Vitamix blenders enjoy a loyal following and for good reason. Like the Vitamix 7500, they have a history of offering impressive power in thoughtfully designed and simple to use packages. Vitamix machines tend to be expensive too and the company's new top tier model, the $620 (£478 in the UK, roughly AU$820 in Australia) doesn't break the mold.
The Ascent 3500 comes close to meeting the expectations I have for a Vitamix product. It's easy to operate and keep clean. It even uses NFC wireless technology to sense its blending jar by itself. That said, the Ascent 3500 doesn't perform as well as one might expect for a Vitamix -- or any blender with such a high price. I'd point you to cheaper yet more capable blenders such as the $260 Ninja Ultima, $454 BlendTec Wildside and even the older $529 Vitamix 7500, before recommending this one.
Everything about the Vitamix Ascent 3500 screams high-end. First off, this appliance is heavy. The machine's base tips the scales at almost 15 pounds (14.9 pounds, 6.8 kg). It feels substantial, too, and that's a good thing. I've found that the heavier the base, the more stable a blender tends to be. It's also a sign the machine has a robust drive chain. With a strong 2.2-horsepower motor, the Ascent 3500 doesn't disappoint here either.
Secondly, the blender has a handsome stainless steel finish that adds to the Ascent 3500's premium appearance. You can choose between two other styles as well, graphite metal or white color schemes.
What's really striking is the Ascent's LED display. Within this black, rectangular strip are white lights that communicate the blender's status. For example you'll see information here for blade speed, elapsed time, or indicating if you've engaged one of the blender's automatic programs.
Five different presets blend ingredients for smoothies, frozen desserts, soups and dips and spreads, all at the push of a button. A final mode runs a cleaning program. All you need do is fill the blender pitcher halfway with hot water and a drop of dish soap before you run it.
A physical "variable speed" dial sits at the center of the control panel. Spinning the knob right or left dials the velocity of the blades up or down. All of the Ascent 3500's other controls are flat, touch-sensitive keys that lie flush with the blender's front face. They include icons for pulse, start and stop, along with plus and minus keys to adjust automatic blending time.
Like many modern blenders, including the Blendtec Wildside, Kitchenaid Pro Line Series and Ninja Ultima, the Ascent 3500 comes with a pitcher and blade array joined into one unit. The 3500's 64-ounce jar is on the small side compared with those machines, the Blendtec being the biggest with a 90-ounce capacity.
As a marquee blender, the Vitamix Ascent 3500 is one of a vanguard of appliances with app-connected smarts and other technologies. For instance, the blender base and jar talk to each other through NFC (near field communication) technology. This lets the blender know whether the container is present or not, to avoid potential accidents.
The ability isn't just for safety either. Vitamix says different jars with custom NFC chips will soon help the Ascent alter its auto-blending programs to match the size and style of jar you're using. Vitamix plans to offer 8- and 20-ounce blending containers sometime later this year.
One trick you can do now is use the blender with the Perfect Blend wireless scale and mobile app. Together they walk you through a library of preapproved Vitamix recipes. The scale costs an additional $100, though, and you're already paying a hefty bundle for the appliance.
The Vitamix Ascent 3500 relies on a 2.2-peak-horsepower electric motor to drive its steel blades. On paper, it gives the machine less power than the Kitchenaid Pro Line Series (3.5 peak HP) and Blendtec Wildside (3.8 peak HP). Even so, the Ascent handled our battery of grueling blender tests well enough, if not spectacularly.
With the exception of our cheese and nut butter trials, we consider a blender to be worth its salt if it can process its given ingredients in 10 to 15 blade pulses.
Many blenders suggest you add a little water along with the ice you plan to pulverise. Regardless, the Ascent 3500 transformed two cups of rock-hard bag ice into an almost snow-like powder in 10 high-speed pulses.
The Ascent 3500 only needed 8 pulses to blend frozen strawberries and orange juice into a drinkable slurry with a few noticeable chunks. After 10 pulses on high speed, the mixture was completely smooth and ready to drink.
I was also able to liquify OJ, frozen strawberries, plain yogurt and honey into a properly blended mixture in 50 seconds using the smoothie program.
Making pesto in the Vitamix Ascent 3500 wasn't difficult, either. The machine achieved pesto after 15 pulses (high speed) but was most of the way there after 10 pulses.
Our whipped cream challenge wasn't quite as easy for Ascent. Heavy cream in the blending jar was still runny after 10 pulses. It was only after 15-plus pulses, then spinning the blades on high for 15 seconds, that the blender created a thick and fluffy topping.
Blending up a smooth pancake batter in the Ascend 3500 was also a breeze. After 30 seconds ramping up from slow to high speed, I had a consistently smooth liquid mixture.
One of the toughest tasks we ask of blenders is to create nut butter from dry, raw almonds. A few powerful machines such as the Blendtec Wildside, KitchenAid Pro Line Series, and Vitamix 7500 completed the challenge in under 8 minutes.
The Ascent 3500, I'm afraid, did get there eventually -- but needed a full 45 minutes. Additionally, I had to take frequent breaks to open its jar and vigorously stir the contents by hand, otherwise the blades spun uselessly.
The ultimate torture test we've devised is to drop an 8-ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese into a blender's pitcher, flip the switch, and see what happens. The Ascent machine impressively obliterated the gummy cheese into edible shreds in 10 pulses. I did have to shake the blending jar once, however, to dislodge the cheese block when it became trapped out of reach of the blade.
Using a blender is messy by nature, but thankfully the Vitamix Ascent 3500 is a snap to keep clean. The automated cleaning mode effectively removes larger bits of debris from the jar and blade array.
Still, to get the pitcher fully spotless in a jiffy, there's still no substitute for scrubbing by hand. Thankfully this is relatively painless since the pitcher mouth is wide and its insides are within easy reach. Keep in mind the container is also dishwasher safe.
Let me be clear: the $620 Vitamix Ascent 3500 is a quality blender and under most circumstances will successfully meet the blending challenges you throw its way. It also has intuitive controls and numerous automatic blending programs, and it's easy to rid of food grime and gunk. Of course, the same is true of its predecessor, the $529 Vitamix 7500. The 7500 may not come with a jar and base that converse over NFC wireless, but it's also $100 less and performs better.
Likewise, the more-affordable $260 Ninja Ultima and $454 BlendTec Wildside didn't stumble on our nut butter trial either. That's why I advise buying one of these models instead, even if you have extra money to burn.