I was an espresso novice when I bought the Vivaldi II, but I have a long history of craving ( and drinking ) good espresso. I roast my own coffee and have enjoyed good drip and press pot at home for a long time, but decent espresso is something that I've always had to track down. I decided to change that.
My research led me to the conclusion that, as an espresso novice, I wanted to focus on my barista skills and building perfect shots, and didn't want a setup that would require a lot of tweaky fiddling or the immediate installation of aftermarket parts on a brand new machine. I also knew that I didn't want to watch the water dance, count down to brew temperature, fill reservoirs and the like. I wanted my espresso machine to do as much as possible for me and allow me to work on my technique, and to allow me first and foremost to enjoy my own espresso as quickly as possible. I wanted usability.
The Vivaldi II fills the bill and then some. It's a plumbed-in, rotary pump, quiet dual-boiler single-group espresso machine. On Day One I was making acceptable espresso, as good as any I've had at local cafes. On Day Two I was pulling actual *good* shots, thick, full-bodied, dripping with crema and better than what I can get locally. Using this machine is EASY - it just works. You may continue to encounter problems on the handle-side of the portafilter, as they say, they haven't made a machine for that yet, but that's the fun part.
The steam is abundant, it was too powerful for me at first, but now I can handle it. Making microfoam has become somewhat mundane now, so I'm starting to try latte art. Unfortunately, the Vivaldi II can't do that for me either.
Programming the volumetric pour buttons on the Vivaldi II is easy. I never make singles, so I programmed the single shot button for a four-ounce flush, and the double button I programmed normally. I use the four-ounce flush to bring the group up to temperature if it's the first shot of the day. Also, even if a button is programmed you can end any shot early just by pressing its button again.
The Vivaldi II is direct-plumbed, and when I tackled that project I also installed a softener and filter, and pressure regulator. All off-the-shelf parts, inexpensive, easy to install, and available in a kit from Chris Coffee. Once done, the convenience of direct-plumbing is so nice - no pouring, filtering or anything else. Softened, filtered water is instantly available, all the time. Now that I'm spoiled I have to figure out how to plumb my Technivorm.
The drip tray is large - I usually make 3-4 drinks in the morning 4-6 more in the evening and it only becomes about half full by the time I go to bed. Cleaning the machine is easy - just remove the shower screens and diffusion disc from the group with the supplied tool and rinse. Once per week I give everything a good long soak and scrub in hot Joe Glo solution and backflush a few times, like any other machine with a 3-way valve.
The Vivaldi II is designed for 15 amp or 20 amp operation. In 20A operation both boilers and pump can all operate at the same time; in 15A operation only one boiler at a time can operate with priority given the group boiler. I run in 15A operation and have never had a moment where there was insufficient steam or a pressure drop.
A word about the portafilter: it's 53mm, rather than 58mm. You may have the perception that the Vivaldi II's portafilter is somehow deficient, but I assure you it is not. The portafilter itself is positively massive, and is chromed brass, and its heat-retention is excellent. The only possible drawback to the slightly smaller basket is if you like to dose more than about 18 grams - above 18 grams and there isn't enough headspace, and you'll need to compensate. As a side-note, the slightly narrower and deeper basket of the Vivaldi II is said to help reduce channeling, but you'll have to judge this for yourself, I have nothing to compare it with.
The timer: due to its self-check routines when it starts up, the Vivaldi II can't be used with a regular appliance timer. I bought the La Spaziale timer and it works perfectly. You can program 3 separate on-off cycles per day, and during programming you can "clone" one day to the next to save time. It works as advertised, and it's been so long since I set it up I tend to forget that it's in operation.
The most important features of the Vivaldi II aren't often mentioned or explained, but they are the key to good espresso and the key to usability - temperature stability and predictability. The Vivaldi II just nails temperature stability and predictability and is a joy to use in that regard.
First shot of the day? Just pull a warming flush. The group won't get hotter than what you've programmed it for, so it doesn't really matter how much you flush as long as it's at least 3-4 ounces, and you don't have to time or count anything afterward as long as you pull your shot within about 5 minutes. Got your grinder dialed perfectly and still find the shot a little sour or bitter? Try adjusting the brew temperature up or down a degree or two with the easy-to-use buttons. Just adjust the temperature, wait a few minutes, and then pull your shot. Once you have the temperature correct, the Vivaldi II will reproduce it consistently over and over for you. Pulling your sixth double in five minutes and worried about overheating? Not going to happen - it's a dedicated brew boiler, and it has an extremely fast recovery. Need to pull your shot and steam at the same time? Vivaldi II can do it with ease in either 15 or 20 amp operation. I don't think it's possible to outrun this machine.
I ordered my Vivaldi II with red panels and the color works very well in my house. The design of the Vivaldi is compact and solid but not hulking, and it definitely breaks the "shiny box" mold - it seems to float over the workspace like a small modern sculpture. It's an attractive package and very impressive in person, and I was very pleasantly surprised after seeing only photos of it.
There is an active Internet community dedicated to the S1 full of friendly, knowledgeable S1 owners ready to help with any teething problems you might have. They've been a big help for a learner like me.