The First Annual Treadmill Sensei 2006-2007 Ichi-Ban “Best Buy Awards” for Ellipticals


Welcome to the second part of the Treadmill Sensei 2006-2007 Ichi-ban “Best Buy Awards.” This time I’ll go over my choices for “best buy” ellipticals. The interesting thing about ellipticals vs treadmills is that there are some decent choices in the under $500 range. This is because ellipticals, unlike their treadmill cousins, do not have the added expense of motors, and this allows a little more quality on the lower end of things.

As with the treadmill “best buy” awards, the ellipticals are picked with no real scientific technique. All reviews and ratings are based on my 20+ years of experience as a service/repair tech for fitness equipment. My opinions and thoughts come from having worked on most of the machines out there. When an elliptical comes in to the shop for either installation or repair, we run pretty extensive tests on the machines to make sure they are up to snuff. This includes running fairly hardcore routines on the machines, going through all of their programs and so on. After our testing any machine that is going out to be installed for a customer, or which has had repairs done, has been run through the ringer to make sure everything is working.

Reviews are not made with manufacturer input. We don’t get free equipment from manufacturers. And, something that has just started up, we’re not given equipment to repackage and relabel as our own commercial brand like a couple of review sites who are now selling insanely priced commercial equipment of their own — you know who you are!

More detailed reviews of all of the Ichi-Ban winners will be posted throughout the upcoming week.

Now, on with the show!!

Best Buy Under $500
Merit 710E Elliptical:
Merit is yet another line of equipment produced by Johnson Tech and its Horizon Division. The Merit 710E is one of the sturdiest units under $500 and one of the few to give you a decent workout. For the full review click HERE.

Runner Up: At these prices, you have to be very careful or you’ll wind up spending money for something that will turn in to an expensive clothes hanger. Stay away from Image, Proform or any of the Icon Health & Fitness machines or you’ll just be throwing your money away.

1. Ironman 230E
2. LifeGear Dual Action Magnetic Elliptical
3. Eclipse 2100HRA

Best Buy from $501-$1000
Sole E25 Elliptical:
AKA Spirit ZE120. Spirit and its repackaging company, Sole, have done it again with one of the best valued ellipticals out there. Priced at just under $1000, the Sole E25 is the standard by which all other ellipticals are measured by. For the full review click HERE.

Runner Up: The Ironman unit of many names, the Ironman 600E, is still one of the best ellipticals around and a killer now that it (or one of its many relabeled brothers) can be found for under $1000. There is a lot of great competition in this price range and a lot of great machines.

1. Ironman 600e/Alliance A7e/Ironman Evolution
2. Horizon EX55
3. Schwinn 438

Best Buy from $1001-$1500
Sole E35 Elliptical:
The step up from the Sole E25, this unit gives you the stability more often found in higher priced commercial ellipticals. Check out the full Sole E35 review.

Runner Up: The $1000+ price range is where the serious home buyers come. This is the bottom end of where you’ll get a commercial, gym quality elliptical feel in a machine. Spirit really dominates this price point, and check out the Sole E55 for a heavier version of the Sole E35.
1. Smooth CE 2.1
2. Sole E55
3. New Balance 9.5e

Best Buy from $1501-$2000
SportsArt 803: With its adjustable stride and sturdy construction, the SportsArt 803 elliptical stands out in a very crowded area. Check out the review.

Runner Up: This is a difficult price point because the ellipticals don’t offer that much more than the $1000-$1500 units, but also don’t stand up to the $2000+ units like the Fitnex E70 or Precor 5.19. Avoid the Tunturi units because of their uncomfortable feel during longer workouts.

1. Smooth CE 7.4
2. Sole E95
3. Multisports ECT-880

Best Buy from $2001-$3000
Fitnex E70:
If you’re looking for a solid, commercial quality elliptical with the same incredibly smooth and comfortable feel of the fantastic Matrix E5Xc, then this is your elliptical. The Fitnex E70 is, hands down, one of the best feeling ellipticals on the market today. Factor in the lifetime parts warranty and you’ve got one of the all around buys. For full review click HERE.

Runner Up: This is a pretty sparse price point for ellipticals. There are a lot of models in this range, but there isn’t much worth looking at. Aside from the Fitnex E70 and the Precor 5.19, if you’ve got $2000-$3000 to spend, I’d check out higher end remanufactured units. You can get a decent remanufactured Life Fitness rear drive elliptical or a Precor 546.

1. Precor EFX 5.19

Best Buy Over $3000
Matrix E5Xc Elliptical:
This is the best Elliptical on the market today. Period. Check out the full review HERE.

Runner Up: As with the treadmills, this is a difficult price range to rank. There is so much good in this range that you really can’t go wrong when you stick with the big plays — Star Trac, Life Fitness, Precor and Matrix.
1. Star Trac Pro
2. Precor 546
3. Life Fitness 9500HRR

The Ichi-Ban Best of the Best Award for Elliptical Excellence: The Spirit ZE120 Elliptical
Yes, the Spirit ZE120 and the Sole E25 are the exact same unit, but I like to give props to the manufacturer of this excellent unit. The Sole version was a Dick’s exclusive last year and it’s nice to see Spirit come out with a version available through better outlets. For the money, the Spirit ZE120 and its twin, the Sole E25, are the best buys around. For the full review click HERE.

The First Annual Treadmill Sensei Baka Awards for 2006-2007!

The Please Fire Your Product Manager Award: Star Trac
This award goes to the incredibly unwise product managers at Star Trac Fitness for ceasing production of the Star Trac Natural Runner. Bringing out the Star Trac Elite with its multi-mode arm work outs was great, but it really isn’t a replacement for the incredible feel of the Star Trac Natural Runner series of machines. There was and is nothing on the market that felt as smooth or as comfortable as the old Star Trac Natural Runners and whoever decided they should be removed from production should be fired.]

The Biggest Piece of Crap Award: Tony Little Gazelle
I just can’t say enough bad things about the Tony Little Gazelle line of products. They con more people out of their money than anything I’ve ever seen before. The units are terrible and wind up sitting unused in people’s apartments and houses. Buying a pie from Marie Callenders will give you a better workout than the Tony Little Gazelle. Run away!

The Biggest Gimmick Next to the TreadClimber Award: LifeGear Power 3-n-1 Elliptical Bike
I don’t know who came up with this toy or what they were smoking to make them think it was a good idea, but I’d sure like to meet them. This unit is marketed to be an upright/recumbent/elliptical machine all in one. This unit is a gimmick and is far too complicated to actually work well. I see this unit having more problems than the TreadClimber machines. Stay away, far away.

The Miscategorized Equipment Award: Cateye EC-6000
The Cateye EC-6000 is either one of the most uncomfortable elliptical machines the Treadmill Sensei has ever been on, or it is a decent stepper. If you’ve ever been on this machine then you know what I’m talking about. Somehow Cateye rates the unit with a 19″ stride but I can imagine that’s true. This machine is a stepper that they’ve tried to disguise as a really bad elliptical. It is probably perfect for firefighter ladder training but not for an elliptical workout.

-The Treadmill Sensei


  1. Hello Sensei,

    Any thoughts on which to purchase between the Horizon EX55 and EX33, I noticed the 55 made it on your best buy list but the 33 had a slightly higher rating?

  2. Hey are bodycraft cross trainers any good?
    x Tiffany

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