I bought mine (Zojirushi BB-CEC20WB Home Bakery Supreme, White) three weeks ago. Before that, I had a few other bread makers (vertical Philips Deluxe, Horizontal Philips, Tefal home bread
baguette bread maker) and had a close look at pretty much every model available at Sears, Canadian Tire, Walmart, Costco and Zellers (Cuisinart, B&D, West Bend and so on). Most bread maker models had a remarkably low quality with poor design, disgusting appearance, cheap knobs falling out or in, poor coating, sharp edges, aluminum or plastic transmissions and even plastic kneading blades (!). Before Tefal, I also bought the famous Kitchen Aid mixer, quite advanced, expensive and powerful (600 Wt) model, but, surprisingly, it could not prepare whole wheat dough properly, the process was quite messy, aluminum hook etc., so I returned it back to the store. In between, I was making bread manually. Thus, my impression is that for making bread and moderate amounts of dough, a good bread maker seems to be the best choice.
To my experience, the main problem with more or less decent bread makers, like Horizontal Philips or Tefal baguette, is that even though the bread maker itself still works fine, the companies are no longer supplying spare parts, particularly bread pans and paddles. So after a while, usually when the bread pan starts leaking in a year or two, the whole machine becomes almost useless.
Thus, having spare parts was a big plus for considering Zojirushi. Yet another was composing custom programs. The price... Well, Tefal cost $199 ($149 on sale) when I bought it, Horizontal Philips was $149. Zojirushi cost $214, now it costs $189. There is some difference indeed, but Zojirushi design is far superiour.
Now some of my impressions.
First of all, the Zojirushi unit is very well balanced and is NOT moving during kneading. Most other bread makers I tried, except Tefal baguette, tended to move (which means a good chance of falling off the shelf or table, running into something, falling into the kitchen sink filled with water and dishes, plugging themselves out and so on).
The Zojirushi is quiet. In fact, this is probably the least noisy bread maker I have used.
The unit is decently designed. It fits nicely under the kitchen shelves. The lead does NOT tend to fall onto your fingers when you open the bread maker. By the way, Tefal baguette rack fits well into Zojirushi, too.
Zojirushi remembers not only the last program used, but also its modifications, like preheat on or off, which is convenient. In other bread makers, browsing through beeping menus every time the unit is on seems a bit annoying.
Quality of dough and bread is good even for standard programs and an average "Selection" or "Compliments" flour from Food Basic or Price Chopper. The crust is NOT too dark if "light" is chosen. The loaf is NOT too heavy. I think the problems other folks have reported (the crust was too dark or uneven, bread much higher on one side, too hard etc.) were mostly due to their recipes or measuring errors, - if their units are not lemons, of course. Mine is apparently not. That custom programming allows to bake beautiful loafs, perfect, absolutely fantastic.
To illustrate what can be achieved by using the breadmaker's custom programming, I have added some images to the "Customer Images" section. They clearly show a good performance of the machine even in preparing some of the healthiest and best tasting (but also most demanding) types of bread, including old Russian style rye sour dough bread and whole wheat sore dough bread.
Recipe book and the instructional DVD are nice to have, even though I am mostly using my own recipes.
The paddles are made in such a way that they do not stick inside the loaf - a really nice feature that I have not seen in any other bread maker.
Cleaning the pan is exceptionally easy comparing to the other brands. Just soak for half an hour or so in warm water, the blades are going off easily.
Now some potentially weak points. The bread pan will probably need a replacement in a year or two - but this is true for any bread maker I have seen. A stainless steel pan and paddles, by the way, would make the breadmaker even more attractive. There are no additional side supports for the bread pan (thus the bottom mount experiences higher loads), - but, on the other hand, it makes the pan insertion and removal more convenient.
Nice looking, well designed, convenient, reliable, fool-proof. In summary, this is the best bread maker I have ever had.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ After a while ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
December 2, 2012, more than a year after my happy purchase. As I expected, the bread pan and the paddles proved to be the weakest point of the bread maker. After I paid a ridiculously high cost of the replacement pan and paddles (around $110), I found that the replacement blades themselves, like the original ones, are also being heavily worn during mixing, especially at their upper part, from inside the hole. Since they are made of aluminum, it results in releasing of toxic aluminum into the food, which is not acceptable.
I could only wish both the pan and the paddles were made of a less toxic material. In the meantime, I simply took off the blades. Now I am mixing the dough manually in a ceramic bowl (it takes about 5 minutes), then I put the dough in the pan with the blades removed and launch a simple custom program (say, 20 min preheat, 2 hrs to 2 hrs 30 min rise and 1 hr 10 min bake). Thus, no mixing, no toxic metal release in my food and no wearing of the precious bread pan. By the way, it seems that release of aluminum into the food is a common problem for all bread makers, since the pan and paddles are made of aluminum and are wearing out while mixing the dough. Since aluminum is heavily used in food industry, commercially available bread is probably contaminated with aluminum, too. Fortunately, the design and programming of the Zojirushi bread maker was flexible enough, so I could circumvent the aluminum problem. For that custom program, the machine also allows to set the crust control. I noticed that after the brief manual mixing, the bread rises less than after the machine mixing, which may sometimes be even advantageous. The texture and taste are also different, but very good, too.