Versalab M4, current thoughts?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
Alan
Supporter ♡

#1: Post by Alan »

I have an opportunity to upgrade my current espresso setup after many years which is a stepless Macap M4 and an Astra Gourmet HX machine. I'll start with the grinder and eventually do the espresso machine.

Over the last decade I always kind of thought if I were to get a truly good grinder I'd get a Versalab which had basically pioneered the grind-through into the portafilter concept 15 years ago.

I'm interested in low or no retention in the grinder and a nice distribution in the portafilter with a minimum of fuss and the current Versalab seems to offer that from recent videos I've seen, but after spending a week reading back on this forum everyone seems to be getting Monolith, Lagom, Weber, Niche, etc.

What's the current set of opinions on Versalab, and why aren't they a popular choice? I know very early on there were some issues but they seem to have been corrected. Is it just a general trend in tastes away from the hybrid conical/flat burr set in favor of other burr sets that give more desirable flavor nuance? Is it style of the machine and lack of ability to tweak operation?

ira
Team HB

#2: Post by ira »

When I started 13 years ago, it was high on my radar, but the seemingly horrible to non-existent customer service along with belt slipping, stalling and alignment issues scared me off, probably the most serious mistake I've made in my journey. Then it got quiet for years till ii came back as a M4. By that time there were other quite good grinders and a working M4 is no longer a game changer like a working M3 would have been. The few people here who have commented on theirs have all been positive. The burrs in the VS are considered quite good, but the selection is limited if you want to try alternate burrs. You get what you get and that's about it. Depending on what you're looking for, it might be the best possible choice.

Ira

Again, in my observations from this forum, never seen one, should have bought one when they were around $1100 or $1400 when I started. I think all the issues that I was concerned about back then have been handled.

User avatar
Jeff
Team HB

#3: Post by Jeff »

DRM burrs showed well for the roasts commonly used in the Titan grinder project around 10 years ago. A Cimbali recently sold at a good price. The Versalab is enjoyed by many, including some that have taken the time to compare with the modern flats.

I think the flat-burr "fad" is being driven by those exploring the boundaries of espresso from light roasts. I think it is being amplified by those who "want the best", no matter if it is best for them or not. I do know of a handful of the people whose tastes I respect holding on to a conical in addition to their modern flat.

baldheadracing
Supporter ♡

#4: Post by baldheadracing »

FWIW, Frank (Terranova) suggests his Titus grinder (DRM burr) for darker roasts. For lighter roasts he has the Nautilus grinder (98mm flat burr).

Of course, both grinders can grind coffee no matter what the roast level, but it is a question of playing to the strengths of currently-available burrsets.
- bigger flat burr makes always better grinding result than smaller one - H. Lee

Auctor

#5: Post by Auctor »

I found this to be helpful during my initial research:

https://www.meticulist.net/blog/best-si ... er-options

I think there are two basic truisms in grinder lore:

1) Anything above $2500 will likely have marginal taste differences, and not objectively "better"
2) Because of #1, focus on the workflow, aesthetics, and reputation that best fit your needs.

Alan (original poster)
Supporter ♡

#6: Post by Alan (original poster) »

Thanks very much for the thoughtful replies and that link. Sounds like I can't really go wrong at my level of skill and taste with any of the choices.

Quester

#7: Post by Quester »

I've had the Versalab M4 beside a KafaTek MAX, KafaTek MC4, EG-1 (no longer own), and Niche. Here are a few pros and cons for the Versalab.

PROS
The best workflow, by far, of the grinders listed. No RDT, no WDT. Just grind, tap, and tamp. It's a joy to use.
The unique design spreads the grinds around radially very evenly. In some ways, it's better than after doing WDT with the other grinders. The shots flow more consistently with it than any other grinder in the above list.
It has decent clarity and nice mouthfeel.
It's reasonably fast--15s for 20g.
It feeds every bean with ease because of the two-stage design.


CONS
It's very loud compared to the KafaTek grinders--and slightly louder while grinding than the Niche.
The plastic top to limit popcorning is a bit fiddly and seems like a cheap afterthought.
Although the grounds are beautifully spread radially around the portafilter, there's a donut-like mound that requires a tap before tamping. If your tap is off, the grounds can end up slightly uneven.
When I got the M4, it had a bit of a jamming issue with a few beans. I sent it back, and John did some mods. It's been great since then. I assume all of the M4s built after that incorporate the tweaks he did for me.

In terms of customer service, there's sometimes a slight delay, but John has always responded and addressed issues.

cmin

#8: Post by cmin »

Quester wrote: The best workflow, by far, of the grinders listed. No RDT, no WDT. Just grind, tap, and tamp. It's a joy to use.
The unique design spreads the grinds around radially very evenly. In some ways, it's better than after doing WDT with the other grinders. The shots flow more consistently with it than any other grinder in the above list.
This is pry the main pro owners have, obviously it's great in cup, but in workflow/ease of use, no grinder is remotley near as easy to use. Literally grind, possibly tap and tamp. Even the Monolith is finicky as hell on your wdt, and still need RDT or its a static nightmare. I'm thinking of ordering a M4 after this year, talked to one owner that has a EG1 and Mono and still preferred the Versalab.

I do remember all the initial issues way back, like years ago but that seems of of been long sorted out since.

dockoelboto

#9: Post by dockoelboto »

Interested in the M4. Overall seems like a great option. One concern is noise. I'd be coming from a Niche, which overall isn't bad. The 530am grinding can be an issue in my household. I just want to make sure it isn't too loud. Anyone comment on noise? Especially compared to the Niche?

Thanks!

Plinyyounger

#10: Post by Plinyyounger »

If I decide to go with a high priced SD again This will be it. I've been in contact with the developer and appreciate what they have made. Love the workflow and the combo burrs. Won't do a large flat burr again, love my 64mm version.
Bought a Max, used a Max, then sold the Max. We are splitting hairs.