Nothing beats playing on a machine of this quality and even my girlfiend understands.
Positive Product Points
Exceptionally reliable and indestructable. Plumbed into the house via water filter so needs no filling. Relatively simple mechanics internally and replacement parts easy to source and install. Milk wand copes with small and large pitcher volumes with ease. Makes the kitchen look like a small cafe!
Negative Product Points
Needs decent bench space to do it justice. Likes regular backwashing (may be related to age). Eats a reasonable amount of electricity. If you don't leave it on permanently it takes a fair while to heat up properly.
I purchased this machine from a guy who made a part time living dealing in 2nd hand cafe equipment. His usual practice was to buy , do up/service, then on sell. As he worked for a coffee retailer he had access to upcoming sales.
A chance meeting and good timing lead to the above price, after I had had a chance to use the machine at his house for half a day to ensure that it was in good working order, at that stage it was 8 years old After purchasing I shipped it to New Zealand and had it serviced by a cimbali agent here to make sure it was not suffering from any major issues (which it wasn't).
The total cost of buying,shipping, initial service and then getting water filter etc all connected up and having the machine on the bench running was appox $550. Since then I have used the machine to make about 6-10 coffees a day and occassionally it has catered to 40+ coffees in a 24hr period. Over the 2 years it has given me no problems. It takes a visit to the cimbali agent once a year for a health check etc and I backwash it about once every two weeks with a full cleanout, wash of grouphead parts etc. I try and give it simple backwash every day.
The semiauto settings (4 of them) can be changed by opening up the machine and moving the sensors manually. On newer models this is a programmable function. It has a sight glass at the front for a visual that the machine is filling properly and makes satisfying clicking and water in pipe noises (and a little orange light glows) to help reassure you that all is well! While you are setting the sensors you will notice that all the internals appear very solid and simple. All the internal parts are the same as for their commercial machines. This thing is made to stick around for a long time! This is reflected in the fact that is dry weight with no portafilters is 35kg (77 pounds!).
The quality of the coffee that can be produced is limited by the skill of the barista only. I have witnessed pro barista's playing on it and they produce fantastic coffee after a brief acquintance period.
At one stage I had it connected to a plug timer so that it came on early in the morning and again about a 1/2 hour before I would return from work. This did require you to decompress the milk wand and let pressure rebuild before you could use it and since then I have given up on that and it remains on permanently. Using it either way has not created any problems but it does take a while for the thing to heat up properly .
This machine has survived me learning about machine maintenance, shipping, 10 years of ongoing use, multiple barista's and has never given me a serious problem.
As I have never owned another machine it is hard for me to compare. That said friends have machines more traditional for home use and I have been less than impressed by their robustness or performance. and they have all had problems requiring a relatively expensive service. None of them had that solid "I am a barista" feel to their use. I would never consider buying a machine that you have to wait for boiler pressures to change between espressing and frothing, anytime I have had to use one of these I am thankful for my Cimbali.
This machine is so good that when the debate with the girlfriend about whose place we are going to sleep at starts it is settled with the all conquering "I have the coffee machine".
As this was a second hand purchase it is hard to comment. However if you can find one for sale it would be worth checking out as like as not it will be in good working order or require little to get it that way.