Update, December 2018

Breville recently discontinued our winning midpriced blender, the Hemisphere Control and replaced it with a new blender, the Fresh & Furious. We ordered the new blender and ran it through a battery of tests, comparing it to the Hemisphere throughout, making smoothies, mayonnaise, and almond butter, and crushing ice. We’re pleased to report we like the new model even more than the last. The price has stayed the same, roughly $200.00, but the performance has improved. The Fresh & Furious has more power, 1100 watts versus the Hemisphere’s 750, so it gets smoother results. The two blenders look very similar otherwise, with the exception of a few changes to the control panel. The Fresh & Furious has a green smoothie button, an update aimed at blending modern smoothies, often full of fibrous vegetables, more completely; it works like a charm. To make sure it was durable, we made 50 smoothies in a row in the Fresh & Furious, and had no problems. But if an issue were to arise, this blender has a longer, three-year warranty, compared to the one-year warranty on the Hemisphere. In light of these improvements, we’re naming the Breville Fresh & Furious our new winning midpriced blender.

The Tests

  • Make kale, pineapple, and orange juice smoothies in measured amount of time

  • Make kale, pineapple, and orange juice smoothies according to each blender’s instructions

  • Emulsify eggs and oil into mayonnaise

  • Grind almonds into almond butter

  • Crush ice

  • Wash jar and parts by hand or in dishwasher 10 times, per manufacturer instructions

  • Measure noise levels on lowest and highest speeds with decibel meter

  • With blender at lowest setting, measure blade speed (rpm) with tachometer

  • Weigh and measure each blender’s jar, base, and blade

  • Take video of each blender’s vortex using water as blending medium to assess speed and effectiveness of vortex

Five years ago we set out to find a reasonably priced blender that could stand up to the constant, heavy-duty use that many of us demand of this appliance. Of course we wanted it to be able to carry out routine tasks such as pureeing soups and sauces to a smooth consistency, but we also wanted it to reliably handle jobs such as blitzing ice into snow for frozen cocktails or pulverizing fibrous ingredients into smoothies—not just occasionally but daily. We’ve seen such regular, strenuous use cause many blender malfunctions over the years, from cracked jars to burnt-out motors, so once we found a midpriced winner, we didn’t stop there. We subjected it to a long-term durability test, making more than 400 smoothies in a single copy of our favorite, the Breville Hemisphere Control ($199.95), using a challenging combo of raw kale and frozen fruit. The Breville passed this test with flying colors. Furthermore, the six copies we purchased to use in the test kitchen have held up well over the years.

As satisfied as we are with this machine, it’s our job to periodically scour the marketplace to make sure nothing new has come along that might topple the current champ. With that in mind, we went shopping for midpriced blenders, capping the price at $300.00. We passed over models costing less than $100.00, since we’ve learned that these don’t blend as well or last as long with regular use, so you actually end up spending more money over time on replacements. We found six contenders to pit against the Breville and put them through a range of tests: pureeing kale, orange juice, and frozen pineapple into smoothies; crushing ice; emulsifying eggs and oil into mayonnaise; and grinding almonds into almond butter. Though we normally reserve this last task for a food processor, the almond butter test would highlight a machine’s ability to take on thick, viscous mixtures. We also evaluated each blender on how easy it was to operate, fill, pour from, and clean. In addition, we assessed how noisy these appliances were and examined each for wear and tear.

How loud is too loud? We tested each blender’s noise output with a sound level meter and found readings for some models on par with the range associated with city traffic.

Blade Business

Given that in our last testing five out of 10 models performed so miserably that we couldn’t recommend them at all, we weren’t surprised to find stark differences among the models in the new lineup. Four utterly failed at emulsifying the mayonnaise, and only one was successful in turning almonds into a completely smooth butter. Others managed to make a passably smooth almond butter, but most also required us to repeatedly stop and start the machine for scrape-downs (the best required only three scrape-downs).

Performance differences became evident when we examined the consistency of kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice smoothies made in each blender.

Our smoothie evaluation was particularly telling. For this test, we first weighed out precise amounts of kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice and blended the three for exactly 60 seconds in each machine. Next, we painted a stripe of each smoothie side by side on a piece of white paper to examine their textures. Though all the blenders were able to get the ingredients to a drinkable consistency, we could see very clearly that some produced a homogeneous, consistently bright-green mixture while others left dark green flecks of kale speckled throughout their smoothies. Some smoothies were also overly aerated, which detracts from the dense, creamy texture we want in a smoothie. What made the difference?

To answer that question, we began by looking at each blender’s blades. We noticed right away that they were all markedly different. Some were serrated, others straight. Some had four prongs, others six. And the prongs pointed in all different directions: up, to the sides, down, and at all angles. But when we matched each blade to the smoothie it made, our results were inconclusive—no single blade design produced the finest blend. One four-pronged, mostly horizontal design and a six-pronged, mostly vertical design both made completely homogeneous smoothies, while a different four-pronged blade turned out the smoothie with the largest pieces of kale. Another six-pronged model also did a poor job at smoothie blending. At a dead end on the blade theory, we turned to the component that makes the blades spin: the motor.

Speed Demons

Rotational speed of the blenders’ blades proved to be a key factor in their performance, with aggressively powerful models simply flinging food around instead of actually blending it.

Manufacturers quantify motor power in watts. Our seven blenders ranged in power from 550 to 1,600 watts. We expected more power to correlate directly to a fine-textured smoothie, but we discovered that while power matters, it alone doesn’t guarantee success. It was also important for a blender to have a good range of speeds. A slower low speed, between 1,000 and 4,000 rotations per minute (rpm), was one key for allowing ingredients to thoroughly combine without excessive splattering, especially when working with small amounts of food, as with our mayonnaise recipe. A slower low speed also helped ensure that the blender wasn’t overworked, making the motor less prone to burning out and temporarily stopping. The low speed of one high-wattage blender that offered two speeds clocked in at a whopping 14,190 rpm. It splattered mayonnaise ingredients so chaotically in the blender jar that the sauce never emulsified, and we had to scrape down the sides of the jar 15 times before our chopped almond mixture maintained enough movement to transform into almond butter.

Though we couldn’t measure the rpm of the blenders’ high speeds for safety reasons, our testing results made it clear that having a fast enough high speed correlated with smooth, fine-textured results.

Our top blender was moderately powerful, with a 750-watt motor and a starting speed of 3,812 rpm. While it didn’t blend things quite as finely as some of the more powerful blenders, it worked efficiently, requiring only a few scrape-downs of the jar. It was adept at making smaller-volume recipes such as mayonnaise, and all the food it produced was sufficiently smooth. That said, the starting speed of our second-place model clocked in at 11,000 rpm, but the blender still performed admirably. Clearly another factor was at play.

Jar Points

The design of the jar also proved to be an important feature. When blender blades spin, they move the blender contents into a vortex, which looks like a small tornado. In a good blender, food in the vortex is drawn down into the spinning blades, pushed back up the vortex, and then pulled back down, making contact with the blades at a high rate of speed. Jars with rounded interiors and smooth, seamless bottoms didn’t trap food like those with crevices did and created the best vortices.

The diameter of the jar was key, too. Wider jars were easier to scrape out, but ingredients were more likely to spatter up against the walls at the outset of blending and thus not thoroughly combine without lots of scrape-downs. They also tended to incorporate too much air because the ingredients had more room to bash about. Jars that measured about 4.5 inches across at the middle, like those of our top and second-place blenders, were narrow enough to keep the food contained and required much less stopping and starting to scrape down the sides.

What Can Make or Break a Blender?

Contrary to our expectations, we found that the number and design of the blades and the motor’s power weren’t factors in determining a blender’s performance. Instead, a good range of speeds and the design of its jar proved critical.

Jar Perfect

The rounded interior of our winning blender’s jar allows for proper circulation, its vortex ably directing food into the blades. Its narrow diameter contains food and keeps it in near-constant contact with the blades for reliable, efficient blending that requires few scrape-downs.

Spatter Up

Food in the wide Oster blender’s jar has too much room to move; in our tests, it spattered up against the walls and lid and required frequent scrape-downs. This design flaw also resulted in too much air being incorporated into foods during blending.

A Blender is Built to Puree

A blender’s ability to handle large volumes of liquid is one reason it’s a better choice than a food processor for pureeing soups and sauces and making smoothies. A more important reason: Its jar makes it ideally suited to the task. In the narrow confines of a blender jar (as opposed to the wide bowl of a food processor), the food forms a vortex that keeps it in near-constant contact with the blades. As the blades spin, the food is drawn down into the blades and back up again before being drawn back down into the blades at a high rate of speed. The result: more uniformly smooth results than a food processor can achieve.

When we tallied the scores, we weren’t surprised to find that our previous winner, the Breville Hemisphere Control, once again bested all competitors. It wasn’t as high-powered as some of the other models in the lineup, but thanks to a rounded, narrow jar; a powerful-enough motor; and five well-calibrated speed buttons offering a good range of speed between the low and high settings, it worked efficiently without requiring us to frequently stop and scrape down the jar. It produced nicely blended smoothies, creamy dips, perfect mayo, and snowy crushed ice, and it even did well in our almond butter abuse test. And at $199.95, its moderate price is one we can get behind.

Our winner features a tiny rectangular safety button set into the machine’s base. For the motor to engage, one of the three plastic fins inside the jar’s base must make direct contact with the button. For this reason, it’s important to keep the button clean.

Winning Traits

  • Powerful, durable motor

  • Well-designed blade that results in optimal food circulation

  • Well-designed jar that requires few or no scrape-downs

  • Reasonably quiet motor

  • Clear, logical control panel