"Vintage-style" LED light bulbs are bringing an old-time aesthetic back to the lighting aisle. Inside each one, you'll find decorative filaments that are actually just light-emitting diodes (LEDs) arranged into lines. They look like old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with twisty, eye-catching filaments when you turn them on, but they only use a fraction of the wattage.
The latest among these lighting lookalikes is a new line of vintage-style bulbs from GE. Available in a variety of shapes, each one features sepia-tinted glass and a fake filament twisted into an artsy spiral. None of them is bright enough to serve as a primary light source on its own -- instead, they're designed to serve as retro accent lights for exposed bulb fixtures. Prices start at about $10 each.
I tested three versions of the bulb -- classic, elongated and globe-shaped -- and found them all to be both brighter than advertised and good on dimmer switches, too. I also appreciated that GE labels them using their actual wattage (5W) instead of using misleading terms like "60W replacement" that can fool consumers into thinking that the bulbs are brighter than they actually are, a trick that's all-too-common in the vintage category. Most other vintage style bulbs cost a little less, but GE's good-looking LEDs are still a pretty decent pick if you're looking for a unique aesthetic from your lights.
The spiral filaments inside GE's new vintage bulbs borrow a trick that I first saw with Feit, which sells similar bulbs with double helix-style filaments. Not only does the spiral look appealing, but it also ensures that all of the diodes are shining straight out of the bulb, making for a clean, even dispersal of light. Other vintage-style bulbs that arrange the filaments into multiple columns or the like will tend to cast ugly shadows when those filaments get in the way of each other. Not so with GE.
It's worth reiterating that these lights aren't very bright. Each one claims a light output of just 250 lumens -- barely half of what you'll get from a typical 40W accent bulb. That's understandable for vintage bulbs like these that are designed to be looked at when they're lit up (and again, good on GE for playing it straight on the packaging), but it's still something to be aware of before you buy one.
That said, in my tests, each of the three bulbs came back comfortably brighter than claimed -- 300 lumens for the classic, A-shaped bulb, 312 for the elongated bulb and 281 for the globe-shaped version. If anything, that 250 lumen figure is a conservative one, and that's a good thing -- an extra 50 lumens goes a long way with dim, decorative lights like these.
Like most vintage-style bulbs, GE's spiral filament LEDs put out light at a low, orange-y color temperature, thanks in part to the golden tint of the glass. I'm not always a fan of the tinted glass approach, as it tends to make for an artificial quality of light, but in GE's case, I think it works. Each bulb puts out the same sort of ruddy, candlelike glow as an old, exposed-filament incandescent. If it's nostalgia you're after, then these bulbs nail it.
They're also very good on dimmer switches. Each one was able to dim smoothly down to complete darkness, giving you lots of room to dial things down nice and low. Even better, each one did so on all of the switches on my test rig without any noticeable flicker or buzz. That rig includes common slider switches from Lutron and Leviton, as well as an old rotary dial designed for incandescents only -- GE didn't have any trouble with any of them.
GE's new vintage-style bulbs probably aren't for everybody, but they're still good bulbs. Though not as bright as a common 60W bulb or even a 40W accent light, they were still brighter than advertised, and bright enough to function well in exposed bulb setups where you'll probably prefer a lower lumen count. To that end, they also work great with dimmer switches.
You've got a lot of vintage-style options at this point -- including bulbs that cost a lot less -- but if I were buying, I think it would come down to GE and Feit. Both lines look great, both performed well in my tests, and both cost about $10 per bulb -- not the best value in the category, but not unreasonable for a quality product, either. After a quick poll of the office, most seemed to voice a slight preference for Feit's double helix design over GE's single spiral, but GE's bulbs were the better performers on dimmer switches. Either option will do the trick if you're in the market for neat-looking lights.
For more on vintage-style LED light bulbs, click here.