~quality HX for under $1K, ~sturdy build that's sensibly designed for DIY repair work, ~large boiler = fairly stable temp, ~easy to use (obvious buttons, pre-infuses) ~easy to clean, ~hot parts under plastic for reduced burn potential, ~comes with TWO portafilters, ~powerful, quick milk steaming.
Negative Product Points
~plastic appearance, ~no temp or pressure gauges, ~no water level indicator, ~14 grams/coffee max out the NS double basket, ~often set up for POD use requiring $25-45 conversion kit, ~low water indicator needs grace period so doesn't stop shot mid-stream, ~portafilter handles get hairline cracks (doesn't affect function), ~water tank fill hole the size of a silver dollar requiring use of funnel, ~when cold-starting requires opening steam wand to rise to correct temperature.
Oscar plus a Mazzer grinder provided drinkable espresso shots from day 1 and with the development of a routine the shots keep improving. Nothing mind-blowing yet, but i'm uber-picky and still have a lot of room to hone my home-barista skills.
Big improvement came with a double LM basket (triple just fits too) and warming up the machine for a full 30 minutes before use. I had read SO much about cooling flushes and water dances for HX machines that it took me a couple weeks with under-temp shots to discover that Oscar behaves better withOUT micromanaging. I do run an ounce of water thru if the machine has been sitting awhile. Aside from that, Oscar runs consistant back to back shots. If I don't rush weighing, dosing, and tamping Oscar is always waiting for me, not vice-versa.
It seems folks are turning up the heat /down the pressure on Oscar, which I may end up trying in future as it is easy to access all internal workings, but that will be after fully exploring stock potential. After talking with a nice N. Simonelli technician it was clear that the POD set up is too suboptimal for ground coffee and the very simple (1 screw!) conversion is a must. By the way, I don't like how little head room there is in the NS double basket. The max seems to be exactly 14 grams/coffee before the screen/screw hit the puck? I haven't bothered with the single basket. The NS tech told me once a year put Oscar on its back left corner over the sink and support the "L-fitting" while unscrewing the bolt to drain the boiler. Easy!
The most annoying thing about Oscar is that you can't see how much water is in it without looking inside the machine YET when the water light comes on the shot stops mid-stream. It would be MUCH more sensible if the light came on a couple ounces before the machine stops pumping. NS portafilters run $85 plus shipping YET all 6 portafilter handles I've seen in person have small cracks in the plastic handles. No biggie if they weren't so pricey to begin with... It also seems reasonable for temperature and pressure gauges to come stock on $995 espresso machines, but perhaps people like to muddle around making their own :)
Oscar milk steaming is WONDERFUL. Perfect milk is as easy as falling off a log with the power and control available with this machine. The knob allows you to steam at whatever pace you require. I bought a 2 hole steam tip but much prefer the 4 hole stock tip.
So I love the Oscar machine. When it breaks I will almost certainly be able to fix it myself and I'm only a moderately handy gal. When you look inside I think you'll smile at it's build-quality. That said, to me Oscar looks more like a bread machine than an espresso machine. We've been laughing about making Oscar into a wood veneer art-machine. After using it every day for a month the plastic being SO easy to clean is pretty appealing tho... My stainless appliances are a PITA in comparison.
After reading all these Coffeegeek reveiws, you know every weensie down side there is to Oscar. The upside is that for under $1k you may not require upgrading. ever. unless it's for looks.
a discount restaurant supply chain in our area had Oscar on 75% off clearance when they stopped carrying high end equipment. the store was difficult to deal with, machines were dirty, missing parts, had no warranty, etc. BUT they were a great bargain at the time.
Nuova Simonelli has been terrific with parts and generous with technician time on the phone too. I am impressed with how much info the NS folks put online for us to use and order from. Minimum orders are $25 and shipping seems to start at $13.
Three Month Followup
8/08 update: still completely satisfied with purchase and have not adjusted factory settings as hasn't been necessary for BBCC coffees we love best. have noticed 2 small cracks at the corners of the plastic drip tray. plastic portafilter handle cracks have not worsened. 4 months after purchase: Having had long-staying houseguests and 3 parties of 30+ guests, we have used Oscar much more heavily than the 2 double shots per day that we expected. We so much enjoy several varieties that work best in lower temp. machines that we haven't turned up the temp from factory settings, but as soon as I tire of our new favorite (Blue Bottle Purosa P.N.G.) we'll move to higher temp and describe findings in next followup. We have found nothing new to add to the above review.
One Year Followup
My first review said 30 full minutes heat-up were required but Oscar heats up in more like 15-20 minutes if I vent the steam wand asap. The cracks on portafilter and drip tray haven't worsened. We moved closer to Blue Bottle and Purosa PNG and Diamontina single origins continue to be our favorites with Roman + Retrofit espresso blends being the backup plan. Daily use of 2 double-shots has been consistent and the machine is kept off except for mornings. Filtered water (not distilled) has always been used so we're ready for a de-scale/drain and will add to this review if anything of interest arises.