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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.

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Ry Crist
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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.

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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?

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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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4 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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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5 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

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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6 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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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7 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

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.

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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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9 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

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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10 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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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11 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

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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12 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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.

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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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14 of 15 Ry Crist/CNET

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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15 of 15 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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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