After a dozen real world tests of eight highly-rated hair clippers on volunteers and consulting haircutting experts, we’ve found the Wahl Elite Pro High Performance Haircut Kit is the best home hair clipper for most people. Its sharp steel blades sliced easily through fine, thick, smooth, and coarse hair without slowing down or clogging, and it wasn’t annoyingly loud. The 10 included guide combs—the snap-on plastic teeth that control how closely the clipper cuts, letting you trim hair to the length you want or get creative with styling—were the best among the clippers we tried.
If we were to take up regular home haircutting, this is the clipper we’d reach for first. The Wahl Elite Pro’s combs are a rigid-but-smooth ABS plastic that doesn’t bend when pushed against a scalp, and they stay seated and straight on the blade better than any other set we tried, thanks to a metal retaining clip on the back. They add great value, considering that replacement combs of equal quality for a competitor cost about half the price of this entire clipper kit. The taper lever on the side of the clipper didn’t slip from vibration, which we’ve experienced from other clippers we’ve used in the past. We also liked the Wahl Elite Pro’s thick and extra-long 8-foot power cord. The hard plastic carry case, along with a relatively nice pair of shears with a cover, round out the experience.
The small, easy-to-handle Remington Virtually Indestructible Haircut and Beard Trimmer is a close runner-up that’s especially suited to people who want to cut their own hair. This model is lightweight, has rubberized grips along the sides, and is truly palm-sized, making it far easier than any other model we tested to maneuver and hold in a loose grip, even with fingertips, as is often required when clipping one’s own hair. It comes with quality, rigid-plastic guide combs that seat securely, though the tips are fewer and slightly more dangerous than our main pick’s. This model also has a thick-but-pliable 8-foot power cord, and a powerful-but-exceptionally-quiet motor—one of our test haircut subjects questioned its effectiveness solely for that reason (“It’s too quiet to really be cutting hair, right?”) The carrying bag also isn’t as useful as that of our main pick. At about a third of the price, though, those downsides may be forgivable for many people.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $58.
A mid-priced pro-level option, the Oster Fast Feed, is worth it for anyone who wants to maintain buzz cuts and fades: It’s a classic found in many barber shops because it’s built to withstand all-day use for years on end. Its motor is extremely powerful and pleasingly quiet, and it can be used all day without heating up, which is not true of our other picks; its razors are sharp and easily replaced when needed. The Fast Feed’s thick plastic housing is lightweight but able to withstand drops, and the taper lever on the side is firm enough to hold tight, yet adjusts easily with a thumb. Its distinctive hum is instantly recognizable to anyone who has sat in a barber’s chair. A clipper like this may be worth the investment for a house full of people who need regular haircut maintenance.
The Remington HKVAC2000 Vacuum Hair Clipper turned out to be a surprise hit for its signature feature: a built-in vacuum that sucks up small clippings. It’s not the best possible model for most people due to its flimsy power cord and plastic housing—we could see it shattering if dropped on a tile floor. Still, it’s worth considering for those who like to do weekly maintenance trims but hate the prospect of sweeping up hair. One tester said that feature alone made it his favorite.
Cutting your own hair isn’t terrifically hard, but it is easy to mess up — and one way to mess up is to try without the right tools. Most any clipper from a reputable brand will more than handle the job for you at a cost of a haircut or two—$15 to $45 or so. Clippers tend to be extremely long-lived, so for not much outlay you can have a useful device on-hand for many, many, many years to come (one expert said he knows of barbers who have decades-old clippers in daily use at their shops).
For this piece, we consulted Benjamin Mohapi, owner of Benjamin Salon in Los Angeles, who has been a high-end professional hair stylist for three decades; Eric Aleman, owner of King of Kings Barbershop in Brooklyn; and Ivan Zoot, aka The ClipperGuy, a renowned hair cutting trainer, clipper expert, and holder of three Guinness World Records. I also consulted as many professional reviews as possible. Unlike with beard trimmers, there aren’t a lot of traditional quality reviews of hair clippers available, though there is an unbelievable wealth of information including reviews and clipper technique available through YouTube. I also relied on input from guides published by BuzzcutGuide.com and Baldingbeards.com and consulted the thousands upon thousands of detailed user-submitted Amazon reviews.
I’ve been a reporter and writer since the late ‘90s, covering a broad range of topics with a longstanding focus on consumer products and especially technology. I also have a fair amount of experience cutting my own hair, which I’ve practiced on and off for more than a decade. My writing and reporting work is regularly featured in several prominent outlets, including our companion site The Wirecutter.
The guide combs—the clip-on pieces that clip onto the lower blade and create distance between the blade and the head to create longer or shorter cuts—ended up being the biggest differentiator among the clippers we considered. Second to technique, they play a large part in deciding the outcome of a haircut, but they are often confusing to non-professionals. Our expert, salon owner Benjamin Mohapi, cautioned in particular against models with flexible or too-few combs: “Sometimes you’ll find combs that won’t properly fasten parallel to the razor edge, or have extra bits that cause the lines to be crooked—and so you’ll never get clean results, and may get nicks or gouges.” All things being equal, we found that having a nice set of stiff, well-labeled guide combs that attached securely was very important.
There is no universal sizing for combs. They typically run from size 1, which is an eighth of an inch of hair, in ⅛-inch increments up to size 8, which is 1 inch. However, some companies offer sub-increments in between and may even have clips that allow for hair longer than an inch. (To address all the confusion we saw in online forums: These lengths refer to the height of hair left behind, not how much is cut off. Using a #1 comb will leave ⅛ inch of hair on your head.) Some brands simply label the combs in fractions of an inch, which is confounding and easy to mess up in the moment. Annoyingly, each brand of clipper has their own proprietary physical shape, sometimes more than one, and so generally you can’t use combs from one brand of clipper on another clipper (there are “universal” replacement sets available, but they aren’t truly universal).
Combs are made of different types of plastic, which turned out to be a major factor in their usefulness. If they are too rigid or sharp, they can chip or break or may be uncomfortable to scrape across a scalp; if they are too flexible, they can easily bend and flex as they are pushed on the head, resulting in different hair lengths and leaving furrows like you’d see in a farm field. Some comb designs allow too much play, which can trap and pull hair, snap on crookedly, or even cause the combs to pop off in the middle of cutting hair. We found combs made of rigid ABS plastic to be the best performers.
The taper lever is an advanced feature: that little doodad found on the side of a clipper that increases or decreases hair length more finely than you can by switching combs by shifting the bottom blade forward or back. Ideally you can adjust it with a finger when cutting hair, though it shouldn’t be loose enough to slip from a bump or vibration, or you end up with different hair lengths. A taper lever that moves too easily is terrible, and we found some taper levels were too easy to poke accidentally while cutting. But among pros with the technical capability, it’s an essential element for blending and fading between different lengths of hair, especially on the side of the head. For a home haircutting enthusiast, its value is extremely subjective.
As our expert Ivan Zoot, ClipperGuy, told us, most non-professional clippers share many of the same parts as pro models but have been stripped down to trim their price. The power cord is a common corner to cut: pro models have thick, round, shielded power cords of eight feet or longer; non-pro models often have thin lamp-wire style cords that tend to tangle, may only be five feet long or so, and can fray, such as that of one model we tested, the Remington Vacuum Hair Clipper.
At the advice of our experts and user reviews, we looked only for corded models simply because they’ll reliably power through the job without needing a recharge. A haircut can take a while, and the risk of getting left shorthanded with a drained battery and half a haircut isn’t worth the extra convenience.
The eight models we selected eight to test covered a range of price points and earned high reviews from publications, users, or both. They all met our hardware criteria: a high-quality razor, a powerful motor, ideally a range of included combs, a long and sturdy power cord that doesn’t get tangled easily, user-friendly maintenance, and ergonomic considerations like weight, comfort, and noise.
We recruited staff, friends, and family to put the clippers through their paces by attempting to cut their own hair or submitting to our unsteady hand. I also personally tested each of our picks on myself and on my child at least twice over the course of several months. Finally, we recruited our expert barber, Eric Aleman of the King of Kings barber shop in Brooklyn, to test out our short list of winners on a client and offer his opinion and insight. During testing, we were able to try out clippers on a wide range of hair types, from extra fine to thick, straight to kinky, and thin (or thinning) to dense.
We asked participants to cut their own hair and to give their opinion of each of the clippers and accessories they tried out without knowing the price of any of the models. We asked them to note whether the clippers slowed, clogged, or pulled; how comfortable they were to hold due to size, weight, and vibration, as well as the power cord length; the quality and ease-of-use of guide combs; ease of cleanup and suggested maintenance; and the quality of any accessories such as combs, hair clips, capes, and carrying cases. Each test subject handled all of the clippers before testing the to see the differences between models. At the end, we asked them to pick the model they favored most and would be most comfortable using themselves.
Out of the box, we were drawn to the Wahl Elite Pro High Performance Haircut Kit for its selection of 10 guide combs, including two half-sizes for extra-fine control of hair length, which were rigid ABS plastic and included stainless steel retaining clips that are riveted on securely. All things being equal among clippers, the combs mattered the most, since they significantly affect the cutting experience and are expensive to upgrade or replace. The other Wahl we tested had a bent “tooth,” or fin, on one of its combs, and a few of the models came with guide combs that either attached unreliably or wouldn’t seat perfectly so that the edge could be lifted, or they could even pop off.
The build quality of the Wahl Elite Pro was a noticeable step above the lower-tier priced models that you might buy at Walmart or the drugstore. The upper part of the housing wasn’t hollow-feeling like the Chrome Pro; it used a more rigid plastic with texture for a secure grip. The taper lever at the side, used to blend hair, is adjustable via a screw, but it functioned out of the box smoothly with our thumb (though not as precisely as pro models like the Andis Master or Oster Fast Feed). The round cord is plenty long (8 feet) and as thick as that of pro models. It was also the only clipper with a velcro wrap attached near the plug to gather the cord and make storage tidier. In comparison, the Andis Headliner and Wahl Chrome Pro have lamp-wire-style cords, and the Remington Vacuum had a cheap speaker-wire cord that we guessed would wear out after time.
Almost all clippers come with an excessive amount of throwaway accessories—cheap scissors, hair clips, garbage-bag-quality capes—which seem great until you have to tuck them in a drawer or root through them to find what you want. Our pick had a useful assortment of 10 combs that are clearly labeled and easier to sort than every other competing model; most had combs with impossible-to-read raised black plastic numbers printed on black plastic. The Wahl Elite Pro’s hard plastic case is compact enough to fit in a drawer or on a shelf and has a quality clasp and rigid hinges that allow the case to be sealed correctly. (This is in contrast with our own ancient model that flexes, causing the top to pop open and everything to spill out and scatter across the bathroom floor. All. The. Time.)
Our barber expert, Eric Aleman, echoed our sentiments in his test run with the Wahl Elite Pro, noting its heft and bulk but also the ease in using the taper lever and the ability to cut precise fades. There aren’t a ton of quality professional reviews of the Wahl Elite Pro—most pro reviews focus on pro models, after all—but a few sources have singled it out for praise, such as hairclippersclub.com, which called it “the best clipper kit among all the major players on the current market.”
The Wahl Elite Pro lacks a T-blade attachment or companion trimmer, which allows for close cutting around the ear, in the back, and around facial hair without accidentally nicking an ear or creating a bald patch. The absence of one may be problematic for buyers who plan to cut their children’s hair, as full-size clippers have a long blade that’s tricky to maneuver around tiny, tender ears. For us, their absence was minor.
The Wahl Elite Pro is at the upper limit of what’s comfortable to hold, but not overly heavy, and it doesn’t vibrate uncomfortably. Still it was a close call between the Wahl Elite Pro and the Remington Virtually Indestructible Clipper, which are two very different models. The Wahl has a slightly louder magnetic motor, but isn’t obnoxiously loud.
For some, another minor point against the Wahl Elite Pro was the lack of left- and right-ear tapered guide combs, which are used to simultaneously trim and blend around the ears. They can make cutting this area easier for beginners, we didn’t miss them in our own testing and got along just fine using regular straight combs.
The clipper’s guide combs are made of rigid ABS plastic, so they don’t deform and leave track marks or trap and pull out hair when pressed against your head. They attach and seat firmly, unlike some models we tested whose attachments had enough play that they could be put on crooked or pop off altogether.
The Remington Virtually Indestructible also has a thick-but-pliable 8-foot power cord that seemed tough enough to last years but also wrapped easily for storage. This model is also extremely quiet, despite its magnetic motor.
Though it lacked a taper lever for finessing a fade or blend, we didn’t miss it for our non-pro uses. We think that those cutting their own hair will find it’s probably not a factor, as it takes a lot of practice to reliably fade or blend one’s own hair blindly or backwards in the mirror anyway.
While we think the included rigid guide combs are a step up from the typical flexible plastic ones found in many sets, they are a little too pointy and sharp, and so, if not angled properly when cutting, it’s easy to jab your scalp. (Full disclosure: It hurts.) The Remington also comes with fewer combs than our main pick.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $58.
Oster’s Fast Feed is a staple barbershop tool because of its power, ruggedness, and reliability—it can be used all day without overheating or fatiguing its owner. It’s more muscle than any home haircutter needs, but at its price (only $10 or so above our overall pick) it’s a popular option among home haircutters. We won’t argue.
The downside to any at-home haircut is clean-up. Remington’s Vacuum Hair Clipper was the surprise hit of our testing group because it could suck up trimmings effectively. It doesn’t get every last whisker or hair, but we think someone could reasonably trim their hair or simply tweak their edges and sideburns in a hurry before rushing off to work without worry of leaving a mess behind on your collar or the floor, a scenario none of the other clippers can match. Cleaning out the vacuum canister is as simple lifting, pulling, and dumping, and it clips back in easily.
The included set of eight guide combs, including left and right tapers for around the ear, were made of a nice rigid plastic and seated tightly and straight (in fact, so tightly they take a minor bit of tugging to get off).
In our tests, we cut hair lengths ranging from ⅜ of an inch to 3 inches without using a guide comb, and the vacuum miraculously swooped it all in without clogging (though your mileage may vary if you attempt to cut lots of longer hair). Anyone who does regular trims will appreciate how much time and clean-up hassle this model saves.
Ordinarily those downsides alone would be damning, and we’d love to see those deficits improved, but after trying the Remington Vacuum Hair Clipper a few times we were won over. Even if it lasts just a year or two, we think not having to deal with the mess of hair clippings is so appealing that it’s worth considering, especially for high-frequency hair cutters.
Hair clippers are as close to an immortal product as any I’ve seen in two decades. Every expert we spoke with repeated the same basic mantra: Oil your clipper’s blade and it will last years, even decades. (Or as Ivan Zoot put it, “Blow dryers and clippers do not die: They are only murdered.”) Oiling cuts down on friction, so the blade doesn’t snag your hair or heat up and burn your skin. What’s even more astounding is that, per user reviews and our own experience, clippers regularly live years, a decade, maybe several, even without a single drop of oil. This means that if you are the sort to hold onto any device till it dies, your investment very will likely be with you a long time; all the more reason to pick a winner.
If you want top performance, a five-point oiling goes like this: before each use, place a drop along each side of the blade and one in the middle while the blade is running, and then one on either side where the moving lower blade rubs against the fixed upper blade. Move the razor around a bit to let the oil travel—but then tip it so the blades point downward to let excess oil run out, away from the motor (which can get gummed up over time). Turn off the clipper and gently dab the excess oil away with a tissue or towel, being sure not to snag fibers or paper. Most manufacturers also recommend that you wipe away loose hairs following a haircut with a stiff bristle brush (almost always included along with oil) followed by another oiling to prevent potential surface rust. When you run out of the tiny included bottle of oil, you can use food-grade mineral oil instead. Avoid 3-in-1, WD-40, or other non-food-safe lubricants which may cause a skin reaction.
While clippers, even lower-end ones, can take a substantial amount of abuse, even a single drop on a hard surface such a tiled bathroom floor can instantly kill a motor or damage the housing enough to make the clipper a lost cause. Our barber expert, Eric Aleman, cautioned in particular that, should you ever drop a clipper, you should immediately inspect the blade for any bent or especially broken teeth. A broken tooth will make instant mincemeat of skin. If the blade isn’t replaceable, recycle or toss the clipper, and be sure to cut the power cord to ensure someone else who might find it doesn’t use it unknowingly.
We didn’t find a marked enough difference in actual haircutting capabilities among any of the clippers we tested for any of them to be an unsound purchase, especially since they’re often low-priced and long-lived devices. Since a low-cost clipper kit is close enough to the cost of a haircut, the stakes are unusually low.
The Andis Master is a gorgeous piece of industrial design, a dumbbell-heavy, polished aluminum beauty with a powerful and quiet magnetic motor. It doesn’t come with combs and is really purpose-built for precise tight fades of the sort only a trained barber is capable of. “It’s like handling a Katana—not just anyone can use it,” our expert Eric Aleman says.
The Andis BGRC was a wonderful machine: lightweight, comfortable to hold, with a whisper-quiet rotary motor and ceramic top-blade that is capable of blazing through thick hair with ease. The BGRC is the Lamborghini Veneno of hair clippers, all precision and perfection, but at more than twice the price of our pick, for non-pros it’s an extravagant and unjustifiable purchase.
We wanted to love the Andis Headliner Combo, a 27-piece kit which includes a corded clipper as well as a corded trimmer along with guide combs, scissors, brush, oil and more. We were put off by the low-quality guide combs, which are too flexible to be trustworthy.
Similarly the Wahl Deluxe Chrome Pro is a 25-piece kit which, like the Andis Headliner Combo, had flimsy guide combs that didn’t seat reliably. (The same comb issue afflicts the Wahl Color Pro, which is a nearly identical model we didn’t test.) The included battery-operated trimmer is useful and in fact a missing element from our main pick. However, that doesn’t redeem the poor quality combs.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: March 15, 2017