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Dyson Ball Allergy Vacuum review: New Dyson, same deal-breakers

Redemption through performance?

The Dyson Ball Allergy's design issues put increased pressure on its performance to justify the high price tag. Fortunately, performance is where Dyson vacuums tend to truly shine, and the Ball Allergy is no exception.

In our tests, the Ball Allergy showed even greater carpet-cleaning power than the already impressive DC41 that it replaced, lending some credence to Dyson's claims of improved airflow and a more powerful brushroll.

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)

Dyson Ball Allergy
80
100
100
Eureka AS1104A SuctionSeal Pet
72
93
100
Dirt Devil Dash
15
55
63

Legend:

Hardwood
Mid-pile
Low-pile

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Our first round of performance testing involves sprinkling Fruity Cheerios over three separate surfaces, then testing to see how much of them the vacuum can pick up on each one using a predetermined run pattern. As you can see in the chart above, the Ball Allergy was the first vacuum to score perfect scores on both low-pile and mid-pile carpets (and the first Dyson vacuum to score perfect scores on either one).

But what about hardwood floors and other smooth surfaces? The Ball Allergy scored an 80 here, meaning that on average, it picked up 80 percent of the cereal that I spread over my hardwood test surface. Though better than what either the DC40 or the Ball Compact Animal were capable of, that's 12 percent worse than its direct predecessor, the DC41, and worse than the top-performing models from Oreck , Bissell , and Electrolux .

There was actually quite a lot that we learned from this test alone. Like many vacuums, the Ball Allergy gives you the option of turning the brushroll off, which can be a good idea if you're vacuuming over a smooth surface like hardwood or linoleum. Without the friction of carpet fibers, a brushroll can end up scattering more debris than it picks up, and Dyson's brushroll is no different.

dyson-dc65-product-photos-5.jpg
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The DC65's more powerful brushroll cleans carpets more effectively -- but it also scatters debris more aggressively on hard surfaces. Colin West McDonald/CNET

When I tested the DC41 on hardwood in 2013, I found that it was barely able to pick up any cereal at all if I turned the brushroll off (much of it would end up stuck in the cleaning head, never getting spun up into the bin). If I left the brushroll on, the DC41 scattered about 10 percent of the Cheerios, but the rest made it up into the bin.

With the Ball Allergy, things were a little different. With the brushroll off, it picked up 80 percent of the Cheerios, but didn't scatter any of them. With the brushroll on... it picked up 80 percent. The other 20 percent got scattered far and wide across the test area, much farther than the DC41 had flung anything.

The fact that the Ball Allergy scatters things more violently speaks to the more powerful brushroll -- but consider the fact that it still picks up 80 percent of the cereal with the brushroll off, compared to almost none from the DC41. That's a drastic difference, and one that seems to speak almost entirely to suction power. This result leads me to believe Dyson when they claim that the Ball Allergy's design leads to improved airflow and better suction.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)

Dyson Ball Allergy
95
100
100
Oreck Touch Bagless
92
100
100
Eureka AS1104A SuctionSeal Pet
0
92
100
Dirt Devil Dash
0
92
92

Legend:

Hardwood
Mid-pile
Low-pile

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance
Next, we have our pet hair tests, which is where Dyson really excels. The Ball Allergy joins the DC41 and the Ball Compact Animal at the very top of the field, posting a near-perfect overall score that edges out all competitors. The perfect scores on carpet are less impressive here, as every upright we've tested has managed to score at least 90 percent on both. The hardwood test is, again, the more telling one. The pet hair we use is very light and a little clumpy, meaning that a vacuum with a poorly designed cleaning head will push it around the floor like a plow rather than rolling over it and sucking it up into the bin.

This is why you see such a sharp drop-off as you move down the chart -- the vacuums at the bottom of the list just can't get that pet hair underneath the cleaning head when cleaning on hardwood. The Ball Allergy easily bests all of them, gathering up 95 percent of the material.

Sand/sawdust, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)

Eureka AS1104A SuctionSeal Pet
99
91
77
Dyson Ball Allergy
100
72
64
Dirt Devil Dash
77
33
19

Legend:

Hardwood
Mid-pile
Low-pile

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

If you want to talk about carpet-cleaning power, then you need to look at our sand-and-sawdust test, which has proven to be a fairly grueling challenge for our vacuums. Sucking the stuff off of hard surfaces is no problem for most, since, unlike the pet hair, it fits under the average cleaning head just fine. With carpets, however, the dusty mix has plenty of places to hide and plenty of fibers to cling to.

We've seen other vacuums rise to this challenge admirably well -- most notably the Samsung Motion Sync and the Hoover WindTunnel 3 . Dyson vacuums, on the other hand, seem to struggle with it to an extent. The DC41 sits near the bottom of the rankings, with the DC40 and Ball Compact Animal coming in toward the middle. I was curious to see how the Ball Allergy would fare with its improved airflow and more powerful brushroll, especially after it nailed the Cheerios test.

Not surprisingly, the Ball Allergy performed better than the DC41 on all three surfaces, but not by as much as I'd hoped, averaging only a 5 percent performance increase on the two test carpets. As I said before, the Ball Allergy's performance is definitely a legitimate step forward from what the DC41 offers -- but I wouldn't call it a giant leap.

dyson-dc65-product-photos-15.jpg
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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion

The Dyson Ball Allergy is a marked improvement from the DC41, and all comparisons aside, it is a very good vacuum in its own right, with performance that lives up to Dyson's lofty standard. It's just a shame that the vacuum's design and usability don't follow suit. By failing to address the DC41's design faults, the Ball Allergy fails as a replacement for it.

Dyson vacuums typically perform quite well in our tests, but they don't blow all competitors away. By some metrics, they even fall short of them. This alone makes it tough to recommend a $500 vacuum like the Ball Allergy over competitors that don't cost nearly as much, such as the Oreck Touch and the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean . Throw in my qualms with Dyson's design, and the Ball Allergy rolls even further away from a strong recommendation.

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