Cree LR6 Downlight Replacement

Posted: November 30, 2008 in Reviewed - Exemplary
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This is the Cree LR6 downlight retrofit. Producing a white light color of 2700k (Incandescent white – also available in 3500k neutral white) at 92CRI, these inserts produce 650 lumens, consuming only 12 watts. This is an unprecedented 54 Lumens per Watt, exceeding even the best Compact Fluorescent downlight products on the market today. The product is expected to last 50,000 hours to 70% of its full light output.

The product inserts into virtually any 6″ recessed downlight housing. Installation takes less than 10 minutes.

In the test application of this product, 4 fixtures were installed in standard Halo H7 housings, with addition of optional brushed nickle trims to compliment the stainless steel trim, which snaps easily in place after the retrofit body is installed.

Comparing the illuminance calculated using the company provided photometric data and actual measurements in the applied space were within 7% of one another, with the actual application being slightly better than predicted. After 9 months, there has been no measurable light loss. This is truly an outstanding performer. Testing of actual energy consumed is in line with the manufacturer claim of 12 watts per fixture.

Not everything is perfect. The light distribution is roughly 135 degrees, which is very wide. This produces some undesirable brightness and the too shallow recess trim creates too much lens visibility. While this distribution is similar to some fluorescent and incandescent downlights, those looking for the control and directed flood or spot distribution of R and PAR reflector lamps may be dissapointed. In our test application, a kitchen, this was not an issue. However, when we attempted to apply this to a media room, we found the lens brightness unsatisfactory. Cree now offers and LR4 product with a deeper reflector section that will likely resolve this issue.

Dimming is another issue. While the manufacturer claims they are easily dimmed, we found that many standard incandescent dimmers simply did not work at all, or created flicker in the downlights. We did find that mid range dimmers rated for Low Voltage loads worked better, and the ELV (Electronic Low Voltage) dimmers worked the best overall. Unfortunately, these dimmers cost over $50.

The technology within these products is worth noting. Rather than using a simple white LED package and accepting the possible color shift from one product to another, these units incorporate a combination yellow-green tinted white LED with a series of red LEDs, and an ingenious balancing circuitry that maintains light color over the life of the product. This means that when the product is dimmed, it maintains its color, rather than shifting to yellow or blue.

The Cree LR6 is an example of how good a retrofit LED product can be, and how well LED technology can work. This product saves 82% of the energy from the incandescent lamp, and roughly 26% of the energy of an equal new installation CFL downlight product.

Recommendation rating = 8 of 10 (would be 10 of 10 if light distribution and brightness were better controlled.)

Actual product Performance against manufacturer claims = 10 of 10. Cree has been careful to keep claims in line with tested performance, and this is no exception. Kudos!

Update Feb 09, 2010:

While the downlights are doing fine, and are not showing any significant lumen loss, I am finding the glare from the overly wide distribution and white lens without cutoff a significant irritant. After more than two years with these (installed in November 2008), I have decided they have to go. These four will move into a shop area in the garage where the visual brightness is not an issue. In their place will be installed proper downlights with controlled light distribution, and far less brilliance in the eye. There are many excellent choices today, and an opportunity to design something of my own.

The Cree LLS approach of producing products that mimic low quality R40 downlights and obsolete 2 x 2 prismatic troffer performance with overly wide distribution to gain efficiency, and little regard for visual brightness is a little disappointing. It appears the strategy is to play to the lowest common denominator in the market, pushing aside any effort to improve lighting quality. While they are now marketing the high vertical light distribution as an asset, it comes off as rationalization. Seems a shame, considering how well the company as a whole is doing pressing the efficacy of LED technology up, narrowing the binning issue, and producing truly innovative LED package sources. A real Jeckyl and Hyde dynamic at play – where the company’s core technology is spot on, while the applied luminaires fail to press the qualities of light with the same zeal. That, I’m afraid, seems the way of SSL at times.

Still a good product, with the exceptions noted, and for applications where end users don’t know any better. LLS could be a great deal more… if they decided to include advancing quality of lighting design as a factor at least equal in priority to economics.

Related products worth looking into: LR4 Downlight

  1. Ken Reynar says:

    The Cree LR6 is an interesting LED retrofit device and really does look pretty good in lower ceiling applications. It offers really good color performance and light output. In my experience, the trouble comes when using these in ceiling heights over about 9′ where their extremely wide distribution creates uncomfortable glare at 100% output.

    Cree’s actual product performance matches what they claim, which is great, but unfortunately their sales force is aggressively promoting the LR6 and LR4 units in applications in which these devices are not well suited. Over the past two months I have encountered sales people attempting to substitute LR6 retrofits in place of MR16 and AR111 architectural accent fixtures in 20′ high ceilings.

    It’s also unfortunate that actually obtaining sample units for evaluation has been like pulling teeth, with one representative telling me (a lighting specifier) that Cree is not providing any samples free for evaluation because their sales are so great, but I’d be welcome to purchase them.

    I find it difficult to even consider specifying these products when SSL manufacturers address the market at primarily the contractor level. Hopefully, Cree can align the activities of their sales people with their excellent product and honest claims of performance.

  2. Geoff says:


    I’d appreciate your thoughts on the Gallium Lighting GS6 LED downlight, which provides system efficacy of up to 65 lumens per watt, delivers up to 1350 lumens, and features glare-free optics with 45 degree shielding. The payback relative to compact fluorescent is often less than 3 years. This product is aimed squarely at the specification market.



    • kwillmorth says:

      Based on the photometric file, specifically for the CREE XRE unit, I am favorably impressed. I have seen the products at trade shows, and found them intriguing. The light output is very near a 2 x 2 parabolic, although the light distribution is somewhat narrower. I like the 6″ x 6″ scale, as there is no need for a luminaire to be 24″ in any dimension. I also like the brightness control over the white lens diffuser products. It appears to be a very nice product. However, without having a product to physically test and evaluate, I cannot commit to more at this time. I’m finding that there is a big difference between literature, ITL reports, and actual product performance when applied to a task. I’m attempting to keep my comments within the confines of actual experience.

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