People want a $200 blender that’s as good as a Vitamix or Blendtec. That doesn’t exist. But after researching dozens of blenders, talking with five experts and testing 16 models over the course of three years, we’ve found that you don’t have to plunk down half a grand for a great blender, but you should if you want the absolute silkiest frozen drinks. Most lower-end blenders, with their smaller motors, just aren’t up to the task, producing grainy textures or burning out with the strain of daily use. In the past, the only blenders that could really liquify kale stems, berry seeds, or ice were expensive high-performance models—Vitamix and Blendtec-level machines—which have much stronger motors.
However, some of the newer, relatively modestly-priced high-performance machines are surprisingly efficient at liquefying food. And we wanted to see how some of these newcomers would compare with the $400+ models.
To test, we made green smoothies packed with frozen berries, kale, and ice. We strained the mixtures through a fine-mesh sieve to see how much pulp or berry seeds remained behind. We puréed hot soup, bean dip, turned peanuts into peanut butter, and attempted to make mayonnaise. As a final round, we made piña coladas to see how well the machines blended ice into slush.
Price: Listed at $300, but currently $200 on Amazon (as of March 14 2016).
Usability and Design: The Versa is Oster’s attempt to compete with the likes of Vitamix and Blendtec, and it stacks up surprisingly well for the price. It blended kale stems and leaves for green smoothies with ease, and only left a few berry seeds behind. It made a slightly grainier-textured piña colada than the Blendtec or Cleanblend, but much finer than cheaper blenders we tried.
Versa has a variable speed dial and three presets (for soup, smoothies, and dips), a user-friendly control dial, and a lower profile jar than most of the competition (the blender stands 17 ½ inches tall, total) so it will fit on the counter under many kitchen cabinets.
We like that the Versa comes with a tamper for bursting air bubbles and moving food around the blade, but the tamper is a little too short and oddly shaped. And like all the high-powered blenders we tested, the Versa gets loud when the motor is turned all the way up. It’s much louder than the Vitamix, but easier on the ears than the high-pitched whine from the Blendtec.
The Verdict: For the price, Versa’s combination of powerful motor, easy-to-use controls, solid seven year warranty, and lower profile jar make this the best overall package for most people. In our tests, it performed about 85 percent as well as the Vitamix 5200 (the best overall performing model), but at roughly 40 percent the price. It makes slightly chunkier textures than models from Vitamix, Blendtec, and Cleanblend, but its smoothies and mixed drinks are very drinkable.
Price: Listed at $449 on Vitamix’s site.
Usability and Design: For consistent and graceful performance, the Vitamix 5200 performed best overall in our tests. Although it did not make the absolute smoothest smoothies—that prize goes to both the Blendtec and Cleanblend—textures were very silky, with just a bit of berry seeds left in the mixture. The Vitamix really shines in cooking tasks, such as blending dips, making mayonnaise, and puréeing soups. Because its low speed is truly low, you can start at a very lazy swirl and slowly increase the speed so that the hot soup is less likely to shoot up toward the lid, risking a volcanic, trip-to-the-burn-unit situation.
The 5200 is the most basic model that Vitamix makes, with just a variable speed dial and levers for turning the machine on and off, and for switching from variable speed to high. It doesn’t have any preset speeds, which, after a year of long term testing, we found we wished it had. But the variable speed dial is really easy to use, and it has the best range of speeds we’ve seen. The Vitamix isn’t the most counter-friendly brand; together the base and jar this one stands 20 ½ inches tall. The Tritan jar is hefty-feeling and its rubber lid fits nicely. This model also has the best tamper we’ve tried; it was very effective at bursting air pockets and moving food around the blades when needed.
There have been some user complaints about black flecks—pieces of PTFE, a chemical found in nonstick coatings—breaking off the gasket around the base of the Vitamix’s blade. Vitamix has admitted the problem, and offers jar replacements under warranty. Although PTFE is inert and if ingested should pass through your body, the issue strikes us as a glaring engineering problem, particularly given the price of this blender.
The Verdict: The Vitamix 5200 offers the best performance for both cooking and making drinks. It performs every task elegantly, runs the quietest of those we tested, has a great track record, and seven year warranty. It’s also the blender many experts and pro chefs admitted to keeping in their own kitchens. That said, for the price we only think it’s worth getting the 5200 if you plan to blend a couple times or more a week. Otherwise, the Oster Versa will satisfy most needs for less than half the price.
Blendtec Designer 675
Price: Listed at $659, but currently $455 on Amazon (as of March 14 2016).
Usability and Design: Although this was not our favorite blender overall, the Blendtec was by far the best at making mixed drinks and smoothies. It was the only model that successfully produced restaurant-worthy piña coladas and smoothies with virtually no seeds left in our fine-mesh sieve.
The Blendtec was easily the nicest-looking blender we tried, with a sleek black, light-illuminated base. It’s worthy of kitchen counter real estate, and since it only stands at 15 inches tall, it’s easy to keep out. Like most Blendtecs, this model only comes with preset speeds (six of them). We found that its lack of variable speed or a tamper limits its usefulness for tasks beyond blending drinks. It was unclear which button to use for recipes—like mayonnaise—not specifically listed for the particular presets. In our tests, it didn't make peanut butter (a tamper would have helped), and the preset speed for soup was frightening, with hot liquid flying wildly around the jar.
The Verdict: For those who regularly make smoothies and mixed drinks—and price is no object—the Blendtec wins for producing supremely smooth textures. But because of its lack of variable speed or a tamper limits its usefulness for tasks beyond blending drinks. It was unclear which button to use for recipes—like mayonnaise—not specifically listed for the particular presets. In our tests, it didn't make peanut butter (a tamper would have helped), and the preset speed for soup was frightening, with hot liquid flying wildly around the jar.
Price: Listed at $500, but currently $180 on Cleanblend’s website.
The Cleanblend’s design looks closely modeled after the Vitamix 5200, with a variable speed dial, and two levers to switch from on/off and pulse. The dial is smaller than the variable speed dial on the Versa, and overall we felt that the Cleanblend’s dial and levers make it a little less intuitive to use. It doesn’t have a wide range in speeds. We couldn’t tell much of a difference between the slow and high settings. The motor also seemed to produce a lot of heat, melting ice in mixed drinks.
Its jar feels a little cheap and light compared to the Versa’s (both are Tritan plastic). The handle is raw plastic and not that pleasant to grip. The Cleanblend stands at 19 ½ inches tall.
Usability and Design: A relative newcomer on the high-powered blender scene (the company was only started in 2013), the Cleanblend has an impressive 3-HP motor and was one of the best in our tests at making really smooth smoothies. There were barely any raspberry seeds in our fine-mesh sieve; the only blender that did better was the Blendtec. The Cleanblend also came in second, behind the Blendtec, in blending piña coladas.
The Verdict: The Cleanblend processes incredibly fine-textured smoothies and mixed drinks, but it’s not the easiest model to use, doesn’t come with any presets, and runs on the loud side. But if you can find it for $200, it’s a good value, particularly for making smoothies and slushy drinks.
Price: Listed at $600, but currently $400 on Amazon (as of March 14 2016).
Usability and Design: The Boss performed about as well as the Oster Versa and Cleanblend, but it's twice the price. It left whole chunks of almonds in our smoothies, and small chunks of ice in piña coladas.
Like most Breville products, the Boss is an attractive product built really nicely. It has the sturdiest jar of any of the blenders we tried and the silver base would look good on a kitchen counter. We like that it has both a variable speed dial and five presets, but its two smoothie presets—for green smoothies and regular smoothies—seem a little redundant. At 18 inches tall, it will fit under most kitchen counters.
The Verdict: Although the Boss’s design is a cut above many of the blenders we tried, its performance wasn’t stellar, particularly for the price. We don't think it performed better than the much cheaper Oster Versa.
Waring Commercial Xtreme
Price: Listed at $914, but currently $347 on Amazon (as of March 14 2016).
Usability and Design: From one of the oldest blender makers around, this model made very silky smoothies, crushed ice well, and was good overall at whipping up other recipes. But ultimately it didn’t perform better than the Oster Versa, Cleanblend, or the Vitamix.
Perhaps because the Xtreme is from Waring’s commercial line and meant for pro kitchens, it’s not the prettiest blender, and comes with a clunky base. It has a variable speed dial, pulse, and high settings, and no presets. We do like that there’s a metal jar you can purchase for this machine. If chemical leaching is a concern, the Xtreme with the metal jar is probably your best option for a high-performance blender.
The Verdict: It performed well at blending smoothies and mixed drinks, but not better than the less expensive Oster Versa or Cleanblend. If you’re willing to pay this price, we’d go instead for a reconditioned Vitamix 5200. But if you want to avoid using plastic, the Waring is the best high-powered blender we’ve found that comes with a metal jar.
Price: Listed at $250, but currently $276 on Amazon (as of March 14 2016).
Usability and Design: One of the most powerful blenders that Ninja offers, we found the Ultima made decent smoothies and crushed ice. But it didn’t perform better overall than the equally-priced Oster Versa and Cleanblend.
Although the Ninja Ultima blends smooth textures, we found its design cumbersome. The Ultima was our least favorite in testing, largely due to poor design. Its clamp-on lid was tedious to use compared to those that slipped nicely onto the other brands’ jars. And suction cups under the base, used to fasten the blender to the counter, tripped us up every time we wanted to move the blender. This model also has Ninja's signature multi blades, which didn’t perform any better than models with just a blade at the bottom (and cut both of our testers fingers when washing the blades!).
The Verdict: Although Ninja machines get a lot of hype, we think there are better blenders for the money, like the equally-priced Oster Versa and Cleanblend.
Summary: The blender that will suit most people’s needs for cooking and drink prep is the Oster Versa, which liquefies foods efficiently, has an easy-to-use interface, a shorter jar, and comes at a very decent price. If you are willing to spend $450 and like to cook, the Vitamix 5200 is the best, most graceful blender you can buy. The Blendtec Designer 675 is perfect for those who plan to exclusively make smoothies or mixed drinks, don’t mind the steep price tag, and don’t want to use it for many cooking tasks. The Cleanblend makes smoothies almost as silky as the Blendtec and if you can find it for around $200 it’s a good runner up to the Oster Versa for performance and price. For the money you can buy better blenders than the Breville Boss, Waring Commercial Xtreme, or the Ninja Ultima.
This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a list of the best gear for your home. Read the full article at TheSweethome.com.
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