Home » Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite comparison – which is the best canister filter?

Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite comparison – which is the best canister filter?

by Janet
Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite
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There are numerous canister filtration systems in the market aiming to fulfill your aquarium needs, with the Penn Plax brand being among the most well-known. There are two variations in their brand: Penn Plax Cascade, and a black Elite edition, all which are affordable and offer great features.

The two versions are identical in terms of their performance, which includes metrics such as media baskets, flow rates, and supported aquarium sizes. The main difference between the two in appearance is their housing: the Penn Plax Elite comes in black, while the Cascade comes in a blue housing.

What are the differences between Penn Plax Cascade and Elite?

Penn Plax Cascade
Penn Plax Elite
Dimensions (in inches)
17.0 x 11.5 x 10.0 inches
20.5 x 11.8 x 11.8 inches
Replacement Pro-Carb
Replacement Bio-Sponge
Replacement Bio-Floss
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Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite – How do they compare?

Housing color

The Elite version uses black as its housing, while the Cascade filter uses a transparent blue housing. These designs have different advantages and disadvantages, which will then influence your decision.

The main advantage of the Cascade’s housing is that you will know early on when your filter needs cleaning, since you can spot dirt and murkiness easier. However, its problem is that the transparency encourages potential algae blooms, because light is passing through it alongside the water and nutrients from the organisms in your tank. While the presence of algae is not a harmful thing, they can begin posing problems when they clog the filtration system and slow down water flows.

On the other hand, the Penn Plax Elite’s black housing prevents algal blooms from occurring as it blocks light, but it can prove more challenging to spot when your filtration system needs cleaning. The Elite is therefore a better choice due to the darker housing that keeps the system clean without encouraging algal blockage, making it more reliable and durable.

Additional components

Unlike its cousin, the Elite filter package comes with extra content to enhance the filtration system. These include an extra Pro-Carb, Bio-Sponge, Bio-Rings, and Bio-Floss, giving you more value for your money overall.

Additionally, the package includes a Magna Sweep Algae Magnet, with various Penn Plax Elite filter models having this as a feature. The tool allows you to use magnets to scrape off any algae from the exterior of your tank’s acrylic or glass panel, making cleanups easier. In contrast, the Cascade does not include these items in its packaging, and you will need to replace the system after some years of use. We like the additional value the Elite provides courtesy of their extra components, making it our winner for this round.

Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite – A comparison review

Penn Plax Cascade

Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite

This filter aims to provide as much water flow to your aquarium and as efficiently as possible, thanks to its multi-stage external filter system. It has a flow rate that is high enough to flush out any toxins present in your water, while control valves let you adjust the flow rates depending on your fish types and the tank size.

Like the Elite, its package comes with large filter trays and start-up filtration media: you can even combine multi-stage filtration with multi-media delivering through its many filter-containing baskets. Its system will use a combination of biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration to create a healthy aquatic environment.


  • Affordable
  • Includes high-quality filtration media
  • Strong and easy to maintain and use
  • Large capacity
  • Quiet mechanism


  • Some trays do not fit as snugly, and sometimes allow dirty water to pass through unchecked
  • The pumping parts and motor are sealed, making it difficult to frequently clean up dirt building in the unit

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Penn Plax Elite

Penn Plax Cascade vs. Elite comparison

Like its cousin the Penn Plax Cascade, the Elite comes in easy-to-install filters that begin filtering your fresh or saltwater in less than an hour after installation. Its use of a quick push-button primer allows for easier startups, while the two directional 360-degree valve taps reduce your worry during placement.

It has large filter chambers that make it stand out from most filters, and these serve to help you use more filtration media while maintaining the cleanliness of the tank longer. You can choose the media that works best for your tank or use the one that comes in the product package, including activated carbon, bio-floss, and bio-sponges.

The media baskets are large enough to allow you to customize your filtration media according to your tank’s needs, while the high-quality flow valves rotate in a 360-degree direction to let you maneuver them easily. 


  • It has a self-priming feature that is good for most tanks
  • Uses multi-stage filtration
  • Includes plenty of useful add-ons and replacements
  • High-quality components and construction


  • High power consumption
  • Needs a learning curve if you are a first-time user

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Both of these are great options to enhance your filtration system. Despite their similarities, the value for money each provides is slightly different and determines their cost. The Cascade is the more expensive choice, while our review of both shows the Elite having more features overall such as a Pro-Carb filter, a replacement Bio-Floss, and a Bio-Sponge.

Verdict: So, which is better? Penn Plax Cascade or Elite?

While this was a tough call due to their similarities, we found that the Penn Plax Elite is the better choice because it gives more value for money, and its replacements make it cheaper to maintain in the long-term. We also like the addition of some features you would not find in the Penn Plax Cascade, such as the Magna Sweep Algae Magnet that makes cleaning up smaller particles easier without disturbing the tank.


Can the Cascade work if you are using an open aquarium?

Yes, it can; and it has room at the top to allow it to make it over the tank’s lip due to its high capacity for both water out take and intake.

What is the difference between the Cascade and Elite 1500, 1200, and 1000?

It comes down to the size, with the 1500 being the largest. It is bets to get the largest you can afford and that works best for your aquarium.


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