La Cimbali M32 Classic 2-group, Gaggia Classic & Espresso, La Pavoni Pro
Can a Nuova Simonelli Oscar stand up to a tough, side-by-side comparison test with other consumer & professional machines? Come see how it did.
Positive Product Points
Good heat control
Large, insulated boiler
Portafilter design & finish
Inconspicous on counter top
Large drip tray
Self priming pump
Negative Product Points
Water reservoir is hard to remove
Water reservoir is difficult to fill in-place
O-ring & one-way valve in water reservoir look like points of future problems
No hot water wand
Steam valve knob & wand are on left side, inconvenient to use
Portafilter mounts to the left putting the handle too near the hot steam wand
Ridges in filter basket make tamping problematic
Replacement parts and accessories are very expensive
Group temp stability is difficult to maintain
I'd just taken delivery of a nearly new Nuova Simonelli Oscar that I purchased on eBay for the ridiculously low price of $350 plus shipping. I invited some people over for a top gun machine test. My neighbor came over to compare my gear; Gaggia Classic & Espresso, Nuova Simonelli Oscar, La Pavoni Professional, La Cimbali M32 Classic 2-group. We used his home roasted espresso blend (Yergacheffi & Antigua 50/50, 4 day old) & my week old espresso blend (pretty much all the little bits of green beans thrown in the TurboCrazy & roasted to a light Vienna). We ran the Styrofoam cup test on each to determine where 200F was & pulled all shots as close to this mark as possible. Both blends were freshly ground on the same machine. All shots were doubles & tamped @30 lbs.
All five machines made pretty much the same flavors in the cup. There was very little difference between the neighbors blend & mine. The careful selection of blends for espresso is debatable, when dark roasted most of the varietals flavors are dissipated & the roast itself imparts the biggest flavor influences.
Now my opinions on the Oscar.:
It's a nice (BIG) machine, large boiler, good quality parts internally. Cheap looking plastic case (looks sort of like a Krups) & the water reservoir looks like a nightmare. The O-ring seal & plastic one-way ball valve looks like they were designed to pour water into the machine. It's a pain in the butt to get the reservoir out & an even bigger pain to fill in place (try pouring from a pitcher held at shoulder height into an opening the size of a silver dollar). I wonder why NS built it this way when everyone else is using the plastic bucket & rubber tube approach so effectively? Plus, there's no way to visually determine the reservoir's water level (the Oscar owner must rely on an electrical switch to know when the tank needs refilling). I did like the portafilters (nice & heavy & nicer chrome job than Gaggia & Rancilio), but hated the filter baskets with their multi-internal ridges. Thankfully the Gaggia filters are a perfect fit & it looks like the Gaggia filters have a finer perforation that the Oscar filters (a good thing). Oh, and the Gaggia portafilters also are a perfect fit plus they're a LOT cheaper than the NS' ($50 vs. $90).
Would I buy another Oscar? Definitely, especially if it was priced less than $500! Did it outperform the others? Not for one or two shots, but with the exception of the more expensive La Cimbali M32 Classic 2-group, it was easier to pull successive quality shots. The larger boiler may have played a bigger roll here than did the HX. I'd be curious to see an Oscar compared to a Gaggia Classic or Silvia with a PID. I'd expect the results to be consistent between the three, with the much larger & well insulated boiler of the Oscar countering the PID's technical edge.
When you can get a $900+ machine for $350 what is there negative to say? If the nice lady who sold me this machine reads this I want to say, "Thank you nice lady!" Good deals can be had on eBay if you're willing to take a chance - somtimes you win big & sometimes you buy trouble.