I bought the Freshroast as a backup, after my Hearthware Precision failed on its 55th roast, and after an unused Hearthware Gourmet I got from a friend as my initial backup melted (!) on its first roast. Now, my fixed HWP gathers dust, and this is the roaster I use. Here‘s why:
Inexpensive, but not cheap. Instead of being crammed with unreliable features like the Hearthwares, the Freshroast leaves out everything that can go wrong. The motor is smaller and sturdier. The smaller heating element is spaced far enough from the case and other components to prevent problems (there is almost no heat build up in the unit‘s base, even after repeated roasts). There are no electronics, just a mechanical timer and a line voltage thermostat. Finally, there are no seals or tricky interlocks; the roasting chamber and lid assembly simply sit in sleeves. The thing seems practically fail safe, and I‘ve heard of no reliability issues.
There is a very slight flaw in the chaff collector. The intake grill is a little too finely spaced, so a few of the larger chaff pieces remain in the roasting chamber.
In general, one can roast 2 ounces (55 grams) of coffee by weight at a time. This doesn‘t sound like a lot, but the roast is so fast that one can do 4 roasts, or a 1/2 pound, in 30 minutes without any problem. So the "throughput" capacity of the Freshroast is about twice of the Hearthwares, and nearly as good as the Alpenrost. Moreover, lots of fast roasts means lots of bean and blend variety. At a street price of around US $60, that‘s a tremendous deal.
The machine is whisper quiet, which is great since one needs to carefully watch the roast. On my machine, the first crack starts at about 1 min 20 secs and ends at 2:10. After this, one has to attend, and be ready to stop the roast manually (by turning the timer to "cool"). City roast is at about 2:25, the second crack starts at 2:40 and ends, with the beans at an oily Vienna roast, at about 3:05. So all the useful roast stages are traversed inside 40 seconds. Moreover, the fast roasting continues for about 5 to 10 seconds after the machine is set to cool. The roast process is so fast that one can literally see the beans go from cinnamon to chocolate.
Nevertheless, I find this machine a lot more pleasant to use than the Hearthwares, since it is so much faster and quieter. For me, the Hearthwares made roasting a chore, while with the Freshroast, it‘s enjoyable.
Unlike most appliances, the instructions that come with the machine are excellent.
Here‘s the rub. The microprocessor on the Hearthware Precision gives a consistent roast time after time, and almost eliminates the learning curve. With the Freshroast, consistent roasts are difficult to impossible, and there is a learning curve for achieving quality.
That being said, the Freshroast produces a brighter, more strongly aromatic and complex, but slightly lighter bodied cup than the others. One can roast quite dark, and still retain a lot of acidity and regional aromas; so it‘s better to make ones roasting errors a little to the dark side.
After six weeks of use (about 60 roasts), I‘m still learning some tricks. For instance, one can mellow out a roast by going from 2 oz to 1 1/2 oz (40 - 45 grams), I especially recommend this for funky coffees like monsooned Indians or Ethiopian Ghimbi. Contriwise, one can amplify the taste of a subdued blend by roasting 2 1/2 ounce (65 - 70 gram) lots.
I use the Freshroast for espresso, and am very happy with it. But if you want to avoid the occasional taste misadventure, and value consistent, mellow roasts more than a quiet, reliable, and inexpensive roaster, you should consider another model.