Stock marineland course sponge filters (Came with the filter)
Layered Quilt Batting from Walmart (Medium particulate filtration)
Marineland Bioballs (Came with the filter)
Biomax Ceramic Rings (Came with the filter)
Polyfil from Walmart (fine particulate filtration/water polishing)
For my two HOBs (AC50 and TopFin 20), I have the stock media (the stuff doesn't wear out often, so I clean and reuse) supplemented with polyfil.
I do not use any cartridge filter media.
I stock my HOB filters with sponges, floss and bio-noodles to replicate the Aquaclear product line. Pretty much the whole volume in the box is media, not empty space.
I do use manufactured sponges that fit each filter:
Aquaclear HOB (I have at least one each of every size, 2-3 of some)
Several canisters. Sponges that fit the baskets are nice.
Other than that, I use quilt batting for polyester floss.
I use the blue and white bonded media as a coarse floss.
I use whatever bio-media came with the filters, and have split that among all the filters. This and other loose media are in nylon stockings or mesh bags that vegetables come in.
I have also modified the intake of most filters so there are actually 2-5 sponge covered intakes spread across the back of the tank. I use PVC pipe for this.
In my HOB's I use all potscrubbers, I feel they collect more "garbage" and they also seem to hold more bacteria than stuff like filterfloss. I really prefer them over most things but in my canisters I use the companies media, I figure it's better not to screw around with something that is 150 dollars that my tank Needs
The plants and bacteria control the ammonia. The pot scrubbers are an excellent breeding ground for the bacteria, as are sponges, bio balls, lava rock, tank walls, etc. Once you get the tank established, ammonia shouldn't be much of a problem.
I have just been using the factory stuff on all my filters for the most part. I will change some things up though. I add Seachem Purigen to my filters. I also will change out some mechanical media for bio media as my tank gets established. I haven't noticed a difference, for good or for bad so with no bad side effects, I just feel like it's probably a good idea. Lastly, I don't use fine floss except with new substrate the can be cloudy at first. I find it makes little difference if you are up on your water changes.
What is nice about doing it this way is all my media last basically forever. Biomedia gets a rinse every now and then in tank water, mostly if I need to clean the filter housing for some reason. Purigen can be recharged and even my first bag still is in use. Coarse filters can be rinsed to almost new. So it's free in both the short and long term for me.