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Cree Vintage-Style Candelabra LED (60w equivalent) review: Skip Cree's old-timey candelabra LEDs if you use dimmer switches

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The Good Cree's new candelabra LED is plenty bright, and it casts clean-looking light in all directions (including down). Use it to replace a comparable incandescent bulb, and you'll earn your money back in energy savings in about nine months.

The Bad Each bulb I tested flickered noticeably during our dimming tests, and you might notice a slight buzz, too. The overlapping filament design is also a little busy-looking.

The Bottom Line These bright, efficient bulbs are a fine choice if you like the look -- but seek something else if you use dimmer switches.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Value 9
  • Performance 6.5

By this point almost all of the major lighting manufacturers -- Philips, Feit, GE, Ikea, you name it -- have embraced the growing trend of "vintage-style" LED light bulbs. With fake filaments composed of tiny light-emitting diodes instead of the old, inefficient tungsten of traditional Edison-style lights, the bulbs combine old-school incandescent appeal with new-age energy savings. Head to the light bulb aisle at your local hardware store, and you'll be surprised by how many manufacturers are planting their flag in the trend.

The big exception is Cree -- or at least it was. After sitting the vintage trend out for the past two years, the North Carolina-based lighting brand finally dipped its toes into incandescent-ish waters by releasing a new line of candelabra LEDs with glass bulbs and fake filaments. That's a contrast to the rest of the Cree lighting lineup, which distinguishes itself with plasticky, low-cost design and an emphasis on dimming and color quality.

At roughly $9 for either a 40W or 60W replacement two-pack, Cree's vintage-style candelabra bulbs look nice and they're just as bright and efficient as advertised, but I was disappointed with their dimming performance. Each one I tested gave off a visible flicker and an audible buzz when I tried to dim them using standard dimming hardware -- and I tested several, including both the 60W and 40W replacement versions. That obviously isn't an issue if you don't use dimmer switches in your home, but if you do, I'd recommend going with something else.

From a design perspective, Cree's new candelabra bulb represents a nice step forward from the bulb that came before it. That last-gen, TW Series model was a bulkier bulb with an ugly base at the bottom that blocked most of the downcast light. That's not a problem with the new vintage-style model -- it looks much more like a traditional light bulb, and casts its light out evenly in all directions. 

The fake filaments are arranged sort of like a teepee, which is a little odd and busy-looking, perhaps (especially with the added print on the glass bulb), but I appreciated that they didn't get in the way of each other too much and cast obnoxious shadows as a result. Still, the light spread isn't quite as clean-looking as you'll get with a vintage-style bulb that arranges its filaments into outward-facing spirals, like you'll get with GE and Feit. I'll take that approach over Cree's teepees any day.

The 60W replacement version of Cree's candelabra bulb is rated at 515 lumens bright. That's an accurate claim, as I clocked it at 520 lumens using our lighting lab's spectrometer and integrating sphere setup. That number falls to 350 lumens with the 40W replacement version and 220 lumens with the 25W replacement one. All three are available in both yellowy, soft white versions rated at 2,700K, as well as daylight versions rated at 5,000K that shine at more of a natural white. For this review, I tested the soft white versions.

On the left, a GE Reveal incandescent bulb with exceptional color rendering capabilities in front of a royal purple wall. On the right, the Cree LED in the same spot, shot with the same exposure settings. Cree's light distorts the color of the wall behind it, but only just slightly.

Ry Crist/CNET

As for efficiency, Cree's 60W replacement bulb consumes just 5.3 watts, which means that it puts out an impressive 98 lumens per watt -- slightly better than the 40W and 25W versions. Use it an average of three hours per day, and it'll add about $0.64 to your energy bill each year. For comparison, an equally bright 60W incandescent would only put out about 9 lumens per watt, and would add about $7 to your energy bill each year.

At about $9 for a two-pack, that means that each Cree 60W replacement candelabra LED would pay for itself in just 258 days, provided you're using it to replace a comparable incandescent. From there, it'll keep shining and saving you money for well over a decade, because it's rated to last 13.7 years and comes with a 10-year warranty. Most incandescents will only last a year or so before burning out.

I also took a look at the bulb's color-rendering capabilities, which determine how accurate it will make the different colors in your home appear. Cree has long hung its hat on this metric, but I've also seen a lot of the vintage-style bulbs I've tested struggle with it, since many of them aggressively push the light's tone into the orange part of the spectrum in order to achieve that classic, candle-like glow.

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