I always use dirt. I have not had ammonia spikes that have been readable. I normally have a filter of some kind on the tank. I keep crushed coral in the filter and use tap water in San Diego. (they publish an online article of what is in the water) My water is really hard and will keep a pH of 8 to 8.1 naturally.
I always have some kind of emerging plant growing out of the system. For me, it seems to make the difference. The properties of dirt change over a 6 week period after it gets wet. Plants grow much better after 6 weeks. You can soak it before moving it to your tank and topping it off with gravel.
I have tried several kinds of dirt. All natural potting soil has not worked for me straight out of the bag. Dirt from my yard has been the good one. It is mostly clay. I would be comfortable just using straight up pottery red clay. I always mix dolomite in my soil in a 1:10 or 1:20 ratio.
I have used gravel ranging in size from 1/4th inch to black sand. I feel like 1/8 or smaller work equally well. A biofilm will form and seal up your top cap. I stay thin with the top cap, less than 1/2 inch. My dirt starts at 1 inch but grows over the years. When I move plants around I kick up dirt and the filter takes out whatever doesn't settle.
I dirt made of organic, (leaf, manure, compost, etc) has different properties than that of clay. I read that it is best to use one or the other. My large tank that carpeted H. Cuba had soil that contained both. It did take months to stabilize and I eventually switched that tank to glossostigma. I now have H Cuba in a three year old dirt tank with black sand top and Neo shrimp. There is not a way I can think of to compare "dirt" to other medium. There are too many kinds of dirt. Soil should recharge its self with food and animal waste. I have read that continued use of co2 can tap out soil.
Massive shrimp populations and emerging plants have consistently fixed my algae issues. OD on flourish has killed hair algae for me as well as up to 1ml per gallon 3%H2O2.
Lighting over 200 PAR seems to give me issues. (emphasis on the word seems) One of my best tanks runs off of a $25 LED 30w outdoor flood light from amazon. It reads about 6000k on my meter. I use Orphek lights on another tank and they are a bit of a disappointment on several levels. I really like the Kessil tuna blue reef lights because of the color and shimmer. I tried their sun lights but it made my tank look really green and couldn't adjust out of it. Both grew plants. I liked my Beamworks lights but it was hard to get the PAR I wanted out of them on my 120 gallon. It is 2 feet deep and I had to cover the entire top of the tank. I would happily use them on a shorter tank.
I occasionally use co2 when starting up my tanks. I use a pH controller to monitor the amount that goes in. I normally develop some kind of issues long term. (My H Cuba grew so thick that the roots choked out) There are many periods of green water, hair algae and random other algae issues in the first 6 months on my tanks. If I do nothing about it, they always go away.
I added a heat mat under my 120 tank that has glosso growing in it. The heat appears to have promoted growth and keeps the glosso growing short and sending out runners. The tank has uncounted number of Neo shrimp, 80 ish cardinal tetras, about 2 Malaysian trumpet snails per inch and 4 siamese algae eaters. I feed pretty heavily and can see it in my plant growth when I cut back. I used floating pond plants from a well established pond in my first set up. It brought in a healthy supply of copepods, daphnia, and scuds. They are a benefit. Daphnia populations bloom with green water blooms and bring things back to normal as well as feed the fish.
Water changes are rare and sporadic after things stabilize. I top off with tap water.
I will always use soil. I can handle the occasional algae or bacterial bloom that happens in the beginning. I love the low maintenance no algae growing on the glass aspects of it. I love the low cost. 3 years is the longest time I have had a dirt tank set up, and I love the long term stability. I have read that High Tech plants like H Cuba cant grow in low tech tanks. My experience is opposite. There is a book on it. Totally worth reading.