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SodaStream buying guide: Terra, One Touch Electric and Aqua Fizz explained

We tried all three SodaStreams to suss out the differences and see what each seltzer-water maker does best.

If you want to start making seltzer at home, a SodaStream is one of the easiest ways to do it. The popular machines carbonate water in just seconds and can save you loads on canned soda water each month. If you've decided to kick the can and spring for a SodaStream, you may want to know the difference between each SodaStream model so you can nab the best one for you.

While there are a few sparkling-water makers on the market, including DrinkMate and a sleek Finnish upstart called MySoda, SodaStream remains the most popular and widely available brand. One reason for that may be SodaStream's easy in-person or by-mail national CO2 cartridge exchange program, which nets you discounts on gas and adds to the eco-friendliness since cartridges aren't otherwise recyclable. 

I tried all three SodaStream including the premium Aqua Fizz with glass carafes to see which one bubbles to the top.

Read more: 6 things you can carbonate with your SodaStream

sodastream

The three SodaStream models sport various features worth considering.

David Watsky/CNET

What is a SodaStream?

These are simple machines that pump carbonation (CO2) into tap or filtered water -- or any liquid for that matter. (If you like fizzy lemonade or even wine, a SodaStream won't discriminate.) The CO2 cartridges generally last for two months (depending on how much soda water you make), then they must be replaced with a fresh one. Cartridges cost $15 if you use the exchange program (more on that below) and $30 if you don't.

SodaStream

This is the most basic SodaStream model. It has a manual button on top for delivering as much or little CO2 as you like. The Terra has one major advantage over the other two models in that the CO2 cartridge snaps into place with one click without having to screw it up through the bottom of the frame. I've been using a SodaStream Terra for a few months now and it works consistently well. 

The model starts at $90 for the basic package (or a bit less if you find a deal, as we did). I like this simple model but I think even the entry-level price of $90 is a bit steep considering the flimsy plastic and the fact that it's not a sophisticated piece of equipment.

Note that because of the new Quick Connect cartridge, this model needs its own special cartridge. Quick Connect cartridges cost the same as the screw-on but won't work with the other SodaStream models and vice versa. 

SodaStream

As you might have guessed, this model uses an electric mechanism for imparting those all-important bubbles, so you'll need to set it up near an outlet to operate. Other than the three buttons that activate the carbonation process, this model looks, feels and works similarly to the Terra, but it uses a screw-in cartridge instead of the new, easy snap-on type.

The One Touch comes in black or white and starts at $117 for the basic package with one plastic bottle and one cartridge. But you can often find this model on sale for around $100. 

Like the manual Terra, I find the price a bit bloated, but the One Touch worked well during several days of carbonation tests.

SodaStream

This is SodaStream's premium seltzer-maker. Even from a quick glance, you can see it has a bit more going on and a nicer build. The Aqua Fizz uses glass carafes instead of plastic bottles. It also has a stainless steel base that holds the glass bottle as you fill it and actually muffles the noise of the CO2 in case you find that sound bothersome (I don't). The Aqua Fizz uses a manual mechanism similar to the Terra and you simply push the large button as many times as you want to achieve desired carbonation.

The SodaStream Aqua Fizz normally starts at $160 but we found it for $128 on sale at SodaStream. That's $12 more than the One Touch and $38 more than the Terra. For me, it's worth the money for a sleeker look, sturdier build and nice glass bottles. If you like the idea of serving sparkling water to dinner guests, just like your favorite restaurant does, spring for the Premium Aqua Fizz.

CO2 cartridge exchange

When you're finished with your cartridge you can exchange it for a new one for $15 (normally $30) either by mail or in person at one of the many national licensed retailers. If you order and exchange three at a time, SodaStream won't charge for shipping.

A SodaStream lasts about 2 years

I'm not a longtime user of SodaStream products but a source (friend) of mine has been regularly SodaStreaming for close to a decade. He's been using the One Touch ($117) and tells me that the machines break almost like clockwork after about two years of steady use. He's had SodaStreams that stop carbonating or a piece of plastic will come loose rendering it unusable. 

The good news is that a few of those times, the machine has still been under warranty and the company has been good about getting a replacement out with little hassle or questions asked. 

I don't have any long-term data to pull from regarding the Aqua Fizz, anecdotal or otherwise, but it does feel sturdier to the touch and has a steel bottle holder so I'd wager it would last a bit longer than the other flimsier models. 

How much can you save if you switch to a SodaStream Terra?

Let's use the rough estimate SodaStream gives of getting 60 liters out of each $15 cartridge. That breaks down to about 25 cents per liter. The average cost for a 1-liter bottle of soda water is about 80 cents. But you still have to recoup the cost of the machine.

If you were to go through six cartridges over the course of a year ($90), plus the cost of the SodaStream ($100 for the entry-level model) that's $190 and roughly 52 cents per liter. It's still a significant savings over store-bought soda. These calculations are based on someone who drinks 360 liters per year which is about 33 ounces of soda water per day, or a little less than three cans. Of course, the more carbonated water you drink and the longer you use your SodaStream, the more you'll save versus paying for Le Croix or another brand. 

A few more ways to level up your kitchen