Natasha Hatendi/CNN
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Nothing changes a woman’s attitude — or confidence — like a fresh blowout. But the days of popping into your favorite blow-dry bar or salon may feel like ancient history in the time of Covid, making hair dryers all the more important. So to get that just-stepped-out-of-the-salon look at home, we set out to test nine of the market’s top-rated models and were, well…blown away by how much magic a new hair dryer can work.

We spent hours testing the dryers, ranging in price from $25 to $399, on four different hair textures: fine and straight-to-wavy; thick and curly; 4b curls with extensions; and thick and wavy-to-curly. We looked at obvious factors, such as dry time, heat and airflow speed, but also other important components ranging from attachments and unique features to cord length and weight.

By the end of the process, we’re pretty sure we at least doubled our upper arm strength (happy benefit) and found three winners that left our hair looking healthy, silky smooth, frizz- and flyaway-free:

If you’re not looking to spend hundreds, our value vote goes to the Revlon One-Step. With nearly 150,000 reviews averaging 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, we just had to put the wildly popular cult-fave hair tool to the test. We were certainly impressed. If you’ve never been able to get the hang of holding a hair dryer in one hand and a round brush in the other at the same time, this model mashes the two together, resulting in ultra-shiny, frizz-free hair for our testers.

For the most part, however, the dryers priced at $100 and below — which resulted in slower dry times, were less versatile (better for straight hair versus curly, for instance) and were constructed from flimsier materials — just didn’t match up to the more expensive versions. As a result, we have determined that investing in a superior model is worth it for those who use this tool on a daily basis, or even just several times a week.

The Drybar Buttercup, from the popular blow-dry bar chain, comes in a fun, cheery bright yellow. At $199, it’s pricey, but except for the Dyson, it simply outperformed its competitors in dry time, settings (more settings means greater user control and the ability to dial back the heat to prevent damage) and versatility, working well on various hair types.

The Dyson Supersonic is expensive. Like, $400 expensive. But, man, does it live up to its hype. On the market since 2016, from the well-known vacuum company, it dries hair at warp speed, blasts out heat at a whopping 70 mph, is much, much quieter than other models we tested, and is just futuristic and cool all around.

Best budget hair dryer: Revlon One-Step ($41.88, regularly $59.99; amazon.com)

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A best-seller on Amazon, this much-beloved brush-style hair dryer had us curious. Would it live up to the hype? Can 150,000 Amazon reviewers be wrong? Well, not only were our testers impressed by how fast the One-Step dries hair at its highest setting, but the blowout results it produced right up there with the Dyson. “I loved, loved, loved the way this tool made my hair look — straight, shiny and like I just left the salon,” said one tester. “Honestly, I loved this thing for its ability to leave my hair shiny and frizz-free,” raved another.

The One-Step dryer is unique in that it includes a non-detachable brush head with nylon pin bristles, allowing you to both dry and brush through your hair at the same time, easing the awkwardness of using both a brush in one hand and a dryer in the other, which gives many folks trouble.

At 1.8 pounds, it’s on the heavier side of the dryers we tested, but its design still manages to feel light in your hand. Since it was a bristled brush, we were unnecessarily worried about issues with tangling (there was none at all), and the 4.25-inch oval barrel design lets you get close to the root, allowing for a volume boost, while you can also bend or lightly curl the ends.

Other great features include ionic and ceramic technology (which you can read more about below), three heat/speed settings and a cool option, plus a four-year warranty. The buttons, though, are at the bottom of the handle, so you will need to stop what you’re doing to change settings.

Be warned: This sucker’s highest setting gets really, really hot. As in we were starting to sweat by the time we were done.

It’s major flaw, of course, is that if you don’t want a sleek and shiny blowout and want your hair to dry curly or wavy, or you have time only for a rough dry, this isn’t the tool to use and you’ll need an additional hair dryer. But if you only straighten your hair during a blowout? This is all you’ll need.

Best mid-range hair dryer: Drybar Buttercup ($189.99, regularly $199; amazon.com)

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Fans of Drybar will instantly recognize this high-end hair dryer by its bright yellow hue. And they probably won’t be too surprised to learn that this retail version, the same style used in the blow-dry salons, delivers shiny, bouncy hair even without a professional stylist at the helm.

Weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces (only two dryers, one of which is travel size, were lighter), it still packs a lot. It features ionic technology (which you can read more about below), a powerful 1,875-watt motor and a long, 9-foot cord. It has six settings, and there’s a great heat range with a distinctive difference between low, medium and high, along with a very cool cool-shot button.

In use, it was one of the quietest of the models we tested with minimal vibration. It works well on a variety of hair types and comes with two nozzle attachments: a smoother and a concentrator. Buttons, located on the inside of the handle (which itself was really comfortable and makes the dryer easy to manipulate), make it easy to toggle between settings with your thumb while it’s in use. Overall, it resulted in our testers’ hair looking healthy, shiny and super straight, all without too much bicep strain to get it there.

Next to the Dyson, the Buttercup gave the fastest finish time for our testers with fine, straight-to-wavy hair, 4b curls and thick, curly hair, and tamed even our most stubborn waves and curls without much effort.

Drawbacks? A curly-haired tester notes that with no included diffuser attachment, the Buttercup’s focus is on rough dries or straightening hair, so those embracing their curls may prefer another model. It’s also expensive (and only has a two-year warranty).

When we consider a single trip to a Drybar salon sets you back $50, shelling out $200 for countless blowouts feels like a bargain.

Best high-end hair dryer: Dyson Supersonic ($399; sephora.com)

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Dyson’s Supersonic has received so many accolades and awards that we almost wanted it to be a flop. Because $400 for a hair dryer? Who’s willing to pay that? But after putting this expensive, high-tech apparatus through multiple tests, we can firmly say: we are.

With a powerful V9 digital motor that’s cleverly housed in the handle, giving it a unique and even balance, the Supersonic features intelligent heat control that measures its air temp 40-plus times per second — so it won’t overheat and you get damage control. Air is sucked in through the bottom of the ergonomic, comfortable-to-hold handle (unlike most hair dryers, where it comes in at the back of the barrel), making it less likely for long hair to get pulled into the filter.

It also comes with three magnetic attachments — a diffuser, smoothing nozzle and concentrator nozzle — that stick on super easily and securely. The attachments are also engineered so they don’t get hot, which means you can swap them out or rotate them without missing a beat — or burning your fingers. Eight settings — three for speed (fast, regular, gentle), four for heat (including a cold setting) and cold shot (which you can read more about below) — are available and it has the best distinct heat range tested (that is, you can really tell a difference between high, medium and low heat).

Other highlights: This model creates virtually no vibration, which means it’s more comfortable to use. It has a 9-foot cord, so you can move about freely. And while we don’t know of any hair dryer that’s silent, this model is much quieter than others we tested. In fact, it’s quiet enough you can follow along with a TV show or FaceTime a friend while using it (a bonus for those trying to avoid waking small kids or sleeping partners). It isn’t the lightest hair dryer we tested, but its durable, distinct design makes holding it feel rather effortless. It also comes with a non-slip mat and storage hanger, and its compartmentalized packaging is, er, head and shoulders, above the rest. (Plus, if you choose the “gift edition,” a red-and-nickel version, your Supersonic will arrive along with a fancy faux-leather carrying case.)

As for the most critical elements (the time it takes to dry hair and its results), the Supersonic is lightning fast: It dried testers’ hair in half the time it took most other models. “This hair dryer is simply the greatest of all time,” one tester remarked. “Absolutely amazing,” said another. “Everyone on my work Zoom calls thought I’d just been to the salon,” raved another.

After a full blowout, testers saw superior shine and smoothness, with even the curliest hair lying perfectly straight, but while retaining salon-worthy volume. Ends were sleek and frizz-free. And flyaways? What flyaways? One key to healthy, shiny hair is keeping heat exposure to a minimum, and, again, with its incredibly fast dry time, there’s less opportunity to cause damage.

If we have to nitpick, we must admit when we first used the dryer on high power it nearly blew our doors off and took a minute to figure out how to avoid shooting the air straight into our ear. And the hottest setting is definitely hot, which may be too much for sensitive scalps. It also has a limited two-year warranty, the same as the majority of the dryers tested, but not exactly amazing for such a pricey item.

Ultimately, this beast is worth the investment as it works wonders on various hair types, comes with useful attachments, is fast, fast, fast and leaves hair so shiny, so healthy and so frizz-free. Dyson Supersonic? You can do no wrong. So much so that our testers summed it up with some variant of: “I can’t imagine switching to anything else after using it.”

Hair Dryer Terms Defined:

All three hair dryers resulted in professional-looking blowouts performed in a minimal amount of time and topped their competitors based on a variety of criteria. But if you’re wondering what some of the terms mean and what components are meant to do, here’s a quick explainer:

Attachments: Diffusers — you know, those round, bowl-like add-ons with plastic spikes — are used to disperse air over a large area, helping to define curls or keep waves intact and add volume, but not frizz. Concentrator and smoothing nozzles allow air to be directed through a narrow, flat vent and are especially helpful for drying long hair faster as you’re able to point the heat right where you want it. These work really well for smoothing hair on the back of the head and hard-to-reach spots.

Cord length: If you have a small bathroom, this may not be an issue, but for those working in rooms with inconveniently placed outlets, being able to move around — to see in a mirror, for example — is key. Therefore, hair dryers with longer cords were ranked higher (lengths varied from 5 to 9 feet).

Weight: At a glance, all the dryers we tested likely would be considered lightweight — all weighed in at less than 2 pounds. But when you’re holding something up over your head, even for just 10 to 15 minutes, your arm gets tired quickly, meaning even a few ounces can add to fatigue. And the more tired your arm gets, the more likely you’ll be to give up early before finishing drying your whole head.

Cool shot button: This little gizmo is included in many hair dryers and does just what you’d think: It blasts cool air. So, why do you want cool air? Pros say it helps seal the style into place and keeps ends from frizzing, resulting in a longer-lasting blowout. (Confession: Sometimes we aim it down our shirt after a long, hot drying sesh for a little DIY AC, especially during the summer months.)

Ionic and ceramic technology: Many hair dryers now tout technology that signals the release of negative ions, said to speed dry time, reduce static and prevent frizz (this is often recommended for those with textured or curly hair). Ceramic coils, meanwhile, result in more even heat distribution than their metal counterparts. So, what does this mean? While ionic dryers may reduce static electricity, according to scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara, that doesn’t amount to much, as frizz caused by static only tends to last a few minutes. And, yes, ceramic heat is efficient, meaning less dry time and, theoretically, less damage. But as all the hair dryers we tested boasted either ion or ceramic technology (most offered both), neither made much of a difference in our ratings.

How we tested

After some serious hair dryer market research, we narrowed our test group down to nine highly rated, bestselling and critically lauded models. From there, we carefully tested each dryer, taking detailed notes and evaluating each one based on both performance and build.

Each hair dryer was tested at least three times, including a full blowout, rough dry and combo of the two. We spent several weeks testing these dryers, and testing was performed on multiple hair types: fine and straight-to-wavy; thick and curly; 4b curls with extensions; and thick and wavy-to-curly. In addition to overall performance, we also used the below criteria breakdowns in making our final evaluations.

Performance

  • Time to dry hair: For each dryer, we set a timer and recorded how long it took to go from just-out-of-the-shower towel-dried hair to completely dry. The shorter the time, the higher the score.
  • Settings: Models received higher scores for more settings, such as multiple airflow speeds, heat options and a cold shot button.
  • Versatility: We assessed how each hair dryer worked on four different hair textures, noting whether longer hair was sucked into the fan, and assessing how well it worked for a full blowout, a quick air dry and a combination quick dry/blowout.
  • Difference in heat settings: For dryers with multiple heat settings, we took notes on everything from a noticeable difference in high, medium and low heat and whether settings were too extreme — either too hard or too soft, for example.
  • Cool-shot button: Most models included cool-shot buttons, meant to help lock in the finished hair style. We assessed whether the cool shot was actually cool, even after extended use on high heat.
  • Frizz/flyaway control: During testing, we took notes on the hair’s appearance after drying, looking for any frizz or flyaways, as well as shine and an overall healthy appearance.

Build

  • Cord length: For this category, we looked at how long each cord was — a longer cord allows for more flexibility and room to maneuver, so longer cords received higher scores.
  • Weight: We weighed each model on a scale, giving higher marks to lighter hair dryers, as lighter models are easier to hold for extended periods of time. This is especially important for those with long or thick hair.
  • Maintenance/durability: We examined each dryer to test how easy it was to remove and/or clean the filter, looked for signs of scuffs or scratches and performed a “drop” test, dropping it to the floor while in use to see how it stood up to normal wear and tear.
  • Attachments/unique features: Many hair dryers come with different nozzles (such as smoothing, concentrator or diffuser), while others have a built-in brush, ionic technology or ceramic build. We noted such features and add-ons, which resulted in higher scores.
  • Button placement: In addition to the number of button controls, we also rated just where the buttons were located. The ability to change heat settings without having to stop the drying process to fumble with the buttons, for example, earned more points, while placement that allowed you to accidentally switch from high to low heat or airflow resulted in lower points.
  • Handle comfort: When you’re holding a hair dryer above your head for an extended period of time, comfort is key. We looked at the grip, shape and ergonomics of each handle, assessing how it felt in our hands.
  • Noise level: If there’s a silent hair dryer on the market, we haven’t found it. But, especially for those drying their hair early in the morning while the rest of the family is still fast asleep, a loud model may be a deal-breaker. We compared each model, noting how much noise it made, and doling out more points to quieter dryers.
  • Vibration levels: Again, when you’re holding a hair dryer for a long time, comfort is a huge bonus, and a machine that vibrates annoyingly is far from ideal. So we assessed vibration levels, giving more points to dryers that stayed still in our hands.
  • Warranty: We checked the number of years of warranty for each tool.

How we rated

Using the above criteria, we assigned scores in each subcategory to each hair dryer, combined those numbers for a total score in each subcategory, and then added the scores for an overall total. The scores were broken down as follows:

  • Performance had a maximum of 50 points: time to dry hair (10); settings (10); versatility (10); difference in heat settings (5); cool-shot button (5); and frizz/flyaways (10).
  • Build had a maximum of 55 points: cord length (10); weight (10); maintenance/durability (10); attachments/features (5); button placement (5); handle comfort (5); noise (5); and vibration (5).
  • Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: lifetime (5), two to five years (2), less than two years (0).

Other hair dryers we tested

Harry Josh Pro Tools Pro Dryer 2000 ($249.99, originally $299.84; amazon.com)

Amazon

A lot impressed us when it came to this pretty mint green, high-end hair dryer designed by the celebrity hairstylist whose clients include Gisele Bundchen, Rose Byrne and Ellen Pompeo. Third-fastest in dry time, it has a great variety of settings, including a unique ion off/on button (turn it on to tame frizz, off to increase volume), and is nice and light, weighing in at just over a pound.

It comes with two nozzle attachments — one for styling and one for concentrated heat — and has a powerful 1,875-watt motor. We also appreciate its compactness and the way its slightly contoured handle that just fits your hand, makes it easy to control. The short nozzle, in fact, makes this dryer nice for travel. But while it was among our favorites, it was nudged out of the winner’s circle for its noise level — it was one of the louder models we tested — and for the tangles it left in long hair, especially during rough dries.

Rusk Engineering CTC Lite ($99.95; amazon.com)

Amazon

For a just-under-$100 model, this hair dryer received high marks from testers for its relatively fast dry time, multiple settings and ability to leave hair shiny and smooth.

The Rusk is infused with ceramic and titanium for a higher heat transfer (and trust us, this one does get hot — the highest heat was noted as “extreme” by multiple reviewers). It’s lightweight, which makes it easy to maneuver, but the plastic seems rather flimsy — although it did survive our drop test — and less durable than our winners. Button placement is also an issue, with some reviewers noting they accidentally changed settings while using the dryer, which can be annoying.

This dryer comes with two attachments — a diffuser and concentrator nozzle — making it a good choice for those who mostly do quick dries or are seeking a wavy/curly result. However, those with coarse, curly or coily hair say it wasn’t as effective as the winning models when it came to blowing out natural hair without leaving frizz.

BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium ($79.99; amazon.com)

Amazon

Built with nano titanium ionic technology designed to dry faster with less frizz and even heat, this hair dryer landed right in the middle of the pack of the ones we tested. Featuring six heat and speed settings, it comes with a concentrator nozzle, is lightweight and the toggle buttons are easy to manipulate while in use.

As far as dry time, loudness, handle comfort and versatility? All right down the middle in comparison to other dryers tested. It doesn’t seem to get as hot as other models, but does a solid job in creating mostly straight and shiny hair, although the ends weren’t as smooth as with other versions. If you’re looking for a dependable hair dryer that doesn’t cost a fortune, this is a good pick. If you’re willing to spend more, you can do better.

Bio Ionic Goldpro Travel Dryer ($99; amazon.com)

Amazon

You may not be doing a whole lot of traveling these days, but when things get back to normal, those who find themselves staying in hotels frequently should consider purchasing this handy travel model. Made with a ceramic barrel infused with 24K gold MX, the brand’s proprietary mineral complex, it’s said to condition the hair and lock in moisture for added shine.

And from our testing, that claim seems to be more than just, well, hot air. One tester noted the GoldPro beat out four full-size dryers when it came to dry time and it resulted in a shiny, healthy blowout with very few flyaways and no frizzy ends. Although it’s super-small, weighing in at a scant .85 pounds, and featuring a folding handle to make it extra compact in your suitcase or carry on, it still manages to dry hair swiftly and with few flyaways (it does take some extra muscle to get the waviest hair straight, however).

The Goldpro comes with a travel bag, concentrator nozzle and very cheap-looking plastic travel brush. And, as you might expect in a travel model, it’s pretty bare bones when it comes to settings: just two speeds — high and low power — and its cord is shorter than nearly all other models tested. But in comparison to the usual hotel dryer attached the bathroom wall? This might just be your favorite new travel companion.

Infinitipro by Conair ($24.94, regularly $34.99; amazon.com)

Amazon

A top seller on Amazon with a 4.7-star rating, we had high hopes for this low-cost hair dryer that uses ceramic and ion technology to up shine and prevent frizz and damage. Things we like: the ergonomic handle design, its light 1-pound weight, the fact that it features a cold shot plus three heat settings and two speeds, and that it comes with a concentrator nozzle and diffuser.

But while the Infinitipro is probably sufficient for those with straight, fine hair, it simply lacks the performance capabilities of the other hair dryers we reviewed. First, the 5-foot cord — the shortest of all models tested — is an issue for those who require more room. It also feels cheaply made (the plastic is light, and doesn’t seem durable like higher-end models we tested), is among the loudest hair dryers evaluated and has one of the longest dry times. And while the perhaps overly strong fan didn’t suck long hair into the back fan, we did have to stop repeatedly to brush out tangles during a rough dry and it left frizz in wavier sections of our hair.

Gold ‘n Hot Professional One-Step Hot Air Brush ($59.99; amazon.com)

Amazon

For those who have trouble working a hair dryer and a round brush at the same time, this drying brush is a handy option. The oval-shaped styling tool features airflow vents and nylon bristles and works well on all hair types, including textured. This model is also built with an ion generator for faster drying and has a ceramic coating to help protect hair from damage and give even heat distribution. The brush did result in a just-stepped-out-of-the-salon style with no frizz and healthy, shiny tresses and was lightweight and easy to grip.

That part was great. But it took longer than any other model we tested to get our hair completely dry, has minimal settings (cool, low, high) and also takes some getting used to — we clunked ourselves in the head with the hard brush multiple times (ouch!) and burned our finger when we accidentally touched the hot brush. It also has a relatively short 6-foot cord and while there’s no filter access, users are advised to clean the air vents daily — which we find impractical.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: