That glimmer of hope some are seeing in the economy may be the glint of a diamond or the sheen of a silk scarf. Buoyed by signs of life in the real estate and stock markets, wealthy Americans are spending more freely on luxury goods, according to the Wall Street Journal. Then there's the rest of us. Fortunately, we found something for everyone in the products tested by Consumer Reports. Here are some high-end appliances and electronics that earned top marks in our tests and some less-expensive alternatives that don't sacrifice performance.
Built-in refrigerator: Thermador KBUDT4265E[S], $8,750
This 42-inch-wide built-in refrigerator from Thermador combines very good temperature performance with energy efficiency to keep your food fresh and your energy costs in check. The side-by-side model has a through-the-door ice and water dispenser but that means it can't accept an integrated panel if you want to match the refrigerator to your cabinetry. For the price, it's not as feature-laden as other refrigerators we've tested. While it has a temperature-controlled deli bin and gallon door storage it lacks split shelves and spill guards.
Alternative: Our Best Buy built-in is the Liebherr CS2062, $5,000.
Pro-style range: GE Monogram ZDP364NDPSS, $7,500
This dual-fuel 36-inch pro-style range pairs a gas cooktop with an electric oven. Superb simmering and impressive baking helped make this a top pick, but the high-power burners didn't deliver heat as fast as the other recommended kitchen ranges and broiling was mediocre. There are four burners and all are high power. The cooktop also has a built-in griddle. The GE offers plenty of oven space and the convection feature cuts cooking time.
Alternative: Our Best Buy regular gas range is the Frigidaire Gallery FGGF3032MW, $775.
Television: Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT50, $3,300
Part of Panasonic's flagship VT50 plasma series, this 65-inch, 3D-capable 1080p HDTV is easily one of the best (if not the best) TVs we've tested, with excellent high-definition picture quality and very good 3D performance. The set's deep black levels are among the best we've seen and it has very good sound. This model is loaded with features, including built-in Wi-Fi and Panasonic's Viera Connect online service, with a full Web browser, access to an apps market, and streaming movies and TV shows. It can also make Skype video calls when used with an optional webcam.
Alternative: The 60-inch LG 60PM6700, $1,250, is a Best Buy.
Generator: Kohler 8.5 RES-QS7, $3,200
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend but survivors of Hurricane Sandy would trade them for a generator in a New York minute. A stationary generator turns itself on and off when needed and runs on propane or natural gas for longer run time and safer fueling. In our generator tests, the Kohler delivered smooth, steady power and offered 7,000 watts with natural gas and 8,500 using propane. It was also the quietest of the models we tested, and shuts down automatically if the engine-oil level gets low. Installation costs extra.
Alternative: Our Best Buy standby generator is the Generac CorePower 5837, $1,800.
Gas grill: Weber Summit E-670, $2,500
In our tests of gas grills, this beefy grill was impressive at low- and high- heat grilling and indirect cooking, has lots of stainless steel and ample cooking area and is made in America. There are six main burners, a side burner, infrared rotisserie burner, stainless-steel grates, and electronic igniter. You're also paying for a lighted cooking area, smoker burner, searing burner, lit control knobs, and utensil hooks.
Alternative: Our Best Buy large grill is the Huntington Patriot 658184, $700.
Digital camera: Canon EOS 7D Digital, $1,800
Heavier and pricier than most, this advanced SLR offers the best combination of superb photos, fast response, and sure shake handling. It also comes bundled with a powerful image-stabilized lens, has a weatherproof camera body, and can fire off eight still images per second. It's one of just a few advanced cameras in our tests that has excellent image quality for regular photos. It also has long battery life.
Alternative: The Canon EOS Rebel T3i, $650, scored the same and is a Best Buy.
Vacuum cleaner: Kirby Sentria, $1,350
From an iconic brand, this Kirby bagged upright was stellar at at all cleaning tasks in our vacuum tests and is among the least repair-prone upright brand according to our reader surveys. It's self-propelled, good since it's especially heavy, and comes with myriad features and attachments. Unfortunately, the attachments are cumbersome to connect, requiring removal of the powerhead, and the Kirby was fairly noisy.
Alternatives: The Kenmore Progressive 31069, $200, and Hoover WindTunnel Max UH30600, $180, are both Best Buys.
Blender: Vitamix 5200, $450
The Vita-Mix 5200 is one of the most powerful blenders on the market today. Backed by a two horsepower motor, it aced our ice-crushing and icy drinks tests, and more. In our blender tests, this robust machine was excellent at grating cheese and pureeing soup. It also excelled at the durability task in which we perform the ice-crushing test 45 times. Fans like the Vitamix online community, which shares recipe ideas and other tips.
Alternative: Sharing top-billing is the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004, $60, a Best Buy.
For more low-priced alternatives to high-end appliances and kitchen surfaces read, The luxury look for less.