Magnetic Vs Digital Ballast: Which One Would You Choose?
What is a ballast used for?
The job of a ballast is simply to limit and reduce the amount of electricity that is travelling through a given electrical circuit. It will limit just how much energy can travel through at once to ensure that this level does not exceed the limit of the light bulb.
If un-regulated, you could be looking at bulbs not working, burning out or in some cases actually exploding. Of course, this is something we want to avoid, and so ballasts are a necessity in any grow room set-up.
There are two main types of ballasts that are used in grow rooms everywhere and there’s always the question of which to choose: magnetic or digital? Both have their pros, both have their cons – you just need to decide which one is best for you! We've done a little comparison between the two different kinds to help you on your way.
The Components Inside Each Ballast
Magnetic ballasts have been used for years, and although their design is getting a little old, they’re still used by many as a tried and tested technology. A magnetic ballast has a core made out of steel plates wrapped in a copper wire coil – creating a magnetic field. This helps to regulate the initial electricity current given.
Digital ballasts, on the other hand, are a newer technology, instead use electronic circuitry to regulate the amount of charge given, bringing more efficiency with little heat. Solid-state electronic circuitry and microprocessors mean the ballasts can be customised to create the optimal levels for different types of lamp and different wattage.
The Look & Design
Magnetic ballasts are heavier, bulkier and just not as slim line and lightweight as the newer digital ballasts have been designed. Now, this might not matter to you, but it’s something to think about if weight is a consideration.
Heat can be a problem with magnetic ballasts, and you’ll find that they can be quite hot to touch after running. As well as this, they will run with a slight humming sound, thanks to the inside components. This can get louder over time and use as they wear down. Digital ballasts, on the other hand, are most often silent running and give no irritating noises.
Digital ballasts generally have the option to adjust the wattage they are running at. It means you can use either a HPS or MH lamp with the same ballast, and even change between 400w lamp and 600w lamp for example. With a magnetic ballast, you would have to buy dedicated ballasts for each wattage of lamp.
Many digital ballasts will have a soft start feature, used to slowly release power to the lamp to extend its bulb life. Magnetic ballasts will just send the full power straight away and this can reduce PAR output over time. Digital can also sense when the lamp is almost used up and will shut the unit off when it is not running optimally, letting you know that your plants aren’t receiving the best lighting.
One of the problems with digital ballasts is that, thanks to the electricals, they can produce radio frequency interference. Magnetic ballasts do not have this problem.
The Costs Of Buying And Running A Ballast
Magnetic ballasts are easily the cheaper option when first buying. However digital ballasts, although pricey to begin with, will run more efficiently, use less energy and in effect help to lower your electricity bills over time. Who doesn't want to save as much money as possible?
So to summarise, here’s a quick recap of what we've got when looking at the pros vs cons of magnetic and digital ballasts.
- Inexpensive to buy;
- give a lower intensity output,
- extending the life of bulbs;
- don’t produce radio frequency interference.
- Heavy and bulky;
- less efficient;
- can be noisy;
- casing can get very hot to touch;
- will only support bulbs of specific wattage.
- Smaller and lighter;
- more efficient;
- silent running;
- some are customisable with dimmable option;
- give higher output.
- More expensive to buy;
- radio frequency interference can be a problem.
For us, it seems a sensible option to go with digital. Not only are they quieter and lighter, but they use energy more efficiently and will save you money in the long run.
If you'd like to see our ballasts in person, you can drop into any of our four stores - Manchester, Burnley, Huddersfield and Flint - and our staff will be on hand to talk you through anything you may need to ask about ballasts or other indoor growing equipment.