The machine is great looking and seems to be well built. It is easy to use, and if you buy the bar (machine, grinder, and drawers with knock box), it comes with most everything you need to get started. The new, glossy manual is indeed more helpful than the old photocopied one; both came with my set.
Negative Product Points
As noted elsewhere: the drip tray is shallow (but it will hold the run-off of eight or ten draws). The plastic tamper is a joke, but most people will want to choose a Reg Barber, Ergo Tamper, or an aluminum one themselves anyway.
First, let me admit that I am a newbie at this. Thanks to Mark and everyone who contributes to this site; I made this huge purchase on the strength of your recommendations and the assistance of your advice. I have previously trashed Krups and Capresso steam toys, and decided to go for a quality machine. I was originally taken in by the LOOKS of the Francis Francis! but reviews on this site and Amazon.com convinced me that I could throw good money at better merchandise. It took me a few days of Internet Shopping to accept the price of a prosumer model, but I wanted to get something I could grow into. (Boy, did I. I got the Livia 90 Automatic, Moka grinder, and an Alpenrost home roaster all at once: so many variables--so much wasted coffee, but I digress . . . .) Incidentally, I read a lot of rationalization online about "saving money" with a prosumer machine instead of spending $3 per day at Starbucks. Most of those mathematicians left out the cost of coffee, bottled water, electricity, art cups, rosewood tampers, espresso machine detergents, etc. But, wearing your pjamas to the Livia: priceless.
A friend of mine owns a coffee shop in town, so I ran the specs for the Livia 90 past him. He said they were impressive "for a home model," but suggested that I let him find a used commercial single-group unit for a comparable price. I thought about that and decided that I didn't want to plumb the machine directly or install a 220 outlet for it (even though the longevity of a rotary vane pump was seductive) and I thought the Livia set would look shiny and clean in my kitchen, and it is smaller than most commercial units, so I turned down that alternative. I'm glad I did because a portable machine is more flexible for home use; I could carry this to a party, if I wanted to.
I am not the chef in our household, and I am the only coffee drinker, so I knew it would be hard to wrangle the counter space required for this. However, I discovered that the pointless "planning desk" in our 70's kitchen was a perfect fit for the Livia bar and was able to secure that real estate with some shrewd bargaining (a wireless hub for the laptop that usually sits there). If your kitchen has a "desk" in it that is slightly lower than the standard countertop, the fit should be grand; mine looks built-in there, with just enough clearance to refill the water tank with a drinking glass.
The Livia 90 comes right out of the box ready to steam: just add water. It took one minute to set it up, and about half an hour for me to work up the nerve to give it a try. I'd read too much David Schomer and was afraid a basic espresso was rocket science. (It IS Rocket Science, of course, but my first pull resulted in a slightly bitter product with tons of crema.) Following the advice of several Coffee Geeks, I worked on a consistent tamping procedure (although this will not be perfected until my Ergo Tamper gets here), and then experimented with grinds.
A couple of days after the bar arrived, I followed the directions on CoffeeKid.com for tearing down a Rancillio Rocky Grinder (thank you Mark; you are a "Prince."), and disassembled the Moka. Actually seeing the burrs helped me get a grip on this process, and I discovered when re-assembling it, that "1" is not necessarily finer than "25"; it all depends on how the top burr threads onto the bottom one. Right now "6" is the closest fit on my machine. That was a revelation to a novice like moi.
Hubris is the enemy of the ignorant, and I burned my first 1/2 pound of coffee beans, trying for a very dark roast. Then I followed the directions and Schomer's insistence that a Northern Italian espresso is the best. Aiming for a "City Roast" has been very successful.
I've had this apparatus for a week now, and I still don't let dinner guests watch me act out my barista fantasies because about half of my creations end up in the drain or the knock box. (I'm a whizz at milk drinks, but I figure my odds of hitting a "God Shot" this month are about the same as being singled out in the President's State of the Union address for helping the economy with this purchase.
Bottom line: I am glad I skipped the Rancillio Silvia phase and went directly to "Go" with the Livia. I would do it again. I like leaving the machine on all day long on weekends, and my skills are improving daily; it is great looking, and it actually inspires confidence with its heavy-duty construction and reasonably consistent steam pressure and temperature. Plunge the "Turbo tip" into a pitcher of skim milk, and it froths itself--2% milk is a little more difficult. The Livia 90 feels very solid, and is fun to play with--even when the results are mediocre. With freshly roasted beans and a warm cup, almost anyone can pull a good looking ristretto with a Guiness-like crema. I'm never going to be a macchinesti, but I think this machine will stand by me while I keep trying.
Daily Grind does not have the rock bottom best price on this product, but the folks who answer the phone there were very helpful in answering my questions before I made the purchase, so I called them back when I had decided to opt for the Pasquini.
Three Month Followup
I realize I wrote this review before the garbage trucks had crushed the delivery box and that is bad form, but I had hoped to help others over the 1K hurdle in deciding which machine to purchase. I have had the Livia for six months now, and I'm still really happy with it. I lost the "turbo tip" in a drawer and spent a Saturday morning learning to froth milk with the chrome one; it is much superior once you have the hang of it. Of course, I have occasional waves of upgrade mania (when I think a classic 1930's chromed Gaggia would be like having a sports car for the kitchen). So, it's not a Silver Porsche Spyder. However, I can say I have fairly consistent results with the Livia now, and I wouldn't ever say I'd outgrown this set-up. It is attractive, efficient, and challenging.