While the Zojirushi line of bread machines garners a strong following, not all well reviewed models cost so much.
For lower-priced models, The Wall Street Journal recommends the Sunbeam Programmable Bread Maker 5891 (*Est. $80), calling it "a simple but versatile machine" and "a wise 'starter bread maker' investment." It has a few specialty features common to more expensive bread machines: dough-only, bake-only and jam settings, as well as a signal that lets you know when to add dried fruit or nuts. This model earns good scores in owner reviews posted to Cooking.com, where nearly 85 users give it an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, as well as to Viewpoints.com, where about 80 users assign it 85 points out of 100.
Nevertheless, its performance also draws some negative comments. Slate.com's Mason Currey places the machine last among the five he tests. He finds that it makes "dense and spongy" bread, saying this texture is "a terrible fit" for sandwiches and only "so-so" for toast. Similarly, a few owners say their loaves turn out too dense, but some blame the recipes provided in the manual, not the machine. They suggest that users purchase a recipe book or source recipes from the Internet.
In other areas, the 5891 rates pretty high with reviewers calling it relatively quiet and easy to clean, noting that it pays for itself rather quickly. Some like the choice of three bread sizes. We read a few complaints about the display being difficult to read, but owners are generally pleased.
If you're looking for an affordable machine but want more features than the 5891 offers, a good alternative is the West Bend Hi-Rise Breadmaker 41300 (*Est. $85). This model differs from other under-$100 models, and even a few pricier units, in that it has dual paddles, makes horizontal loaves and offers a choice of four loaf sizes. It also has a "homemade" cycle that allows you to program your own time settings for kneading, rising, baking and warming. This customization option is more commonly found in pricier bread makers.
The West Bend 41300 gets mainly good reviews. Editors at BreadInfo.com like its quiet operation and easy user interface, while about 430 Amazon.com reviewers give it an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars, praising the aroma, taste and texture of its bread. However, a significant number of users voice complaints: bread is difficult to remove from the pan, paddles don't fit well in the machine and paddles leave large holes in the bread. Despite these concerns, the nearly 300 owners posting to Walmart.com give it a slightly higher average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. It seems particularly popular with those who use a bread maker solely to mix dough, which they then bake in the oven.
Overall, while both the Sunbeam and the West Bend models earn positive ratings, we found more concerns about durability and product construction with the West Bend than with the Sunbeam.