As people become more health-conscious these days, their kitchens are becoming homes to a new standard appliance: The countertop blender. I'm not talking about the lame blenders of old that couldn't chop anything except ice. I'm talking about high-powered blenders like the Vita-Mix 5000 and the Champ HP3 high-performance blender from K-Tec. These blenders are increasingly popular because they allow you to make all sorts of healthy, delicious meals and smoothies using simple, wholesome ingredients.
I use my blender every single day, several times a day, and it has become an essential appliance in my own health transformation. To put it bluntly, I could not maintain the level of nutrition and health that I do today without one of these blenders. But people are always asking me, "Which blender is better? And what are each blender's strengths and weaknesses?" To answer these questions, I purchased both blenders and have used them for several months to get a clear comparison.
(Note: I have no financial ties to either manufacturer, and earn nothing from the sale of these blenders. This is truly an independent, unbiased review.)
The Champ HP3 blender by K-Tec
Let's start with the Champ HP3 blender from K-Tec, which appears to be exactly the same blender as the Blend-Tec blender. This blender has a square-shaped base with a rectangular container that holds 32 liquid ounces. It has a digital control system so you don't have a knob that controls the power. Instead, you press one of four different buttons and the blender follows a program. The program might start the blades slow and then speed up over time, for example. This is designed to allow you to press a button and walk away from the machine. The control panel also has a digital readout that shows you how many times you've used the unit or how many blend cycles it's been through, plus a pulse button so you can manually pulse the unit at a high speed.
Personally, I find this series of buttons to be a complete disaster. It's extremely annoying to use. The Vita-Mix interface is far better because it gives you more control, and it's more intuitive. When you want to blend something, you know in your mind how fast or slow you want to go, and that makes the variable speed knob on the Vita-Mix far superior. It also comes in handy when you're blending foods and need to adjust the speed because the blending is not going the way you wanted. You might have big chunks of vegetables or fruits in the blender, and so you want to go fairly slow to get those chunks broken up. After you have those chunks broken up, you want to increase the speed to a finer blend. The K-Tec blender doesn't really give you much control over the speed. You sort of have to wait through a full preprogrammed cycle and hope it eventually reaches the speed you want.
On the upside, the K-Tec blender is more powerful than the Vita-Mix. It sports 3 horsepower versus Vita-Mix's 2.2, and that difference in power definitely shows itself in the kitchen. This is why I use the K-Tec blender to blend up nuts or seeds. If I were making my own peanut butter, for example, I would use the K-Tec. With the Vita-Mix, if you try to blend peanut butter or make your own nut cheeses, the Vita-Mix has a harder time getting the job done, and if you push it, the Vita-Mix will stop itself to protect the motor from overheating. It will just stop, and then you have to wait for it to cool down before you try blending again. The K-Tec, on the other hand, will just keep on grinding away. If there's one thing the K-Tec blender has, it's brute force.
Grinding the gears
Sometimes I'm blending something so thick that the K-Tec blender container hops up off the unit and makes a terrible grinding noise. It's sort of like grinding the gears of a car's manual transmission. If you look at the gears that power these units, you'll notice that the Vita-Mix has a larger gear with larger teeth than the K-Tec. I think this is a design failure on the part of K-Tec. Their blender, being more powerful, really needs a larger set of teeth in order to power through some of these high-density food ingredients. When using the K-Tec blender for very tough foods, I've become concerned that I'm grinding away the teeth, and that's not a nice feeling.
But there's no doubt about the power of the K-Tec unit. If you're grinding up flax seeds, you want to use the HP3 K-Tec blender. If you're grinding grains, in my opinion, you want to go with the K-Tec. It's not that the Vita-Mix can't do it, it's just that the K-Tec is nearly 50 percent more powerful. When you want to get through this job quickly, you want the power. It's sort of like mowing a lawn when the grass has grown far too high -- you want the most powerful lawnmower you can find, or the whole process becomes an unbearable chore.
Design flaw in o-ring is a big negative for K-Tec, sometimes resulting in burnt-rubber-flavored drinks
Both the Vita-Mix and the Champ HP3 K-Tec blender have their own blending containers, of course. They're both made of polycarbonate material. Maybe it's bulletproof; it sure seems so. I've never had a problem with any of these containers except with the o-ring found in the K-Tec blender container. The o-ring is a rubber gasket that prevents liquids from seeping through the bottom of the blending container into the gear mechanism.
Recently, as I was blending up a banana chocolate smoothie and took my first taste, I noticed it tasted like burnt rubber. The o-ring had gotten stuck, it turns out, and when I powered up the K-Tec blender, the o-ring came off the bottom of the container and was blended up into the drink! So, of course, I had to throw out that entire drink and the container, too, which costs around $65. This was not a happy moment in my blender testing experiment. I don't know about you, but when I see a blender that eats its own parts, I start to question the quality of the unit.
In this regard, the Vita-Mix does it much better. Their blending container has an o-ring that is external to the container, so it's not something that can be caught in the blend itself. In other words, you can't accidentally drink the o-ring of the Vita-Mix.
Aside from the o-ring problem, I found the K-Tec blending container itself is easier to use than the Vita-Mix container, and here's why: The K-Tec container is rectangular. If you look at the Vita-Mix from the top, it is round, until it gets down to the bottom, where it tapers to a square shape. But the K-Tec container is more rectangular all the way from top to bottom. That makes it easier to use a spatula to get your blended food out (like peanut butter). It's much harder to do that in the round Vita-Mix container, because a spatula doesn't scrape the walls as easily. Of course, this is not an issue if you're only blending smoothies and other liquid drinks; it's only a big deal if you're blending really thick, pasty recipes like nut butters.
Bring on the noise
There is a huge difference between the noise levels of these two blenders. The K-Tec, being more powerful, is also much louder. It is so loud that, for my own ear protection, I actually went out and bought a pair of shooting earmuffs; the kind that police officers wear at the firing range. I think this blender is so loud that it will cause ear damage with long-term use (unless you protect your ears, of course).
The Vita-Mix, on the other hand, is not nearly as loud. I don't know the exact decibel rating of either product, but I can tell you from experience that the Vita-Mix is significantly quieter. I don't feel the need to wear ear protection when I'm blending with the Vita-Mix, even when it's on high. Of course, this may be due to the power difference between the two blenders. Obviously, a blender that is more powerful is going to be louder. This is a tradeoff that you may want to consider. If you plan to do a lot of blending and you want to use the high-powered K-Tec, I personally recommend you look into buying some ear protection. It really is that loud. My dog actually runs from the kitchen when I turn the unit on.
Now, let's talk about the Vita-Mix control panel. The Vita-Mix control panel has an on/off switch, a variable-speed control knob and one final switch that kicks the whole unit into high gear. This is an interesting configuration. It's a lot easier to use and more intuitive, in my opinion, than the K-Tec digital control system. However, there's one oddity about the Vita-Mix control panel, which is that even when the variable knob is turned up all the way to maximum, that's not the same as high speed. In other words, the separate switch kicks the unit into a higher speed than what is accessible through the knob. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps there's a design reason, but it seems to me that if Vita-Mix wanted to make the unit a little easier to use, they could do away with the variable/high switch and just allow the variable speed knob to go all the way up to the same power as the high switch.
The switches and knobs feel very rugged on the Vita-Mix 5000. I don't get the sense that any of these knobs are going to wear out any time soon. However, one issue with the product is that I've noticed some variability from unit to unit. For example, I bought a unit for another family member and it ran very smoothly and made very little noise. The gear system of her blender, which can be observed by removing the container and turning on the unit at very low speeds, circulated with perfect balance; it didn't wobble at all. However, the unit I purchased, which is brand new and shipped directly from the Vita-Mix Corporation, has a bit of a wobble in it, maybe a millimeter, and the result is quite noticeable.
Granted, I'm a detail-minded person and other people might not notice a millimeter difference, but I do. When it's blending, it actually turns out that my unit makes more noise than the unit I bought for my family. So, there is some variability in the manufacturing, which is to be expected on any physical device. But the Vita-Mix has a strong warranty, so if any problems develop from this variability, you're covered anyway.
Another thing I really like about the Vita-Mix unit is that the base of the blending container is made out of a rugged-looking block of steel. This is obviously not going to break very easily. I also like the rubber padding on the base, which helps reduce some of the vibration between the container and the motor. As I've mentioned before, I like the fact that the teeth that connect the blending container to the base of the Vita-Mix are much larger than the teeth on the Champ HP3 K-Tec blender. That was a really smart design decision on the part of Vita-Mix. It was obviously an area where they decided to spend more money, which increases the price of manufacturing. Still, this unit is comparatively priced with the K-Tec. In fact, in most places you will find its price is just slightly cheaper than the K-Tec blender.
A refined user experience
The Vita-Mix Corporation definitely has their act together on marketing. You get an impressive set of information with the Vita-Mix. You get a video, recipe book, some special offers and a lot of supporting material. The Champ blender from K-Tec is a more bare-bones, brute force type of device, and it lacks the presentation and materials of the Vita-Mix.
The Vita-Mix also has a little better design in terms of cosmetics. It has a nicer-looking base, even though the base is much larger. Both units appear to have adequate ventilation to protect the motor and give them a long life. The Vita-Mix blender came with the offer to buy an extended 10-year warranty for an additional $75 or so, which is interesting. That tells me that the Vita-Mix Company is willing to stand behind their blender for a good decade, which is an impressive amount of time for anything with a motor. The K-Tec blender didn't come with an extended warranty, although it came with a standard warranty that seems adequate (three years).
Neither one of these units are recommended for commercial use. You'd probably wear out their motors in a few months if you were using them in a commercial environment with non-stop blending 8 hours a day. But as household units, both of them do what they promised to do. Therefore, my recommendation is that you choose a blender based on your needs. If you really need the power and you're going to be blending a lot of really thick nut butters, nut cheeses or grinding grains, I think you will be happy with the power of the K-Tec blender. For liquids like smoothies, fruit drinks, vegetable drinks and soups, I always choose the Vita-Mix. The Vita-Mix is also easier to use, a lot less noisy, and seems to have better quality control.
Remember, I have both of these on my kitchen counter. I almost always use the Vita-Mix because I don't have to wear the ear protection. I don't have to worry about the o-ring, and I have a lot more control over the speed.
Editor's choice: Vita-Mix
Overall, I recommend the Vita-Mix for a number of reasons. The unit has larger gears and actually seems more durable than the K-Tec blender. It's also quieter, more refined and has a far easier user interface (the knob controls on the front). It's perfect for all your daily blending, from smoothies to grinding whole grains into flour. (You can use it to grind up chia seeds
, for example, and use the chia flour in your recipes.)
However, if you are mainly grinding very thick nut cheeses (such as pine nut cheese, one of my favorite recipes), and you want the cheese to be as thick as possible, you'll need as much blender power as possible, and the K-Tec blender is certainly a good choice. Just wear some ear protection and hold the container down tight before you start blending, otherwise the container may hop off the base and you'll start grinding gears. Make no mistake: Blending nut cheeses in the K-Tec is a bit scary. You can't just press a button and walk away; you have to be on top of this unit at all times and physically hold the container in place.
Worth the investment? Absolutely.
The investment in these units may seem high to some people at first because you can spend upwards of $350-$400, but that's a very small investment in terms of what this can do for your health. These units can save you a tremendous amount of time and give you the chance to integrate whole foods into your daily diet. They can allow you to grind up whole grains, make flour out of healthy seeds (like flaxseed or chia) and even make your own raw almond milk out of soaked almonds and water. I use my Vita-Mix daily (usually several times a day) and couldn't imagine being healthy without it.
I even wrote a recipe book based on the Vita-Mix called Superfood Smoothies (click here to see it). It teaches you some of my favorite recipes for making dairy-free, sugar-free, superfood-enriched smoothies using a Vita-Mix. You'll even find my secret recipe for making a mint-chocolate ice cream shake based on almond milk, avocados and cacao powder (you've got to try it yourself to believe how delicious it is!).
So choose the blender that's best for you, and enjoy blending away. You will definitely be a healthier individual as a result.