Must be plumbed in. (John Guest products--not supplied--worked very well, but the connections to the machine and supplied filter are European and not available at the big box stores.)
Odd basket size and shape. (see the 3 month follow up for update.)
You can get a very good machine for less money, but I'm not sure you can find a better value. (The comparison to a stereo component seems right.)
My price paid includes the $300 shipping charge. Otherwise, the higher cost is mostly due to the exchange rate being less favorable than in the past.
I won't recap information covered in the excellent reviews already published. Before my purchase though, I was a bit worried that all the reviews were several years old. I can, perhaps, address some issues raised here and on other sites.
Bottom line: I love this machine--it's actually hard to make really bad coffee (though I've managed to succeed a time or two.) Consistently excellent expresso took awhile, but that reflects my lack of skill and knowledge.
My reasons for purchase have held up to six months of daily use. 1) I didn't want to invest $1000 plus on a coffee maker only to be dreaming about my next purchase. 2) I wanted the machine to be very consistent so that I could work on my techniques. I didn't want to wonder if that nasty tasting coffee was caused by variations of temperature or pressure in addition to wondering about grind, tamp, cupping and roasting techniques. 3) I wanted a quiet machine so as not to alter the overall pleasure and beauty of the early morning espresso. 4) I wanted a short warm-up time. 5) I wanted easy temperature adjustments, though this has turned out to be less important than I thought.
1st point: perhaps because so many people have commented on the small size, the machine was larger than I had expected. It's small for a commercial machine. And even though it really is about the size of a small microwave, unlike the microwave it's deeper than it is wide. So I ended up putting it in a corner instead of where I had planned. Since I had already added the 220 outlet, the commercial sized cord ended up stretched along the counter rather than being hidden behind the machine. After rearranging other things it looks fine, but I wasn't sure for awhile.
2nd point: the water filter/softener shipped with the unit from France is actually optional and sold at cost. Since refill cartriges aren't available in the U.S. (or online from a U.S. source) I would have been better off buying a filtering unit from a local source. This would have simplified the installation as well, since I could have used U.S. fittings for everything except actually connected to the machine. (The European fittings are readily available and reasonably priced online, and Rene has a guide explaining what is needed.)
3rd point: the standard filtering unit is a combination water softener/filter since this is usually needed in Europe. If your tap water is naturally soft and you install the softener anyway, you run the risk of some early machine corrosion. (Hence some of the ugly online pictures.) If your water's already soft, then a simple charcoal filter is recommended.
4th point: the basket size and shape are a little odd and require learning some new techniques or paying for a custom-made 57.5mm tamper (see 3 month followup for an update). My understanding is that a 58mm tamper can be used with a European technique of grinding finer, tamping lightly, and allowing the screen to compress the puck. However, the 58 mm tamper won't fit below a ring (an indentation where the basket clips into the portafilter) so the 30# tamping technique won't work very well. My understanding is that the European technique gets excellent results though I've never actually tried it. I'm using a 57 mm tamper which also works well. Since the basket slopes inwards, you can use the standard U.S. technique, but getting a good seal is a little iffy. Lately, I've been setting the tamper down lightly and then spinning it (as if it were a top) back and forth, lightly at first then faster as the puck settles. What I discovered was that after 15-20 seconds of this the puck is as compressed as it would be with a 30# tamp. At this point additional pressure doesn't compress it any further, and I've found the coffee to be excellent and much more consistent.
5th point: the new design addresses earlier complaints. A)Temperature is now adjusted in one degree Celsius increments (but across a narrower range). B)The standard frothing tip is now 3 holes, and a 2 hole is available. Using the 2 hole, a single serving of milk still steams so quickly that if my concentration lapses for a second the quality of the foam drops. A larger portion is easier to froth consistently, but I hate throwing the extra away (see 3 month follow up for correction). C) A pressure-stat comes standard but is inside the machine and not normally visible.
6th point: the less I adjust the temperature the better the coffee turns out. Maybe once my roasting, grinding, tamping and cupping techniques approach perfection, I'll be able to know with certainty that the change in taste or quality was caused by a one or two degree temperature change. What's nice about this machine, however, is that I don't have to wonder if fluctuations in temperature changed what would have been a perfect cup. Among the many things I learned from Rene of Just Espresso, is that espresso tends to be made at different temperatures in different countries and in different regions, all with excellent results. Good baristas differ in their preferred temperature, but everyone agrees on the need for consistency.
Just Espresso now takes Paypal, easier and more secure than wiring money.
Working with Rene was delightful. Much of what he provides is information unique to this product and purchase experience. Though I don't usually like to deal with a lot of details, I enjoyed it this time. Each of the projects (exchange rates, electrical wiring, plumbing, direct importing, clearing customs) required learning about things that wouldn't have crossed my life otherwise.
I learned so much and had so much fun exchanging emails with Rene of Just Espresso that I can't imagine buying this machine in any other way. His excellent, thorough, and patient support has been noted by many reviewers, but no one mentioned that the man is an excellent writer. Reading his emails was a pleasure. I asked many questions over a several weeks before making a decision. Then I waited another month before actually purchasing it. My last question was several months after I'd been using the machine on a daily basis. And I'm sure that when I have questions in the future, he will once again answer quickly and with balanced information. He seems to be enjoying himself so much, that it's easy to forget he's actually in business. Never once did I feel he was trying to persuade me or even influence my decision. The unique marketing agreement he has with Reneka along with having an excellent product in a unique niche/price point probably make this all sustainable. But whatever the reasons the process was delightful when it could have been stressful and confusing.
It all became part of the coffee hobby.
Three Month Followup
Not long ago, I bought a 58mm tamper from Espresso Parts that fits perfectly into the basket. Since I don't have a caliper, I'm not sure if Reneka re-sized the basket or the tamper is tooled 1/2 mm small, but it works great and leaves me with almost no negatives. I really like this machine.
I'm also getting good use out of the temperature adjustments as my skills have improved, particularly with steam temperatures. The problem I was having steaming small quantities of milk (with the optional two hole tip) resolved when I lowered the steam temp. Since I have more time, I get more latitude for small errors. Fine microfoam is the norm (unless I daydream more than usual.)
The best advice I read (somewhere) is to forget about roasting until your other skills improved. It's one less variable, meaning it's easier to isolate the variable that made the last cup better or worse--not that I followed the advise. (The tutorials at Sweet Maria's helped make everything else that much better.)
I'm still having a blast and can't imagine having a machine that isn't plumbed in. Now, if I could just get this good at golf.
Here's the link for the tamper. I'm using the convex 58mm. Ignore their recommendation for a 56mm tamper for Reneka unless you want to spray espresso from the bottom of a naked portafilter.