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Solis Master 5000 Digital - Alex S's Review
Posted: January 25, 2003, 5:42am
review rating: 7.3
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
Solis Master 5000 Digital
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Arrow The Solis Master 5000 Digital has 9 Reviews
Arrow The Solis Master 5000 Digital has been rated 8.13 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Solis Master 5000 Digital reviews have been viewed 39,290 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Myr 8.50
Craig Shields 8.50
MYR 8.33
Alex S 7.33
Michael Douma 4.66

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 9.0
Manufacturer: Solis Quality: 8
Average Price: $850.00 Usability: 8
Price Paid: $800.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: www.caffeselect.co.uk Aesthetics 10
Owned for: 1 month Overall 9
Writer's Expertise: Just starting Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: None.
Bottom Line: Buy it. You won't be disappointed.
Positive Product Points

Excellent control over grind fineness, quantity, water temp, quantity. Good construction. Nice to look at!

Negative Product Points

No bypass for alternative coffee. "Optional" frothing attachment is a necessity. Steam wand has limited movement (but so do most!)

Detailed Commentary

My first encounter with this machine was on the coffeegeek website. I recommend reading the "Detailed Review" first.

This machine does not appear to be on sale at any high-street retail outlets in the UK. After some hunting I found it at caffeselect.co.uk and coffeetech.co.uk (the latter being the Solis distributor for the UK). I went for the former, who quoted me 500 including the frothing aid and 2kg of beans (their own roast). This was not their normal price, but I was debating between the Solis machine and the Gaggia Syncrony Digital, on sale at House of Fraser for 500, so they agreed to match the price.

On delivery, my first impression of the machine was its aesthetics. Of course, having considered the Gaggia equivalent, I wanted to be sure I had made the right choice, and I was not disappointed. Whilst the Gaggia which I played with in the shops felt flimsy and cheap, the Solis was well-constructed and reassuring. Moreover, the Gaggia is very definitely a one-sided machine, in that it must be sat at the right hand side of the countertop. (Just look at the shape.) But the Solis is symmetrical, and as long as you can occasionally get access to the grounds bin at the left hand side, it will sit happily anywhere on the countertop.

Set-up instructions were straightforward enough, and within minutes I was brewing. Remarks on this bit: Filling up the water reservoir is best done with a jug. Although the shaped reservoir has feet, they are for engaging with the machine, and when stood in a sink the reservoir tilts forwards so that you can't quite get it full. Additionally, with the recommended 1.8 litres of water, it's quite an operation to lift it into place. They may as well have said "fill it as full as it'll go, with a jug". The bean tray was very easy to fill. Maybe I shouldn't have put the full 300g of beans in place, as I won't get through them so fast. I've read several reviews saying that the beans sometimes get stuck on the way to the grinder, and it sounded rather complicated to get them moving. In fact, all they are referring to is the bean tray itself, which has an extremely shallow slope down towards the grinder. I'll be astonished if all those beans make their way on their own, but it'll be literally a 2 second job to lift the lid and shift them. Before filling the bean tray I noticed a small shred of plastic in the grinder opening - the sort of thing you get when you turn polythene on a lathe. It was tiny, and probably would have caused no problems, but I removed it with tweezers nevertheless.

Turning on the machine, it took a good few minutes to warm up, during which time I primed it (pumping water through the boiler for the first time) as instructed in the manual. Being a Swiss machine, the language was set to German, and one cannot access the settings menu even to change languages until after the warm-up has completed. When I did change languages, the menu was very intuitive. "Enter" means accept the current selection. "Escape" means go back up a level through the menu tree. And "Up" and "Down" mean change the current value up or down. All these four buttons double up as functional controls during coffee making, eg "Enter" is the same as "Start/Stop steaming mode". The only non-intuitive thing about the whole process is that you have to press-and-hold the Enter/Steam button for several seconds to enter the menu. The "-and-hold" is not explicitly stated in the instruction manual. But once you know, you know.

I noticed that the "total coffees" counter, also accessed through the menu, was already up to 2, but a manufacturer's note in the bean tray said that the grinder is tested with real coffee before sale, so I guess this is normal. (How the shred of plastic got in there afterwards, I'm not so sure.) I duly made my first coffee (which the manual instructs you not to drink).

On starting the first coffee brewing cycle, I was alarmed at the sound of the grinder. I had the radio on, just behind me, rather loud in fact, but the grinder drowned it out completely. I didn't time how long this went on for, but on this first cycle it must have been about 30 seconds, where as subsequent cycles are much less than 10 seconds. This seems to indicate that a lot of coffee sits between the grinder and the brew unit. But I refuse to believe that a machine which claims to grind fresh for each cup has such a queue between grinding and brewing. Even so, it is alarming that the instructions state that a change in the grinder setting will take 3 to 4 coffees to have an effect, and all these factors point towards a queue of ground coffee waiting to be brewed. I can only guess that this is a design requirement of the super-automatic.

Having discarded the first coffee, I brewed a second time. There are three sizes of coffee to choose, with a button for each. They all grind the same quantity of coffee; the only difference is the quantity of water put through. Somewhat strangely, the order of the buttons on the display is 2, 1, 3, where 1 is the shortest coffee. However since each can be programmed independently, this is not a big issue! The grind was much shorter second time around, and the coffee which came out looked and tasted great. I am no coffee afficionado, so I refer you to the detailed reviews for taste tests. However, for ease of use it was perfect.

After brewing a third coffee, I looked into the grounds bin and found only one spent puck. I take it there is a queue of pucks on the way out. The puck was also disappointingly sloppy and wet - I had expected something more solid. Maybe I just have to grind a little finer.

For the third coffee, I decided to froth some milk. The frothing aid was an absolute must for this. Although the supplier had said they would supply the very same aid as in the CoffeeGeek review, the one I received was an all-plastic construction. Nevertheless it did the job admirably. My one gripe was with the steaming wand itself. It has a very limited movement, and it was quite an operation to extract the jug from underneath the wand without spillages. Of course, the frothing attachment makes this that much worse. To move the jug in the recommended circular motion is virtually impossible. Thankfully, not is it really necessary, as it does a very good job anyway.

There were two parts of the construction with which I was not 100% happy. The steaming wand itself felt a little delicate, and I was afraid to use the requisite force to push the frothing aid into place, or pull it off again, for fear of bending or breaking it. I expect it would have been fine, but there was enough give in it to make me a little concerned. The other part was the moveable dispensing unit, which moves both forwards/backwards and up/down. The upwards travel is not as great as I expected, and indeed not as great as the ratchet notches on the sides would suggest. (i.e. I can still see an inch of notches when the unit is fully raised.) Perhaps something is getting stuck, or perhaps that is just the way it is. I can fit my Starbucks Venti mug underneath with no difficulties, but a glass as suggested in the manual might be a bigger deal.

After steaming, it took quite a while for the boiler temperature to return to brewing temperature. This can be speeded by pumping water through to the wand, using the water/steam knob on the side.

Little is said in the manual about day-to-day cleaning. After frothing milk, it is VITAL to dispense some steam or water from the steam wand, as you will see when the jet comes out milky at first. One wouldn't want that left inside the machine! Likewise the frothing aider itself MUST be dismantled into its two parts, at least by removing the outer, to get all the milk out.

The machine comes configured with a 5-hour power-down, which was longer than I needed. I have set it to one hour. After power-down, one simply has to press the "Enter" button to begin warm-up, and in a few minutes the machine is ready to brew. When no coffee has been dispensed for an hour, it powers down again. There is no clock on the machine, and consequently no automatic power-up in the morning. I press "Enter" on the way to the bathroom, and when I come back I'm ready to brew. If you must have a timed power-up every morning, simply buy one of those plug/timers, and set it to "ON" for all 24 hours, with one unit "OFF" just before you want it in the morning. The coffee machine will be re-booted just in time.

Other features I haven't commented on are: setting of grind fineness, grind quantity, water temperature and water quantity. All seem to perform exactly as expected.

Overall I am very happy with the purchase. You will notice that I have said very little about the coffee quality. I will leave that to the experts, and I'm not one! But it tastes good to me. I bought the machine for its ease of use, and it has proven to be very easy to use. It does exactly what I expected of it, it looks great, friends are impressed by it, and I would purchase it again. I would prefer if the steam wand had extended slightly further away from the machine body, or been higher up. On aesthetics/ease of use the Gaggia equivalent machine seems to win on this item only. However overall I am glad I chose the Solis machine, and would do so again.

Buying Experience

Started out great, when my inquiry email was answered in hours, and they matched the price I was being quoted for the Gaggia equivalent. However, I had to pay by cheque (post) rather than credit card (phone). They promised to dispatch my machine as soon as the cheque arrived, and then when it didn't arrive on the appointed day they told me they were waiting for the cheque to clear. I got the machine eventually a day later than expected, but I don't expect to have to chase an order that many times! Price was good, but since it is not available in the high street, I have little to compare to. The other vendor quoted 550, (ie 50 more), so when my supplier told me they were doing me a deal to save me 200 to 300, my view of their professionalism went down in a big way. They claimed to be sending me the "exact" froth aider shown in the CoffeeGeek detailed review, but although it works just as well, it is a 100% plastic rather than plastic/metal composite model. I was initially impressed by the price-match, and would be happy to buy again from them now that I know what level of service to expect. However I was disappointed that I did not receive the level of service I was led to expect originally.

Three Month Followup

Very few changes since my first impressions. It appears that the "Dregdrawer Full" indicator is triggered purely after every so-many shots have been brewed, and bears no relationship to the actual bin contents. No matter - if you ignore the indicator it will brew anyway. Grinding is very noisy, but doesn't last long. The sound of the grinder in our house usually leads to calls of "do me a coffee too" from anybody else in the house! I would happily recommend this machine to anybody, and if it was stolen tomorrow I'd replace it with the very same model.

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Posted: January 25, 2003, 5:42am
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