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Six toasters toasting...

We rolled up our sleeves and tested out a diverse mix of toasters, all in pursuit of a better balanced breakfast. Here's what we found.

Ry Crist
1 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

A toast to a countertop classic

Toast might just be the ultimate breakfast staple, and yet toasters can't seem to get any respect. We decided to change that, with a roundup of toaster reviews covering everything from bargain bin basics to high-end luxury models. After weeks spent testing the things out, here's a quick rundown of the results.

2 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome 2-Slice Toaster

If you close your eyes and imagine a toaster, this "Classic Chrome" model from Hamilton Beach is probably pretty close to what pops into your mind. With a shiny build reminiscent of a certain courageous cartoon, it's about as simple as toasters get. Is it any good?

3 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

A bit well-done

For $30, I'd say these results aren't bad, and about what you'd expect from a basic toaster on low, medium, and high. The middle setting is perhaps a bit overdone, but overall, this looks like acceptable toast to me. The real question: can more expensive models do any better?

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KitchenAid KMT422

Take this chic-looking KitchenAid model, for instance. It costs almost four times as much as the Hamilton Beach toaster -- is it four times better?

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Uneven performance

As a matter of fact, it isn't. Look at that middle setting -- totally uneven results. The KMT422 was also one of the slowest toasters we tested.

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Frigidaire Professional 4-Slice Toaster

The Frigidaire Professional was another slow toaster, needing five and a half minutes to toast bread on the high setting. Still, it's a good looking appliance, and the low and medium toast times were more reasonable. So, how did it do?

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Dark, but even

Pretty well, actually. With longer cook times, it definitely skews toward dark at the higher settings, but all in all, the performance earned our approval.

8 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Cuisinart Leverless 4-Slice Toaster

How about this leverless model from Cuisinart? Like the Frigidaire Pro, it sells for $100 (a little over £60, or about AU$120, converted roughly). At that price, it better be a top performer.

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Just about right

Fortunately, the performance here is also very good -- probably the best yet. The medium settings yielded nice, even, golden-brown results every time we tested them. It's one of the speediest toasters in this roundup, too.

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Alessi Electric Toaster

We've seen what $100 toasters can do -- how about this elongated model from Alessi, which sells for more than twice as much as the Cuisinart or Frigidaire models?

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Looking good

That's a good-looking spread of toast, if I do say so myself. Still, at that price point, there's really no excuse for anything less -- which brings us right to our last toaster...

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KitchenAid Pro Line 4-Slice Toaster

Meet the $500 KitchenAid Pro Line Toaster. That's right, $500. That's about £320, or just over AU$600, but no matter what currency you use, it's an awful lot of money for a toaster, even one that combines KitchenAid's signature retro design with subtle, futuristic flourishes. If you're paying that much, you're going to want perfect performance at the very least.

13 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

Underdone results

As you can see, however, that isn't what you get. Toasting to a four out of seven produces undercooked results. The highest setting actually looks decent as a darkened golden brown, but I think you probably want a little more oomph at that level, for those times when you're toasting bread straight out of the fridge. All in all, pretty disappointing.

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The complete lineup

All right, let's review. From cheapest to most expensive, there really isn't a great deal of differentiation. That tells us that you're probably better off saving your money and going with a lower end model with a design that fits your tastes. You've certainly got a lot of options to choose from.

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The winner?

That said, if you want to splurge on one of the higher-end models, our pick is the leverless Cuisinart CPT-440. We like the appropriately high-end build and the silly-yet-nifty touch-to-toast feature, which gently lowers and raises your bread like it's in an elevator. Plus, it was a solid performer across the board, with satisfying results from everything from bagels to Pop-Tarts.

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