It's been about two years since I initially wrote this review. A lot has changed in terms of my espresso appreciation and my experience in that time. Would I rate this product as highly today as I did two years ago?
Probably not, but with a caveat - I've gotten better, my chosen equipment has gotten better. This machine still produces the same good shot it did two years ago. I still use the Master Digital just about every day to make one americano. My employees use it everytime they are in the office working. Others who visit marvel at the device, and rave about the coffee, espresso, and cappuccino it produces. That says something.
I should also note that when this machine first came out, it was listed at $1025. That price was reduced last year to $899 MSRP, and can be found for as low as $849 if you shop around.
Wear and tear over two years
I have had maintenance work done on this unit - had to - it was leaking all over the place. And yours truly was the espresso tech that did the work. I had to replace the boiler gasket, and it was a daunting task for me, I am not mechanically inclined.
The process was a bit difficult, but I have to say the folks at Baratza came through in a stellar manner. The product was out of warranty, but they sent me the replacement gasket and spent 45 minutes on the phone with me, walking me through the process step by step. It was a bit difficult and not something I'd recommend to everyone, but like the old saying goes, if I can do it, anyone can.
The gasket issue is not common. Baratza reports at total of four warranty returns on the Master Digital out of 1000s sold in the past 2 and a half years, and two of those were for defective displays. We've brewed 2358 coffees on our brewer (so says the display), and besides the gasket issue, it is still going strong today and looks good doing it.
It does help that we regularly clean it and maintain it well. If you just ignore the maintenance on your machine, it's possible that it will break down. Maintenance goes with any espresso machine hand in hand, and this is especially true about the super autos.
Since I wrote this review, I've had the opportunity to evalue two other super automatics in my home (a Schaerer Opal and a Saeco Vienna Deluxe), and I have to say it seems you get what you pay for when it comes to these $$$ devices. The Vienna Deluxe is a $600 super auto, and couldn't outperform my (at the time) 1.5 year old Solis Master Digital, which, by the way was past due for a cleaning cycle. The Vienna Deluxe is a nice machine with a mechanical-programmable brew volume dial and the Saeco Rapid Steam feature definitely is nice (almost instant steam), but the hyper-tuning that you can do with the Master Digital produces better shots.
The Schaerer, a $3,000 (Cdn) machine with a dual boiler system inside, and all metal exterior is a machine marketed for light commercial use. I've had a chance to test the Schaerer on several occasions, including twice in my home. It's been up and down. I've gotten bad shots on it at a trade show, and great shots at a trade show. In the home, I really started to see some serious problems with the machine, and the limitations it has because of the conversion to 110V. For one, steam power was anemic. Another problem I noticed more and more in the home is the excessive sourness of the shots, and how cold they seemed in the cup. I loved the amount of "control" you have over the shot process - temperature adjustments, volume adjustments, grinder adjustments - but Schaerer needs to do some work optimizing a machine for home use.
Further update: I've also had a chance to evaluate two other dual boiler machines designed for 110V service: a Capresso Jura S9 super automatic, and a La Marzocco Linea single group dual boiler machine, custom made to work on 110V. The Capresso has produced some of the best "super auto" shots I've had to date. The 110V La Marzocco shows that 110V is possible with a dual boiler system, and the anemic steam performance by the Opal shows the Swiss need to do some reworking of their system for the North American market.
Two years later do I still recommend the Solis Master Digital 5000? You'll have to read my re-written conclusion to find out.