results.

Ed talking about it, referencing his time @ University of Maryland:

Ed Rosenthal on LED Lights - YouTube

Granted we're all still learning new things everyday.
 
Thread starter #17
I love peer reviewed studies, fellow researchers will call B.S. and throw your trash in the street if you don't have numbers to back it up.

As far as I know, there is only one company touting the use of green LEDs in their lights, and they are no longer a sponsor (in fact their name is not even allowed to be mentioned). And the mix is 15% green, which is a lot considering the total number of chips on the board. The company selling those lights have a master of self-promotion running the operation and is highly skilled at marketing, but if you do your own research on them (a simple Google search with the company name and owner's name), you may be surprised at what you find--I will just leave it at that.

Best bet is to stick with a sponsors product, members here are quick to report on products and will definitely call someone out on their B.S. if it's revealed.

(For those using lights from that other company, you may be satisfied and have had terrific results--and that is the bottom line for you. If so I am not trying to bash you as a grower, just shedding some light on the industry in general)
 
Thread starter #18
JJ,
I just watched Ed's video, I trust his opinion, but am not sold on green yet. I plan on purchasing some components to make a green led spotlight and will use that in a future grow and test it's effectiveness as a supplemental wavelength (using it in my test grow on half the plants). I can build a few small spots and give it a shot to see if it works. (if I can buy a couple spots cheaper than buying the parts, I will do that as well)

It is odd that green is considered the safe light to use for night time viewing of your plants, but is also being reported as being a way to increase production.
 
"It is odd that green is considered the safe light to use for night time viewing of your plants, but is also being reported as being a way to increase production."

I was thinking the same thing. I use a green LED flashlight often to view my plants when they are sleeping. Now I'm wondering if I can/should still do that. The plants came out ok but maybe they could have been better.
 
I love peer reviewed studies, fellow researchers will call B.S. and throw your trash in the street if you don't have numbers to back it up.

As far as I know, there is only one company touting the use of green LEDs in their lights, and they are no longer a sponsor (in fact their name is not even allowed to be mentioned). And the mix is 15% green, which is a lot considering the total number of chips on the board. The company selling those lights have a master of self-promotion running the operation and is highly skilled at marketing, but if you do your own research on them (a simple Google search with the company name and owner's name), you may be surprised at what you find--I will just leave it at that.

Best bet is to stick with a sponsors product, members here are quick to report on products and will definitely call someone out on their B.S. if it's revealed.

(For those using lights from that other company, you may be satisfied and have had terrific results--and that is the bottom line for you. If so I am not trying to bash you as a grower, just shedding some light on the industry in general)
This is shaping into a great thread, well done steve, good idea. I think any newbie who finds this will be far ahead in an educated decision. Us discussing all this is the research for them in a sense...heh.

I'm totally open to being incorrect. I'm a skeptic by far, so as time passes and more is revealed about LED's I'm open for the truth.

One of the 420mags current sponsors, GrowStealthLED also is current running this light in their units. Now, doesn't say 525 nm but is 510-540, I shouldn't have thrown out the 525 number, as I don't know of an exact, perfect one.

In regards to night lights, I've thought about this as well. And my theory is that when the green is completely by itself, there is no effect to the plants, however when it is combined with other types of light would be a different scenario.