Shaver manufacturers are engaged in an arms race of sorts, each vying to make their products suitable for the widest range of skin and beard types. Braun's Series 7 shavers dominate the race, thanks to three adjustable shave settings that can handle almost any combination of beard and skin. Overall, users say, the Series 7 shavers -- the Series 7-790cc (Est. $300), Series 7-760cc (Est. $270) and Series 7 720s-4 (Est. $200) -- provide a smooth, close shave for even the most sensitive skin. "My face right now feels so shockingly smooth, I'd swear I shaved with a blade this morning," writes one Amazon.com user.
The Braun Series 7-760cc earns particular praise for being able to handle both sensitive skin and a tough, coarse beard that grows in different directions -- about the toughest skin/hair combination possible. It also receives the highest ranking in tests by a major consumer research organization. Each of the Braun Series 7 shavers has a 10,000 vibrations-per-minute vibrating "Pulsonic" feature, designed to lift hairs so they're more easily cut.
By comparison, two of the Panasonic models discussed in the wet/dry shaver section of this report -- the Panasonic ES-LA63-S (Est. $150) and the Panasonic ES-8243-A (Est. $150) -- have vibrating heads that run at 14,000 and 13,000 rpm, respectively. Still, we recommend focusing on how well a shaver actually cuts your beard instead of splitting hairs about rpms -- as always it's results, not specs, that determine the best shaver for you.
Users say that the banana-shaped Braun Series 7 electric shavers feel better in your hand than their predecessors, which were shaped like a bar of soap. The head tilts slightly inward to give you a better shaving angle, and reviewers like the handle's rubberized outer covering, which makes it easy to maintain a good grip.
Braun promises that its Series 7 shavers will run for about 50 minutes after a 60-minute charging period; our sources say they usually meet, and sometimes exceed, their predicted run time. Reviewers also say that shaving performance doesn't decline when you use the battery instead of a wall outlet; the Series 7's closest competition -- the aforementioned Panasonic wet/dry shavers -- can't be used when plugged in.
Cleaning stands are a weak point for other shaver models, but users and experts report that the Braun Series 7 cleaning base (760cc and 790cc models only) works very well: Just drop the shaver in, head down. The base automatically detects which cleaning cycle is needed, then waits for you to press go. If you prefer cleaning your shaver manually, however -- which quite a few of our sources say they do -- you can opt for the Series 7 720s-4, which doesn't come with a cleaning base. Due to a notable drop in price for the Braun Series 7-760cc, the 720s-4 actually costs about the same -- but the 720s-4 still saves you money over the top line in the end because you won't be paying for replacement cleaning cartridges.
If we had to single out any one complaint regarding the Braun Series 7 shavers, it's a relatively innocuous but still frustrating one: The included travel case doesn't have room for the shaver's power cord or cleaning base.
If you don't need the vibrating Pulsonic feature or are just on a tight budget, the Braun Series 5-550cc (Est. $150) retains the Series 7's three customizable settings, flexible head and flexible foils to give you a close, contoured shave. It also comes with a cleaning station, although we found a few complaints from users that the Series 5 isn't as strong as the older Braun models it was meant to replace. It's a good value in its class, and if you're used to foil shavers, it will give you a clean shave -- it just takes a little longer.
Noise may be one of the most subjective measures of any electric shaver's performance. Experts say the Braun Series 7 shavers are a little quieter than other higher-end models; they receive one of the best ratings for noise in tests from a major consumer research organization. Interestingly, users praise the 760cc for its very quiet operation while panning the near-identical 790cc for being too buzzy.
In both cases, the Braun cleaning station also draws a spattering of criticism for its relatively noisy operation -- but any cleaning station will make some noise, and if you're not in the room while the shaver is being cleaned, it's usually a non-issue.
If you want the quietest shave possible, you'll probably want a rotary shaver; the Philips Norelco Shaver 8100 (Est. $180), previously known as the SensoTouch 3D 1250X, is particularly quiet. You can purchase the same shaver with an optional cleaning station, previously the Philips Norelco SensoTouch 3D 1250XCC and now sold as the Philips Norelco Shaver 8700 (Est. $220).
If you buy one of the Series 7 shavers with a cleaning base, you'll have to purchase detergent refills (Est. $20 for four) -- each cartridge usually lasts for about a month of daily cleanings. Replacement blade/foil cassettes, which only need to be replaced every 18 months, cost about $40.
The total cost of ownership for a Braun Series 7 shaver with a cleaning stand is estimated at $87 per year; if you buy the 720s-4, which doesn't have a cleaning stand, expect to pay just $40 or so every 12 to 18 months for a replacement cassette. (If you notice your shave quality or comfort level decreasing, you should replace the blades or foils, even if the prescribed period of time has not passed.)
In comparison, the estimated yearly costs of ownership for Panasonic's ES-LA63-S and ES-8243-A are $70 and $80, respectively.
All three of the Braun Series 7 shavers are backed by a two-year limited warranty (foil and cutter excluded), and they come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, the best we've encountered. The competing Panasonic shavers have a two-year limited warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Although all three of the Braun Series 7 shavers are essentially similar, the Series 7-760cc stands out as the best value -- especially given its recent drop in price. At the time of this report, we estimate the 760cc's price (including cleaning station) at about $270. If you're willing to pay about $30 more for nifty features, the 790cc has a faster cleaning cycle and an upgraded LCD display -- but it's otherwise identical to the 760cc, and actually draws some criticism for being noisier than its slightly less-expensive cousin.
Although they lack the personalization features of the Braun Series 7 shavers and don't score quite as high in our evaluation, the three Panasonic wet/dry foil shavers are perfectly serviceable alternatives -- especially for men with sensitive skin.
Their spring-loaded, flexible heads make it easy to get just the right amount of pressure while shaving, and some users say they've actually reduced the occurrence of shaving-induced acne and ingrown hairs. You'll find all three models in the wet/dry foil shaver section of this report.
If you have very sensitive skin, you might also want to check out the Braun CoolTec line of shavers (Est. $175). These foil shavers can also be used for either a wet shave (with shaving cream or lotion) or dry shave too, but their most notable feature is a cooling aluminum bar that neutralizes the heat that inevitably develops as you shave.
Although the CoolTec line hasn't been around for very long, they're already generating some buzz (no pun intended) with experts and users. "It was one of the first times we got through a full electric shave without having to take a cool-down break," writes Matt Bell for the Men's Journal website.
Consumer reviewers are a little more reserved, but the majority say they find the CoolTec's cooling technology refreshing, soothing or both -- so if you struggle with sensitive skin and irritation even from the top-rated shavers, the Braun CoolTec line may be worth a look.