It took an astonishingly long time to scour 22 companies' websites to update all the data on this site, but the December 2015 update is here! All the data is current as of the end of November 2015.
So what's new in the land of LED grow lights?
357 Magnum LED appears to have died- you can no longer purchase lights through their website, though it is still occasionally reachable. They have been removed from the comparison.
GrowBlu died as well- their website is no longer up. They have been removed from the comparison.
Hydro Grow now appears to be failing as a company and may not be around to honor their warranty much longer.
New and Changed Light Models
Advanced LED removed the 90-day return policy from their DS600, DS800 and EX-Veg lights. Nothing says "we're getting too many returns on these" like exempting certain lights from the return policy. They did add a new XML650 model, but no returns are allowed on that either. Disturbingly, all of their product pages promise the 90-day return policy, so they're lying about what you can return now.
Apollo Horticulture retired their COB-based Purple Sun series of lights, giving even more credence to my theory that high-power COB LEDs just don't last. They added 4 new lights to their lineup: a "400W", "700W", "900 Watt" and "1200 Watt" light. The names are in quotes because they pull 175, 326, 405 and 540 watts, respectively- continuing the deceptive "LED watt" marketing scheme.
Area 51 dropped their line of discrete LED lights and introduced a new 100-watt COB-based LED, then promptly decreased the wattage they run the COB at… Could this be yet another example of why COB LEDs aren't ready for high-power applications yet? They also shrank their return period from 60 to 45 days; I can't be sure if this is related to the aborted COB introduction as well, but I have my suspicions. Their entire lighting lineup is now COB-based LEDs, and I'm willing to bet they go out of business soon because they won't be able honor their warranty on these new lights.
Black Dog LED retired their entire Universal Series lineup and introduced a new PhytoMAX series, including the 2 most powerful lights of all those I'm comparing, the new PhytoMAX 800 and PhytoMAX 1000. I thought they were the best before; my personal experience with their new lights so far isn't changing my mind. To be completely fair, I'm not trying out lights from all of the other companies… yet.
California Lightworks increased the number of LEDs they use in their lights, while keeping the wattage and all other specifications the same. The newer version of their lights has less power running through each LED, making it more likely that the LEDs will stay brighter longer. Apparently they were over-driving their LEDs a bit too much in the past.
Hydro Grow reduced the power on their COB-based SOL series. Could it be there is just too high a failure rate for the COBs? They do claim to have added IR wavelengths, missing from the original SOL series.
Illumitex introduced a new Power Harvest series of lights available in 185-530 watt models, but they are fairly clearly marketed for supplemental greenhouse use only, so I'm not including them in this comparison site. The Power Harvest lights only have 450nm blue and 660nm red LEDs (they are not really full-spectrum) so would be appropriate for supplemental use in greenhouses, but not ideal as a sole source of light. I have to give kudos to Illumitex for not trying to market them as such, but I may have to eat my words if they start marketing them for indoor grows.
Kessil added the H380 to their lineup, now with UV light! More companies are catching on that UV does make a difference, though I'm really suspicious about many of the companies that claim to have it in their spectrum. I had the opportunity to test Kessil's H380 and it really does have UV in the spectrum! Too bad it doesn't have IR…
Kind LED added the new K3 VEG L600, a veg-only light. They still claim the same 12-band "Perfect Spectrum" "with UV diodes" even though their own deceptive spectrum graph doesn't show any UV diodes at all in the new veg spectrum.
Lush dropped their prices and some of the most outrageously deceptive statements from their website, but is still in the running for the most lies of any of the companies I'm comparing here.
Top LED Grow Light changed their name to Mars Hydro and introduced a new "Mars Pro" line of lights. For the Mars II lights, they changed the technical specs, shrank claimed coverage areas, dramatically decreased the warranty from 3 years full coverage to 1 year full coverage / 2 years partial parts, and increased prices. They also started promising a completely-impossible 100,000 hour (11.4 years if run 24/7!) lifespan for their lights, and started lying about the heat their lights produce and their footprint shapes.
Platinum LED added 2 new "XML2" light models. They removed their claims about having 380nm UV diodes as they once did, instead saying their spectrum covers "the depths of UV to the heights of IR". They've added a spectrum graph (which is clipped) that indicates the lowest-peak LED is about 405nm. I'm guessing they weren't being truthful about having 380nm UV diodes in the past, but perhaps didn't know it until they bought a spectrometer (which they don't know how to use). They also reduced the claimed wattage and coverage footprints of all of their lights, claim 12 bands now instead of 11, added warranty details, increased restocking fees on returns, and increased the price and HID comparison wattage on some lights.
Pro Source Worldwide switched their 7-light lineup to 4 new models, upgrading from 1-watt LEDs to 3W across the board. Like many companies that have made this upgrade before, at least one page on their website still claims 1-watt LEDs are better than the 3-watt diodes that all their lights now use.
New Companies Added to the Comparison
By popular demand, five more companies were added to the comparison list. I received multiple requests to add each of these:
Build My LED (BML): I only added the multi-bar lights to the comparison; the individual bars work for very small areas but aren't great for larger plants. They're basing their claim to be the best grow light on maximum PAR values, so they leave out the quality-increasing UV light and growth-enhancing IR (both outside of PAR) to make their lights look better on paper. The SPYDR models are physically the largest lights I'm comparing; at least they should do a good job of evenly-covering their advertised footprint, rather than focusing all their light into one tiny spot for the biggest numbers.
Heliospectra, a Swedish company, offers 6 light models, all with 2-year or shorter warranties. They initially offered adjustable-spectrum lights- one of which has UV and a few have IR- but their newest E60 model is a fixed-spectrum without either UV or IR. This seems to back up my feeling that adjustable spectrums are just a gimmick and are not worth the added expense in terms of increased production or quality.
Pro Max Grow appears to have started selling LED grow lights in 2015. They provide almost no information about their lights and what they do provide is contradictory and/or very poor. I'd never heard of the company myself until several people asked that it be added to the comparison. With product specification bullets including "NASA-STUDY" (that's an actual, entire bullet under their product specifications!) and "Why does it work? IT JUST GROWS!" (ditto) their website seems like it was put together by children. But I received multiple requests to add Pro Max Grow to the comparison, so they are included. As the highest cost-per-watt lights I've ever compared, with the most outrageous HID replacement claims I've ever seen, and no independent verification I can find — I can't recommend their lights.
Spectrum King is owned by Rami Vardi, one of the former owners of Stealth Grow — which left hundreds of unfortunate growers with very expensive non-functional LED grow light paperweights in 2013 when the company shut down. Spectrum King is using cleverly-designed but highly misleading claims about light intensity and spectrum coverage to claim their light offerings are better than any other LED. Living up to their name in one respect, Spectrum King takes the crown for the highest number of lies about their LED grow lights of all the companies I'm comparing.
Truth Lighting appears to have started in 2015 as a subsidiary of American Green, supplier of vaporizers, e-liquids, microbial teas, apparel and water oxygenation systems. They are so new to the LED grow light industry and provide so little information about their lights that I would normally not bother to include them in the comparison, but many people contacted me and requested they be added. So far they are not living up to their name, lying about their own lights' specifications and wattage.