Venus gets my vote as the best espresso machine at this price point and compares favorably to far more expensive machines.
Positive Product Points
Venus is an extremely beautiful and weighty machine! Sturdy and rugged parts in a beautiful polished stainless steal case. Big resevoir for fresh water, and a large drip tray are part of what makes this a formidable presence on my coffee counter. The pressure gauge is unique at this price point and it's an extremely helpful device.
Negative Product Points
The pressure is at 12 bars and one of these days I'll have to get around to adjusting it down to between 8 and 10 (nice that it has a pressure gauge, so that I know what I'm dealing with...), so far I've compensated nicely with the grind setting. The solenoid releases the pressure, but doesn't clear the puck like a professional machine, proof positive... it's not a professional machine.
After a month of research and negotiating with my conscience over my budget I chose to get the Venus. I had hoped to spend some of my vacation enjoying a new espresso machine, but my vacation came and went while waiting for this to get from Milan to 1st Line, and finally to me. Apparently there was a bit of tweaking that they did before distribution. 1st Line took preorders, and I decided to try my patience and sign up for one. It's early in my relationship with Venus, but I think it's worth sharing how pleased I am.
This arrived double boxed (by 1st Line) with ample peanuts surrounding the original box supplied by the manufacturer. Packed well enough that I could not imagine any damage happening in transit, no matter who the carrier. Right out of the box, it's an impressive mass of metal, as pretty and sturdy as I hoped.
The toggles and lights on the face are straight forward and attractive. I have read that some are confused by the lights, but I have found them quite simple. The boiler is not supposed to fill automatically, but I have not needed to manually fill it since the first set up- perhaps this is a fortuitous malfunction. With the polished stainless steal case this is really a treat to wake up to every day; form and function can and should coexist in a kitchen appliance. The cup warmer heats the cups very well and I love the look and function of the cup rails surrounding them.
Venus has lots of commercial grade parts to help raise temperature quickly and keep it consistent. The dual purpose brass boiler heats up fast and the chrome plated brass group head and heavy commercial portafilter maintain heat perfectly. I don't want to wait at all when I get up in the morning so I have a timer on the machine and the empty portafilter attached so it's appropriately hot and my cup is warm. I can grind the beans and pull the shot right out of bed. I have a Macap 4 grinder to go with this machine and the shots I have been pulling are creamy, full bodied and non acidic. The boiler is ready for steam in less than a minute and there is lots of pressure to spare for my morning caps. There is lots of room to fit a large cup under the group head, as I like to use 10 or 12oz cups for the milk drinks. The double hole steam nozzle on the frothing wand heats and micro foams the milk to about 160 degrees in seconds. I've had a professional machine and the pressure from Venus is comparable. This is the feature that Jim at 1st Line asked to be revamped and they sure did the fix at Isomac. I'm not big on using the hot water feature but it's there if I care to. I also use a Livia at work, and in all important aspects, including utilizing the same Ukla pump, my Venus is every bit as good (at about 1/3 the price), save for the steam on demand that a double boiler has. But don't get me wrong, the Livia is a superior machine, just not in my budget.
You can check out the features and parts on the web, and there is an excellent First Look here on Coffee Geek, but it seems to me that Isomac has improved on the quality exhibited by other machines in this class, to create this "near" professional grade unit.
There has been lots written as to whether Venus could dethrone the Silvia, which seems to have died down somewhat. Isomac seems to have ironed out some of the early issues and my machine has been trouble free and performing with the promise that was originally anticipated. I never owned Silvia so I couldn't say for sure, but when I did the research before making this choice I found the Venus offered more of what I want in an espresso machine. This machine seems to have more power, weight and features all wrapped up in a package that I find more appealing. Venus truly does take this class of espresso machines to a new level.
Perfect service from 1st Line!
Three Month Followup
I am still enjoying each and every shot I pull, as well as Venus' features and stunning good looks. I have yet to adjust the pressure, but find that it has not created a problem in any way, likely because of the grind setting I am using. I still wish that it cleared the puck better so that when I knock it out I did not need to clean the residual grinds from the portafilter, but I consider this a minor complaint.
There is a bit of water leaking from the wand after I steam, but not enough to require an involved fix. I suppose there must be a slight loss of pressure from the wand that causes this, but not enough to notice.
I am pulling from 2 to 6 shots per day and every one of them is excellent. The pressure for steaming and frothing has stayed consistent so there is still lots of umf for my milk drinks. The reservoir holds enough water that I clear the shower head after every shot and still do not need to empty it much at all, which is a good thing when I am in a rush to get out the door in the morning. It's been very easy to keep clean and I have back washed it with a blank filter every 10 or 12 days, just to keep it as clean as possible.
This far, I am extremely pleased with my decision to get Venus, I hope the honey moon continues for years to come...