Technical Design and Awesome Performance!

Dec 28, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent performance, Easy to Clean, Great Attachements, Good Ergonomics

Cons:Price, needs a tool belt or caddy for all the accesories!

The Bottom Line: This machine provides superior cleaning performance and an excellent selection of accessories to make vacuuming faster, easier and more efficient.


This is an engineer’s vacuum cleaner. From the design aesthetic, to the technical features, to the performance. Guys will love the way the wand telescopes - it has a ‘lock-n-load’ feel to it and a sci-fi weapon look. Are you ready to be a dirt warrior?

To be clear, I do not now, nor have I ever worked for Dyson or any other vacuum cleaner manufacturer. OK, on to the review!

When we went looking for a replacement vacuum cleaner last March, we were replacing a 12-year-old Kenmore canister vacuum-cleaner with HEPA bags and exhaust filter. The old vacuum wasn’t doing nearly the job we thought it should be doing, and to keep it smelling fresh we had to replace the dust collection bag every time we used it, otherwise it would develop an ‘old gym socks’ smell.

We have Toy Poodles as pets, so shedding was not a big consideration, although if you’ve ever had dogs, you know that your house is never as clean as it was before you had a dog. Leaves, mud, dirt, grass clippings and other debris is often brought into the house with the dogs in spring, summer and fall, and snow, mud, sand and salt in the winter.

We had seen the ads on TV and elsewhere for the Dyson vacuum cleaners, but never took them that seriously. After all, vacuum cleaner companies have been making the same basic claims for years, and the machines haven’t really gotten any better. Until now.

Technical Details
I’m going to get technical here, so if you’re not interested in how it works, skip down a bit!

The Dyson vacuum cleaner uses what the manufacturer calls ‘Root-Cyclone Technology’. A simpler version is used in industrial dust collector systems, where a powerful fan pulls air through ducts or hoses, into a cyclone where the air-stream is guided into a tornado inside a funnel-shaped metal housing. The material carried with the air stream has mass, so as the air spins inside the housing, the heavier material is thrown outward by centrifugal force. When it hits the inside of the funnel, it trickles down and out the open bottom of the narrow end of the funnel. Material that is too light to be extracted from the air stream is carried out the top of the funnel into a large filter, usually called a ‘bag-house’ in industry. The fine material is trapped in the filter and the air is exhausted. Want to know more? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_collector and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclonic_separation.

What makes the Dyson system unique in domestic vacuum cleaners is the use of multiple cyclones (in our vacuum there are 12 small cyclones on top of one large cyclone called the ‘Core Separator’). The cyclones are followed by a washable media filter that the manufacturer claims reduces dust and pollen levels to 150 times less than the air you normally breathe. What I can tell you is that after a year of use, there is no visible dust in the bin outlet that feeds the exhaust filter, and there is no visible dust build-up on the ‘dirty’ side of the exhaust filter. Also the exhaust air actually smells cleaner than the air in the room. The vacuum cleaner never has that ‘dirty socks’ smell.

The other unique feature is the ‘Dyson Digital Motor’. Most vacuum cleaners use a conventional synchronous electric motor. This is pretty old-school technology, used everywhere. The problem with this technology is that the motor can only turn a specific multiple of the mains electrical frequency. In Canada, this is 60 Hz and so most single-phase synchronous motors turn at a multiple of that speed. Because of the low frequency involved, a lot of steel is necessary in the motor core. Making the motor heavy for it’s size. Many small AC motors used in vacuum cleaners use wound-rotor technology, requiring carbon brushes that run on a commutator. If you’ve ever looked into the cooling slots on an electric drill or other small appliance and seen a steady stream of blue-white sparks, you’ve seen one of these in action. Carbon brushes wear, and they create carbon dust as well. These slow motors are used to turn relatively large fans or blower wheels to create the airflow in the vacuum cleaner.

The Dyson motor is a brushless AC motor driven by a high-frequency converter, so instead of being locked into the 60 Hz box, the designers chose a much higher frequency to turn the motor. When you increase the frequency you decrease the size of the motor for the same power, because higher frequencies mean less iron in the motor core. Less rotor mass means more of the power delivered to the motor is used to spin the impeller and less is used to simply overcome the inertia of the rotor and impeller. The complexity of the motor is further reduced by using permanent magnets in the rotor instead of a wound rotor, so no more carbon brushes, thus the ‘brushless’ part of the description. If you’ve heard the Dyson ads talking about neodymium magnets, this is what they’re on about. Neodymium is a ‘rare-earth’ material that is used to make some of the strongest permanent magnets on earth. All of this adds up to a very small, very fast, powerful motor spinning a very small, highly efficient, aerodynamically designed impeller to create a very high-speed airstream. The faster the airstream, the better the cyclones work. Remember the cyclones?

According to the Dyson spec sheet, the machine is rated at 220 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_watts, a very respectable rating for any portable canister vacuum cleaner. A brief look at some of the competitor’s web sites did not provide this rating for any of their models.

Noise levels were no worse than most portable domestic vacuum cleaners, although the high speed motor does produce a high pitched whine that some can hear. I didn’t actually measure the noise levels, and Dyson doesn’t spec them, so I can’t give you a technical noise level.

Features
Back to the less technical details.

The wand length is designed to be adjusted in six steps, so that it will fit almost anyone’s ergonomics. Exceptions would be the very small and very tall, so if you’re outside the 95th percentile ergonomically, you may not be able to adjust it properly. The handle is smooth and easy on the hand and wrist, with a semicircular design that allows you to get a comfortable grip no matter your height. The wand is a bit awkward in tight spaces even when collapsed, but it's not unworkable except in the tightest spaces.

The hose is a good length, and has a swivel connection built into it that ends up near the wand handle when the wand is extended. This swivel is one of my only complaints: it’s not supple enough to allow the hose to swivel as easily as I think it should. This sometimes results in the hose getting twisted and kinked. Not a big deal, just not as good as I’d expected. It was also the location of the only hose blockage I ever had, one that required a #6 Torx driver for disassembly - not a common tool in most households, unless you do a lot of laptop computer surgery.

The cord is plenty long and is housed in a spring-loaded reel with a one-touch button to retract it.

The vacuum cleaner is called a ‘Stowaway’ and is very compact. It is designed to efficiently store some, but not all, of the accessories that come with the machine, except the mini-turbine head and the stiff bristle brush, the long crevice tool and the hard floor head. My only complaint here is that the height of the bracket used to hang the power head on the back of the vacuum cleaner body when is not in use is low enough that the power head will drag on the floor if you try to pull the vacuum around with the head on the bracket.

There are eight cleaning attachments that come with this model:

• Motor head. Can be used for carpets or hard floors. Has a power switch for the brush on the head and self-adjusts to the pile height. Has Dyson’s unique steering system that makes it very easy to maneuver.;

• Hard-floor head (no motorized brushes);

• Upholstery Tool. Used for cleaning upholstery, curtains/drapes etc.;

• Small crevice tool;

• Telescopic crevice tool with removable brush (great for detailing the car!);

• Round dusting brush;

• Mini-turbine power head for cleaning upholstery, stairs and automobile carpets and fabrics. Head uses air-flow to turn a turbine that spins the brush. Very powerful. Also great for car cleaning.;

• A stiff bristle brush for stubborn dirt and hair Also great for car cleaning.

In addition to these, Sears included a special ‘Home Cleaning Kit’ accessory package that included, a stiff oval bristle brush for removing stubborn dirt, a long oval soft bristle dusting brush (great for dusting in the house, including blinds, pictures, flat surfaces and for detailing the dashboard in the car) and a ‘multi-angle’ dusting brush that is good for all those hard to get to places like the ceiling fan and crown mouldings. There were two adapters included to allow these accessories to be fitted to any of the Dyson vacuum cleaner models.

The vacuum cleaner has two large wheels on the sides of the body with soft treads to prevent marking hardwood and polished stone floors, and a small, soft treaded caster under the nose of the canister where the hose exits to the wand. We have hardwood floors and the machine has never marked them, unlike our old vacuum cleaner that did.

For storage, the hose wraps neatly around the machine, with some contoured brackets to keep it in place. A clip holds the wand securely in place. The power head hangs on a bracket on the back of the machine.

The dust bin comes off easily as long as the hose and wand is not wrapped up for storage. This is because the clip for the wand is part of the bin, so the bin can’t be removed with the wand clipped to it. The bin is easily emptied using a single button, the same one that is used to release it from the machine. The bottom of the bin drops open and the collected material is dumped. Sometimes you may need to manually remove large hair-balls as they may get stuck. The outer shell of the bin can be easily removed for further cleaning.

The vacuum is simple to use and extremely effective at it’s job. I have never used a vacuum cleaner that is this good! The final proof for me happened when I took the machine to a friend’s place when they were moving in. The house had been owned by cat people previous to my friend’s purchase, and the carpets were clotted with cat hair. My friend had used a Dirt Devil upright vacuum to clean the carpets before I got there. We decided to do the carpets again, and were stunned by the amount of hair and other material that came up out of the carpets! We took three bins full of cat hair and dirt out of one floor (about 65 m2 or 700 ft2). Not only did the carpets look better, but the house smelled better too. After all that, there was no hair wound around the brushes on either power head.

Improvements might include: Raising the power head storage bracket, improving the suppleness of the hose swivel, and offering a caddy for all the extra attachments...or maybe a tool belt - yeah, that would be perfect!

I can’t say enough good about this design and the quality of the machine overall. Dyson has definitely raised the bar in vacuum cleaner design!


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