Just like many machines of this class, the Vibiemme Domobar Super automatic in stainless steel is heavy - very heavy. The machine was delivered single box and we received it near the start of September.
Out of the Box
The Vibiemme Domobar Super came single-boxed, albeit a very heavy cardboard, with the appropriate foam inserts and such. It arrived safe and sound, but given that it's one of the heaviest HX prosumer machines we've tested (it weighs about 3kilos more than the Isomac Millennium, for eg), it is important for the shipper to ensure this thing is packed tight and correctly. I'd like to see more protection inside the box.
The box is not a retail box, natch - brown with Vibiemme logos and tape. Inside is the machine almost ready to go, with a box containing the usual accruetements and some surprises.
You get the standard, throwaway plastic tamper and big, flat bottomed scoop. You get the typically sparse and semi-reasonably translated product manual (but I'd like to see a well written comprehensive manual for these machines enclosed in the box).
What is cool is that you get not one, not two, but three portafilters with the machine. A double spout, VBM stamped portafilter, a single spout, VBM stamped portafilter, and a tricked out, extremely heavy ESE pod adapted portafilter. The traditional portafilters include both a single and double filter basket.
What's missing? I'd like to see blind filters included as standard equipment with these machines. (ed.note - a blind filter will be included with machines sold as of this writing).
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| Box |
How the product was shipped. Box is strong, but I do think they need to make the inside more secure.
| Inside |
Machine is gorgeous, but shipping protection is sparse.
| Massive |
The massive 5litre drip tray. The hole in the lower middle is where you access the pressurestat.
| Accessories |
The machine ships with 3 portafilters, brush, spoon, plastic tamper. Vibiemme will also include a blind filter.
Looking over the machine, at first glance it looks like any other HX, E61 equipped "box". But closer examination notes some differences.
First and foremost, there's no lever on the side of the E61 group like most machines of this type. This is because this machine has a flowmeter and is an automatic, meaning soft-touch chromed (plastic) buttons on the control panel. It looks a bit weird without the lever on the side, but you get used to it, and I do find using an automatic E61 machine pretty unique and intriguing.
Second, the removable reservoir is huge - five litres. It also includes a water softening cartridge already in place at the end of one of the two tubes going into the plastic reservoir.
Third, the drip tray is huge - one of the biggest I've seen on this type of machine.
| Branded! |
VBM branding by the company that owns the E61 design.
There are other notable differences in the design and the internal componentry on this machine. I should note that Vibiemme is the current "holder" of the original patent design on the E61 group - others are plain knock offs. So, on this machine you're getting as authentic an "E61" group as you're going to get.
Second, the pressurestat for the steam boiler is very easily accessible. There's a hole cut into the sub tray under the removable drip tray - peering in, you see an adjustable screw set. Using a long-arm screwdriver lets you easily change the pressure settings of the steam boiler, a nice usability feature.
Speaking of the pressurestat, this Vibiemme Domobar uses the Parker pressurestat, a high end model found in many commercial machines. I've blown through my share of pressurestats and thermometers in testing a variety of machines in this class, so the use of a high end commercial unit is welcome.
And still more on the heating system inside. This Vibiemme Domobar Super uses a resettable pressure popoff valve which is again fairly unique in this class of machine. Bottom line? A lot of high end commercial parts go into the machine.
| Machine Specs |
Click to enlarge - 1600W!! Rated for commercial use!!!
Since I'm talking about internals, why not discuss the boiler. It's 1.9litres, again one of the biggest in its class. The pump is a standard Ulka vibe pump, set at 52W. The draw on the machine is pretty much full amperage for a 110V circuit and 1600W of power, so to operate it at peak efficiency without causing breakers to switch off, run it on its own plug; possibly with a grinder sharing, but bottom line - this draws a lot of power.
Outside, the machine features a Vibiemme branding on the back of the machine, a large and removable drip tray on top, with two handles. The sides are unadorned - just big polished sheets of steel. The front control panel features two gauges at either end - on the left is a boiler pressure gauge, and on the right is the brew pressure gauge leading into the grouphead.
In between are five soft-touch chromed abs plastic buttons. Single short, double short, single long, and double long espresso brewing buttons, all programmable. The last button is a multi-use button for a continuous dose, or for programming the other button functions.
There are four lights on the control panel. The one on the far left indicates boiler status. The light to the left of the brew pressure gauge indicates water state (it will light up if you're low on water). The light on the far right of the machine indicates power. And the light above the continuous dose button indicates various states in brewing or programming.
| Control Panel on the Vibiemme Domobar Super |
The control panel: 4 lights, two gauges, and five softtouch buttons. One caveat - the stenciled on cup and continuous graphics wear off easily.
| Hot Water |
Good range of motion, awesome usability.
| Steaming |
One of the most powerful steam wands ever!
| Closed E61 |
Cap where the E61 lever usually goes.
Moving down the front face of the machine, you see on the left side the steaming wand which features a 360 degree ball valve with a pretty wide range of movement. No complaints at all there - a lot of machines in this class could take lessons.
The downside I've often heard to ball valves is that they are prone to leaking more frequently, but I think this comes from commercial use where the wand is manipulated literally 100s of times a day. In the home, I don't believe it's as much a concern.
On the right side is the hot water tap, which is also on a ball valve. One downside on the implementation of this design item is that it can't be swiveled to sit directly over the machine's exposed grille on the drip tray - so you have to hold your cups to fill them, or place them on the edge of the drip tray. The tap has a diffuser to help limit spurting from the superheated water feeding from the steam boiler.
In the middle of the machine is the great looking original E61 group, but with a difference - there's a detailed cap in place where the lever typically goes.
The solenoid discharge tube is shrouded by a plain jane looking stainless steel plate bent into a U shape.
In my opnion, this detracts from the look of the machine - I'd rather see the polished piston that many of the knockoff E61 groups feature, but the shroud is there to hide the unfinished solenoid group valve.
Another unique feature on this machine is the three-way power switch. This is more common on commercial machines but rarely found on home models. The switch has three states - off, fill, and on. Fill (position I) means it will check the boiler state and fill if necessary, but not apply heat to the boiler. "On" (position II) will also do auto fill, but also turn on the boiler and make sure the pressurestat is providing its readings to the control box inside.
The drip tray - I'm hot and cold on it. It looks nice from the front and has a good handle, and holds a lot of water. But the top tray is kind of, blah - just that kind of corrugated metal mesh framed by solid metal strips on the external sides. I'd like to see a more "finished" product here too - I know most of these types of machines are similar in this regard, but one way to stand out in this class is a different designed drip tray.
The tray and the cover are independent of each other. You can slide both out, or just slide the tray out to empty waste water.
| Vibiemme Legs |
Lastly, the legs. Nice, but a major ball dropped here. The four "legs" of the machine are about an inch or two high, elevating the machine from the counter. They look great. Problem is, they're solid metal on the bottom, and the machine slides all over the counter. Vibiemme should really consider investing $0.50 in some good quality rubber stickies for the bottom of these legs, so the machine sticks like glue to the counter. That's one of the first modifications I made to the machine, now it stays put while in use. So Vibiemme, fix this glaring usability error. Heck, include a spare set or two of the rubber "stick on" feet in the box while you're at it. This machine is so heavy, I wore through my cheap add ons within the first month. I've since replaced them with better quality, quarter-sized rubber no-slip feet, and they work great. (ed.note - Vibiemme has already decided to address this).
First Use of the Vibiemme Domobar Super
I should point out that our test machine was "pre-used" by Stefano's Espresso Care before shipment, and I did notice some minor scratching on the control panel, and on the cup tray. I assume that new machines sold will not have this cosmetic flaw. This also meant the machine was prefilled (though partially emptied by running the steam tap for a while without refilling).
I gave the manual a perusal, and to be brutally frank, it's way too basic. It does cover how to first use the machine, how to fill it, how to know what the lights do, and how to program, but there's no instructions for how to clean it, how to maintain, or how to prepare the machine for transport. I hope this is corrected by Vibiemme.
I filled the reservoir up, put the machine into its "fill" state on the three way power switch, and the autofill went to work. Once that was done, I switched the machine to "on, and waited 30 minutes. It seemed to be ready after about 12 minutes, but I gave it extra time to really come up to temperature. I did a bleed on the wand, just in case the machine couldn't cope with false pressure, but it looks like Vibiemme has that problem licked too - the bleed didn't really change the state of the boiler's pressure reading much.
So I pulled my first test shots, again to season the machine, then got down to work.
First - it's very noisy. Lots of vibration from inside the machine, and the pump just rattles the counter. Cups literally slide across the drip tray when running it. This is an indication that a bit more sound and vibration dampening could be done to the interior of the machine. Not a big deal, but it's noisier than many HX machines I've tested (though not by much). (ed.note - Vibiemme moves fast! They plan to address this issue with the machine).
Second, I noticed with an appropriate flush of the HX and the group, this thing is capable of producing very good shots of espresso right out of the gate. The factory set boiler pressure was just fine for brewing good shots - my early Fluke temperature tests showed between 197F and 206F (a bit high) out of the grouphead. Controlling the "flush" you do before brewing makes a big difference.
When everything is working right on the machine, the shot quality is superb. The double basket can be stuffed with as much as 19g of coffee, but you can't really "updose" with this or any E61 machine - the way the dispersion screen sits down in the grouphead, tied in with the major thickness of the bayonet holder in the grouphead prevents you from even being able to lock the portafilter in place if you've overstuffed the filter basket. This is true on every E61 machine I've tested.
I've noticed the same problem on this machine that I've noted with every HX, E61 machine I've tested. If the boiler needs to cycle during a brew, you note a minor drop in the pump pressure. If the machine decides to auto-fill while brewing a shot, you notice a more substantial drop in the pump pressure. This is based on one thing - this, like 99% of the machines coming out of Italy, was designed for Euro spec power - 220V, lots of amperage. It's been modified to run on 110V, and does so reasonably well, but if the machine decides to auto fill or heat the boiler, the result is graphically noticeable in the streams coming out of the spouts. It'd be cool if machines like this had a brew priority" mode where no active heating of the boiler takes place while you're brewing a shot - that would be one way to get around the lower pump pressure.
Do I complain too much? Maybe - this Vibiemme does not display anything different in this regard than most machines I test - including the lower end Francis! Francis! machines, or the competing Isomacs and Expobars. But I'd love to see these machines designed and tested from the get go on 15amp, 110V service.
K, enough negatives. Proof's in the cup, and the Vibiemme Domobar Super is quite capable of delivering a superior shot of espresso. It gives you the tools - you just have to match it with a reasonable set of skills, a good grinder, and good beans and water. I paired this machine up with the Innova conical grinder and a Mazzer Mini, and the shot quality was bordering on god-shot status at times.
Hot water functionality is spot on. The hot water tap provides copious amounts of water, even enough to fill a 3 cup Bodum press pot without any serious temperature issues (though the initial pour is blazingly hot for a Bodum). What I typically do in that case is dispense the water into a frothing pitcher initially, then pour it into the Bodum. Ditto for americanos.
On programming and using the automatic buttons: Programmable amounts vary only a little bit depending on the fineness of grind. I thought it'd be more of a wide variance because of the e61 filling up, but nope - the flowmeter does an excellent job keeping a consistent brew. I haven’t done serious calibrated tests yet, but even when changing beans and grind, I notice maybe a 5ml variance in doses. The Automatic system on this machine is very well implemented.
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| Back Branding |
Logo with the website on the back of the machine.
| Drip tray |
Drip tray looks nice, but mesh is boring.
| 3way Switch |
3 way power switch - off, fill, on.
| Portafilters |
Comes with three portafilters - single spout, double, and pods.
Steaming Ability of the Vibiemme Domobar Super
This is one area where the machine absolutely shines. It's one of the fastest steaming machines I've ever tested, and that includes the La Marzocco Linea 110V machine I had, and the current La Marzocco GS3 I'm testing.
The three hole tip packs enough punch to get 6oz of milk from 40F to 155F in 12 seconds. In repeated testing. It's so powerful, you have to finesse the steam knob to not blow milk all over the place. Steam on this machine is so well implemented,it is now my new standard I measure other machines against.
Microfoam is a bit tricky at first because of how fast it is. I may experiment down the road for the long term report on changing the pressurestat settings lower (it's at about 1.25BAR right now), but once you get used to the speed, microfoaming is a breeze. Even doing 10, 12oz in a 20oz pitcher is fast - about 20 seconds or less. Well done Vibiemme!
As always, this is a first look. Anything and everything I've reported on is subject to revision and changes.
That said, I do like this machine a lot. I complain about power fluctuations and other nigglies, but to be frank, this is a problem endemic of almost all machines coming out of Italy, Spain and even Switzerland. One reason why you may have read me being all giddy and such about the forthcoming La Marzocco GS3 machine (at $4,500 projected price) is because that's the first machine I've ever found designed from the ground up for 110V, >15amp service. Almost every serious machine you can buy today wasn't designed for that. The Vibiemme is no exception.
But shot quality is superior, once you know how to deal with a heat exchanger's quirks. Steaming ability is absolutely first rate. Quality of many of the parts inside is also high end (though as in the case of vibration, noise, and the legs sliding all over the place, some things can be improved on). Hot water ability is near perfect, and overall, the machine is a real winner in this early look. The price points are good too - you can pick up a manual variant of this machine for just shy of $1100, making it one of the cheapest machines in this class.
I also want to note that the machine is UL certified for home and office use, but also for light commercial use. This is important, because I do believe it can do fine service in a restaurant as an occasional machine.
So there we have it - a nice HX, E61 machine from Vibiemme. In some cases, it has become CoffeeGeek's new standard setting machine in our lab. As we go through the process of the Detailed Review, we'll look at how it stands up to multiple shots, being on all day, use in semi-commercial settings, and even a small focus group or two. We'll put it head to head with other HX E61 equipped machines, and even the La Marzocco GS3. But early on, this looks to be a winning product.
The Vibiemme Domobar Super comes in a wide variety of choices, from a Manual (lever E61 operated) unit in black for a MAP of $1,379, right on up to the high end automatic stainless steel model (tested) for an MAP of $1,699. In between there's a manual stainless steel model, black and stainless steel semi auto models, and the automatic also in black. Please note these are MAP pricing as of May 15, 2007. Dealers may sell for less, or more, depending on the Euro's fluctuation against the US dollar..
This machine is available from www.1st-line.com .
About the coffee we use for testing We exclusively use Intelligentsia Coffee for all the product evaluation and testing we do on CoffeeGeek. As one of the United States' best artisan roasters, Intelligentsia features a wide range of ever changing, Direct Trade coffees, limited edition award winning beans, organics and highly respected blends designed for great espresso and brewed cups. They ship throughout North America, so give them a try today.