Your LED light bulb options are growing quickly, and prices are falling just as fast. Here at CNET Appliances, that's kept us busy testing bulb after bulb in our lighting lab.
One of the common complaints about these new LEDs is that they often aren't compatible with dimmer switches -- and when they are, they'll often flicker and buzz as you dial the lights down low. We've noticed the problem, too, so we've been keeping track of each bulb's dimming performance using handy flicker GIFs. Click through for a look at the best -- and worst -- of what we've discovered.
Let's start with one of the worst offenders we've come across. The Saffron LED is a 40W replacement light bulb that looks exactly like an old incandescent. You can't even tell it isn't one (seriously, I don't remember which bulb in the picture above is the incandescent, and which is the Saffron LED). It looks great for light bulb purists -- but does it dim well?
Nope! Hook it up to a dimmer switch, and it flashes like a strobe light at a low-budget haunted house.
Now, in fairness, the Saffron bulb isn't rated for dimmability, but at a price of $10, it really should be --and it should dim a whole lot better than this.
Here's another 40W replacement bulb that gave us fits. From Feit, this LED casts patterned light, which looks pretty enough when you shine it against the wall. But what about when you try and dim it?
Ugh. A haunted house light that's even lamer than the last one. Even worse, this bulb calls itself dimmable.
We've had better luck dimming LEDs from Osram, like the 40W replacement seen here.
The light wavers just a little bit when you dim it down, but it isn't nearly as bad as the first two.
We saw a similar result from the 60W replacement version of the same bulb.
Still, we're looking for perfect dimming performance. "Not bad" is just another way of saying "not good enough."
Does this dimmable 60W replacement from Green Creative fare any better?
A bit, yes! There's still a tiny amount of flicker at low settings, but it's barely noticeable.
It's certainly a better result than we saw from the Switch Infinia LED last year, an otherwise cool light with a liquid-filled bulb to help manage heat. Unfortunately, Switch bulbs aren't around anymore.
Another bulb we reviewed last year was the flattened-down Philips SlimStyle LED. It's rated for dimmability, so of course, we tested it out.
Unfortunately, it flickered too much for our tastes, and gave off an annoying buzz on dimmer switches, too.
Incidentally, the SlimStyle review dates back to a pre-GIF age when we used multiple photos of bulbs arranged in a grid to help show flicker. It wasn't long before someone said, "why not animate those into a GIF?" We all slapped our foreheads pretty hard that day.
Philips also offers a bigger, brighter version of the SlimStyle LED. Is it any better than the original at dimming?
As a matter of fact, it is! Philips did a much better job the second time around, minimizing flicker and eliminating that annoying buzz altogether.
Philips also offers a SlimStyle spin on the BR30 floodlight. It's one of several BR30-shaped LED that promises to work with dimmer switches.
Unfortunately, it takes after the original, and flickers far too much for our tastes.
GE sells BR30 LED floodlights, too...
...and, like that SlimStyle BR30, they flicker badly on dimmer switches. Bummer.
But what about the GE Reveal BR30? It's a souped-up version of that last light that promises exceptional color quality.
Bingo! This bulb is one of the most dimmer-friendly LEDs we've ever tested. It's a result that factored heavily into our decision to award the bulb Editors' Choice. And yes, you'll have to take my word for it that you're looking at a GIF here.
How about Cree, the North Carolina lighting upstart? It sells several consumer LEDs, including this BR30 floodlight. Can it keep pace with the GE Reveal?
Nope. Far too flickery for my tastes, thank you.
Cree's currently rolling out a second-gen version of that BR30 bulb, and supposedly, it's a better performer than before. It'll be one of the next LEDs that we test, so stay tuned. If it's better on dimmer switches, we'll tell you all about it.
One of the key bulbs in Cree's portfolio is the 4Flow LED. At well under $10, it's one of the most affordable dimmable LEDs you'll find. But is it any good?
It sure is. Dialed down low, the light holds steady. This bulb is a winner in my eye.
If you need more brightness than a standard 60W replacement like that 4Flow LED, Cree also sells a 100W Replacement LED. It's rated for dimmers, too -- let's see how it did.
It did great! This steady result left us satisfied.
And then there's Philips, one of the key players in the lighting industry. Their 100W replacement looks a little odd, but it boasts impressive specs, including promises of strong dimming performance. Does it deliver?
Yes! Another win for the 100W replacement category.
How about the 100W replacement from GE? Can those funny-looking fins offer flicker-free dimming?
They can! That makes us three for three at the 100W level, where dimming seems to be less of a problem. With a higher acceptable price point, manufacturers likely have more wiggle room to include better dimming components without blowing their margins. But enough wonk talk -- let's see if we can go for four.
That's the GE bulb from the last slide on the right, and on the left, a 100W replacement Utilitech LED. It isn't quite as good at directionality or even light distribution, but can it deliver when it's time to dim?
Alas, it cannot. Hey, three out of four isn't too bad, right?
We'll continue testing and reviewing LED light bulbs as manufacturers keep making them. After all, no one wants their efficiency upgrade to come with a dimming downgrade. Rest assured, we'll be here to help you avoid the problem bulbs.