Top aquarium canister filter

If you’re in a hurry and eager to find out the best aquarium canister filter. Then we would recommend the EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter.

Filters are the beating heart of any fish tank. Good filtration is paramount in maintaining a healthy environment for your fish to thrive in. Canister filters, although on average more expensive, have an excellent reputation for providing superior filtration. 

During this article, I will recommend what I believe to be the best aquarium canister filter in the market, which will keep your little friends healthy and happy. 

How does a canister filter work? 

Canister filters use a plastic box (Canister) which holds different media filter trays. (Please see our general article ‘here’ on Aquarium filters where we explain in-depth Biological, Mechanical and Chemical filtration). The canister will sit away from the tank, often hidden in something like a cupboard below the tank. The tubes attached to the canister will pull water from the tank, thanks to the help of a pump (which also sits within the canister), siphoning the water through the filter trays. Another tube will then push the filtered water back into the tank.

The key benefits of a canister filter? 

Large media capacity

They can hold far more filter media than other types of filters. They also provide larger surface areas for beneficial bacteria to grow, which ultimately results in superior filtration. 

Easy access & maintenance for cleaning

Canister filters are straightforward to maintain. The fact they sit away from the tank means you can easily disconnect them during maintenance without the worry of disturbing the tank’s inhabitants. 


Canister filters have a strong reputation for being well built, with many coming from countries like Germany and Italy synonymous with creating quality aquatic products. Many also come with extended warranties. 

Quiet operation

Because canister filters are separate from the tank, they have a reputation for being inherently quiet, avoiding the vibration noise of a “hang on the back” filter. The way the water is filtered allows the clean water to be sprayed back into the tank, avoiding the splashing sound that often occurs with other filters. 

*Check out our Fluval 07 series canister filter review ‘here’ where we talk about the key things to consider prior to purchase. 

Don’t forget to prime your filter! 

Priming is something that has to happen to all filters in the start-up phase. Essentially, priming means filling the pump reservoir of water to get the filter working. Otherwise, the filter will be running with air in the tubs instead of water, which can damage the system. A lot of filters now come with self-priming buttons, which you merely press to bring water into the tubs and the reservoir. However, the ones that don’t will need water added into the reservoir manually until it is full. When you do this, make sure that the pump is off. 

needyfish’s favorite aquarium canister filters 

We have searched through a wide variety of different products and have shortlisted the following four, which we hope will help you make an informed decision. 

1. Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter 

Key Features

  • 3 stage filtration 
  • Three sizes available 
  •  Filter media needed to get started

Marineland is a reputable brand within the aquarium industry. This canister filter works for either fresh or saltwater aquariums. Many users commented on the ease to set up and the quality of the overall product. However, it is always advised to check the tubes’ connections carefully as they can become loose reasonably quickly from the slight movement of the canister, which can result in leaking. Customers were very impressed with the overall filtration of this product. 


  • Reputable brand
  • Easy setup 
  • Plenty of room for different media 


  • Confusing instructions 

2. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter 

Key Features

  • Comes in 5 sizes 
  • Flow valves that rotate 360 degrees 
  • Push-button primer 
  • Price includes a spray bar

Customers commented on the sturdiness of the individual components of this filter. With the added bonus of translucent castings meaning you can see what’s going on inside. However, although this filter comes with everything you need to get started, it’s advised you purchase additional filter media as the ones supplied are not the best quality. Several users were delighted with the larger filter trays it comes with, allowing for more media and extended time periods between replacement. 


  • Easy maintenance
  • A fold-up handle which lets you pick it up easily
  • Extra-large media baskets allow more room for customization
  • Sturdy components


  • Will consume quite a lot of power
  • Poor quality media

3. Fluval External canister filter 

Key Features

  • Comes in 4 sizes 
  • Multi-stage filtration 
  • Built with a patented aquastop valve
  • 3-year warranty
  • Auto prime feature 

Users were delighted with the overall performance, which is no surprise considering Fluval’s excellent reputation. However, you will often have to pay a slight premium for their products. Many users commented on the aquastop valve, which is unique to Fluval. This feature helps stop water flow without the need to disconnect the hoses, preventing potential leaks, making the maintenance process a lot easier. Overall a simple to use well-built product. 


  • Reputable brands
  • Easy set up / maintenance 
  • Very quiet 


  • High power use

4. EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter with Media 

Key Features

  • Comes in three sizes
  • Comes with filter media and valves
  • Spray bar included in price 

Eheim has been testing their filters since the company started in 1949. Giving them over 70 years’ worth of knowledge to create great products. Many users commented on the simplicity and ease of setting up this filter. People also commented on the high flow, making it perfect for larger tanks. Since it’s round, it also makes the maintenance very straightforward, and replacement pads are very cheap. However, It is recommended you have a long brush to clean out the tubing to help maximize performance as these can become clogged. 


  • Great value 
  • Easy to set up and maintain 
  • Very quiet 
  • Compact in size


  • Doesn’t have instant primer 
  • Instructions aren’t clear
  • Lack of external features makes it hard to hold 

Our choice

Ultimately the four canister filters we reviewed are operationally very similar with each brand putting their unique spin on the product. The type of fish you plan to keep, and the size of the tank will play a big role in your final decision. However, when taking everything into account from price, functionality, and maintenance. Our top choice has to be the EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter. It’s easy to set up, reliable, inexpensive and most of all it won’t leak! 

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