I've always been a stickler about light quality. It's just one of the (many) things I will happily blame on my decorator mother, who exclusively used pale pink incandescent bulbs in my bedroom as a kid. (There's a reason why they're such a cult favorite.) Spare me anything that promises to make whites seem extra-bright or mimic real daylight; I just want a bulb that makes the room (and, preferably, the people in it) look pretty.
Naturally, that meant that the eventual transition to LEDs wasn't easy for me. (Don't even get me started on CFLs.) After a period of hoarding incandescents (I know, I know!), I finally decided to get on the energy-efficient train, and began testing out different kinds of LEDs. Inevitably, I'd be disappointed by the not-quite-right light they gave off—too cold, or bright, or dim, or just weird—and go in search of something better.
Then, few years ago (and probably in the midst of a way-too-deep dive into light bulb reviews on Wirecutter or Consumer Reports), I ordered a pack of GE's Relax LED bulbs on Amazon. Part of the same HD product line as GE's "color-boosting" Reveal bulbs (which I'd always found slightly too harsh), the Relax bulbs promised similar color- and contrast-enhancing properties, but in a "warm, soft white" hue that's "perfect for comfortable moments and cozy spaces."
I swapped them in for the bulbs in my living room lamps and was pleasantly surprised. While most of the other warm-hued LEDs I'd tried were either still too blue or overcompensated with a slightly yellowish cast, the Reveal bulbs were a near-dupe for classic soft white incandescents—warm, but in a flattering, non-yellowy way. Since then, they've become the only type of bulb I'll use in my apartment. While GE recommends using them specifically in bedrooms, family rooms and dining rooms and saving the more "energizing" Reveal bulbs for kitchens and baths, I use the Relax version literally everywhere. (I mean, I want to be relaxed in the kitchen, too!)
So what makes the Reveal bulbs so good? First of all, there's the color temperature. The temperature of light is measured in kelvins; the lower the number, the warmer the light, and vice versa. The EPA sorts LED bulbs into three color categories: soft white (a.k.a. warm white, 2200K–3000K), bright white (or cool white, 3500K–4100K), and daylight (5000K–6000K). The Relax bulbs clock in at 2700K—a nice glow, but not quite amber.
Then there's the CRI—or color rendering index—part of the equation. CRI measures the accuracy of artificial lighting, with the maximum CRI of 100 being equivalent to a classic incandescent bulb. Those super-unflattering florescent lights in your office likely have a CRI in the 60s or 70s; most LED bulbs currently on the market are in the 80s. All of GE's HD bulbs, though, are in the 90 range, with the Relax bulbs at a CRI of 92.
What does that mean? GE Lighting senior product manager Preston Render likens the company's high-CRI lighting to watching a TV show in HD. "They offer greater color contrast and boldness over the average bulb, so the colors and features in every room can look even better," he explains. "Lower-quality products typically have a whiter/bluer color, so they don't do a very good job representing the color they shine on."
All of this is to say that my evangelizing for GE Relax bulbs isn't based solely on personal preference—there's some actual science to back it up! And did I mention they're cheap, too? A pack of four on Amazon will set you back around $9, or $2.25 a pop, which is pretty good for a bulb that comes with a 5-year warranty.
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