I have the Fluval C3, and it isn't too loud...but I have it setup to trickle over some rock and root systems of some plants in my riparium, so I don't hear the motor hum. I've heard others say that they are pretty quiet after a while...I don't even notice mine anymore.
As far as using custom media, yes you can cut to size anything and use in the various trays that it has. I use the default filter pads along with the bio media and I have a purigen bag in the chemical media compartment. I'll probably use my own custom media after I run through the pack of fluval media that I bought.
An alternative would be the aquaclear filters which I would have got if I didn't want the trendy red accents on the fluval
I have a FLUVAL C2 and C4. In the beginning, they were pretty loud, but after about a week or so of use and a little fidgeting with the motor, they are almost silent. These filters are really good so do not let some noise let you down I took out the motor and kind of just pulled out the impeller and just washed it and played with the positioning of the impeller. And about using poly foam and other pads/media, if they fit in the compartments, it should be OK but for the pads, make sure it is not too fine or it will clog up your filter.
I have the c4 got it for $20 clearance at petsmart. At first when I plugged it in it the motor was really loud but after a dab of Vaseline on the impeller it is quiet. Some people say it quiets down on its own after a few weeks. I would reccomend it because now it's dead silent even more quiet than my fluval canister filter and I like all the various compartments for media. I have the original foams and replaced the carbon pouch with some biomax.
I have one and I would like to get rid of it. I thought it was too loud and I didn't like the media configuration. I much prefer the original Aquaclear's. They are quieter and it's cheaper and easier to customize the filter media.
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