The Synchronika is the top of the line dual boiler machine from ECM, and it’s a winner in a number of respects. I only had a brief time with this machine, but I explain why this machine is exceptional, let’s talk about ECM’s founder – Wolfgang Hauck, because when you buy an ECM, you’re buying into the ethos of a pioneering and entrepreneurial founder.
ECM Synchronica – Summary Up Front
We love this machine on many levels. The design looks like a fusion of Italian passion with robust German pragmatism.
The price is half that of a La Marzocco Linea Mini, which we also like, but unlike the La Marzocco, you get flow control – which is a huge feature you pay through the nose for with a Slayer single head machine.
The Synchronika is a no-compromise machine with absolutely top quality components, so you can feel comfortable that you will buy once and not feel the need to upgrade for many years. It has a dual boiler, a rotary pump – ensuring quiet operation, E61 Group, PID, optional flow control (at a cost) and a versatile display.
The steam power is up to par with its rivals, and if the shiny chrome isn’t too your liking, it’s simple to customise. There is an ability to do line based preinfusion, although you may need to do some adjustments to get it working.
A minor niggle is that I’ve heard some people mentioning their systems developing a little rattle. This appears to come from some loosening screws and is easily remedied by going around and doing a bit of tightening – perhaps using some plumbers tape to keep them in tightly.
The only thing it seems to be missing is a mobile app for additional controls. Read below for our thoughts on the usefulness of apps as at the date this was written.
The build quality from ECM is what makes us smile. To interact with the machine, hold their portafilter, touch the smooth rounded edges and admire the top-level hand welding. This is a hand made machine that gives you pleasure every time you use it. Replacement parts are available, and internally it has an elegant and considerate layout that makes it easily serviceable.
The ECM Synchronika is an espresso machine that you love to use every day, is beautiful to look at, not only for the design but the quality of the build, which is quickly noticeable.
Who are ECM and Where are they Manufactured?
Hauck has been in the business for over 25 years, and before he was manufacturing his own product line, he was importing and distributing machines from Gaggia, Cimbali, Pavoni and others. Later, in 1996 Hauck struck out on his own to make ECM in 1996. Later his son joined the firm and added additional technical expertise, and now runs the business as its CEO.
The company says they combine Italian espresso culture with German engineering, something we’ll come onto later, but you can see this immediately with the elegant but industrial style of their equipment.
Now, their commercial espresso machines and grinders are manufactured in Germany at their own production centre. They produce their consumer-focused machines in Italy since 95% of the suppliers are located there already.
ECM Synchronika Price and Competition
That’s not a bad price for a machine that is hand-built with such an extensive range of features. The Synchronika is most often compared to the Rocket R58 and the Profitec 700, both of which are essentially the same price, and are similar in some ways, but do not match the build quality of the ECM.
Specification and Features
|Water Tank||2.8 litres|
|Plumbable water supply?||Yes|
|Hot Water Dispenser||Yes|
|No Boilers||2 x Stainless Steel|
|Boiler Pressure Gauge||Yes|
|Pump Pressure Guage||Yes|
|PID Control||Yes - with Shot Timer|
This machine does not have any volumetric controls, but if you wanted that, you wouldn’t be looking at this kind of system in any case. The volumetric system – which measures the output volume of shots has gained popularity in some professional machines where turnaround speed is a prime consideration.
But more recent research indicates that this is a flawed method because different beans have different densities, so weighing the shot is more important than measuring the volume. This is especially relevant for a home barista who may be changing their beans and roast levels frequently – darker roasts have less density than milder roasts, for example.
Design and Build Quality
We know that not everyone is a fan of the shiny chrome look, but for a small company, it’s a safe option, and it will look great in any kitchen, and if you want something warmer, we’ve seen how it looks in beautiful wood panelling, which is simple enough to create, we expect any local woodworking shop will be able to route some new panels for you.
Ask any ‘metal nerd’, whether it be bicycle frames or deep-sea pipe maintenance, and they’ll talk about weld quality. Now you can add espresso machines into that group. We mentioned that these are hand-built machines, and the weld quality is superb. Look into the little nooks and crannies of the ECM, and you’ll not see ugly lumps of weld – everything butts up with minimum seams.
These details on their own may not add up to much, but together, the effect on the eye is noticeable immediately and adds to the satisfaction you get from owning something that was hand-built by craftsmen.
You can do almost any repair on this machine without special tools. You’ll just need some common sized screwdrivers and an adjustable spanner.
The Synchronika was designed for easy access. I know the German designers are somewhere secretly smiling to themselves as we look inside the casing because the magic of the build quality is not just skin deep.
Accessing the machine takes the removal/loosening of 6 easily accessed hex screws using a 2.5mm Allen key. At that point, you can remove all the body panels, so you have easy access to all areas of the internals.
The frame is entirely powder-coated, which will ensure it maintains its good looks for years to come – and not a cheap option.
ECM decided to use a single solenoid valve, which initially confused me because I know others of a similar class use two, but then doing some research, I learned that solenoid valves often are the source of failure in espresso machines. I guess ECM found a way to accomplish what they need to do with only a single valve, which should contribute to better reliability.
Interface and Lack of Mobile App
The PID ECM uses blends into the machine, which is a different direction than most other manufacturers, who make a ‘feature’ of the display. I prefer ECM’s approach. Some people have reported they find super-bright displays annoying when they have an open plan kitchen and living room area. ECM did the right thing by being understated, and in fact, you can even switch it off.
The single PID serves several functions.
- Steam Boiler Temperature
- Brew Temperature
- Shot Timer
- Custom alerts to clean machine
ECM has not developed an app or the capability for an app in the Synchronika. I can see a time when using your phone as an interface is the only way to control your brew, but that for me, that will only happen when it provides flow control and profiling like the Decent Espresso machine.
Apps, such as the one from La Marzocco, seem to be a solution looking for a problem at the moment. Remotely turning on your machine is one use case often used. But that can easily be achieved with a wifi activated plug like the one from TP-Link here.
For everything else, like brew-head temperature, I’m much happier seeing that on a minimalist PID screen, rather than fumbling with my phone.
The steam wand is cool-touch, which is a nice feature, although I couldn’t tell if it created a condensation issue, as they sometimes do. The wand is reasonably mobile, making it easy to find the right position. I don’t fiddle much with a steam wand when frothing milk, but I know this is a big thing with some people.
The resellers will tell you it will steam 250ml in 10 seconds using the very impressive 2 bar pressure, but owners will tell you it takes longer in reality, perhaps 30 seconds is nearer the mark. A 4 hole steam tip might improve things and original ECM versions are available for about £10 ($12).
Producing steam is controlled with a short stick. I prefer lever control over knobs. I find knobs take too long to turn on and off – they annoy me. levers, on the other hand, feel good to use, and the ECM has a nice feature which allows you to burst some steam with short push, or have it run continuously with a long pull on the lever.
Call me childish, but I also like the fact that levers allow great wood customisation.
You get a mix of portafilters in the kit, and as you’d expect, ECM takes as much pride over the design of each basket as they do in the machine itself. The handles match the steam levers.
They’re angled so that you can rest them on a surface and the basket will be level, making tamping a breeze. ECM even sends you a tamper in the kit that isn’t plastic. It puts other companies to shame, with their throwaway plastic items that look like a McDonald’s toy.
Finally, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the handle is weighty, which results in a nice balance. Everything about the ECM seems like an engineer thought it through, not an accountant.
It’s a dual boiler machine, which means you independently control the temperature at the brew head, and for steaming milk. ECM uses 1400 watt heating elements and substantial 2-litre steam boilers that pushes out steam at 2bar. That’s similar to what the commercial Victoria Arduino Eagle one manages and significantly higher than the 1.5 bar often found on other similar espresso machines.
You’ll steam 6oz of milk in around 10 seconds, and 12oz in 20 seconds. This is great for a busy barista but actually might work against you if you are still learning how to steam.
In this regard, the steam control levers can have less fidelity than their knob counterparts. So this is not a machine that you want to learn how to steam on.
ECM has designed the Synchronikia to be simple to switch between the reservoir and plumbed in use. Changing is as simple as attaching the pipe underneath the machine and flipping a switch.
When using the internal tank, you’ll be able to add 2.8 litres of water, which is about the right amount. You fill it from the top as you’d expect, and you should check to see if you have enough room to put it under a kitchen cabinet and still get a water jug above it to pour from the top.
The flow control mechanism is an optional purchase from ECM. They charge a rather exorbitant price (£179 around $220) which is very difficult to swallow after laying out over £2k on a machine already.
That said, the La Marzocco Linea Mini – at almost double the cost, has a paddle that mimics the flow control mechanism, but it’s there for looks and actually only controls an electronic on/off switch.
The popularity of the device is not in question though, as they are regularly a back-ordered item.
Flow control, as it sounds, is how much water is allowed through the valve. Sometimes it is incorrectly referred to as water pressure. It’s true that pressure is influenced by the flow, so they’re linked, but not the same thing.
Controlling the amount of water that flows, and hence the pressure means that you can do things like run a long pre-infusion or mimic the behaviour of a traditional lever machine and their specific characteristics.
For example, a lever machine might have full pressure at the outset of the shot, and reduce the flow as the shot nears completion.
Different beans and roast techniques will react to different flavour profiles that can be generated by controlling the amount of water flow at different times throughout the pulling of your shot.
If you just want to do pre-infusion, then you may be satisified with using a technique ECM has built in to the standard model. The pre-infusion works by letting water into the group head without initiating the rotary pump.
In theory this should work fine, but in practice there are reports of many users seeing no water come out until the pump is activated. This is probably due to incorrect adjustment of the cams inside the valve unit. There is a simple way to adjust these, but it seems odd that ECM don’t test this before they’re shipped.
E61 Group Head
I was surprised when I learned that the E61 Grouphead design goes back to 1961! The fact that it is still being used today must stand as a testament to its function. E61 group heads are not perfect, but they’re simple to maintain and do a pretty good job with thermo-stability. The mechanics work on basic physics, with springs, washers, cams and needles.
When you turn the handle on the ECM, a cam (like an odd-shaped circular wheel moves inside the valve, pushing one needle up and another one down. This releases the water flow when the handle is turned one way and closes it when it is returned.
On a well-made valve, you can expect the only things to need changing from time to time are the gaskets, and depending on your water hardness, they might need cleaning from limescale.
Comparing the ECM Synchronika with Profitec Pro 700 and the Rocket R58
The ECM is the most expensive machine among its peers, but only by a small margin, but it’s common to ask what the differences are and whether the ECM is the right choice. We’ll do a separate full review of the Rocket R58 and Profitec Pro 700’s, but there is a short answer.
The ECM has unrivalled build quality. They have gone to extreme lengths to ensure it runs silently, has the most elegant and simple internal layout, and uses understated design touches that you’ll appreciate every time you look at it.
The Profitec 700 is almost identical to the ECM, but some of the fit and finish is not quite up to the same standards.
The Rocket uses different internals, such a smaller set of brass boilers instead of the stainless steel ones on the ECM. There’s small things I don’t personally like about the Rocket. The looks are cool for a while, but they wear off, the branding is a little too pronounced and seems to be on every element of the equipment, and it’s not as nice to touch and use, for example the amount of turns I need to do on the steam knobs vs the ECM where I can slap the stick down at any angle and it immediately comes on.
- Buy the ECM if you want all the features and the best build quality.
- Buy the Profitec Pro 700 if you want the same functionality of the ECM but are willing to sacrifice a small amount of final build quality for a slightly lower price.
- Buy the Rocket if you want to make a design statement and don’t care about having an always-available PID.