When we first heard that Dyson was planning to bring out a high-powered hair dryer we were slightly blown away (we won’t do that much more, we promise).
However, when you consider that at its most basic level a hairdryer is essentially a vacuum cleaner in reverse, and isn't really that different from a hand dryer or a fan – two other devices that Dyson has sought to reinvent – the decision begins to make a lot more sense.
The science of airflow has cross-product applications, and after four years in development and £50 million spent on research, Dyson has brought its engineering innovations to the luxury personal care market.
We know – just how far can you really innovate when it comes to a hair dryer? About as much as you can innovate a hand dryer which, for Dyson, turns out to be more than most would expect – Dyson has managed to reinvent a product that has remained essentially unchanged for decades.
Unfortunately, this reinvention comes at a cost; at £300 the Dyson Supersonic is the most expensive hair dryer on the market. But that price tag will be less of a sticking point if the product is worth it, so let’s assess that.
To make sure we weren’t being taken in by the fancy-sounding tech we decided to use the Dyson Supersonic over a period, alongside a much lower-end hair dryer we already owned, the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200, which can be purchased for around £23.
When we said hair dryers haven’t really changed in decades we meant it; the last significant design change happened all the way back in the 60s when the bulky motor was moved into the main casing.
This was an improvement on what we had before, but it resulted in a bulky device with most of its weight in the top rear of the device. This isn’t exactly ideal for something you hold above your head; we’ve experienced more than one thump to the head thanks to a weary arm.
With the Dyson Supersonic, this isn’t a problem. By using a much smaller and more efficient V9 digital motor – the company’s smallest in fact – Dyson has been able to move the motor from the head of the dryer into its handle. This redistributes the weight, and makes the entire thing much more compact.
Holding the Dyson Supersonic in one hand and our usual hair dryer in the other we found the change in weight distribution was immediately noticeable, and with its improved balance and lower weight the Supersonic was much more comfortable and manageable to hold aloft for long periods.
In addition to making the dryer lighter and easier to hold, the Supersonic’s much smaller motor can propel 13 litres of air per second, and spins around eight times faster than the motors used in standard hair dryers, which Dyson says makes it more efficient, and much less likely to overheat and burn out.
The Supersonic also has a glass bead thermometer that monitors its temperature 20 times per second, and transmits the data back to a microprocessor to make sure the heat remains consistent.
All this means you won’t have to deal with that metallic burning smell that you sometimes get when you use other hair dryers for a long period of time. And you also won’t have to deal with the worrying smell of burning hair, as the microprocessor keeps the airflow temperature stable and under 150 degrees no matter what.
Human hair is going to be damaged by brushing and heat no matter what, but past 150 degrees Celsius the damage becomes irreversible and more noticeable, so by keeping airflow temperature in the optimal safe zone and instead upping the airflow pressure the Dyson Supersonic is able to prevent this.
There are three heat settings and three airflow power settings to choose from, and they’re all found on the back of the dryer, with temperature settings on the left and fan speed on the right.
Though the buttons are small, neat, pleasant to press and look good here, their placing is slightly less convenient than on the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 dryer. On the BaByliss the corresponding buttons are found on the handle, where it’s fast to switch between different modes using your thumb; on the Dyson we found we had to use both hands and look at the device to be absolutely certain which setting we were on.
This isn’t a problem if you’re inclined to keep to the same setting the entire time you’re drying your hair, but if you like to change settings as you go for more engaged styling then it’s not ideal.
The power and cool air buttons, however, were much more conveniently positioned, on the handle and within easy thumb reach.
When we timed how long it took both the Supersonic and the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 to dry lightly towel-dried shoulder-length hair using a paddle brush and the standard wide nozzle attachment there wasn’t actually a very big difference.
Both dryers did the job they were supposed to in around eight or nine minutes, with the Supersonic having the edge by perhaps a minute or two; so the more expensive device won’t greatly expedite your routine if that’s what you’re hoping for.
There’s a notable difference, however, in how the Supersonic uses those eight or nine minutes. The Dyson’s airflow was significantly more powerful and focused, while its temperature never felt uncomfortably warm. With the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200, however, the airflow was notably weaker, while the temperature was much higher and actually became warmer over time.
Perhaps as a result of this there was also a difference in how hair looked and felt afterwards. After using the Dyson Supersonic we noticed that the hair was smoother, and slightly less prone to static and frizz, which actually reduced overall styling time when it came to applying straightening irons.
Obviously we couldn’t measure the damage done to the hair, as that’s something that will have to be established over a longer period, but immediately smoother hair is a promising start.
Another well-considered feature is the Supersonic’s attachments. The attachments themselves are the usual suspects: a standard wide nozzle, a narrower nozzle for smoothing and a wide diffuser for curly hair. It’s the fact that they attach magnetically which makes them interesting.
Magnetizing the dryer’s attachments is a simple design change, but it makes fitting and removing them a much smoother process. The also have solid lips on their edges through which the hot air doesn’t blow, and as a result remain cool, which makes changing the attachment a more comfortable process.
One of the most attractive claims of the Dyson Supersonic is that it’s quieter than other hair dryers. There are few sounds more irritating than the sound of a standard hair dryer, which somehow manages to combine the aural irritations of a nagging whine and a deafening roar.
Because of its more efficient motor, which has 13 blades rather than the standard 11, and its place in the handle, the Supersonic is indeed quieter; but make no mistake, it’s far from silent, and using it in the morning beside a sleeping partner was still not welcomed.
It is, however, a cleaner sound at a much more pleasant pitch, and one which you can at least hold a conversation over. It’s also noticeable that when you turn the Supersonic off the sound of the motor stops immediately, which is much more appealing than the wheezing winding-down sound the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 emitted when we gave it a break.
Overall, the Dyson Supersonic is an excellent product. In a time when it feels like the only way companies can think of to improve on seemingly ‘complete’ products is by throwing a companion app at them, it’s a refreshing example of how advancements in engineering and technology can still be used to improve something which many of us hadn’t even thought needed changing.
But that last point is also the main sticking point here.
The Dyson Supersonic is an extremely expensive product – it’s around two to three times more expensive than even professional-grade hair dryers. That’s a lot of money to pay for something that realistically time can do for free, and a less expensive hair dryer can do with admittedly less kindness to your hair but just as quickly.
With the Supersonic, suddenly our hair dryer morphed from a bulky and highly-replaceable item that we didn’t feel a great deal of responsibility towards into another high-end piece of tech to worry about.
Although its design and performance are a huge improvement on the standard hair dryer, they're improvements on a product that arguably does its job just fine, pushing the Supersonic firmly into the category of ‘expensive luxury’ rather than necessity.
If you have disposable income and you want the best hair dryer money can buy, or if you style hair professionally, we can highly recommend the Dyson Supersonic. However, for many people – ourselves included – £300 is a price point that’s difficult to justify for performance improvements that are certainly worthwhile but far from essential.