I'd been thinking about a new waffle iron (I guess they call them waffle makers now) for quite some time. The old Black & Decker model I owned was seeing no usage due to poor performance and messy cleanup.
After a considerable amount of research on numerous websites, I narrowed the field down to two contenders:
* Chef's Choice WafflePro M850. This is clearly one of the best, if not the best, unit out there. Gets great reviews, has excellent non-stick coating which never needs oiling, has separate temperature and timer controls, has very high power (1750 W), and is *assembled* in the USA (for what that's worth). It also costs an obscene amount, $180, and comes with a 1-year warranty. Given the price point, USA factor, and technical hyperbole ("the result of years of research..."), I was disappointed that the manufacturer does not back this up with a better warranty. By the way, coupon codes do not seem to work for any Chef's Choice products.
* Calphalon HE400WM "No Peek". This unit also gets very good reviews on most web sites, but has some worrisome negative comments as well. This also has an excellent non-stick coating, has a single darkness control, and has high power (1500 W). Like almost all other units, it is made (and assembled) in China. It retails for $100 and comes with a 1-year warranty, with 5 years on the non-stick coating. It is important to note that coupon codes are valid on Calphalon products, which may lower the price significantly.
Unfortunately, I was not able to find anyone who had compared these two units directly.
Given all of this, I decided to go for the Calphalon unit. I received this last week, and put it through its paces this past weekend, making 4 different batches of waffles: (1) the recipe included in the User Manual; (2) a pumpkin recipe; (3) an apple recipe; (4) a banana/chocolate-chip recipe. All of these used whole grains and were very low in fat, so were not exactly traditional waffle recipes. Somewhat to my surprise, these all turned out very well, and I am now eager to try even more experimental recipes in the future (a quinoa recipe is beckoning...).
I will mention that the single darkness control is a bit odd; it's not entirely clear whether you're adjusting the temperature or the baking time -- or both. In any case, I didn't play with this much, and used settings between medium and medium-high. All the waffles turned out nicely and evenly browned, both top and bottom. The waffle maker also bakes the waffles relatively quickly, although I'm sure this depends a lot on your recipe, how much batter you load up, and your darkness setting. I didn't time this accurately, but believe the baking time was around 3 minutes. The waffle maker also has lights and a chime to alert you when the waffle is ready. I found this to be generally reliable, except when I overfilled the maker with batter (see below). This same lights-and-chime method also serves to let you know when the waffle maker is preheated.
I will also note that, because the batters I used were very thick (and sometimes chunky), I had trouble with adding too much batter. In this case, I didn't have any issues with overflowing and baked-on messes, but the waffles did get very thick, which popped the waffle maker open a bit and significantly increased the cooking time (which I had to monitor by eye). However, the waffles still cooked thoroughly and tasted great.
The non-stick coating was wonderful. I was able to peel off the finished waffles with my hands. Cleanup was trivial and practically unnecessary -- I just wiped the (cooled) waffle plates with a damp cloth.
Don't expect much from Calphalon customer service. My unit arrived with what I believe to be some minor workmanship issues. Nothing serious, but something I thought a "premium" brand company would want to know. So, I sent a note with some photos. The reply I got back several days later was completely generic ("we sincerely apologize if you have experienced an issue with our product..."). I fired off a retort, and haven't heard back. Cross your fingers and hope that you will never have to contact them.