It's not as sexy as a thermo-siphon, really not as sexy as an E61, and doesn't allow more "advanced" temperature manipulation. It does however greatly simply the internal construction of the machine, and uses brut force (boiler heat) to establish a sort of operational consistency that you have no choice but to accept. This sounds harsh or limiting, but when starting out less choice can easily mean less variance, which is a good thing. I've owned a couple of Livia 90s (Bezzera BZ99) and several Olympia Maximatics/Pasquini Liviettas, and have been very happy with their performance; and even happier with their build quality.
I owned both a Livietta and an old Livia 90, too. Liked them both a great deal, and thought they both were great.
It's not easy to manipulate the shot temp of a boiler heated group quickly and consistently, so if you're looking for a tool to use to explore different beans and roasts you should probably look elsewhere.
Some disagreement here. I didn't find either Pasquini (one actually made by Olympia, the other by Bezzera) difficult to temp. The 90 especially made it easy to "shape the hump" on the Livia 90 using "overshoot and wait" technique. E-61s are more "stable," but because of that wont jump through hoops quite as easily.
My current machine, a La Cimbali M21 Casa is also a direct connect; but it's not a dragon, it's an "agnositc," and is quite easy to temp.
If you want to dial in a not-lightly-roasted bean that you know you like and consistently pull the same shot day in and day out for long periods of time, a domestic boiler heated group is a really good option, and usually a good short term and long term value.
The grinder always matters more. Don't leave the grinder as an afterthought. If you're going to stretch your budget on anything then do so on the grinder. If you're budgeting $1000 for your machine then allocate at least $500 for the grinder -- if not more.
I'd second the suggestion for the CC1/Vario combo. It's right at your budget and a well-paired combo. If you stick with espresso in the long run you'll probably want to upgrade as it's a single boiler with thermoblock and not HX or DB but it will easily beat the Smart Grinder paired with any espresso machine at any price point. Return the Smart Grinder and you'll have some cash for the accessories.
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