Although salon hair dryers get the best ratings overall, you can actually get a perfectly good hair dryer without shelling out $100 or more. Budget-priced hair dryers don't offer the same variety of settings and special features found on salon dryers, but they provide the basics: adjustable heat and airflow, ceramic and ionic technology, and a cold shot button to set a style. They're not as fast or as versatile as salon dryers, but they get the job done.
Overall, the best-rated dryer in this price class is the John Frieda Styling Tools Full Volume Hair Dryer (Est. $35). This 1,875-watt dryer features a titanium ceramic coating for even heat distribution, along with three heat settings, two speed settings, and a locking cold shot button. It also comes with a diffuser, an extra that many hair dryers don't include, and two separate concentrator attachments, each with a different angle. Real Simple magazine explains that you can use one concentrator to lift hair by directing air toward the roots, while the other is good for drying the ends. With this feature, editors say, "Even a beginner can get a salon-style blow-out."
Lucky magazine also recommends the John Frieda hair dryer, saying it offers "all the benefits of a full-sized model." Good Housekeeping gives the hair dryer a generally positive review in its August 2012 test, saying it provides "smooth and shiny hair minus the high heat." Editors also like its low surface temperature and easy-to-use controls. The biggest downside, they say, is that it's slower at drying hair than most blow dryers in their lab tests, though the users that also test it as part of this review say that its speed is good. Users who review the John Frieda dryer at Amazon.com also have no complaints about its drying speed, but they disagree with the Good Housekeeping staff about its ease of use. We saw many complaints that the placement of the speed and heat controls right on the side of the handle makes it easy to switch the settings by accident. Users also find the 2-pound dryer rather heavy to hold. Overall, the dryer receives a rating of 4.3 stars out of a possible 5 at Amazon.com based on feedback from more than 250 users.
We also found mostly positive reviews for the Infiniti Pro by Conair 1875-Watt Salon Performance AC Motor Styling Tool (Est. $35). InStyle magazine named it the best inexpensive blow dryer for 2013 and 2015, saying it "lasts three times longer" than others in its price class -- though they don't explain how they tested its durability -- and "makes quick work of even the thickest hair." The Infiniti Pro also gets good reviews in Allure magazine and at Refinery29.com, where a staffer says this dryer was "super easy to hold" and took only 7 minutes to dry her ultra-fine hair. However, testers at Good Housekeeping were less impressed, saying the Conair dryer was one of the slowest and noisiest in their 2012 tests. Its best features were its low price tag and 4-year limited warranty.
The 200-plus owners who review the Conair Infiniti at Amazon.com are generally pleased with it, and it earns a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. Unlike the editors at Good Housekeeping, Amazon.com users are generally satisfied with both its drying speed and its noise level. However, several grouse that the dryer is heavy and hard to control. Moreover, there are several complaints about reliability and safety, and an earlier version of this hair dryer was part of a 2013 recall over the possibility of a burn or fire hazard -- though current models should be fine.
Conair also makes the YOU Reel 1875 Watt Tourmaline Ceramic 2-in-1 Styler (Est. $30), which is named as a Best Value pick in a comparison test in Real Simple magazine. This model's major selling point is the retractable cord from which the dryer takes its name. More than 700 reviewers at Amazon.com award the Cord-Keeper an overall rating of 4.3 stars out of 5, and the retracting cord is far and away their favorite feature. They also like its quiet operation, adjustable settings, and vivid pink or purple color. However, many owners complain about the dryer's durability, saying it broke down in a variety of ways after one to two years.