A necessary "one step up" from the Rancilia Silvia, and very similar in performance to a commercial grade unit; all for well under $1k.
Positive Product Points
Heavy build, outer skin all stainless - attractive mirror polish finish. Large boiler and heat exchanger system allows running shots and immediately running steam for frothing. Hot water dispensor is excellent for quick cup warming. Very similar in operation to small single brew group commercial machines. (However, not NSF or UL listed for commercial use).
Negative Product Points
Minor fit issues with sheet metal, but easily finger bendable for better fit. the drip tray, for instance, tends to catch on the brew group cover. By pushing on the sheet metal, the drip tray easily comes out and goes back in. the instruction manual is rediculously poor. My vendor provided supplemental instructions; good idea! Water reservoir could be larger. This is a pour over the top refill machine. Be prepared to remove the top cover and regularly refill the plastic tank. If under a counter, you'll want to use a flex hose and funnel to assist in more easily pouring water into the tank. The water reservoir tank sits on a spring loaded base, which is attached to a micro switch. The micro switch will shut off the brew unit when the water level is low, but not necessarily "really low." A more accurate safety switch would be appreciated. Critical issue is the lack of water level monitoring. You have to "know when to refill the tank." This comes with use, but for me it's a pain which I will hopefully resolve when we move to our new house. (I'll install a hard plumbing kit for supply and drain.)
Having started with a Gaggia super auto machine, I was quickly disappointed with the lack of control. I returned my Gaggia Compact, and on recommendation of my vendor, bought the Expobar. All of the positive comments you read are true. This machine is, from my research, the logical step up from the Rancilia Silvia. It features an E61 "type" brew group, which means it is a heavy block of metal. This is important for maintaining even brew temperatures. The portafilter is 58mm and commercial grade. Comes with a single hole frothing tip, but a 2 hole tip is available for faster frothing of larger amounts of milk. For best results, I recommend the following:
Buy an MDF grinder or better. (I use a grind setting of 4 for Malabar Gold, WLL brand)
Buy a good 58mm tamper. Do not use the undersized plastic tamper as supplied with machine.
Buy an under-sink 2 section, 10" cartridge, water filter system; softener cartridge and combo sediment/charcoal cartridge. (or better) I'd recommend not using the "in line" resin-bead softener cartridge that attaches to supply line in water tank. (beads can break loose and cause damage to boiler)
Backflush brew group once a week minimum. (ask vendor for safe backflush cleaner)
It would be redundant to reprint or restate the specifications for this machine. More important, to assist in a buying decision, I can say that with exposure to commercial machines, I consider the Office Pulsar (manual brew control), or Office Control (volumetric brew control) to be the minimum level machine for anyone who wants to enter the "commercial style" home machine market for under $1k. Again, I nearly purchased the Rancilia Silvia, based on glowing reviews. But having spent the extra couple hundred dollars for the Expobar, I'm satisfied that the shots I make at home are as good, or better, than many I've purchased from commercial cafes. Good espresso will always depend heavily on the talents of the barista, but it certainly helps to start with a machine that will afford you the necessary brewing power.
WLL was my vendor on the Expobar and MDF grinder. Their high level of both pre sales and post sales support was very much appreciated. I was very satisfied.