Some expensive things are worth the cash, but I have a tough time making the case for the Buster Bulb from London-based design company Buster & Punch. Yes, it's a gorgeous, ooh-and-aah-worthy LED light bulb, but at $50 for a nondimmable model and $65 for one that dims (that's about £38 nondimmable, £49 dimmable), the markup seems particularly excessive. And yes, I realize that you probably didn't need a CNET review to tell you that.
But here's what else I can tell you: These bulbs come with a couple of compromises. To be specific, the dimmable version flickered noticeably when I tested it out with an old rotary switch, and I was also disappointed to see that the bulbs offer a color rendering score of only 80 out of 100, a below-average number that keeps them from making the colors in your home pop quite as well as other LEDs that cost less.
Neither issue would amount to much more than a nitpick if the bulb weren't so expensive, but at this price, and with the Buster & Punch emphasis on design, both are noteworthy missteps. Unless the Buster Bulb's unique aesthetic is a must-have in your home, I'd suggest splurging on something else -- or saving your money and going with a design-minded bulb from Feit or GE that costs much, much less.
Available in multiple colors, the Buster Bulb's eye-catching design is actually pretty simple. It's just an elongated bulb with a ribbed, rigatoni-shaped tube running down the center (at one point, Buster & Punch called it a "resin light pipe"). Whatever you want to call it, that semitranslucent tube catches the light from the light-emitting diodes down below it and scatters it out into your home.
The effect is patterned, textured light that's pretty striking to look at, and a good fit for modern, high-concept in-home decor. That said, if you're just looking for a nice-looking bulb that'll cast evenly dispersed light you can read beneath, look elsewhere, because the Buster Bulb is really more decoration than practical light source.
To the credit of Buster & Punch, each Buster Bulb I tested clocked in remarkably close to the specs stated on the box. With lots of lighting manufacturers still choosing to play fast and loose with things like lumen count and wattage equivalencies (especially with design-oriented bulbs like these), that honest approach was much appreciated by this lighting geek.
As for the numbers themselves, the gold-tinted, nondimmable version of the Buster Bulb claims a light output of 100 lumens and clocked in at 108 lumens when I tested it using our lighting lab's spectrometer and integrating sphere. Meanwhile, the smoked glass, dimmable version claims to be 160 lumens bright -- I measured it at a spot-on 163 lumens. If you want a brighter bulb than that, go with the clear glass, "Crystal" version of the Buster Bulb. I didn't test it, but Buster & Punch claims a light output of 320 lumens.
All of those numbers are relatively low as far as brightness is concerned (for comparison, a 40W accent light will typically put out around 450 lumens). That's typical of bulbs like these that are designed to be looked at -- too much brightness, and it isn't pleasant to look at them at all. All of that is fine so long as you're using the bulbs as artsy accent lights, but if you intend to use them as a primary light source, you might require more than one, especially if you're going with one of the tinted models.
Color temperature varies slightly depending on which tint you go with, too, which makes sense. The gold-tinted bulb gives a predictably warm, yellowy tone of 2,500 K, for instance, while the smoked glass bulb gives a slightly more neutral 2,600 K. All of them fall in the default "soft white" range of most light bulbs, so don't expect anything out of the ordinary (and don't expect hot white, daylight-tinted light either).
As for dimmability, Buster & Punch recommends using modern Lutron dimmers made to be used with LEDs. I have a switch like that on my dimming rig, and it did, indeed, dim pretty well, showing no visible flicker and dialing all the way down to about 7 lumens at minimum.
I did notice a small amount of flicker on a similar Leviton dimmer switch, though, and a moderate amount of flicker on an older Lutron rotary dial designed for use with incandescent bulbs. Translation: Don't count on smooth dimming performance from the Buster Bulb if your switches are out-of-date.
One other small quibble -- the Buster Bulb couldn't hit full brightness at the top setting of any of the dimmers I tested it on. Instead, it would only dial up to a max of about 90 percent. You aren't likely to notice the difference (we're talking about 10 or 20 lumens), but it still seems noteworthy given that most dimmable bulbs I've tested are able to hit 100 percent or very close to it.
As people continue to upgrade to LED light bulbs, more and more of them will take the opportunity to reconsider the ways their light bulbs can contribute to their home decor. That's why manufacturers are putting an increasing emphasis on design, and on bulbs that can help class things up a bit.
To that end, it's hard to blame Buster & Punch for seeing an opportunity to sell high-end light bulbs -- and to their credit, the Buster Bulbs are fancy as all get-out. I just wish that they felt a little more high-end while in use. The dimness is forgivable given what kind of bulb this is, but inconsistent dimming performance and mediocre color rendering capabilities are more disappointing. Above all, the $15 markup from the nondimmable version to the dimmable version seems especially stingy.
For those reasons, I'm sticking with the vintage-style bulbs from GE and Feit as my top picks for exposed bulb setups. If it's eye-popping colors that you're after, then the Soraa Radiant LED is another nice upgrade. All of those cost a fraction of what you'll spend on a single Buster Bulb.