Types of Ballast
For the purposes of this article, we have reviewed digital ballasts exclusively. But to understand why you’ll get more out of a digital ballast than a traditional magnetic one, let’s take a look at how the older technology works.
A magnetic ballast is basically an electromagnet that funnels electricity into a single induction coil and works in conjunction with capacitors to control the current at a preset level. Magnetic ballasts were the standard for many years, but with the advent of electronic and digital ballasts, users were afforded more features and options.
For that reason, growers have embraced this new technology. But one thing to remember is that the more complicated a device, the more opportunity for it to break down. Therein rests one major benefit of a magnetic ballast over a digital version: it lasts darn near forever. Generally speaking, a magnetic ballast lasts about 10x as long as any other type.
Another benefit of a magnetic ballast is that it does not give off radio frequency (RF) interference and won’t interfere with your wifi signal. Electronic and digital ballasts do emit RF interference and may cause wifi problems in your grow room, but many brands have taken steps to avoid this issue.
Despite avoiding the RF issue, magnetic ballasts are still outdated in several significant ways. They will get the job done, but typically run about 30% less efficiently than newer models. That can cost you big in terms of electricity. Magnetic ballasts also generate a lot of heat, which you may or may not want, depending on your crop. If you are forced to run more air conditioning to compensate for the heat produced by your ballast, that’s even more electricity to burn through.
Electronic ballasts took a giant leap forward from magnetic versions, removing the steel cores and copper wire in favor of modern circuitry. Though the design for electronic ballasts has been around since the 1950s, it wasn’t until the decade between 1988 and 1998 that manufacturers made the switch for consumer products.
Electronic ballasts are superior to magnetic versions in that they run virtually silently (no buzz), don’t give off heat, and discharge power at a much more consistent rate. Electronic ballasts stabilize the current and don’t cause flickering if the current isn’t steady as it hits the ballast.
Above all, electronic ballasts run much more energy efficiently and will save a lot of money on your electric bill. Electricity is one of the biggest line items in terms of maintaining an indoor grow room, so it is smart to cut back anywhere you can.
Nowadays, the cutting edge technology is a digital ballast, distinct because it contains a microprocessor. That is what makes it different than an electronic ballast, though “electronic” and “digital” are often used interchangeably.
The microprocessor serves as the brain of the ballast, much as it does in a personal computer. It is able to maximize the efficiency of the ballast and usually allows for adjustments to the wattage between 400W and 1,000W. Some digital ballasts have a super lumen feature that will push the wattage up to 1,100. This feature is helpful as bulbs begin to die; turning up the wattage can actually extend their lifespan considerably.
Digital ballasts are a bit more expensive than other versions, but they pay for themselves in energy savings over the life of the product. With up to 30% greater efficiency, a digital ballast allows you to maximize your yield while minimizing your costs.
In recent years, indoor gardening technology has taken huge leaps forward with the dawn of fully automated systems and mobile control apps. It probably won’t be long before you can control and adjust your ballast right from a smartphone! But for now, choosing a digital ballast over an electronic or magnetic version will put you at the forefront of indoor growing technology.
Types of Ballast
For the most part, the ballasts on our list are made to last for years without giving you any trouble. But sometimes things do go wrong. When that happens, it can be difficult to tell if your ballast or your bulbs are to blame. Following are some signs that can help you tell the difference.
First of all, it is often hard to tell when your ballast has bit the dust. Sometimes the signs are obvious, like burn marks or a swollen casing on the ballast. But at other times the clues are more subtle and include buzzing, unintended dimming, color changes, or rapid flickering.
Luckily, there is an easy way to determine the source of the trouble. Simply replace all bulbs with brand new ones. If the bulbs will not light, it is almost always the fault of the ballast. If your problem is that bulbs aren’t lasting very long or light unreliably, the next step is to use a multimeter set to measure resistance.
A multimeter is a tool that measures electric current (amps), voltage, and resistance. To test your ballast, one probe of the multimeter touches hot wire connections and the other touches neutral wire connections. If the needle on the multimeter doesn’t move, the ballast is bad.
Causes of Ballast Failure
You can preserve the life of your ballast by observing some important rules of use. When a ballast fails prematurely, it is often due to excess heat and moisture.
In an environment that is too hot or cold, a ballast will burn out quickly. If your grow room is not temperature controlled or needs a specific temperature range, pay attention to the noted safe temperature range for any ballast you consider.
Another issue is constant condensation inside the ballast, which corrodes metal parts. If your growing environment is humid, you can avoid this issue by choosing a ballast that is resin sealed against moisture.
Best Digital Ballast
You are sure to find the best digital ballast for your grow room with our in-depth reviews.
1 VIVOSUN 1000 Watt Dimmable Electronic Digital Ballast – Enhanced Internal Fan Cooled Operation 25% Less Heat Generated for 15% Longer Service Life
A ballast is fundamentally a protector of your electricity supply, or more specifically, of the connection between your electricity and your lighting. This VIVOSUN digital ballast is a fantastic choice because it has all sorts of protections built in. You never need worry about overheating, short circuiting, or ignition failure.
It also has the super lumens feature to push the brightness of your bulbs an additional 10% over max. This ballast is dimmable, with 660W, 750W, and 1,000W options. It can operate on a 120/240V or 50/60Hz power supply and supports both MH (metal halide) and HPS (high pressure sodium) bulbs.
You can place your VIVOSUN ballast practically anywhere. It has four rubber feet to keep it sturdy on flat surfaces, but the ballast also comes with side panels that allow for wall mounting. The 8’ power cord is ample and gives you lots of options about placement.
Flexibility is a major benefit of this ballast. There’s only one thing you need to pay attention to, and that is to set the ballast to the same wattage as your bulbs before you turn it on. Doing this takes advantage of the soft-start feature that can save you energy and help preserve the life of your bulbs. You can expect the VIVOSUN to keep the bulbs cooler than other ballasts, as well. In fact, the premium internal fan keeps the whole ballast cool along with the attached components.
17.5 x 6.5 x 3.2 inches
3 year warranty
– Runs quietly
– Does not overheat or pump unwanted heat into the room
– Responsive customer service; long 3 year warranty
– Dial to set wattage can be challenging to read
– Can be damaged in shipping if not handled carefully
– Needs to be set at wattage matching your bulbs when it is turned on
2 Quantum 1000W Digital Ballast, 120/240V Dimmable Ballast
This Quantum dimmable ballast distinguishes itself with its resin sealed circuit board. That not only keeps it running about 15% cooler than some other digital ballasts, but also protects the internal components from humidity. This ballast can therefore be used in almost any growing environment, including very damp ones.
Feel free to use either MH or HPS bulbs and maintain them at 100%, 75%, or 50% power. The ballast works with 120V/240V outlets, but can be configured to work with 208V outlets by an electrician. It also maintains even power distribution when paired with a generator. You may use it in conjunction with lighting controllers and flip boxes as well.
This ballast has a continuous power factor of 99% and a very stable output frequency.
17.5 x 7.1 x 3.1 inches
3 year warranty
– Seals out moisture and can be used in humid rooms
– Stays cool and doesn’t add unwanted heat to the space
– Compact size
– Cooling fan can get noisier as ballast ages
– Ships without a power cord
– Will need an electrician to use with 208V outlets
3 SolisTek Matrix LCD SE/DE 1000W Dimmable Digital Ballast STK1001LCD
If you have plants that need varying levels of light throughout the day and night, you need this Solis Tek 1000W digital ballast. It features an integrated digital timer for custom grow-cycles. The Grow-Sync technology allows you to synchronize all your ballasts and control them with just one remote. However, the remote is sold separately.
This ballast is dimmable and offers a large range of wattage options, including 1100, 1000, 825, 750, 660, and 600. The SensesSmart technology prevents ignition if there is an incomplete or improper connection somewhere in the system, which is a helpful safety feature to prevent fire. You’ll also appreciate the smart ignition power cycling feature, which causes a microsecond delay sequence that prevents trouble in the event of a power surge.
Another particularly nice feature is that the LCD display screen is easy to read, even in the dark. Setting your ballast before it turns on the lights can otherwise be challenging. This ballast is compact and lightweight, allowing you to place or mount it pretty much anywhere.
18 x 6 x 9.5 inches
3 year warranty
– Built-in timer
– Can sync with other SolisTek ballasts for large operations
– Responsive and helpful customer service department
– Remote is sold separately
– Timer resets in the event of power loss
– Arrives in factory packaging; not discreet
4 Phantom II, PHB2010 1000W Digital Ballast for MH or HPS Grow Lights, 120/240V Dimmable
The Phantom is a reliable and efficient ballast, but the Phantom II is a new and improved 1000 watt ballast with lots of cool features. The Smart Alert technology uses the 32 MHz fully integrated microprocessor to keep your setup running smoothly and consistently. It also features hot restrike programming that protects your lamp if the ballast ever turns off unexpectedly. The ballast will not attempt to restart a hot bulb for at least 15 minutes.
There is 4-way dimming available at 60%, 75%, 100%, and super lumen settings. The ballast also has end-of-life lamp protection and LED indicator lights. At almost 13 pounds it is on the heavier side, but it is still relatively compact. One thing to note is that you can only run single-sided lamps with this ballast; it does not support double-sided lamps.
The Phantom II is especially nice in that it runs completely silently. It can do so because it has no internal fan, which sounds like it might be an issue, but in fact allows the unit to stay quite cool. That’s because when you have a fan it needs to be vented to the outside. It also draws air inside. Along with that air comes all sorts of dust that can clog up the unit and actually cause it to run hotter. The sealed Phantom is not only protected from outside dust, it has no fan to rattle or make noise.
14.3 x 10.1 x 3.8 inches
3 year warranty
– Runs silently
– Sturdy casing
– Easy to wall mount
– Only runs single-sided lamps
– A bit heavy
– No discreet packaging
5 Yescom 600W HPS MH Digital Electronic Dimmable Ballast Grow Light
If you are just getting started with indoor growing or don’t need an extremely powerful ballast, this Yescom model could fit the bill. Yescom makes a reliable 600W digital ballast that is well built and CE certified as well as UL listed. It is dimmable and will run lights at 50%, 75%, or 100% of max capacity.
This ballast runs quietly, though not silently, with its built-in cooling fan. It has open/short circuit protection and is compatible with 120V/240V outlets. You get quick lamp ignition and then constant lamp voltage for a stable light output. Use the ballast with a MH or HPS grow light system.
The 78” power cord gives you the option to either wall mount or table mount the ballast. At 7 pounds, it is light and easily moveable. One downside to this product is the short 90 day warranty, but users report reliable performance regardless.
14.4 x 6.8 x 5.5 inches
90 day warranty
– Lightweight and easy to mount
– Affordable and reliable
– Low operating cost
– Maxes out at 600W
– Fan can be noisy
– Short warranty