ECM Mechanika V Slim, review

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?
tom

#1: Post by tom »

I recently purchased an ECM Mechanika V Slim (abbreviated "Mech V Slim" henceforth). Aside from videos posted by vendors, I didn't see any detailed user reviews online so have decided to post my own here. This is a reflection on the machine after 2 weeks of ownership/use. Should I find the motivation, I intend to write a followup review after ~1+ year timeframe, or as warranted if impressions change.

The one line summary is that I am very happy with it. No complaints at all.

Context: I had a SBDU (Gaggia Classic) for almost a decade before I finally decided to upgrade. Why wait so long before upgrading? My decision to wait so long was not financially motivated, but more philosophical: as stated by others many times on this forum, the machine itself is outranked in importance by grinder, beans, and barista. I focused on improving the latter, until I finally felt it was the right time to upgrade the machine. I pair the ECM (and Gaggia before that) with a Quamar m80e (v2) grinder, which I am very happy with. I should point out that despite the Classic being my home machine for so long, I have for the last ~6 years had access to a nice DB machine paired with a Mazzer Mini at work (which, unlike at home, I only use for espresso, not milk drinks). So, the Classic is not my only point of reference with regard to this review, but it is my primary one.

Intended audience of this review: I am by no means an espresso expert (I consider myself an enthusiastic hobbyist). I am writing this review for people curious about the Mech V Slim and are interested in another owner's impressions/experience. Since I have not owned any other HX machines, the review can't accurately draw comparisons between similar machines. However, it may serve as a good reference for people in a similar situation to the one I found myself in: feeling that I had mastered a SBDU machine (at the level of Gaggia Classic or Rancilio Silvia), and looking to upgrade to a HX machine.

Why did I choose the Mech V Slim? I really wanted an E61 machine, and wanted to stay close to $1500USD, but decided to stretch upward a bit after looking at the range of HX machines. There were many candidates I considered (Lelit Mara, QM Andreja, VBM Domobar Junior, Profitec Pro 500, ...), but in the end, I narrowed it down to the Profitec Pro 500 PID or the ECM Mech V Slim which are priced near-identically. In the end, I ended up paying less than retail, so didn't drastically exceed my $1500 target. For a brief time, I considered DB machines, but decided that I would rather have a higher-end HX machine, than a lower-end DB machine given my requirements and usage. The most obvious difference between the Profitec Pro 500 PID or the ECM Mech V Slim is a PID on the former, and the higher-end ECM design/finish on the latter. So, in my view, it ultimately came down to a trade between these two things. Individual preferences may vary, but I opted for aesthetics/design over PID. (BTW: I am an engineer with a background in control systems, so I understand very well what a PID gets you, yet was not convinced to go that route.). For me, the "Slim" designation was not a major deciding factor. From my research, the Mech V Slim has basically the same internals as the full-width ECM Mechanika IV (vibe pump version with rotary knobs), but the width reduction is gained by orienting the boiler vertically instead of horizontally. My kitchen is not small, but I don't like appliances to bigger than they need to be. So, this machine fit the bill, but the Profitec Pro 500 would have also. My only reservation about buying the Mech V Slim was a concern that in person it might look "too slim" in a cartoonish way, and have a crowded feel. This turned out to be unfounded, as explained below.

First Impressions:

As it seems one expects from reading about ECMs, the machine is beautifully constructed. Wow, really, wow! After seeing the machine in person, I am smitten... any regrets about not getting the Profitec Pro 500 vanished; pictures make it look downright pedestrian in comparison (sorry, Pro 500 owners). Same goes for the Lelit Mara; the extra $$$ for the ECM compared to the Lelit Mara seem well spent. All the polished surfaces are mirror-like, without any warping, etc. The machine is nice and heavy, so it stays put when locking/unlocking the portafilter. Everything looks and feels good (even the rotary valves are oh-so-smooth in their operation).

The "Slim" aspect: As mentioned above, I had a slight concern that the Slim would look and feel undersized. This turns out to not be the case in person, and it doesn't strike me visually as an intentionally compact machine. I had measured beforehand so knew what dimensions to expect, but it wasn't a substitute for seeing the machine in person. It definitely has a more substantial stature than I expected from pictures, but it is also efficiently laid out so as to not look bulky in any way. Use is not "unpleasantly slim" -- I find it easy to steam milk and pull a shot at the same time without feeling crowded. In terms of the grouphead / hot water / steam wand layout, I think the main efficiency in space is gained by locating the hot water wand much closer to the brew lever than it would be on a full-width machine. It is not a problem for me to swing the hot water wand out of the way before a session, and swing it back when done. While not an issue for me, it may be for some: don't plan to position this machine with a wall against the right side, you definitely need a few inches of clearance to swing the hot water wand out of the way for operating the brew lever. Likewise, you need the usual clearance on the left to comfortably steam pitchers of milk. In short, my opinion is that it would make a great machine in large and small kitchens alike.


Observations on Operation and Usage:

My Typical Usage: I typically use the machine two sessions per day. The first session, I make two double shot milk drinks, and the second session I make one double shot (espresso or milk drink). Overall, I probably make 80% milk drinks, which is one of the reasons I wanted a HX machine. I would have probably upgraded to a SBDU E61 machine if I primarily drank espresso.

Warm up time: I have the machine plugged into a Wemo, which turns on 40 min before I use it. The machine is nice and hot at that point. The boiler comes up to pressure in as little as 15min, so warm up time might be reduced to as little as ~25min if one helps heat the grouphead with a flush. As I suspect most E61 machines with insulated boilers do, the machine really retains heat well. The grouphead is still too hot to touch comfortably up to ~1hr after the machine has been turned off. My second session of the day is usually ~1-2hr after the first. So, warmup is considerably quicker in the second session since the machine has the advantage of a warm start.

General experience: First disclaimer for the following comments is that I don't have a group thermometer installed, nor do I intend to in the immediate future (my approach is incremental in nature --- I want to see how good of a feel I can get for the machine without a thermometer, then incorporate one once I feel things have plateaued). Second disclaimer is that this is the first HX machine I've owned. So, the comments are probably most usefully viewed as a comparison between a Gaggia Classic (or comparable) and the ECM Mech V Slim (or comparable).

Bottom line is that the Mech V Slim is infinitely more consistent than my previous SBDU Gaggia Classic. In particular, even with a good grinder, shot times on the Classic would have variations of ~5sec when fixing output volume. In contrast, the Slim is extremely consistent, achieving to-the-second consistency in terms of shot times for other variables fixed. This makes it vastly easier to dial things in and achieve consistent results. Overall, I am very pleased with this aspect, but concede that the experience may have been similar with any other comparable HX machine.

In terms of brew temperature, I can't say anything quantitative without the group thermometer (though other measurements available online suggest good temp stability). I set the boiler pressure to ~1.1bar, and this seems to give satisfactory brew temperature after an appropriate cooling flush, with shots tasting consistently good. Perhaps the temperature nuances will take more time to fully comprehend, since I mostly make milk drinks.

Cooling Flush: As with all HX machines, a cooling flush is needed. After the initial 40min warmup, I generally flush ~8oz until the flash boiling stops, and then a little more. It is easy to incorporate into the routine, and I think the flushes on this particular machine are no different than for any other HX.

Noise: The machine is very quiet at idle, except a quiet click of the p-stat and a small hiss from the vacuum breaker valve every once in a while. Once everything is up to temp, the noise made while idling is quite negligible. The vibe pump that both fills the boiler and supplies the brew water is not terribly noisy, but not super quiet either. It is probably about as loud as the pump on my Gaggia Classic, so well within expectations.

p-stat deadband: The p-stat deadband seems very narrow according to the boiler pressure gauge. The fluctuations appear to be <0.1bar, and are almost unnoticeable on the pressure gauge and therefore narrower than I expected from a non-PID machine. I believe the p-stat is a standard Mater p-stat, but have not had to replace it so do not know the exact specs.

Steaming: In the first session of the day, I steam ~10oz of milk (at the same time) for the two drinks. Steaming is very fast. Usually I do the steaming as I pull the shot for the second drink, and the steaming is done shortly after the shot. I have not timed it, but I would guess steaming this volume takes <60sec. In any case, I have never had the feeling that I wished steaming was quicker. If I steam milk for one drink, then it is extremely fast, which makes it less forgiving to achieve the right texture. With a bit of practice, I am able to consistently achieve good micro-foam. I also was able to consistently achieve good micro-foam on my Gaggia Classic, but steaming time was drastically longer. So, speed is the main difference here if one has good technique. I think the steam is a bit wetter on the ECM machine than on my Classic, which I thought was strange. It might just be a misimpression because the steam volume is much greater, so therefore carries comparably more condensation with it. The perceived wetness doesn't make an appearance in the milk itself, which doesn't taste watered down.

Cleanliness: Overall, the machine is quite easy to clean, and doesn't make a mess with regular use. For example, one forum user complained about the ECM Classika having a powerful discharge, which sprayed water everywhere. I haven't had this experience with my machine. Here, one notices the "Slim" factor a bit: it is easy to drip water outside the drip tray when rinsing the portafilter. It is largely avoidable by paying attention to what you are doing, but I wonder whether a slightly larger drip tray on a non-slim machine would be more forgiving in this regard. In any case, everything comes clean with a quick rinse and wipe. I backflush with water every few days to help keep things clean, and haven't noticed anything getting oily in the first 2 weeks of ownership/use. I pulled the shower screen down to look behind the other day, and it was very clean behind.

Transition experience: Over the short timeframe of ownership, I have not had any problems with the machine. Perhaps it was the result of using the Gaggia Classic for so many years before upgrading (and therefore very much appreciating things like grind / dose / tamp consistency), but I found the transition to the Mech V Slim mostly easy and frustration free. This probably would have also been the case if I chose any comparable HX machine, so not a comment specific to the Mech V Slim, per se.

Closing thoughts: Is it worth the price? This is the central question for any upgrade. I am very happy with the machine at this moment. Time will tell whether the upgrade was really worth it. There is no doubt that the machine is more capable and consistent than the Gaggia Classic. However, the Classic had simplicity and durability going for it. After a decade, it still worked as well as it did new, with only minor maintenance over its life (the usual stuff: replacing thermostats, etc.). If the ECM proves similarly reliable, then yes, I will say it was worth it. Is this a good "first machine"? As with most comparable HX machines, or DB machines, it is quite expensive compared to entry-level machines such as the Classic or Silvia. The money buys you features and capabilities that may only be fully appreciated if one spends a lot of time with an entry-level SBDU machine first. Both are capable of making good espresso drinks, but the latter will be a lot cheaper which might be an important consideration if it is your first setup.

Eiern

#2: Post by Eiern »

Congrats on the new machine!

I have used the rotary pump+joystick Technika for a few years after I first had the Classika PID. I really like it, have considered upgrading to one of them expensive monsters but have not felt it would justify the cost. I too went grinder first, an my EK43, now EK43S, serves me well both espresso and brew and a new machine wouldn't make that much of a difference if I have good beans, grinder, water and skills.

I do not miss the PID although I do have the group thermometer. The PID cut the large wattage heating element in and out about every second which caused lightbulbs in our flat to flicker all the time as I don't have a dedicated circuit for just the espresso equipment. Temp seem stable enough on the HX and I do like the fact that instead of heating up 6dl water and pulling shots from that I'm only heating up a small amount straight from the water tank. I used to start every Classika session by pulling about 6dl water through it to know I had fresh water, still it would stay at close to boiling temp for many many hours. Now I only do the flushings and that should do it considering the first flush is a pretty long + short one.

I could have lived without the thermometer (and might if I get the pressure control handle with the pressure gauge) the flushing is pretty consistent and the brew group should level it out. I do however see on the thermometer that often one full hour is needed for it to reach a stable full temp (idling 100-100,5 degrees C) and I would also not turn the machine off between sessions, I turn mine on before lunch and off after dinner. If it's on before breakfast and off after a late dinner then I might turn off but it require a lot of energy to heat it up and parts expand/contract from heat etc.

I do like using the red cafelat silicone gasket instead of the black rubber ones, so might consider that in about a year or less when the black get hard. I also like the IMS E61 Shower screen that has holes cut out of a solid plate rather than the layered mesh. Keeps itself clean better. I do a water flush after every session, a detergent bath of screen+basket and bottomless portafilter and sometimes dispersion screw and then sometimes a detergent backflush.

Also be careful not over tightening the steam or hot water valves, the steam wand on my Classika started to leak a bit pretty soon as I think I tightened it too much. It only needs to stop the steam bleed and no more.

Enjoy your new machine! Should make great coffee and last a loong time with care.

Andrey G.

#3: Post by Andrey G. »

Thanks for the review, Tom. I have almost identical needs and trying to choose between Mechanika Slim and Profitec P300. Did you consider P300 at all? By all accounts P300 is the best choice for me as the first espresso machine and PID makes much more sense there... but I fell in love with the mean and classy look of M Slim (and wouldn't mind manual rituals like flushing). How is your experience with the machine so far?
I set the boiler pressure to ~1.1bar, and this seems to give satisfactory brew temperature after an appropriate cooling flush, with shots tasting consistently good.
How did you justify the change? What was wrong with factory defaults? Is there any correlation between gauges and temperature of the water in the head? Did you use a group thermometer (def don't want this ugly thing to spoil the look)? How do you determine time between first and second shot?

tom (original poster)

#4: Post by tom (original poster) »

Andrey G. wrote:I have almost identical needs and trying to choose between Mechanika Slim and Profitec P300. Did you consider P300 at all? [...] How is your experience with the machine so far?
I am still very happy with the machine, so don't have much to add to my review. I am able to get consistently good tasting drinks, without frustration. I only considered the P300 briefly, but was more drawn to E61 machines. Another factor was that I drink mostly milk drinks, so steam capacity was important. The ECM machine has a much bigger steam boiler than the P300, so presumably helps there. However other posts reported that P300 steam was fine for home use, so it might not have been an issue in practice.
Andrey G. wrote: How did you justify the change? What was wrong with factory defaults? Is there any correlation between gauges and temperature of the water in the head? Did you use a group thermometer (def don't want this ugly thing to spoil the look)? How do you determine time between first and second shot?
This was the default setting, and it gave good results out of the box so I stuck with it. Higher pressure in the boiler means higher temperature, so heat is exchanged more quickly in the HX. The result is that higher boiler pressure means brew temp climbs more quickly after a flush. I don't use a group thermometer, and go by taste (about a decade of temperature surfing on my old machine gives me some experience in this department). The caveat is that I prefer more forgiving (medium-dark) roasts and drink mostly milk drinks. If I were drinking more straight shots made with more delicate roasts, I would consider adding a group thermometer to have more control over temperature reproducibility. But, as it is, I get repeatable good results, so don't feel compelled to address something that isn't broken. As for my flush routine, I don't do any particular gymnastics, but have naturally evolved the routine to what produces good results for the beans I use. I can elaborate here in case you're interested:

0. Have machine start on a wifi switch >40min before I plan to use it.
1. After long idle, I flush into cups until a few seconds after flash boiling stops (this flush also serves to warm the cups).
2. Moving quickly (but not frantically), I grind/weigh/tamp and pull the first shot. While shot is being pulled, I fill a 12oz pitcher with 6oz of milk.
3. First shot finishes. Knock out puck, rinse portafilter (this serves as short flush).
4. Again, moving quickly (but not frantically), I grind/weigh/tamp and pull the second shot. While that is going, I steam the milk, which takes <30sec, so finishes just before the shot ends.
5. Pour some mediocre latte art, knock out puck, empty drip tray, brush group and water backflush.

I am not a slave to a clock, but I start a stopwatch at the first flush and let it run until the end. Hence, there is some consistency with respect to the timing of this sequence. This allows me to fine-tune things. It sounds more complicated in writing than it is in practice, where it amounts to basically doing things at a natural pace that is consistent from day to day. Even without a strict routine, you'll still get very good coffee, but it is a hobby of mine, so I probably go a bit overboard.

Andrey G.

#5: Post by Andrey G. »

Thank you for such detailed answer!

kaffeehaustante

#6: Post by kaffeehaustante »

Great info, appreciate the time you put into this review :!: . For similar reasons, I arrived at the "slim" as the final choice between the same contestants.
Glad to see my decision making process validated.
Ordered my Ceado grinder today: - now, all I need is a discount on the slim. It's not about the few $$ up or down, but it's a sport, right?

tom (original poster)

#7: Post by tom (original poster) »

I mentioned in my original review that I'd give a 1+ year update, and someone requested via DM that I do so. So, here's the one year update:

Not much to add to my initial review and what's already been said. I remain happy with the machine, and it has worked as expected for the last ~15 months since I bought it. I've run rpavlis water through it since the beginning, and haven't had to do any major maintenance. It consistently gives me good results.

Now for a bit of self-reflection how my habits have changed: after upgrading to a HX, my routine is considerably simpler/faster than it was for a SBDU. So, my consumption habits have changed accordingly in the sense that I almost exclusively make cappuccinos. I prefer them over straight espressos, and they are easy to make with a HX; no wait time to steam milk like I had to do for the SBDU. My go-to beans are Caffe Lusso's GMC, Dragonfly's Crema Dolce, or Black & White's Classic. These are all pretty easy to pull with the Slim, and I rarely get sink shots except on occasion when I am dialing in a new bag. I don't use a group thermometer, but have considered getting one. I do have ~10 years of experience with espresso, so have a pretty good feel for going by taste, hence the reason why I haven't sprung for a thermometer yet. It probably helps that my go-to blends are forgiving, and adding milk makes them even more so.

The reason why I am saying all of this is because there is a lot of ongoing dialogue about HX vs DB, which could be relevant for people considering a Slim. A lot of people on this site will advise DB, but there are proponents of HX for good reasons too (Best HX Espresso Machine). I find that my habits make me quite satisfied with a HX, so I'd happily recommend the Slim to anyone with similar drinking habits. I don't find myself wanting more. If I were primarily a straight espresso drinker, favoring light or otherwise finicky roasts, I think a DB would be a better choice for greater control over brew parameters.

So, overall recommendation after 1 year:
1. If you primarily drink milk drinks and/or brew comfort roasts, a good HX (like the Slim!) is probably a good fit for you. New users shouldn't be put off by the idea of flush routines. They are pretty straightforward in my opinion, and tend to get blown out of proportion. Advantages over a DB are: smaller machine footprint, less parts to fail, less expensive, probably not much difference in the cup if you are in the milk-drink/comfort-roast camp, ... I also like that this machine has minimal electronics (with possible exception of the MaraX, PIDs are marketing fluff on HX machines anyway).

2. If you drink straight espresso or want to experiment with light roasts, etc., then I'd go for a DB if it were me. Or, at the very least, you'd need a group thermometer on a HX (this might be the cost-conscious option, if you don't go down the BDB route).

Note: there is a fair amount of discussion about slow rebound times of HX machines. The most drinks I ever make back-to-back are 2, so have never had a problem. The story could be different if I frequently entertained and made many drinks back to back, but I don't have any such insights to offer at this time.

idok

#8: Post by idok »

Thanks tom for the detailed review. I have a saeco aroma for the last 8 years and debating if I should upgrade it. Your review gave me a lot to think about.

Nauticus

#9: Post by Nauticus »

Thank you for the very thorough review! I am currently trying to decide between the Mechanika V Slim and the Technika V Profi PID machines. I am solely a latte/cappuccino drinker and not sure how much the PID on the Tech V will help for the extra cost. I do like the joystick valves on the Tech V, but without seeing any of these machines in person, hard to tell how much more I would like (if at all) over the Mech V Slim round knobs with the red decals. There is an option to order the Mech V Slim with the joystick valves, not sure if I want to pay the $190 USD extra for that. Again, hard to tell when just seeing these machines in photos and videos. Any regrets for not going for a higher model like the Tech V? Thanks!

nkoulban

#10: Post by nkoulban »

Thank you for such a great review. I have also recently purchased one and I love it. I put in a group thermometer and I have no need for a PID. It makes consistent great tasting coffee compared to my old Silvia. As for the finish... I agree, wow, oh wow.