Cree Connected Max Retrofit Recessed Lamp Review: Sleek and Smart

Recessed lighting in the form of can lights, downlights, and pot lights has been around since the 1940s. It’s a great way to light up a room because the fountain is directly above, largely hidden in the ceiling. Cheap Recessed lighting, however, can be industrially unsightly. Look up and you will see not just a bare bulb in a hole, but the springs that hold the trim ring to the can. Cree Connected Max Retrofit Downlight not only fixes that, but offers tunable white and full color dimmable smart lighting. And if you’ve been using incandescent bulbs in those fixtures, you’ll save some money on your electricity bill because Cree recessed lights use energy efficient LEDs.

Cree’s downlight is a 75 watt equivalent reflector that produces up to 850 lumens of brightness while consuming just 11 watts of electricity at full power. It’s part of a family that includes a dimmable white (but not tunable white) A19 bulb, a tunable white and color A19 bulb (which we reviewed in late 2020), and color bulbs in the A21, BR30, and PAR38 form factors. They all connect to your Wi-Fi network, so they don’t require a hub, and you configure and control them from within the Cree app. They can also be controlled with voice commands (using Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri Shortcuts) or with a Samsung SmartThings hub. However, the family does not support the Apple HomeKit ecosystem.

existing roof can Michael Brown / IDG

The typical ceiling can is ugly before you even remove its trim ring.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart bulbs, where you will find reviews of competing offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide on the features to consider when purchasing this type of product.

Tunable full color white

The can’s white light can be adjusted from a warm 2200 Kelvin to a very cool 6500K, or you can choose from 16 million colors. The downlights fit 5 or 6 inch cans, but before you run out and buy one, check your existing cans to make sure they have medium E26 screw bases, rather than ballast fluorescent lamps. Cree’s product is not compatible with Cree (CFLs with E26 bases are fine).

The California home I tested them in had a combination of both, due to a well-intentioned state building code that requires 50 percent of permanently installed lighting in a home to be high-efficiency fixtures. When we built the house in 2007, fluorescent cans were the only affordable set in town, so they were in the bathrooms and in my kitchen.

components create downlight Michael Brown / IDG

Spring steel ears hold the Cree Connected Max Retrofit recessed light in your existing ceiling can.

The room where I had my pool table, however, had five cans suitable for modernization and I replaced all five with accessories from Cree. This gave me a chance to see how various smart downlights would perform (more on this later).

Cree downlights are incredibly easy to install. The first step is to remove the bulbs and spring-mounted trim rings from the existing cans, a step that took more time than installing the modifications. If your cans are mounted to a drywall ceiling, expect some dust and debris to fall while you do this.

The next step is to screw a flexible cord that has an E26 base on one end into the can receptacle. This pigtail has a bayonet connector on the other end that will connect to the Cree downlight. Once you’ve done that, push the downlight up into the can, compressing three spring steel ears in the process. The resulting stress holds the reconditioning cans in place, and a built-in trim ring covers the rough edges around the hole in the ceiling. Now when you look at the can, you will only see the trim ring and the glass lens that covers the LED.

angled view of maximum six-inch downlight attached Cree lighting

Your existing ceiling can will need to have an E26 bolt-on base; These retrofit cans are not compatible with fluorescent lamps.

You can install and configure the downlights in the Cree mobile app one at a time, or you can install them all at once and then configure each light individually. The downlights have onboard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, and the first step after physical installation is to pair the cans with the app via Bluetooth. The app will display all the cans it finds.

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