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When it comes to deciding whether to go with low voltage or line voltage, a number of sites are in essence saying: your initial installation cost for low voltage will be higher, but you'll get a nicer light. (Other benefits, like lower consumption, are often mentioned, but now I'll leave those aside.)

The claims of nicer light seem fairly vague to me, and I am wondering if they are applicable to halogen MR16 and LED MR16 bulbs. Specifically:

  1. Should I expect a nicer light from a halogen MR16 bulb low voltage than its equivalent line voltage?
  2. Should I expect a nicer light from an LED MR16 bulb low voltage than its equivalent line voltage?
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What does nicer mean? Temperature? Spread? Glare? Diffusion? –  bib Sep 22 '12 at 15:13
    
Even if we could specifically measure niceness, I suspect the lamp construction, design, intended use, etc. has more to do with niceness than the voltage driving the lamp. An established manufacturer should be able to develop a lamp that meets particular niceness parameters regardless of voltage. –  bcworkz Sep 22 '12 at 19:24

2 Answers 2

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The first linked site appears to concern itself wholly with halogen bulbs. It claims of low-voltage halogen bulbs that, "They also produce a nicer light, with warmer, brighter and more vibrant colors."

The second site's entire argument for low-voltage light being better seems to rest entirely on how configurable and remote-controllable low-voltage lights are, as well as how much easier it is to scatter gobs of them about to achieve your lighting plans for world domination.

I am inclined not to trust the first site, because their argument doesn't make intuitive sense and they provide no citations to back it up. The second site's argument makes sense on its face.

I can't speak to halogen bulbs, but when it comes to LEDs, I would not expect any difference in light quality between a line-voltage and low-voltage LED.

I don't know of any LED bulbs that actually drive the LEDs at line voltage. The ones that you can just screw into a line voltage socket just include their own DC rectifier, the same way that CFL bulbs include their own ballast to drive the fluorescence.

I would expect you can get finer control by putting your own transformer in front of a line of low-voltage LEDs, and your resulting lighting system will probably be more efficient and flexible. (As an example, I know an LED retrofit lamp I recently installed could dim down to only 5%, whereas you might be able to dim the LEDs throughout their full range using your own transformer.)

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I went the 12V halogen route in my house when I installed recessed lights and so far I have been really happy with the color and light quality. I do notice a difference compared to most line voltage halogen lights. Ultimately though, "better light quality" is subjective and you'll find people who like both.

What I did find however is that there is a larger selection of 12V MR16 bulbs (at least for me locally).

The one downside to 12V lighting is that you now have a transformer which will eventually fail and you need to use more expensive magnetic dimmers to control them.

This all applies to halogen lights - I am not sure about the difference with LED since I don't beleive there is a line-voltage LED light.

One other tidbit of advice I'd offer is make sure you buy fixtures that can handle up to 50W lights - a lot of the cheap cans can only handle 35W and they never seem to put off enough light. 50W seems to be a sweet-spot for recessed lights IMO.

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"Line voltage" LEDs are just LEDs with their own DC rectifiers. I recently installed these into standard recessed can housings. The black chunk above the trim and diffuser is the rectifier. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 22 '12 at 16:36

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