When you think of Dyson, you probably think: "ingenious design." I know I do. Its products are modern, sophisticated, and undeniably cool. Just look at the Dyson Airblade, one of the most appealing cooling apparatuses ever made. A brilliant idea, executed almost flawlessly -- that's the Dyson reputation.
It's because of that reputation that I was so stunned by the Dyson DC41 Animal Complete. As vacuums go, it's excellent, putting up nearly untouchable numbers in many of our performance tests. But in terms of design, it's a colossal disappointment. I found numerous key flaws that, frankly, don't make much sense coming from a company that's known for its forward-thinking ways. Why isn't there an easier way of putting the vacuum in and out of its resting position? Why are the back wheels so often up when you want them down and down when you want them up? Why doesn't the wand have a comfortable, logical place for you to hold it (or, for that matter, any handle)?
This is a $649 vacuum, the best and most expensive model Dyson has to offer, and for that kind of money, I just don't think that flaws like these are acceptable. I'm not sure I'd accept them in a vacuum that cost half as much. The real shame is that, as I said, the DC41 vacuums so well. If you cleaned your house with it, you'd probably be very happy with the results -- but only after putting up with lackluster user experience. With other vacuums like the Oreck Touch and the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean offering similar cleaning power along with vastly superior designs and substantial cost savings (in the case of the $309 Electrolux, it's less than half the price of the DC41), there's just no way I can recommend the DC41 for anybody but the most devoted of Dyson loyalists.
A design that disappoints
At first glance, the Dyson looks futuristic and high-tech, and it is. As far as its inner workings are concerned Dyson's done an admirable job of building a powerful vacuum, and it's a good-looking piece of hardware, too. But once you get your hands on it, you'll start to encounter the kinds of flaws that'll leave you questioning the overall quality of your appliance.
First, the DC41 is difficult to lower out of its upright, resting position. There's no latch to step on, no button to press. You're simply supposed to yank it down. Try pulling it down gently, and the whole vacuum will rock back toward you while remaining at that 90-degree angle. It takes a sharp tug to snap it out of position, and every time you do so, the whole vacuum will rattle a little bit, leading you to wonder how long before something breaks. That's not a very good start for the user experience of such an expensive appliance.
Take a look at that picture up above, specifically at those small back wheels. Those serve as a sort of kickstand for the vacuum, helping to lock it upright at 90 degrees. When you pull the vacuum down out of its resting position, they're supposed to snap up and out of the way. In my experience, however, this wasn't always the case. If I didn't quite pull the vacuum down far enough, the wheels would remain down even after the vacuum was out of its resting position. It's an easy thing to miss, and if you do, it'll affect how well the DC41 performs. It happened to me during one of the many testing runs that we put the vacuums through. I didn't notice that the wheels were down until I had finished my run. The DC41 had been averaging a very respectable 92 percent pickup rate in this particular test, but with the wheels down, that number dropped to 55 percent.
The back wheels can cause trouble again when it's time to put the vacuum away. When you push the DC41 back into an upright position, the back wheels are supposed to drop back down into that kickstand role. You hear a click, and you think you're all set. But there are actually two clicks: the sound of the wheels dropping, and another false click that occurs just before. If you hear this first false click and assume the vacuum is locked upright, you'll be in for a rude surprise as soon as you take your hand off it. This is something that gave me a headache time and time again during testing, as I constantly found myself diving downward to catch my falling Dyson before it back-flopped straight into the floor. It shouldn't be so easy to make a mistake like that, not with a $649 vacuum, or frankly, with any vacuum.
Another gripe I had with the DC41 was with its wand. I liked that the wand reached a little bit farther than some of the other wands we tested out, like the wand on the Oreck Touch, and I also liked the plethora of clever brush attachments that come packaged with the DC41 Animal Complete. I did not, however, like the fact that the wand has no handle. There just really isn't a comfortable way to hold the thing. It's such a needless annoyance -- how hard is it to add a handle to that design, or at least a grip?
You're paying for performance
Now for some good news. The DC41 Animal Complete will clean your floors better than just about any other vacuum cleaner on the market. We tested it out on three different surfaces using a variety of different materials, and it never failed to do an acceptable job. More often than not, it did an exceptional job.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
We started with cereal, testing out each vacuum's cleaning capabilities when it came to large-size, lightweight particulates. The DC41 was right at the top of the pack in a virtual dead heat with the Oreck Touch, with the Electrolux not too far behind. Frankly, all of the vacuums did pretty well here -- except for the other Dyson vacuum we tested, the $499 DC50. This isn't the first time we'd catch it under-performing, so one takeaway here might be that if you want to go with a Dyson vacuum, it might be worth the money to splurge on the DC41. Perhaps the more important takeaway, though, is that if you want great results from your vacuum, you really don't need a Dyson at all.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
After our cereal test, we wanted to see how all of the vacuums handled small, dust-size particulates, so we coated our carpets and floors with our trusty blend of sand and sawdust. Again, the DC41 was neck and neck with the Oreck Touch, but this time, they weren't sitting at the top of the pack. That honor went to the Electrolux, which posted impressive numbers across all three surfaces.
The DC41 did a great job on hardwood -- better than any other vacuum did -- but was a slight under-performer on both low-pile and midpile carpets, falling just short of the 70 percent pickup rate benchmark that you want from a high-end machine. To be fair, it was close enough for us to call it a satisfactory result, but still nothing near what you'd expect from a machine that boasts "twice the suction of any other vacuum."