It’s hard to know precisely when the electric fan was invented, but Thomas Edison was probably involved. In the century-plus since then, the basic idea hasn’t changed: spin a propeller really fast, wind results, room cools down. The performance of your average table fan, however, has evolved quite a bit. Now, something slightly larger than a basketball can make your summer less hellish. If you pick the right fan, that is.
When we recently set out to find the very best fan, the field quickly narrowed to a specific form factor known as the air circulator. This jargon-y term refers to a particular design that trades the old fashioned safety cage around the propellor for something that looks a bit like a jet engine enclosure. Air Circulators essentially create a vortex that’s supposed to move more air around the room, and that also means that it creates a wider cone of wind on its business end.
Vornado has been selling this concept since the end of World War II. With a history in aviation design, the company makes instantly recognizable fans that seem to produce more airflow than they should for being so small. Today, a range of companies, like Lasko and Hunter, offer competing designs that do a great job as well. Specifically, we looked at the Vornado 660, the Vornado 6303DC, the Vornado VFAN Vintage Sr., the Lasko Cyclone, and the Hunter Whole Room Table Fan. There’s also the Dyson AM06 and its inevitably innovative (and expensive) approach to moving air.
We put the best models from all of these companies through a series of tests that evaluated their design, air flow, and sound. In the spirit of maximizing utility, we did not look at floor fans, since they take up more space and don’t necessarily outperform their more compact counterparts. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vornado dominated the competition, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the classic American brand is the absolute best.
As implied above, a fan is just a propeller powered by an electric motor and an enclosure. Air circulators—which, again, are just a type of fan—feature a design that creates a vortex and better moves air around the room. So aside from airflow performance, these types of fans distinguish themselves by not being ugly and by being easy to use.
Not being ugly can be a challenge for an air circulator. Their specific design typically involves the cheap look of a plastic hull, although Vornado does offer a pricier line of vintage-inspired designs that look rather lovely. With the exception of the Dyson, none of the fans we tested oscillated from side to side, although the Hunter fans did pivot up and down. Suffice it to say, however, that these fans are meant to sit in one place and do their job. They are not art.
Speaking of Dyson’s exceptionalism, the AM06 model we tested looks distinctive. Dyson calls this contraption an “air multiplier,” and its design is immediately shocking, because it’s sort of the shape of a fan, but you can stick your arm right through the center because the spinning parts of the fan are concealed in the base. The Dyson fan pulls air in with an impeller that then sends that air up through the ring before it zooms out of an aperture along the ring shape, virtually silently. (Dyson made a whole video about how this works, which is surprisingly entertaining.) Suffice it to say, the Dyson AM06 is an intriguing object that also happens to cool you down. It also costs $300.
Controls, we found, were what differentiates the good fans from the annoying ones. The most basic fan control is a simple knob that lets you control the airspeed. This is how the low-end Vornado 633 and the Lasko Cyclone—both of which cost $75—operate. The experience improves with the introduction of buttons, which mean you have a better idea of what you’re doing when you control the fan. The mid-range Vornado 660, which sells for $110, has simple buttons for low medium and high. The Hunter and the $150 Vornado 6303DC have a series of buttons and a small display. The Vornado 6303DC, the Lasko Cyclone, and the Dyson AM06 also feature remotes.
The problem with Dyson’s remote control is that it’s too central to controlling the device. The only control on the fan itself is a power button, so if you lose the remote, you won’t be able to control the power or the oscillation. The Lasko remote is handy because it exists, but the fan itself is so big and bulky that it’s bound to be a dreadful addition to any space. The Vornado 6303DC, by contrast, is a pleasure to use. You can do everything you need to do with both the remote and the fan itself. The fan is also compact, attractive, and solidly built.
Winner: Vornado 6303
The big deal with air circulators is that they’re not only supposed to spew a ton of air right out in front of the fan but also send some to the sides. This gets more air flowing around the room and, hopefully, cools you down on a hot summer day. Vornado claims to have invented the technology to do this back right after World War II, when it started selling its iconic Vornado fan. In a YouTube video, the company explains how modern Vornado air circulators create a spiral-shaped stream of air that bounces off the walls and keeps a whole room cool. There’s no need to oscillate, Vornado says, because the propellor and unique housing design. It’s a compelling concept, which is why we tested three different Vornado air circulators in our quest for the best fan.
Other companies offer similar solutions. Hunter, the company famous for its ceiling fans, sells an air circulator that looks like a mini Vornado. It also oscillates up and down to create more air movement. Meanwhile, Lasko sells something called the Cyclone that’s 20-inches across and features a spiral grill that’s not dissimilar to what Vornado has on its more compact air circulators. Neither of these competitors managed to outperform the Vornado in our tests, however. On full blast, these two fans could barely rustle a T-shirt on someone standing 10 feet away, while the Vornado 660 and the 6303DC both put out a wide column of strong air that could reach across a room.
The Dyson AM06, of course, is a different sort of machine. The strength of its air stream is surprising, if only because the design is so unique. You wouldn’t expect so much air to come pouring out of the little vent on that ring! And yet, once you spend some time in front of a Vornado, it’s easy to notice how the Dyson only pumps air straight out in front of the ring. That’s undoubtedly why Dyson included an oscillation feature. You need to fan to swivel to move more air throughout the room.
These difference made our overall test of airflow pretty straight forward. The Vornado fans moved the most air and, quite frankly, the three models that cost over $100—the 660, the 6303DC, and the VFAN Sr.—were all pretty comparable. Despite being slightly smaller than the other two, however, the Vornado 6303DC felt most impressive. It’s a big bonus that the touch controls and included remote make it easy to use the thing.
Winner: Vornado 6303DC
Fans are famously loud. The louder a fan sounds, the stronger it probably is. Just think about those ugly industrial fans you might find in a wood shop or factory floor. They’re loud as heck, but they sure do move a lot of air. The average human at home doesn’t want a super loud fan, though. How are you supposed to talk to your loved ones if it sounds like a helicopter is trying to land in your living room?
None of the fans we tested sounded like a hurricane, not even the one called “Cyclone.” (The Lasko Cyclone was pretty loud, though.) To give every fan a fair shake, we ran each fan at full speed and used a decibel meter app on an iPhone to test the loudness. We held the phone out of the airflow and about 8 inches from the fan itself, so the readings were probably higher than what you’d expect if you were using the fan to cool down a room. Nevertheless, the differences in decibels recorded were meaningful.
Long story short, the Vornado VFAN Sr. and the Dyson were the quietest. The Vornado performance was surprising because the Vornado 6303DC which impressed us in the other two battles was one of the louder fans. The vintage-inspired Vornado hummed, perhaps because it has a metal enclosure or better construction than the rest. The Dyson, however, was virtually silent. This shouldn’t be a big surprise because quietness is one of the AM06's big selling points. Silence, of course, is very expensive.
Winner: Dyson AM06
Looking back at the history of fans, it’s somehow refreshing to see that the same simple design cooked up by the earliest engineers of electric gadgets is still effective. Even the improvements that brought us the phrase “air circulator” are still effective nearly 80 years after they were invented. This was made clear by Vornado’s dominance is many of our tests. For most people, the $150 Vornado 6303DC is the best air circulator you can buy. The signature Vornado design yields an impressive amount of air flow out of a very small package. The added bonus of sleek touch controls and a remote make the Vornado 6303DC easy to use. This model also uses less energy than comparable fans in the Vornado lineup.
If you’re looking to spend a bit less money, you can buy a version of this fan, simply called the Vornado 6303, for as little as $70. Then again, because Vornado says that the 6303DC uses significantly less energy than comparable products, you might stand to save some money on your electric bill moving forward. The Vornado VFAN Vintage Sr. also performed well and looked terrific thanks to its old school metal design, but it was also the most expensive Vornado we tested with a price starting at $160.
If you have money to spend, consider the Dyson. It was the quietest fan we tested and performed admirably well in the airflow tests. What’s perhaps most compelling about this $300 gadget, though, is how damn gadgety it is. Whereas most fans are eyesores that you hide in a corner, the Dyson AM06 could be a conversation piece, since many your friends will come over and say, “What’s that weird ring then blowing air in my face?” If that’s worth a few hundred bucks to you, you’ll love the Dyson fan.
The biggest takeaway from all this, however, is that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a great fan. That $40 Lasko Cyclone is a terrific choice for a lot of people and would outperform the cheapo window fan you might buy at the drugstore on a hot day. The cheapest Vornado air circulators also cost just $40, and they’re smaller versions of what we tested for this feature. In other words, you have no excuse to be hot this summer. Don’t have an AC? Get a fan. They’re old fashioned and fun.
The best fan: Vornado 6303DC