Buyer's Guide to the Vibiemme Domobar Super

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 11, 2007, 9:14 am

In the world of home espresso machines, few features are more prominently recognizable than the E61 grouphead. The market has been flooded with such a variety of machines designed around the E61 group that choosing one has almost become a flip of the coin. Your choices are dominated by similar shiny stainless steel boxes, 1.5 liter boilers and 2 liter water reservoirs. Finding a machine that stands out among the sea of stainless steel isn't easy.

1st-Line hopes its new offering, the Vibiemme Domobar Super, will differentiate itself from its peers in the market's E61-based machines. It sports features like:
  • Original E61 grouphead (more on that later),
  • Stainless or black powder coat housing,
  • Semi-automatic and electronic (automatic) volumetric dosing,
  • Three position power switch,
  • 2.7 liter boiler and a huge 3.8 liter water reservoir.
An impressive list of options, but are they enough to make the Vibiemme stand out in the crowd? More importantly, does it make good espresso and meet the demanding expectations of the discerning home barista? Over the coming weeks we will poke, prod, measure, and taste in pursuit of answers to these questions. You are also invited to pose your own questions as we push the boundaries of this 70 pound tank called the Vibiemme Domobar Super.


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Image courtesy of 1st-Line
Dave Stephens

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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 12, 2007, 9:48 am

The Vibiemme arrived at the house within a couple of days of shipping from 1st-Line. The machine is well packed in its heavy cardboard box from Vibiemme. That box is then re-boxed in a larger one with ample Styrofoam packing to keep things safe in transit. The machine tips the scales at 70 pounds, a light weight this is not. It would be advisable to have an extra body present to assist with unpacking.

Once out of the box, there are relatively few things to do. The stainless steel feet must be screwed onto the base of the machine, remove the cup warmer protective film and put it on a suitably stable location. Assembly complete.

The Super ships with two portafilters, one double and one single spout, a Faema style double basket, single basket and a blank basket for backflushing. You also get the summary black plastic tamper toy suitable for tossing in a cabinet, and a grouphead brush for cleaning the shower screen and gasket. Make sure you order a proper 58mm tamper with the machine. Then there is the typical, less than informative owners manual. You still need to read it prior to using the machine but as with most espresso machines, it is relatively bland and poorly written.

The Domobar Super, which is home bar super in Italian, needs no water supply or drain line, just a suitable electric outlet. Let me point out that there is a Vibiemme (pronounced "Vee-bee-m-may") Domobar and a Domobar Super, two different models with very different specifications.

The Super is commercial UL rated and requires a 120v outlet capable of delivering 17.5 amps of power to drive the 1600w heating element and a 41W vibratory pump. The Super also has a longer than average electrical cord that measures 7 feet long and extends from under the machine emerging from the center of the undercarriage.

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The Super is larger than your average E61 clone home espresso machine. Front to back she measures 20 inches deep (not counting one inch for the drip tray handle), 10-1/2 inches wide and 15-3/8 inches tall. You will want to make sure your cabinet is large enough to hold the machine. The Super also tips the scales at 70 pounds so be careful moving it around.

The unit I received is the black powder coat variant. I must say, it is quite attractive and a nice departure from the all polished stainless machines on the market.

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The Super is outfitted with both a boiler pressure gauge and a brew pressure gauge mounted across the top front of the machine; reminiscent of the popular Isomac Tea. There are three indicator lights, one beside the boiler pressure gauge and two beside the brew pressure gauge. The amber light by the boiler gauge illuminates when the heating element is energized. The lights on either side of the brew pressure gauge are for low reservoir water (amber on the left side of the gauge) and power (green on the right side of the gauge).

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On the semi automatic and automatic versions of the Super, the brew controls are located across the face of the machine between the two gauges. Our sample machine is the manual, or lever actuated version. The lever is mounted on the right side of the massive E61 grouphead. Earlier I mentioned that the Vibiemme used a real E61 group, a little background information may be helpful at this point.

Vibiemme was formed by a handful of employees from Faema when they fell on hard times and went out of business. The employees purchased the patent to the Faema E61 group. Every machine on the market that uses an E61 style group can trace its lineage back to the group on this machine. While other manufacturers make E61 style groups, VBM holds the patent for the original E61 group design.

The differences between the current market E61 offerings and the group on the Domobar Super is obvious at first glance. The group is massive when compared to most machines. Interestingly enough, the E61 group was patented based on a method of preinfusion and not thermal stability.

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Moving on down the machine, the drip tray is a two part design. The tray cover consists of a frame with an expanded stainless steel cover. The mesh is spot welded to the stainless frame and provides plenty of space. The mesh is relatively fine; as a result it initially wanted to hold water. After a little use that tendency was diminished, but using a slightly larger mesh expanded steel would improve the flow through the surface of the drip tray cover. The drip tray itself is quite spacious. The two piece design allows you to leave the cover attached to the machines frame and simply remove the drip tray like a drawer. Grasp the drip tray handle and pull it out to empty.

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The Vibiemme Domobar Super has dedicated steam wand and water dispenser. Both are outfitted with a ball joint which gives you a large range of motion. The wands are fitted into a valve assembly that angles out from the front of the machine at about a 60 degree angle. While giving you two axes of movement, there is a limitation. The wands will make contact with the valve assembly when moving them out to the sides of the machine. This is a relatively minor issue given the range of motion. The steam wand is capped with a large two hole tip while the water dispenser sports an aerator.

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The Domobar Super is a reservoir, or pour over machine. Located under the cup warmer and at the rear of the machine is one of the largest water reservoirs I have ever seen. This machine holds a whopping 3.8 liters of water. The reservoir has an enclosed top with a removable refill cap to prevent anything from falling into the water. The pump pickup tube has a screen tip to prevent any sediment from being drawn into the system. The over pressure valve (OPV) return line also feeds into the reservoir.

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The water reservoir sits atop a spring loaded stainless steel plate. Under that plate is a switch. When the reservoir get low, the springs will push the plate up and trip the pressure switch under it killing power to the pump and heating element. When that happens, the amber light to the left of the brew pressure gauge will illuminate. The 3.8 liter capacity provides plenty of water. I have pulled six back to back doubles along with steaming over 30 ounces of milk and the tank was only half empty. You will have to remove the cup warmer to refill the reservoir. Thankfully, Vibiemme put raised handles on the cup warmer so it can be removed without having to take everything off of it.

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Dave Stephens

harris

Postby harris » May 12, 2007, 10:40 am

Great start to the review. Although I would llike to jump forward and read the last chapter, I will be patient.

Will you be comparing it to your new toy, the Elektra?

Thank you for taking the the time to write this,


h

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edwa

Postby edwa » May 12, 2007, 11:14 am

I too thank you for the time invested to write this, my brow breaks into a sweat remembering how much time it took me to put together the "Fiorenzato Volante, A Second Look" thread. :) I stopped by 1st-Line's booth at the Long Beach convention and saw the Vibiemme machine in person. I was struck not only by its size but how quiet it was pulling a shot. I hope you will be reviewing its heat stability.

Wescott

Postby Wescott » May 12, 2007, 2:06 pm

The pressure gauges are nicely placed for checking during a pull. So far as I recall, only the Isomac prosumer series uses a similar panel angled up for the gauges. Checking the gauges on most machines--especially if you are tall--is a nuisance. Since the brew pressure gauge on the Vibiemme offers easily readable information during the pull, could you say what, if anything, of value comes from consulting that gauge.

In other words, what does the brew pressure measurement tell you about the shots?

And I join the majority in thanking you for your willingness to take this on, Cannonfodder. It's not the first time either. Your series on dialing in the Elektra was illuminating.

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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 12, 2007, 2:52 pm

harris wrote:Great start to the review. Although I would llike to jump forward and read the last chapter, I will be patient.

Will you be comparing it to your new toy, the Elektra?

Thank you for taking the the time to write this,


h



I may at some point but I do not want to muddy the waters and turn it into a machine A vs machine B shootout. At the conclusion of the official buyers guide we do try to put a ranking scale to the machines performance in comparison to its peers.

As to the last chapter, it has not been written yet, nor has the middle. These bench reviews take a minimum of a couple months of machine usage, testing, measuring logging etc to complete. Right now we are at the very beginning of the process. It will progress over the next few weeks. We have to make sure our data is accurate and review thorough and still work our day jobs.
Dave Stephens

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HB
Admin

Postby HB » May 12, 2007, 3:26 pm

cannonfodder wrote:These bench reviews take a minimum of a couple months of machine usage, testing, measuring logging etc to complete. Right now we are at the very beginning of the process.


I also have the Vibiemme in house and will help with color commentary. Our "tag team" approach assures consistency of the final Buyer's Guide and shares the research burden. In addition to the usual research and measurements, we'll have a couple surprises along the way, like this piece of E61 eye candy:

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Copyright Ian Stewart (woodchuck), please do not copy
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 12, 2007, 3:41 pm

edwa wrote:I too thank you for the time invested to write this, my brow breaks into a sweat remembering how much time it took me to put together the "Fiorenzato Volante, A Second Look" thread. :) I stopped by 1st-Line's booth at the Long Beach convention and saw the Vibiemme machine in person. I was struck not only by its size but how quiet it was pulling a shot. I hope you will be reviewing its heat stability.



It is a big machine. I did not realize how small and boxy my Isomac Millennium was until I put the Vibiemme beside it.

I do have a few gadgets in the toolkit but Dan has the uber tech kit with pressure transducers multi data loggers and a Vibiemme as well. He will be chiming on occasion with his measurements.
Dave Stephens

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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 12, 2007, 3:51 pm

Wescott wrote:what, if anything, of value comes from consulting that gauge.

In other words, what does the brew pressure measurement tell you about the shots?




The angled top does make it easier to see the gauges. I am somewhat vertically challenged but they are still easier to view than the gauges on most machines.

As to the brew pressure gauge usefulness during a shot, it is relatively minimal. If your dose/distribution/grind is off you will see it in the gauge but the lack of espresso flow, or the blond gusher, is just as accurate of an indicator. Most gauges are there just as a point of reference especially since most machines don't have super accurate gauges. They tend to be more a set it and forget it when it comes to brew pressure. If you do not have a brew pressure gauge, then you have to rig up a portafilter mounted gauge to adjust your pump pressure. I do use the boiler gauge and watch it during a shot. I watch it to make sure I hit the extraction at the top of the heat cycle.
Dave Stephens

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cannonfodder
Team HB

Postby cannonfodder » May 12, 2007, 10:57 pm

I measured out the drip tray capacity this evening. According to my super accurate Pyrex two cup kitchen measure, it holds 1.8 liters of water. That is filled to the brim, if you don't want to spill water everywhere removing it than a liter is more reasonable.

I have had the machine on for 4 hours now. I was wondering how hot the water in the reservoir gets as well as the cup warmer. The Fluke tells me the water reservoir is 91F and the cup warmer is a toasty 146F.

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Dave Stephens