Electronic Ballasts 2016
Our top 3 electronic ballasts that we reviewed were chosen based on a price point of around $200-$300, reliability, and features. Our top (3) 1000 watt ballasts are the Solis Tek Matrix v1.2, Hydrofarms Phantom 2, and Sunlight Supply’s Galaxy Grow Amp. Each of these electronic ballasts offer unique features and all are nice units. We will take a look at the ballast specs, output, features, and of course reliability.
High wattage electronic ballasts (anything above 250W) are not manufactured to meet lamp operating standards set by ANSI. Standards have not yet been written by ANSI for electronic ballast compatibility with HID lamps. Because there is no ANSI standard, all electronic ballasts are made differently. This has resulted in inconsistent lamp performance on electronic ballasts. Many of these electronic ballasts are not properly ETL or UL listed for fire and electrical safety.
One troubling thing about electronic ballasts that we have seen consistently from all of the manufacturers are claims of the “Lowest THD Rating”. The Total Harmonic Distortion is a measurement of how clean the signal is going from the ballast to the lamp. Low THD ratings are desirable. High THD ratings put stress on both the lamp and the ballast. We have seen claims of <8% in product specs on manufacturer's websites, and then a number of <12% on the spec sheet including within the product packaging. Some manufacturers claim the "Lowest THD Rating", but then do not provide that spec in any documentation from their website or packaged with their products. Since these claims appear dubious at best, we are left choosing from models offered by companies with proven track records.
Solis Tek Matrix 1000w v1.2
Solis Tek is one of the younger companies in the indoor growing space, but they have come out strong offering ballasts, air cooled light fixtures, and HPS/MH/DE bulbs. They are the first company that I am aware of to offer a MH DE (double ended) bulb, which is impressive in it’s own right.
The Solis Tek Matrix can run either single ended or double ended bulbs/fixtures and offers features like a life/usage odometer, green LED interface, built in timer, dimming and boost capability, remote controls, staggered startup, end of lamp life indicator, etc. Solis Tek also sells a splitter that will allow you to run (2) 600 watt fixtures with the 1000 watt ballast at a slightly diminished output at around 550 watts each, that’s a pretty nice option.
The Solis Tek Matrix online documentation claimed a THD of <8%. However, the documentation included with the unit states a THD output of <12%. Maybe the included spec sheet was for the v1 matrix and not the v1.2 that we had for our comparison, but who really knows. If this ballasts THD rating is the <12% figure, then there is something fraudulent happening with Solis Tek marketing. They also claim on the included documentation "World's Lowest HID Output THD%" (just like most of the other manufacturers), but that simply isn't true. Depending on which numbers are the accurate ones, if either, the other ballasts in our comparison also claim a <8% THD. And if you were to shell out $600 for a EYE Hortilux Platinum 1000 watt ballast, they claim a THD of "4% Max".
Hydrofarm Phantom 2 1000w
The Hydrofarm Phantom 2 has a reputation for reliability. This is really important when talking about electronic ballasts due to a history of product failure issues.
The Phantom 2 includes lamp protection features and Smart Alert Technology that utilizes a 32 MHz fully integrated microprocessor to keep your setup running. The Phantom has built-in hot restrike programming to protect the lamp and ballast in the event of the ballast turning off unexpectedly. The ballast will not attempt to restart a hot lamp for at least 15 minutes.
The main features of the Phantom 2 include:
- Claim a THD of <8%
- 4-way dimming feature for 60%, 75%, 100%, and Super
- The Phantom 2 only supports single ended fixtures
- Will work with standard or proprietary hydrofarm light fixtures
- Ignition voltage control
- LED indicators
- End of lamp protection and indicators
Sunlight Supply Galaxy Grow Amp 1000w
The Sunlight Supply Galaxy is the only electronic ballast in our review that advertises the ability to run 400, 600, and 750 watt bulbs when dialed in to the varying dimming settings. The other manufacturers simply state that you can dim your 1000 watt bulb to the lower wattage settings. We were surprised to hear this about the Galaxy since generally speaking, electronic ballast manufacturers state that when an electronic ballast is turned on, the wattage goes beyond the ballasts stated wattage by 10% during warm up and then adjusts downward afterwards. So this option is something unique about this ballast compared to the others. This unit also has a built in fan, where the other 2 in our comparison have heatsink fins built into the aluminum casing. If you have ever had the cpu fan in your computer go out or start making noise, you might not like this about the Galaxy.
Like Hydrofarms Phantom 2, the Galaxy ballast has a dual universal lamp cord receptacle that will allow it to work with the proprietary Sunlight Supply reflectors as well as the standard reflector types (the Phantoms dual receptacle works with Hydrofarm reflectors and standard types). The Galaxy ballast can run both single ended and double ended lamps/fixtures. The 240 volt only model is not a fan cooled unit like the 120/240 volt model. They claim a THD of <10% in their documentation.
Just because a ballast manufacturer claims something about their product, it doesn’t make it true. I think one of the problems with electronic ballasts are the lack of official standards, that can lead to false claims. There are both an input and an output THD% rating for ballasts. Some manufacturers give you both, some give you one, and some don’t clearly say which they are providing. Some claim a less than 1% return rate, but how do know if this is true or just marketing hype? When there are no official standards, manufacturers can tell you that their ballast powers flying saucers and you have no way to prove otherwise.
So with any electronic ballast, you are taking somewhat of a gamble on what you are actually getting. If a particular ballast has a good reliability track record amongst hydroponic shop owners, who deal with product returns, that holds a lot in determining what you should purchase. Hydroponic shop owners have actually stopped carrying certain electronic ballasts because the return rate is so high that they lose money. All of the electronic ballasts available on the market today are made in China. Without official ANSI standards and with some units lacking ETL or UL listing, safety is also a concern.
The (3) 1000 watt ballasts that we reviewed in 2016 are nearly identical in operation and performance and at that time we liked the Solis Tek Matrix.
In 2020 we researched these 3 units and only the Phantom 2 is still widely available.
Solis Tek appears to have changed their name to Generation Alpha Inc. which wasn’t easy to figure out and then finding their website took some time. The only disappointment with their ballast over time was that the remote control seems to go crazy at times changing the ballasts settings unless you remove the batteries after setting the ballast, but if you do that you lose some of the functionality of the unit like the schedule timer and boost option. If the remotes batteries go dead the schedule timer goes away as it only exists in the remote, there is no option on the ballast. Only basic wattage changes can be made on the ballast itself. I doubt anybody would ever use the remotes schedule timer anyway so no big loss. So after setting the ballast the batteries come out and it goes in a drawer until it is needed.
Sunlight Supply is now Sun System and they killed off the unit in our review and replaced it with a ballast sold under the brand name Galaxy but only works with Sun System products, sorta confusing. Ultimately, their proprietary plug takes them out of consideration all together.
In 2020 we would buy the Phantom 2 out of these 3 units. Avoid the cheap ballasts on amazon unless you want your house to burn down.