I did a ridiculous amount of research before buying, and ventured into Ascaso territory despite the complete lack of customer reviews for this product. The CoffeeGeek "first look" review was extremely helpful, however. I had been using a Kitchenaid Proline, because it had dual boilers and allowed no wait time between brewing and steaming, and it was red and beautiful. The Ascaso goes several steps better than this, for the same money, by actually allowing simultaneous brewing and steaming (with no loss of power - there are two pumps), and by building a wonderful little hot water dispenser in right next to the group head.
But features, ease of use, understated beauty, and all else aside, what really matters is that this little machine has the heart of a professional rig, producing the best-tasting espresso I've had outside of a Portland Stumptown cafe. I'm sure there are machines out there that do it as well, or even incrementally slightly better, but from my research most of them have boilers that take 15 minutes to warm up (Who can wait that long in the morning?) and are counter-space hogging, power-hungry behemoths.
Don't be fooled by the Ascaso's relatively quiet performance. Lots of noise, a too-powerful pump, and agressive steam power do not, in my experience, translate into great coffee. This machine gets the job done in a very civilized, elegant, and yes, very fast, manner. A cappucino is on the table for my wife in less than five minutes from the first bleary pass-by punch of the "on" switch (2 minute warmup, 30 second rinse of portafilter, a blast of water from the dispenser to heat the cup, then grind, dose, tamp, and brew - the 25 seconds to pull a shot is just the right amount of time to froth 8 oz of milk, so nothing is sitting around cooling off - then you're off and drinking). My own americano takes another minute or so. I'm almost sad when the process is over.
I was so impressed by my first weeks with the Steel Duo that, even though i was getting good results with my Solis maestro grinder, i also sprang for an Ascaso flat-burr doser grinder with infinite grind control. That was the icing on the cake. Now my espresso (first one of the morning to last) is even more consistent, reliable and delicious. My wife, who was sad to see the Kitchenaid's beautiful red chassis leave the kitchen counter, was quickly swayed by the quality of her morning coffee from the Ascaso.
The only thing I am unsure about is whether Ascaso will have decent customer service if/when i need it. The instruction manual is not promising. One thing about Kitchenaid - their customer service is unbeatable. Unfortunately this translated to them sending me a new machine every 18 months when the Proline would reach an unacceptable level of leakiness.
I look forward to revisiting this review when I've run the ascaso through its paces for a full year.