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Thread: Better machine or better grinder?

  1. #1
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    Better machine or better grinder?

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    So, most of what I have read on this site emphasises the importance of the grinder.
    Since looking into the pros and cons of machines (and taking into account the advice I have been given here), I am looking at either the breville dual boiler or the sunbeam 7000.
    My question is, will the better machine outweigh a better grinder? With my budget, the bdb would be paired wih a smart grinder, but the lower cost of the sunbeam would leave enough money for a rocky, or maybe even a compak.
    Will the better grinder give better results, or would the better machine be more important?
    Thanks for any advice.

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    I'd go the SB and the better grinder. I haven't used the BDB but from the threads I've read there doesn't seem to be much of a difference in what is produced to what you get from the SB. Maybe check out the Mahlkonig Vario Gen 2 grinder? After reading what TampIt is getting from his it's on my upgrade list.

    IMO the machine itself DOES matter, up to a point - it needs to be able to deliver water and steam at correct tmep and pressure to produce good coffee and milk, but once you have that the rest comes down to the grind/dose/tamp production and a quality grinder capable of producing consistent grind and with good adjustment to cater for different beans will bring out the best in the machine.

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    I bought a little over a year ago, after doing much research. After a year it becomes blatantly obvious the grinder is the star. Let me repeat, the grinder is the star. Rule of the thumb is spend 40% on the grinder vs. machine or more depending on far in the future you want go, continue with it. Rocky is really good as a rugged, reliable good investment-which is important-good choice. I however went with a vario, as I was willing to risk the less solid construction ofit for more finer grind options, get a bit better grind out of it. The grinder drives the machine in terms of taste, flow rate, basically everything. I went with Ms. Silvia for a machine, but sunbeam good choice-I'm in Canada so only heard about it, is it heat x/c..? Good deal if so. Comes in rally handy when making more than one drink. Rocky/Sunbeam check.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Journeyman View Post
    Maybe check out the Mahlkonig Vario Gen 2 grinder? After reading what TampIt is getting from his it's on my upgrade list. IMO the machine itself DOES matter, up to a point - it needs to be able to deliver water and steam at correct tmep and pressure to produce good coffee and milk, but once you have that the rest comes down to the grind/dose/tamp production and a quality grinder capable of producing consistent grind and with good adjustment to cater for different beans will bring out the best in the machine.
    Has anyone temp profiled a PID thermoblock like the EM7000?

    Also, a vario is almost 2x the price of a compak (as in, more than the price difference between a k3p and a BSG).

    At typical retail prices... I would try really hard to stretch for a k3p and a BDB.

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    @Hildy - you might be looking at old prices. JetBlack has the Touch at $539 and I've seen the Vario at $649, so the difference isn't that much. The quality spread across 7 coffees (as much as I have done at one time) in the 6910 is so small I don't think profiling would show much - or maybe I misunderstand what profiling is? My impression it is to show how much variation you get in temp/pressure when pouring a shot? I went for thermoblock initially because of what I saw about boiler machines (even twin ones) dropping performance across multiple coffees.

    @Delish007 - the SB EM6910 and EM7000 are both Twin Thermoblock and Twin Pump. Steam and water have separate pumps and paths. Ideal for doing multiple coffees without much difference between first and last.

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    $680 vs $439 at DiBartoli.

    Have you seen Greg Pullman's temp profile comparison of Silvia vs EM6910?

    Perhaps your impressions are wrong. There is data, after all, and the plural of anecdote is not data.

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    I read the comparison during my research phase. I would assume the 7000 would be fairly similar to the 6910, maybe a little better. However for my untutored tastebuds, I suspect I would be hard pressed to taste the difference (also, I almost always have milk based coffee).
    From what I have found, the price difference between the breville and sunbeam is over $500, even taking haggling into account. That would allow for a much better grinder, which would stay with me after the machine has been upgraded. I am happy to lurk for a while, maybe grab something second hand if it comes up.
    Thanks for the opinions so far, keep them coming. And feel free to suggest something entirely different if I have missed something obvious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hildy View Post
    Has anyone temp profiled a PID thermoblock like the EM7000?

    Also, a vario is almost 2x the price of a compak (as in, more than the price difference between a k3p and a BSG).

    At typical retail prices... I would try really hard to stretch for a k3p and a BDB.
    Hi Hildy

    Firstly, k3p vs Vario: not even close. My k3p did not even outperform my calibrated EM480 in a white paper test at a standard espresso grind. I use VST's, so a 20% finer grind is needed and by then it was embarrassingly poor (EM480 whipped it). Disclosure: I have just ordered a second Mahlkonig Vario as I would be devastated to have to go back to any of the other grinders relegated to my shed (17 of the most common high end domestic / low end commercial grinders until I did a major & overdue "cash converter cull" last week). Compak and Mazzer were the main offloads.

    Secondly, using the same "medical grade stainless engineering workshop" where I calibrated my EM480 (which made only a small difference anyway), I tested quite a few domestic espresso machines. My older 6910 manages well over 100ml of water before the pressure / temp dropped enough to worry. Recovery time: for 60ml doubles, well under a minute (hard to measure accurately). Until you get to oversized commercial boiler machines like my 2 group (plumbed in 15Amp) La Pavoni P/TRE none of the domestic boiler ones we tested came close to that kind of performance and recovery time. Adding a PID may help some of the boiler machines, however it made no difference worth noting on the 6910 (I took it back out). My limited experience with a 7000 was that it had a lot more "shot grunt" but a hopeless milk frother (auto frother runs on time, not temp: i.e. misleading advertising and is useless to boot).

    A note on consistency: My newer 6910 has never been as good, even after I reset the temp & pressure on the mainboard. I finally cracked and took it to "CC" Hilton, where they discovered it had a restriction via an incorrectly bent pipe. Now it is as good as my older 6910. Evidently it was a faulty batch... Good one SB...

    Now back to the original poster: Consider the coffee chain. The roaster is earlier than the grinder which is before the machine. A brilliant grinder cannot retrieve a poor roast, and a brilliant machine cannot do much about a poor grinder. Personally, I would start by finding / becoming a good roaster, then I would spend the money on a really good grinder rather than a good machine. I have previously owned two GS3's (a 110V and a modified to US 3-phase 220V one, both still in the US) and the Vario / 6910 makes better coffee than any of my earlier grinders (some twice as dear as the Vario) into my GS3s. Now post divorce, I may end up getting another GS3 eventually (unless someone comes up with a better semi domestic beast) and I will be curious to see how much difference it makes nowadays.

    Hope this helps


    TampIt

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    Senior Member Barry O'Speedwagon's Avatar
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    What does the white paper taste like through a VST?

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    TC
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    I ran my VST through my grinder. The shot was metallic and now the grinder is broke. Only half of the VST came out the other end. Bloody retention...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Talk_Coffee View Post
    \Only half of the VST came out the other end. Bloody retention...
    When you pay that much for a VST it's pretty annoying to not get all of it.

    TampIt - are you really saying that a Vario/6910 combo made better coffee than Mazzer/GS3 (not sure what mazzer - flat or conical?)? Have you tried the Vario/GS3 combo? is that as good as the 6910 in your opinion?

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    How did it taste?

    Barry

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    Given that the mazzer/gs3 combo is a bit above my price range, are there any other machine/grinder suggestions? I did get advised that single boiler machines wouldn't really suit my situation (small child in the house), would something like the simonelli oscar suit? It's more in bdb price, so would hsve to stretch the budget a little. Or are the concerns on single boiler machines overzealous, given my routine now is to purge the steam wand with water and flush the groupmsfter coffee is made (something I have been doing to see if I can maintain it in case I do get ansingle boiler). So far I have not forgotten or been distracted by more than about 5 minutes.
    Last edited by erinkate84; 20th March 2014 at 09:39 AM. Reason: typo fixed

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    Somewhere on here there is a description of how to use a single boiler machine, I forget which, maybe a Silvia? It seemed to involve everything except standing on one leg in a westerly wind while praying to the steam god. Personally I wouldn't buy anything that requires waiting/purging/refilling and repeat cycles to get a coffee and if you're doing mainly milk coffees you really want separate paths for water and steam.

    I'm not sure why you got the 'clever' comments about VST's etc - apart from being information-free they would seem to have nothing to do with your question. The white paper test is simple - pour grounds on white paper and spread them out then look at them with a magnifying glass - you're looking to check evenness of grind.

    But once you get the system you want and start producing regular good coffee, naked PF and VST's are a good way to take the next step in quality coffee. But I'd make sure you know what you're doing with the standard equipment first.

    A point re PID's - it's an added cost to the machine. You could do it yourself but check whether modding your machine voids the warranty. Getting it done in-house will add considerably to the bottom line so check first. I've been running my 6910 for well over a year (it was 2nd hand to begin with) and I can pour great coffees within 10 minutes of turning it on and, as above, have poured 7 in a row with no degradation in quality. You don't need to pay a fortune for the machine to get really good (sometimes great) coffee.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bames View Post
    When you pay that much for a VST it's pretty annoying to not get all of it.

    TampIt - are you really saying that a Vario/6910 combo made better coffee than Mazzer/GS3 (not sure what mazzer - flat or conical?)? Have you tried the Vario/GS3 combo? is that as good as the 6910 in your opinion?
    Hi Bames

    No, thanks to a brutal adversarial divorce, my 220V GS3 is still in Colorado, probably sitting unused in a cupboard. FWIW, I am 90% sure the Vario / GS3 would be better coffee again, however I doubt I will ever have the pleasure of pairing them up (certainly not my ex-GS3!). Would have to move house to fit it in the kitchen, it is not just the GS3 price alone...

    What I am saying is that a big grinder upgrade is worth more than a big machine upgrade. Simply put, improving the earlier part of the chain makes a bigger difference than the later part (that includes farmers and the plant itself for that matter). Once something is amiss, the best machine in the world cannot correct it.

    TampIt

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    Senior Member Dragunov21's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TampIt View Post
    No, thanks to a brutal adversarial divorce, my 220V GS3 is still in
    Does she know how much you paid for it? If I can liberate it for a grand I'll chuck another grand your way :P

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    Quote Originally Posted by TampIt View Post
    Would have to move house to fit it in the kitchen, it is not just the GS3 price alone...
    Yep... when I'm dreaming about machine upgrades it always seems that I need a bigger kitchen to fit them in... very disturbing adding up the figures and working out that the new machine could set you back well into five figure territory!

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    After a few days use I am now comparing my Mahlkong Vario Grinder with my
    Breville Smart Grinder.

    The Vario should last longer, especially the ceramic burrs. It also has the advantage of having many more fine grind adjustments. The Breville is a cleaner machine with less mess on the bench and The Smart Grinder has a better portafilter holder, holding my naked PF firm and hands free while the Vario won’t.

    Another minor thing is that the Breville bean hopper can be removed while containing beans.

    Perhaps the German and Swiss designers could learn something from the Australian Breville engineers.


    They both lead to great coffee. A $3,000 grinder may give better results but I don’t know as I don’t have one.

    Barry
    Last edited by Barry_Duncan; 23rd March 2014 at 11:23 AM.

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    I have a vario with a standard Silvia PF, hands free all day long, though I had to set the height on it to work and it isn't totally level but holds it no spill..
    Ceramic burrs work well for espresso and drip. For press, I've heard getting the stainless steel burrs which are avail work better-less fines. Vario

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    Vario is also very compact - I have a sm kitchen.

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    Thanks for all the advice. I will shortly be picking up a second hand rocky from a forum member, and have just taken delivery of a reconditioned ecm giotto premium from jetblack espresso. I only rang to compare specs with the oscar, and ended up buying it. Just pulled my first shot on it. A whole new learning curve for me, but the machine gave me an excellent shot despite my inexperience. I am in love, and happy I made the decision to get it (even though I have gone over budget).
    Now to go back to gazing lovingly at my new machine. Thanks to jetblack espresso for taking the time to have a chat and get me my new machine.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barry_Duncan View Post
    After a few days use I am now comparing my Mahlkong Vario Grinder with my
    Breville Smart Grinder.

    The Vario should last longer, especially the ceramic burrs. It also has the advantage of having many more fine grind adjustments. The Breville is a cleaner machine with less mess on the bench and The Smart Grinder has a better portafilter holder, holding my naked PF firm and hands free while the Vario won’t.

    Another minor thing is that the Breville bean hopper can be removed while containing beans.

    Perhaps the German and Swiss designers could learn something from the Australian Breville engineers.


    They both lead to great coffee. A $3,000 grinder may give better results but I don’t know as I don’t have one.

    Barry
    Hi Barry

    The Smart Grinder has a better portafilter holder, holding my naked PF firm and hands free while the Vario won’t:

    Fully agree! Unfortunately you still need two hands hand to use the Vario: one on the p/f and one for the switch. If you do it that way it literally does not put a single grain of coffee on the bench (over 6 months in my case). Take your hand off and the p/f moves all over the place. Especially if you are using a naked p/f, the supplied holder is really only a rest for p/f height. I fully agree it is its main fault. Why Mahlkonig did not put a "push switch" so the p/f turns the grinder on & off as well as the timer is a complete mystery to me (or even just to start it and use the timer to stop it, for that matter). I have just bought a second Vario for decaf "officially". Conveniently, it also gives me a chance to see whether a switch can be added easily plus a few other things on my "Vario to do list".

    Breville bean hopper can be removed while containing beans:

    ... and the internal spring loading necessary to do that is one of the reasons the Breville (along with 90+% of other grinders) "popcorn" like crazy when the coffee bean level goes low. The first thing I did to my EM480 (plus half a dozen of my earlier grinders) was to remove the springs to stop it from the "Mexican jumping bean effect". It is not too difficult to turn the unit upside down to empty the beans out on the few occasions it is needed. Adding those springs is also one of the main reasons that the feed changes the particle spread of the beans (for the worst) as the level in the hopper drops. Personally I would choose consistency over (rare) full hopper removal every time. Perhaps the SB & Breville engineers could look at what the grinder is actually supposed to do... consistent and even particle spread is the ultimate goal.

    When you start playing with finer grinds, that is where the Vario excels. All things being equal (looks upwards for pigs), the finer the grind the higher the extraction ratio: which is really a measurement of flavour quantity (not quality).

    Have fun playing with your new toy.

    Tampit

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    Quote Originally Posted by TampIt View Post
    The first thing I did to my EM480 (plus half a dozen of my earlier grinders) was to remove the springs to stop it from the "Mexican jumping bean effect". It is not too difficult to turn the unit upside down to empty the beans out on the few occasions it is needed. Adding those springs is also one of the main reasons that the feed changes the particle spread of the beans (for the worst) as the level in the hopper drops.

    When you start playing with finer grinds, that is where the Vario excels. All things being equal (looks upwards for pigs), the finer the grind the higher the extraction ratio: which is really a measurement of flavour quantity (not quality).

    Tampit
    I don't have mine anymore to look, but I thought the mechanism opened when the hopper was fitted to the grinder?

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    If anyone wants a pic of my pf hands free dosing with my vario, I can post no prob. Silvia pf, angle isnt 90 degrees but close enough

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    Quote Originally Posted by Delish007 View Post
    If anyone wants a pic of my pf hands free dosing with my vario, I can post no prob. Silvia pf, angle isnt 90 degrees but close enough
    HI Delish007

    Yes please. Niether my "gen 1" or gen2 vario can do that...

    Cheers


    Tampit

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    Quote Originally Posted by MrJack View Post
    I don't have mine anymore to look, but I thought the mechanism opened when the hopper was fitted to the grinder?
    ... and it still moves around on the springs a lot, like most other grinders.

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    Doing what exactly? Just dont see how it results in popcorning.

    That said, I rarely put more in the grinder than I planned to use.

    The problem I used to have was chaff jamming one of half of the mechanism open, resulting in beans all over the bench.

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    Last week I went from a Cunill Tranquilio to a vario w, night and day difference, enough said. Grinder needs to be as close to totally adjustable for grind because the grind is what changes the flavor and characteristics of the espresso. A $800 grinder and $200 machine will outperform a $1500 machine and $30 electric grinder, ALWAYS.

  29. #29
    TOK
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    In the end, the only diff between a Cunill "Cafe Tranquilo" grinder and the much better designed and built Italian made grinders (of similar “café style” design), is the butt ugly body, the extra noise generated through having a cheap pressed body, the cheap external fitments, and certainly the larger steps in the adjuster. The overall "Cafe Tranquilo client experience" is not great, however the “quality” of the grinds when compared to other flat plated café grinders, for a similar grind adjustment, will be very very similar.

    Fresh Coffee Beans are not a consistent product and change over a short period of time, The more knowledgeable and capable basitas amongst us, have the required expertise to easily work around that, to produce consistently good cups of coffee from the naturally in-consistent raw material they start with. It is a normal part of their job spec.

    There is no doubt that having a more accurate adjuster is a good thing and helps alleviate some of the difficulty the less knowledgeable baristas may be having in their modus operandi, but it is perhaps not as important as some people seem to think given that the operator should be able to handle it.

    There are people “in here”, that cant seem to be able to make a good cup of coffee in their kitchen, unless they have the most expensive image marketed pieces of equipment, some of it even bigger and more commercial in nature than used in many commercial environments, with the most expensive optional accessories, and a set of scales. What next? An Einstein perm and a white lab coat?

    This site has developed over time, from “CoffeeSnobs” into “EquipmentSnobs”, with a steady stream of people trying to make it look as if espresso making is a very exclusive and difficult thing, and who turn equipment brand names into icons for everyone to strive for. Seems to me there are an aweful lot of interested parties in here building market for their pet brands, from the safety of their anonymous private memberships.

    Good coffee making doesn’t need to be that hard, and more’s the pity.

    And to get back on topic. I think very often people misunderstand what they read. Both the machine and the grinder are important, and there are compromises to be made due to anyone's particular allocated budget. Within that budget, the client should take advice to get the best machine/grinder combination that he or she can. The advice needs to come from an experienced professional equipment vendor, who will have a selection of machines and grinders to suit.

    And if I may say so, introducing optional extras into the discussion, for example "VST" filter baskets, is misguided. Optional extras in my honest opinion, are things that the more experienced espresso machine operators might like to fiddle with as their expertise grows, rather than at a beginner level where they can cause lots of complications that the inexperienced are less able to deal with. Remember the KISS principle.
    Last edited by TOK; 30th March 2014 at 11:33 AM.

  30. #30
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TOK View Post
    In the end, the only diff between a Cunill "Cafe Tranquilo" grinder and the much better designed and built Italian made grinders (of similar “café style” design), is the butt ugly body, the extra noise generated through having a cheap pressed body, the cheap external fitments, and certainly the larger steps in the adjuster. Otherwise, the “quality” of the grinds when compared to other flat plated café grinders, for a similar grind adjustment, will be very very similar.

    Fresh Coffee Beans are not a consistent product and change over a short period of time, The more knowledgeable and capable basitas amongst us, have the required expertise to easily work around that, to produce consistently good cups of coffee from the naturally in-consistent raw material they start with. It is a normal part of their job spec.

    There is no doubt that having a more accurate adjuster is a good thing and helps alleviate some of the difficulty the less knowledgeable baristas may be having in their modus operandi, but it is perhaps not as important as some people seem to think.

    There are people “in here”, that cant seem to be able to make a good cup of coffee in their kitchen, unless they have the most expensive image marketed pieces of equipment, some of it even bigger and more commercial in nature than used in many commercial environments, with the most expensive optional accessories, and a set of scales. What next? An Einstein perm and a white lab coat?

    This site has developed over time, from “CoffeeSnobs” into “EquipmentSnobs”, with a steady stream of people trying to make it look as if espresso making is a very exclusive and difficult thing, and who turn equipment brand names into icons for everyone to strive for. Seems to me there are an aweful lot of interested parties in here building market for their pet brands, from the safety of their anonymous private memberships.

    Good coffee making doesn’t need to be that hard, and more’s the pity.

    And to get back on topic. I think very often people misunderstand what they read. Both the machine and the grinder are important, and there are compromises to be made due to anyone's particular allocated budget. Within that budget, the client should take advice to get the best machine/grinder combination that he or she can. The advice needs to come from an experienced professional equipment vendor, who will have a selection of machines and grinders to suit.

    And if I may say so, introducing optional extras into the discussion, for example "VST" filter baskets, is misguided. Optional extras in my honest opinion, are things that the more experienced espresso machine operators might like to fiddle with as their expertise grows, rather than at a beginner level where they can cause lots of complications that the inexperienced are less able to deal with. Remember the KISS principle.
    Well said TOK.

  31. #31
    TC
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    I agree TOK,

    In the main here, pretty much everything discussed is more than adequate for the production of excellent espresso and perfect milk.

    The biggest impediment I see in training sessions is not equipment based in the main. It's the lack of consistency in the process coupled with poor understanding of shot chemistry. These are all too frequently married to huge reliance on gizmo equipment crutches or the grinder of the moment which will of course be spruiked as being the panacea.

    Skills, skills and then skills in that order (coupled with fresh beans and adequate equipment).

    Chris
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  32. #32
    Sleep is overrated Thundergod's Avatar
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    One small point.
    If you start out learning using a VST basket how can it be any harder to learn?

  33. #33
    Senior Member Dragunov21's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thundergod View Post
    One small point.
    If you start out learning using a VST basket how can it be any harder to learn?
    Because when you're starting out and are able to make mistakes in a lot of areas, making the bullseye even smaller can make it completely impossible to progress. I say that as someone who prefers VSTs.

    To learn, you need to be able to identify mistakes and correct them. Using a VST makes mistakes harder to identify, IMO, because something that manifests as a minor error in a stock/Precision basket can turn into a complete clusterf- in a VST, so instead of seeing "Oh, my tamp was canted to the right" you may see "Ohshitspritzingeverywhereandbigdeadpatcheswhat'sg oingon?!".

    Even now I find it difficult to link what I'm seeing on the bottom of a VST with what the problem is; I don't feel they give reliable, intuitive feedback, but rather just slap you across the face every time you make a mistake and leave you to guess at what the problem was. That is not an efficient way for a completely naive person to learn, IMO.

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by TOK View Post
    Good coffee making doesn’t need to be that hard, and more’s the pity.

    Remember the KISS principle.
    Well said TOK...

    Couldn't agree more.

    Mal.



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