Help me find products that are universally considered the best in their category.
May 31, 2009 12:51 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for the best consumer products in its category that is universally recognised, as long as it is in a reasonable price, ie not several times more expensive than the competition. While Mac OSX, the Dyson vaccuum cleaner, Blackberry smartphones, Moleskine Notebooks are obvious examples, Axiom Audio(audiophile speakers at fabulous value for money), Michel Thomas Language learning CDs, or Fujitsu Scansnap scanners are not so well known. Generally, products that get off the chart rating in unbiased reviews, but are not well known in the mainstream.

I am listing several categories here of things that I would be interested in knowing about, but it need not be limited to that. What I am interested to know is that one item that once someone switches to using it, it is so superior to the competition that you will not use anything else. Of course, their maybe a premium to the product, but it should not be several times the price of the competition. I am more interested to know of products that are not mainstream, that everyone doesnt know of. for example for toothpaste, I am not interested to hear of Colgate, but some amazing Aloe Vera Ayurveda Toothpaste which is universally recognised by its users as being the best.
I am listing some categories here, but the answers need not be limited to just these categories.
Toiletries: Shampoos, Soaps, Toothpaste, Shaving Cream, Hair Gel, Razors, etc.
Electronics: TVs, Amplifiers, Speakers, Printers, Scanners
Books: Travel Guides, Cookbooks , Language Learning
Stationary: Pens, Diaries, Journals, Paints, etc.
Miscellaneous: Luggage, Underwear, Swimming Trunks, Exercise Machines, etc.
posted by tusharj to Shopping (21 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you'd be interested in Cool Tools if you don't read it already.
posted by zachlipton at 1:41 AM on May 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Universally recognized by its users as the best, but not well known in the mainstream. So you want the indie music of consumer products? Even in mainstream products, people tend to buy what they consider to be "the best." People that buy only Colgate and will not use other brands of toothpaste have universally, within the group of Colgate buyers, recognized it to be "the best." Of course, they may be deciding that based on price, availability, advertising, taste, 4 out of 5 dentists, my mother always bought it. But those are all legitimate reasons to buy. After all, choosier moms choose Jif.

Also, "universally recognized," are pretty tough shoes to fill. While I agree that your list of "obvious examples" are all quality products, and that most chronic users are likely to be satisfied, they all have successful competitors. Miele and SEBO might take issue with your statement about Dyson vacuums. CNET ranks several other brands of smartphone just as highly as the Blackberry. I won't even mention the flame wars mac vs. pc generate. Michel Thomas has certainly been criticized.

That being said, I love these posts (1, 2, 3, 4) and look forward to everyone's suggestions.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:53 AM on May 31, 2009

I'm not sure you're going to be able to stay objective here; as ActingTheGoat pointed out widely recognised by users isn't necessarily anointment as best in class by an authoritative body. That being said, I can contribute a few points.

Tumi luggage; I'm in banking and there were long periods of time that between business and holiday I flew well over 200K miles a year. You'll pay more for Tumi luggage but their products are very sensibly made and very durable.

I'm partial to Rolex watches myself; once again, you pay more upfront but they are also very durable, well made and fashionable in a timeless way.

For work shoes I like Montecatini loafers; handmade Italian with leather soles, great value for money. Especially so I only purchase new shoes once every three or four years or so, and tend to buy four or five pairs at a time, negotiating a discount. I can't find a link and until now had no idea there were apparently so obscure; for years I've purchased these shoes from a small family owned shop on Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam, so don't know much about wider availability.

Molton Brown soaps can't be beat, but I try to not purchase these, instead getting them for free, either from hotels or in flight travel kits when I'm off away. However I have purchased in the past and, even though I'm frugal, feel their products good value for money (ah, everyone's gotta splurge now and then).

In general, I'm very frugal and tend to prioritise towards durability while minimising need for replacement. I don't like to spend money (on things that is; experiences are completely different) but won't hesitate to do so (e.g., Tumi, Rolex) if what I purchase will far outlast competitive offerings. Stylish or fashionable for me are tertiary considerations, with cost secondary.
posted by Mutant at 3:26 AM on May 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a mega topic ... and unfortunately many of the items I would contribute come with as personal bias and link to an inherent "possession philosophy" which would take a long time to explain ...

But, on Rolex watches (mentioned above) ... a IMHO better purchase is a Tudor watch ... they come out of the same factory as a Rolex, look identical and use many identical parts ... only the mechanism (IWC?) and some of the more pricey parts are different (gold plate instead of solid gold, etc.) ... and the price is a lot lower.
posted by jannw at 6:16 AM on May 31, 2009

It seems really hard to get your money's worth out of expensive luggage. I usually find a 25 euro suitcase is easy to replace and lasts almost as long. I think the key points are that (1) designer bags attract thieves, (2) durable luggage is always heavy, and (3) you need not look your best while traveling. But obviously this doesn't apply to you if you always take cabs, must look your best, etc.

I don't know about cookbooks but the wiki based ones online will likely cream all others. I think the main point about foreign languages is that you need to read if your not living there, so you should ask about good novels in the language, and hey get a cookbook in your foreign language. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 7:07 AM on May 31, 2009

Nota Bene is the best travel guide.
posted by Zambrano at 8:04 AM on May 31, 2009

For value-for-dollar, I'd put Paradigm speakers, and maybe some vintage ones, ahead of Axiom (and for money-is-no-object sound, there are of course plenty of better candidates than either).

Printer: HP business laserjets. Again, an old one provides the best value for the money.

Cookbooks: There are more than a few old AskMe questions about this, but I don't think there's really a single best cookbook. It depends on what you're looking for. You're not going to find a best toothpaste, either, for the same reasons. I value organic ingredients, she values the latest high-tech chemicals, and he likes Cinnamint, y'know? I suspect that many of the things you list will fall into this category.

These last couple are nothing but personal bias: Soap? Dr. Bronner's mixed about half-and-half with store-brand Dial antibacterial. Don't fill up the bottle more than halfway--you want room for air when you shake it up. Best underwear? Patagonia active boxers. Best exercise equipment? Bicycle--something that you can ride on trails.
posted by box at 8:06 AM on May 31, 2009

And all toothpaste is the same. They all have flouride. There is not enough of whatever else they put in there to actually have any benefit. It's just enough so they can say "with peroxide (or whatever)" on the label or in the commercial.
posted by Zambrano at 8:07 AM on May 31, 2009

While Mac OSX, the Dyson vaccuum cleaner, Blackberry smartphones, Moleskine Notebooks are obvious examples, Axiom Audio(audiophile speakers at fabulous value for money), Michel Thomas Language learning CDs, or Fujitsu Scansnap scanners are not so well known.

Forgive me for being blunt, but it is plainly obvious that you do not really care about getting the best of anything. It sounds like you're more interested in finding out what everyone else thinks is the best so you'll impress the largest number of people.

For instance, Dyson vacuum cleaners are, at best, mediocre. They lose efficiency far too quickly, only really work well on carpets, are are woefully underpowered. Oh sure, they'll run rings around the majority of the cheap imports you'll find at your local Wal-Mart. But take a look at the kinds of vacuum cleaners that a professional cleaner would use. I guarantee you they'll look a lot more like one of these. My Alto Attix can lift a Dyson. It can also suck up an entire bag of unmixed concrete without a hick-up. I'd like to see you try that with a Dyson.

Unfortunately, most of the really good stuff doesn't have any brand recognition with the humble masses, because the humble masses are a bunch of consumer whores that don't know a lick of shit about anything.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:11 AM on May 31, 2009 [17 favorites]

Point made above ... "Unfortunately, most of the really good stuff doesn't have any brand recognition with the humble masses, because the humble masses are a bunch of consumer whores that don't know a lick of shit about anything." is very good.

Many of the best "things" are those made for professionals ... as items for professionals are no frills, high quality, high usability, repairable, etc ... everything that consumer grade stuff isn't.

To second the vacuum cleaner example ... the best vacuum cleaner I have ever owned looked a lot like this ... it was bulletproof, powerful, highly usable, and ... oddly enough ... was from an office cleaning company. Couldn't buy it from my local electrical good store though!
posted by jannw at 8:39 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

These are products that have been recommended to me by professionals or experts as being much better for similar prices than more-popular or better-known brands:

power tools: Festool and Inca

amplifiers: NAD and Rotel

TVs: Panasonic commercial plasma

chainsaws: STIHL
posted by nicwolff at 11:20 AM on May 31, 2009

Stereo components: Adcom is at the low end of high end components.
posted by torquemaniac at 1:03 PM on May 31, 2009

It's true that most of what you're asking for a 'trade secret' tools.

Rigid make very nice plumbing tools and especially pipe wrenches. I have a couple of their aluminum ones that I am always happy to pick up.

Knipex 'Cobra' are better adjustable wrenches.

The Leatherman multi-tool never worked day-to-day for me but as an emergency back-up it's good to have.

I have an Arai motorcycle helmet that I find terrifically well thought-out.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:15 PM on May 31, 2009

This is borderline chatfilter, or a reiteration of previous posts, but I think there's room to talk about product lines where "once you make the switch, you never go back", or have very little desire to consider alternatives. Or the ones where you pay through the nose up front but never have the desire or compulsion to upgrade. Or the ones where, when the time comes to replace Item X, you can go into the shop and buy the same item in the same size or configuration and be out of the door in two minutes.

I'm going to say "TiVo". I've had (or had access to) a TiVo since they launched, and I'm seriously considering a Tivo HD, though I don't have a HD television, for the dual ATSC tuner post-transition. There are people in Britain who still use TiVos, even though they're no longer sold there, and the Sky+ DVR is pretty decent. And I'll second box on the old-but-gold HP4/5 laserjet.

But Civil_Disobedient is right to make the distinction between professional kit and consumer goods that tend towards being Veblen goods. Neal Stevenson's 'In The Beginning Was The Command Line' is the usual point of reference here.
posted by holgate at 2:31 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

dr. bronner's magic soap.
posted by snofoam at 4:38 PM on May 31, 2009

I own a Panasonic commercial microwave. It rocks. No mode selection, no annoying beeps, no cold spots. Just 10 buttons and two huge inverters.
posted by anthill at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2009

Try this site, Consumer Search -- it aggregates and synthesizes the best expert opinions on a wide range of consumer products. It's really great for simple products -like luggage or toothpaste- that don't warrant much research, and it's also not a bad starting point for researching more important purchases.

It definitely won't always give you lesser-known brands (since, by definition, it is the conventional wisdom), but it occasionally recommends brands that are new to me, or that I wouldn't necessarily have recognized as top-tier.
posted by Susan PG at 12:17 AM on June 1, 2009

For screwdrivers, pliers, and tool bags Klein tools.

For pens, A.T. Cross. I'm nuts over their Autocross pens. My Autocross goes everywhere my moleskine does. I used to use the Ion but when I came across the Autocross, I knew it was just the ticket for the Moleskine. Cross often runs specials and you can order from them directly. I didn't buy any of my Cross items at full price.

For wallets, Bosca instead of Coach.

Carhartt clothes.

Marchon airlocks for rimless eyeglasses.
posted by qsysopr at 9:15 AM on June 1, 2009

@ Zambrano: Nota Bene?! If they consider Phuket and Miami to be a high end destinations I am not so sure...

My personal favorite among travel guides is the Rough Guide series. They have superb sections on culture, religion, history, language and food.
posted by thaths at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2009

Dr Bronner's Soap. Timbuk2 bags never die. The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything.
posted by talldean at 5:37 AM on June 4, 2009

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