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Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender review: This high-end model ups the blender ante

This Blendtec model costs $454. That may sound like a lot (and it is), but Blendtec claims that this blender consolidates the work of nine or so different kitchen appliances into one.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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At first it felt a bit unfair to compare the $454 Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender to other models. I mean, have you ever seen Blendtec's "Will it Blend?" videos? If not, I'll give you the short of it -- they attempt and succeed at grinding up things like iPads and laser pointers in their powerful blenders. Not just chunks of plastic and metal, mind you. I'm talking about powdery stuff that you'd never guess was once a living, breathing gadget. If they can do that to a tablet, just imagine what they can do to actual food.

willitblend.jpg
8.3

Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender

The Good

The <b>Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender</b> can juice, grind, mix, and blend with the best of 'em. It is, in fact, among the best of 'em.

The Bad

The thing costs $454 and it really works best with larger serving sizes. In other words, you better be prepared to make a ton of food to justify this purchase.

The Bottom Line

Do you really need a 9-in-1 kitchen appliance? If you aren't planning to make massive quantities of nut butter (or other relatively obscure things) regularly, you might actually prefer something less intense.

Still, I wanted to know if Blendtec really deserves all that "Will it Blend?" hype. The best way to find out was to test and compare a whole bunch of blenders that run from budget buys with basic functionality to over-the-top industrial-strength models. So we tested the $454 Blendtec, the $39 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender, the $149 KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender, the $199 Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender, the $199 Breville Hemisphere Control Blender, the $199 Ninja Ultima Blender, and the $529 Vitamix 7500 Blender. And while I didn't sacrifice an iPhone or any other device to the Blendtec during my testing, I still feel comfortable saying that it does in fact live up to the hype.

Blendtec

What it comes down to is this: Do you actually need a blender that can reduce Apple products and other popular electronics to a fine powder? If so, the Blendtec is your blender. It can act as a substitute for other small kitchen appliances like mixers, food processors, and coffee grinders, too. Given that, its $454 price becomes slightly less ridiculous. And, in the spectrum of Blendtec models, it's actually quite conservatively priced. There's the $1,034 Tom Dickson Extreme Blender named after Blendtec's founder and CEO (he's also that guy in the "Will it Blend?" videos) and even a $1,499 Stealth model that claims to be the quietest, most advanced blender in the world.

If you are a super hands-on cook and make a ton of stuff from scratch regularly, this is a fantastic option. It might also work in a professional capacity -- maybe a coffee shop or a catering business that needs something fast, tough, and easy to clean. And if you can't spend that much on a blender but want a similar level of power, take a look at the Ninja. It's $200 and it comes with two 16-ounce single-serving cups for smaller, on-the-go portions.

The Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender is no wallflower (pictures)

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Design
This model is part of the Designer Series and you can get it in black, red, cream, and, for about $50 more, champagne metallic. It weighs 8 pounds and has a 13-amp, 1,560-watt motor (the $529 Vitamix's motor comes in at 1440 watts, the $200 Ninja's is 1500 watts). The Blendtec measures 7 inches wide, 15 inches tall, and 9.25 inches deep, which isn't that huge, compared to the Ninja or the Vitamix.

From left to right: the Vitamix, the Blendtec, and the Ninja. Megan Wollerton/CNET

Generally, I like the way this model looks. It isn't exactly unassuming, but Blendtec does make a clear effort to streamline the design. I also like the pitcher a lot -- it's made of durable plastic and it has a total volume of about 90 fluid ounces, compared with the Vitamix's 64-ounce and the Ninja's 72-ounce pitchers.

Usability
The pitcher handle is easy to grip and the lid is easy to remove. There's no spout on the lid, but the jar itself has corners that make pouring very simple. And unlike the Ninja's fussy locking lid and twist base, the Blendtec's jar requires minimal effort to secure into the base.

The presets are a bit harder to use than I anticipated. Where the Hamilton Beach model I tested comes with labels like, "smoothie," and "mix/milkshake," the Blendtec only has images. For example, you press an image of a whisk to run the batter setting and an image of a citrus slice denotes "whole juice." I really wish those icons were labeled. Sure, if you read the manual or visit the website you can figure it out, but that seems a bit high maintenance for a blender.

I also find the pulse mode a bit awkward. When I didn't pulse in perfect time, the blender would return to the "home" screen and I would have to press the pulse button to start the cycle all over again. Basically, I felt like I was doing something wrong whenever I used pulse.

I also noticed that the bottom of the jar got hot after certain tests. I know that this thing works hard to crush up almonds for almond butter, but it got really hot. I didn't encounter that with the Hamilton Beach at all, but then again, the Hamilton Beach couldn't make almond butter. So, just be aware when you're making something like nut butter that has to run for several minutes -- it might get hot.

Features
Like the Hamilton Beach and some other more basic models, the Blendtec comes with presets. I mentioned them above with minor complaints, but they are in fact an pretty useful feature. This model comes with batter, ice crush, smoothie, ice cream, whole juice, and soup settings. I tested the batter, ice crush, and smoothie presets and they all worked very well. Neither the Ninja nor the Vitamix have presets at all.

Another interesting aspect of this blender is the smooth display panel. Rather than a touch pad, buttons, or dials, the Blendtec has a sensor surface. It's entirely flat and it only illuminates when it's in use. In addition to the presets, there's a sliding sensor that allows you to adjust the speed with ease.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Blendtec's WildSide jar is another interesting feature offered with this model. Instead of a traditional four-sided pitcher, this one has a smaller, fifth side called the "WildSide." Blendtec claims that this creates a "better blending vortex" than other brands. We can't pinpoint the exact effect of the pitcher design against other models, but as a whole the Blendtec aced the performance tests, so maybe there's something to this WildSide design after all.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance

Knowing that Blendtec blenders can reduce pretty much anything to tiny bits left me with extremely high expectations. And as predicted, this impressively powerful blender excelled at nearly everything I threw its way.

Ice

One of the presets that comes with this blender is ice crush. That's a very common setting on blenders, so I had to test that functionality on the Blendtec. I tried to crush bagged ice, cubed ice from the fridge, and cubed fridge ice mixed with water. It handled everything with extreme grace, blending quickly and effortlessly.

The only time it had a problem was with a very large hunk of bagged ice. It was too large and too solid even for this most powerful of blenders. Most of the blenders had a similar reaction to the bagged ice. It seems that cubed ice, or better yet, cubed ice in water is the most effective route.

Smoothies

Blender smoothie consistency
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The Blendtec did a fantastic job on smoothies. Like ice crush, it has a smoothie preset and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Press the smoothie button, and presto -- perfect, chunkless fruit concoctions in seconds. The Breville and the Vitamix blenders performed equally well; all three yielded a "smoothness" percentage of 98.46. That basically means that there weren't any bits of fruit left over after the smoothie cycle had finished. The Hamilton Beach performed the worst with a 96.41 percent smoothness. It was still plenty drinkable; it just wasn't as smooth.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Pesto

This was the only test where I wasn't completely satisfied with the result. I tested two different serving sizes here and found that the Blendtec significantly underperformed with the smaller serving size. It required 2 cups of spinach for the pesto and in fact, the motor was so powerful that it pushed the few ingredients quickly to the sides of the blender bin and made it a challenge for the blades to reach. So, with smaller servings of things, you might have to intervene a bit with a spatula. Mix and try again.

On the other hand, when I doubled the recipe to 4 cups of spinach, it responded as expected, yielding the most perfect pesto I've ever seen. So this model is fantastic at pretty much everything, but if you're planning to blend for one or two people, you might find yourself a bit surprised. The Vitamix and the Ninja had less trouble on the smaller serving size, so that's something to think about. A large family shouldn't have a problem with the Blendtec, but the other two high-end models might be better for smaller servings (unless you don't mind breaking out the spatula and pushing the ingredients back toward the center of the Blendtec a couple of times).

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Almonds

As you may already have read in my review of the Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender, neither the Cuisinart nor the Hamilton Beach made the transition from almond flour to almond butter. That kind of created the dividing line between food processor-capable machines and regular ol' blenders.

The Blendtec actually comes with a recipe book that includes nut butters, so I was pretty curious about how it would react. It took fewer than 20 pulses to achieve uniformly ground almond flour and about 7 minutes to achieve smooth, spreadable almond butter. I did have to stop, remove the lid, use the spatula to mix the almonds periodically and start again, but you would probably have to do that in a food processor anyway. Overall, this was a very successful test.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Whipped cream

Ry Crist/CNET

The Blendtec produced perfect whipped cream, ready for a cup of cocoa or some waffles. I got hungry throughout blender testing but this one in particular really cause some stomach rumblings. Every machine did fine, but the Hamilton Beach performed the worst, yielding slightly "loose" whipped cream.

Pancake batter

Ry Crist/CNET

This test really illuminated the utility of the presets for me. At first I tested the Blendtec without using the batter preset and it left a lot of mix in the bottom of the container. Then I tested it using the batter preset and it performed flawlessly, leaving no traces of batter or unmixed ingredients in the jar.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

That's why I'm glad the Blendtec comes with presets. I might not have ended up with perfect batter otherwise. The equally high-end Vitamix made perfect batter without needing a preset, though.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Cheese

I also wanted to see how this all-powerful blender would react to an entire 8-ounce block of cheddar. It was kind of like the nuts, washers, and bobby pins test we recently performed on vacuum cleaners. I didn't expect a whole lot from the less expensive, less powerful models and I expected perfectly shredded cheese from the more expensive blenders.

The Blendtec, the Vitamix, and the Ninja all shredded the cheese quickly and powerfully -- to such an extent that the shredded bits began to warm due to the effort of the blenders and turned into a more solid gunky mess in the bottom of the containers. Since this was more a test of overall power and less a test of edibility, that was a definite success. The Blendtec, the Vitamix, and the Ninja are all incredibly powerful machines.

On the other hand, the KitchenAid and the Breville also managed to reduce the 8-ounce cheddar chunk to shredded bits. Perhaps because they are powerful but not as powerful as the other three models, they didn't turn the cheese into melted globs, but instead produced cheese that you could actually use in cooking. That was a surprise. The Hamilton Beach and the Cuisinart performed the worst, chopping up very little of the cheese and leaving most of the chunk in the jar untouched.

Conclusion
You really can't go wrong with this blender, unless you consistently need it to blend small amounts of things, or if you don't actually need such a powerful machine. That's my problem with the Blendtec, the Vitamix, and the Ninja. They appeal to everyone because they truly are great at what they do and you see it in action and think, "I would make almond butter every week in this thing!" or "Yes, look at how well it shredded that cheese!"

But how much of that actually aligns with your cooking needs? It's kind of like picking the right car for your lifestyle. Sure, you look at the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur and think, "Yes! I would drive everywhere in that thing," only to get it home and realize that you don't really feel comfortable with that much power on a daily basis.

So, ask yourself if you'll actually use it. If not, save your $454 and get something else. The $40 Hamilton Beach is great for the most basic things, the $200 Breville yields consistently great results without all that fancy power, and the $200 Ninja is a similarly powerful, feature-rich appliance that's a bit more affordable.

willitblend.jpg
8.3

Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Usability 7Design 9Features 9