Review: Countertop Blenders

 

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Introduction
Price
Durability
Warranty
Power
Blades
Carafes
Speeds and Controls
Other Issues
Recommended Products
Oster Classic Beehive Line
Oster Fusion BRLY07
KitchenAid KSB465
Waring MBB520
Cuisinart PowerEdge 700
Viking Professional VBLG
Oster BPST02-B
L'Equip 228 RPM
Vita-Mix 5200
Waring MX1000R
Manufacturer Links
Cyclonic blending action

Since its introduction in 1922, the electric blender has been the best tool for mixing ingredients for liquidy foods like soups, frozen drinks and fruit smoothies, and thicker sauces and purees. In spite of challenges over the years from appliance innovations, blenders remain better than food processors for creating smooth liquid blends and purées because their angled blades and narrower, tapered carafes create more turbulence than is produced by the flatter blades and wider bowls of food processors. More turbulence means that the food mixture moves faster within the carafe and makes more contact with the blades, producing a more consistent blend. The mixture also coheres more with the air in the container, making for a smoother, fluffier result. When working with thicker concoctions such as mousses, patés, and solids, the limitations of blenders (and the relative effectiveness of food processors) become more apparent.

The tasks typically required of blenders, roughly in order of increasing difficulty, are:

  • general blending of soups, sauces, dressings, and other liquids
  • making ice-based drinks, such as frozen margaritas and piña coladas
  • making smoothies with fresh and frozen fruit
  • pureeing solids for baby food, hummus, and nut butters
  • crushing ice

Chopping solids, such as vegetables, and kneading bread are tasks that some blenders can handle but that are better performed with a food processor. The desirable result for all of these jobs is a smooth consistency, produced quickly, and without a lot of noise.

When purchasing a blender, consider the following eight issues:

Price

Proctor-Silex
8 speed / $19

 

Vita-Mix 35100 / $900

Full-sized blenders are available for as little as $20, and many of the well-known electric appliance manufacturers (Hamilton Beach, GE, Oster, Sunbeam, Proctor-Silex, Back & Decker, Toastmaster, Waring, and others) make blenders for under $35. Some of these inexpensive models may not last long before jamming, falling apart or starting to leak. Some will be excessively loud, and others might have you wondering about a burning odor. We suggest, in the spirit of you-don't-get-what-you-don't-pay-for, that $50 is a minimum price for a blender that you can expect to work properly, with regular use, for more than one year.

At the other end of the price spectrum are commercial blenders for $1000 or more. Vita-Mix, Waring, and Kitchenaid have several models available in that range. For these sky-high prices, you get a machine designed for day-long use in a bar or juice bar. These models have large power ratings, programmable speed and timing settings with memory features, and large-capacity carafes. High-end digital displays, readable in low light (and from acute angles), and running-total drink counters that can be calibrated by day, week, month, or year are not uncommon. Also, high-end blenders have motor housings designed to reduce the noise level to "quieter than the sound level of a normal conversation", a feature lacking in the majority of residential countertop blenders. The blenders we recommend range in price from $50 to $400.

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Durability

We led off our examination of blender issues with price because, up to the $250 point, it is the best general indication of how reliably a given model will perform. Every brand has its share of substandard models (which is one reason we pay attention to the manufacturer warranties), but, among the models we recommend, the design standards, the grades of materials used, and the quality of the workmanship are comparable for similarly-priced models. Those three factors are liable to be affected by price point.

Hamilton Beach metal coupling Waring metal coupling KitchenAid hard plastic coupling

The most common blender failure is of the mechanical coupling that transmits power from the motor to the blade assembly. On less expensive machines, the coupling tends to be plastic or rubber, and is more prone to strip, break, and/or come loose from the drive shaft than are the metal transmission parts usually installed in the better machines. Generally, as the prices of the appliances increase so will the quality of the parts and assembly, resulting in a machine that will perform well under stress—crushing ice cubes, for example—for a longer period of time. As the price point moves up into the several-hundred dollar range, durability becomes an issue of diminishing returns: blenders in that range are made for commercial applications, and include more power and features, as we mentioned earlier.

The discrepancies between plastic and metal that bear on the performance and durability of transmissions and couplings are not as meaningful when those materials are used in the bases and motor housings. The models we recommend range from 7—13 pounds, and include die-cast metal bases and molded plastic housings. While a heavier base will be slightly more stable (yet harder to move for storing and cleaning), there is no discernible correlation between base construction and performance, longevity, or even noise level, except in the cases of housings specially designed for noise attenuation.

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Warranty

When shopping for appliances, a 5-, 6-, or 7-year warranty significantly trumps a 1-year warranty, although what a company says it will do in the case of a problem with one of its products and how it actually follows through on that promise can sometimes seem unrelated. Apart from reputation, an indication of how a company honors its warranty can be obtained from the consumer postings on Amazon and many of the comparative shopping pages on the Web. Manufacturer warranties guarantee against defective products, parts, and factory workmanship. If you have a problem with the unit before the warranty expiration, you must comply with the process outlined by the manufacturer for dealing with the problem. This varies by manufacturer, and it can range from streamlined to arduous. Ultimately, the manufacturer will determine whether the defective unit is repaired, or replaced with a new unit.

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Power

The power of blender motors is specified by the manufacturer in terms of either watts or horsepower (one horsepower equals 746 watts). Power ratings are not good indicators of performance for two reasons. First, the ratings indicate how much power the motor uses, not how much it produces. Second, as we discuss below, it's the blender design — the blade and carafe configurations — that determine how well the machine blends the food. Even if the blades can spin at 30,000 rpm, the blade design must ensure that all the ingredients in the carafe will move from top to bottom, where they will be consistently blended. Speed alone does not guarantee smooth results.. A well-designed machine, even if it spins at half that rate, will set up a funnel effect and process the contents of the container more thoroughly and quickly. Design factors being equal, more power, which generally translates into higher rpms and faster blending action, is useful because it makes for faster work. 390 watts is the lowest power rating among our recommended models. Some machines that are twice as powerful don't perform as well.

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Blades

KitchenAid blades
Milkshake-blender blades

The rotation of the blades in a blender act in two ways to cause the contents of the jar to blend: moving the food, and processing it. Most blade assemblies have four compound-angled blades, positioned 90 degrees from each other, each of which has one sharp, leading edge and one dull edge. The angles are termed "compound" because, typically, two or more of the blades are bent, in opposite directions, to form "wings", and the blades are often slightly twisted. The angled surfaces of the rotating blades create lift, setting up a cyclonic vortex that draws the food through the cutting path where the solids in the mixture are chopped by the sharp blade edges.

Blade assemblies are made of stainless steel, and generally retain their sharpness for many years, depending on how much ice chopping and other heavy work the blender performs. For this reason, we don't eliminate from consideration the few models that have non-removable blade assemblie. For most models, you can purchase replacement blade assemblies, some specified as ice crushers, for around $10, which makes replacing dull blades more economical than trying to sharpen them. Milkshake attachments are available for some blenders, with blades that favor angled surface area over sharp cutting edges. These are ideal for whipping up all-liquid concoctions with a high degree of aeration.

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Carafes

The shape of the carafe (we use the term "jar" interchangeably) is another important factor for generating turbulence and moving the food through the blades. A more tapered design will create a stronger funnel effect than will a carafe with less tapered sides. The classic clover-leaf shape, with ridges and indentations, made popular by both Waring and Oster sixty years ago, is preferable to a smoother, more cylindrical shape.

Typical jar capacity is between 48 and 58 ounces. Most of the familiar Waring models that were bestsellers in the pre-digital age, have carafes of 32 or 40 ounces. Waring introduced home blenders to the marketplace in 1937, and it remains a leading brand. To get a quality model with a 64 oz. or larger jar, you'll pay close to $300. Commercial models with a 1-gallon capacity top $1000.

The weight of a glass carafe helps to minimize vibration and makes for a more stable blending dynamic. A glass carafe allows you to see your concoction as it develops, though you can also view the blending progress in a plastic carafe, and plastic is lighter and easier to heft. Plastic is not as easy to clean as glass, it can scratch and stain, and it tends to absorb odors, though the polycorbonates used today in kitchenware are more chemical- and odor-resistant than the plastics of twenty years ago. Stainless steel is the carafe material most commonly used in commercial bar blenders due to its durability and ease of maintenance. Most carafes have measurement markings, with some being easier to read than others.

The two basic types of carafe lids are screw-on and rubber-stopper, the latter of which is held on by friction. Rubber-stopper, more common in home machines, is easier to put on and remove, making it simple to add ingredients and pour from the carafe. Some lids have a built-in second lid with a smaller opening, enabling you to add ingredients during the blending process.

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Speeds and Controls

Can you put the following blender programs in order by blade speed: mix, blend, liquefy, puree, frappé, whip, emulsify, crush? We can't. We find two blade speeds—high and low—to be adequate for our blending tasks. Some blenders have a variable-speed dial that can be useful in some circumstances, but more useful is a pulse option — popularized when food processors came on the market in the '70s — that can be helpful for its ability to momentarily accelerate the mixing process, another way of stirring up the ingredients.

KitchenAid KPCB 348 panel Vorwerk Thermomix panel L'Equip tachometer

Controls on blenders are configured in four different ways: push buttons, dial, touch pad, and toggle switch. The buttons and switches perform similar functions. Some dials have click positions for the different motor speeds, and some control a continuously variable speed capability. The push button controls are the hardest to clean, dials are easier, and touch pads are the easiest because all of the moving parts are arranged under a smooth sealed panel.

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Other Issues

The carafes on most blenders have removable blade assemblies, with a screw-on bottom and, often, a rubber gasket that creates a seal between the plate of the blade assembly and the bottom rim of the jar. Some users prefer to clean disassembled parts, gaining direct scrubbing access to the blades, the gasket, the bottom of the carafe, and the drive housing. Proponents of the blenders with non-detachable blade assemblies report no problems keeping the carafes clean. Running hot soapy water through a blending cycle is what some manufacturers call "self-cleaning"—and it works. All of the jars, lids, and blade assemblies on the blenders that appear in this review are dishwasher-safe.

The manufacturers of the appliances listed here also sell replacement parts. Owning multiple carafes can be useful when entertaining, and even for regular, family use. Replacement carafes are available for most models, and can cost anywhere from $10—$65. For the models we list, keeping the base clean is straightforward, whether it's plastic or metal. A brushed metal finish will hide smudges and fingerprints better than a shiny finish; white tends to show more splashes and spilled drops.

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kitchenCRITICAL RECOMMENDS: (in order of ascending price)

 

Oster Classic Beehive Line
Models include: 4094, 4096, 4126, 4242-6
Street price: $48—$75
Power: 500 watts
Carafe: glass, 40 oz.
Controls: 2-speed toggle switch, pulse option
Weight: 9 lbs.
Warranty: 5 years motor, 1 year appliance

Since introducing the Osterizer—the first liquefying food blender—in the late 1920’s, Oster has been a leading brand of countertop blenders. Currently, Oster has four different lines, which include more than fifteen different models. The Beehive line is comprised of eight low-priced models (most are available for around $50), all with the same 2-speed, 500-watt motor. The Beehives have all-metal drive trains, which is a mark of quality for these inexpensive appliances. They are on the loud side, though.

The main differences between the Beehive models are housing finishes and colors (with some interesting choices available), and carafe material. Most have a 40-oz. glass jar; model 4090 has a stainless steel jar.

In our last review, our entry-level blender pick was a $50 Braun model, which had a 525-watt motor, 5 speeds, and a 58 oz. glass carafe. It was a good machine for the price, and we were disappointed when it was discontinued. But some of the drive train components, including the main transmission coupler, were plastic — raising questions about the blender's long-term durability. While the small carafe capacity of the Beehives may be a limitation, these are a step up from our previous entry-level countertop blender recommendation. Unless you are strongly retro-averse, you’ll likely find them stylish and classy-looking.

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Oster Fusion BRLY07
List price: $80 / Street price: $75
Power: 600 watts
Carafe: glass, 48 oz.
Controls: 3-speed touch-pad controls, 2 pulse options, preprogrammed settings with auto shut-off
Weight: 9.8 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year

This fairly inexpensive Oster model looks and works like a pricier, heavy-duty blender, and it may be the best value of all of the blenders in this review. The Oster BRYL07 features three speeds, two pulse settings, and two one-touch, preprogrammed settings (Frozen Drink and Food Chop) that run timed blending sequences. Used in combination, these features enable the blender to do basic food chopping. This blender also features a reversible motor, and a 6-point star blade. The drive system is metal, and the controls are blue back-lit push buttons.

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KitchenAid KSB465
List price: $100
Power: 665 watts
Carafe: polycarbonate plastic, 48 oz.
Controls: sealed touch pad / 4 speeds, pulse option
Weight: 10 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year

KitchenAid’s reputation for their stand mixers is stellar due to the mixers' solid housing construction and well-built motors. The KitchenAid KSB465 blender follows in this tradition, and has the power and features that have been praised on KitchenAid's more expensive blenders, such as the KSB580. The 465 includes steel-reinforced couplings, which we prefer to the KSB580's plastic coupling.The KSB465 is available in white, black, and red, but not the chrome or brushed nickel finishes of the 580.

The KSB580, a Cook's Illustrated recommendation in its March 2009 blender review, has reportedly had problems with both its plastic coupler stripping (rendering the blender inoperable), and with leaking jars. The KSB465, at $80 less than the KSB580, performs as powerfully, and has some nifty design features that make it a good choice. It employs a Step-Start feature that automatically starts the motor on low-speed, and then steps it up to the speed at which the control is set. This minimizes splattering, and reduces the stress on the motor and transmission at start-up.

We like glass carafes because they mount solidly on the blender, and usually don't bounce much during even heavy use. The KSB465's polycarbonate carafe is noticeably lighter than a glass carafe, and we were concerned that it might decouple from the blender stand during heavy ice blending, but it remained solidly coupled. As long it's sturdily built, we prefer a lightweight carafe to a heavy carafe. Also, given the turbulence inside a carafe, especially with ice and other harder food items, plastic carafes tend to become dulled over time more quickly than glass carafes. As this is strictly a cosmetic issue, we don't hesitate to recommend the KitchenAid KSB465.

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Waring MBB520
Price: $130
Power: 390 watts
Carafe: glass, 40 oz.
Controls: 2-speed switch
Weight: 10 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year

Along with Oster, Waring popularized the countertop blender in the 1930s-'40s. Waring has 18 models, including several variations of their classic bar blender design, with various sizes of glass cloverleaf jars atop round bases of stainless steel, copper, or other metal. Waring's WPB and MBB series are mid-priced, retro-styled blenders, and come in a variety of finishes.

We recommend the MBB 520, a re-issue of the classic Waring blender of sixty years ago. It's technologically updated, though stylistically faithful to the original, with a trademark glass cloverleaf carafe and a heavy-duty metal base available in bright copper and stainless steel finishes. The jar capacity is slightly smaller than on some other blenders, but its well-designed shape excels at producing the turbulence necessary to achieve quality blending. The blade assembly is non-detachable, but can be cleaned by running the blender with hot soapy water in the carafe and then rinsing the carafe in a sink, or it can go in the dishwasher. The MBB520 has no pulse function, so you'll need to toggle the switch manually to emulate a pulse mode. Overall, this is a classy, high-performance blender.

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Cuisinart PowerEdge 700
List price: $149
Power: 700 watts
Carafe: glass, 56 oz.
Controls: 6 push buttons
Weight: 11.3 lbs.
Warranty: 3 years

Ever since immersion blenders became popular in US home kitchens in the 1980s, Cuisinart has received more acclaim for them than its countertop models. The various Smart Power countertop models have been criticized for their fire-prone, disturbing-the-peace-loud motors, their blade assembly—which fails to create an effective blending action in the carafe, causing the food to just sit there—and a carafe spout so wide it won't pour neatly into a glass.

In March, 2009, Cuisinart introduced the PowerEdge 700, a huge improvement over its earlier blenders. Cuisinart's previous best seller in the category was the $100 Smart Power CBT-500, the shortcomings of which are well documented in product and consumer reviews.

With the 700, at $149, Cuisinart has one of the best mid-price blenders on the market. The motor is 100 watts more powerful than the Smart Power 500, and the glass carafe is a generous 56 ounces. The PowerEdge 700 replaces the ineffective four-blade design used in earlier Cuisinart models with a six-blade configuration, called Power6 Turbo Edge. The redesigned touch-pad control panel, with a back-lit display, controls a built-in timer and pre-programmed smoothie and ice crush functions. With a sturdy, cast metal base, this model takes Cuisinart into the upper ranks of mid-priced countertop blenders.

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Viking Professional VBLG
List price: $165
Power: 390 watts
Carafe: glass, 40 oz.
Controls: 2-speed dial, with pulse Weight: 10 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year

Viking's only blender is a simple, well-designed, high-quality appliance. In spite of a meager one-year warranty, Viking's reputation is for rugged dependability. This model has been around and highly touted for several years. We recommend it for all but heavy-duty applications. It will handle smoothies, milk shakes, and sauces and soups effortlessly, but is not as adept at crushing ice or making thick, nut butters as some of the other comparably priced blenders. Each of the two speeds is smoothly maintained by an electronic sensor. The die-cast metal base, with no-mar rubber feet, is available in black, white, gray, and red.

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Oster BPST02-B
List price: $170
Power: 370 watts
Carafe: glass, 40 oz.
Controls: 2-speed toggle switch Weight: 9.5 lbs.
Warranty: 3 years

For good reason, this is the most popular model in Oster's Beehive Professional Series (as opposed to the Classic Beehive line, reviewed above). The power rating—we converted the manufacturer's "1/2 horsepower" into watts—is not indicative of the motor's capabilities: it's powerful. The drive chain is all metal, the retro-styled round base is die cast metal with a fingerprint-resistant black satin finish; yet, it’s not particularly heavy, at 9.5 pounds. Even the cord and the rubber feet are heavy-duty. Befitting Oster's reputation, it's on the loud side, and not only when crushing ice, which this machine does well. Unless you need more than two speeds or a larger-capacity carafe, the Oster BPST02-B is a solid choice.

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L'Equip 228 RPM
Price: $180
Power: 900 watts
Carafe: glass, 56 oz.
Controls: On/off toggle, variable-speed knob
Weight: 12 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year

Significantly more powerful than other blenders in its price range, the L'Equip has a reputation for being an excellent ice crusher, and—not surprisingly—loud. It has a semi-pyramidal, brushed metal base that looks like it came off the set of "Lost In Space", and a built-in gauge-type tachometer befitting a '63 Corvette. It also has a funnel cone for adding ingredients during operation, and a push-stick for manually stirring and pushing food toward blades, both of which are useful features with the larger than average jar capacity.

There is no pulse function, but the variable speed range extends from 500—20,000 rpm, so, with some experimentation, the user should be able to determine optimum methods for achieving the desired results.

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Vita-Mix 5200
Price: $449
Power: about 1400 watts
Carafe: plastic, 64 oz.
Controls: soft-touch switches, variable-speed dial
Weight: 10.6 lbs.
Warranty: 7 years

Vita-Mix is a leading manufacturer of commercial blenders – appliances designed and built to do heavy-duty work, all day long. The only negative thing we can say about the 5200, their least expensive, home-version blender, is that the loud motor can be an annoying reminder that you have hundreds of watts more power than you'll need for most tasks. The 5200 replaces the Vita-Mix 5000, which reigned as the top-rated home kitchen countertop blender for years. Reviewers invariably endorse the Vita-Mix’s ability to handle all blending jobs while making it look easy. At $400, you shouldn’t expect less.

The 5200 has a new Swedish-built motor, rated at 2 peak horsepower. The wide, variable speed range, listed as between 11 and 240 m.p.h (we’ll have one of our interns do the math and get back to you with an rpm figure) is controlled via electronic feedback, making for more consistent speed. As with an automobile cruise control, which maintains a set speed regardless of the terrain, the blender will maintain a constant speed, even as the peanuts you’re liquefying increase the load on the blades.

The new 64 oz. carafe is copolyester, instead of the standard polycarbonate, and quieter and more chemical resistant. A vented lid with a twist-off plug allows for adding ingredients while operating; a tamper is included for jobs that are made easier by applying pressure from above, which keeps the food in contact with the blades. The Vita Mix 5200 comes in white, red, and black.

If you're looking for a commercial-grade machine and/or an array of programmable, automated capabilities, check out the Vita-Mix blenders on the manufacturer’s site. Several of the Vita-Mix models often found in virtually continuous use in commercial situations, such as smoothie and juice bars, have sound abatement features touted to have been designed by NASA engineers.

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Waring MX1000R Professional Blender
Price: $560
Power: 2200 watts (3 hp)
Carafe: plastic, 64 oz.
Controls: 2 paddles switches, 2 speeds, pulse
Weight: 15 lbs.
Warranty: 2 years

Waring’s MX1000R, even more powerful than the Vita-Mix 5200, is a heavy, squarish appliance with a footprint of nearly one square foot. It has a top speed exceeding 30,000 rpm, yet is stable on the countertop. It’s loud, and like many commercial-style blenders, the blade assembly is built in to the carafe, requring the blade and carafe to be cleaned together.

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Manufacturers Links

The following links will take you to a manufacturer's website when one exists. In other cases, the links will take you to a relevant web page.

Manufacturers of Recommended Models:

Cuisinart
KitchenAid
L'Equip
Oster
Viking
Vita-Mix
Waring

Others worth considering:

Black & Decker
General Electric
Hamilton Beach
Kaloric
Krups
Sunbeam


 

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Updated:  February 20, 2010