Makes great espresso, steams well, looks nice and is easy to use after figuring out the switches.
Positive Product Points
Makes excellent coffee with the right grind. Separate pump for steam with separate switch. Looks modern. Bright lights help see in daylight. Water empty monitor.
Negative Product Points
Switches are confusing at first. Manual is useless. Stock steam doo-dad isn't very good. Weird noises and steam emanate on occasion.
First, let me comment on price. I paid $900, but there is (as of April 2011) a special from 1st Line where you get a free Ascaso I2 grinder, which makes the price $600. Then 1st Line adds in a heavy stainless tamper and one hole and three hole steaming tips.
I've had a Silvia for over ten years. It's been good, but got cranky as time went on. Although it could be fixed, I wanted something that would steam and make coffee without a wait. After looking at everything available online, I decided on this one, because of comments on quality, price, and the vendor's recommendation.
It's taken about three weeks to get the right grind, fill, and tamp. It is very sensitive to fill - the manual says "3/4 max" on portafilter fill, but it's not clear if that's before or after tamping. What I've found is that with a powdery grind, filling to the top of the double basket and then a firm tamp seems to work. Any more and it chokes the machine. For the first couple weeks, espresso was pretty sour. Finally found a combination that works. The two beans I've found that make the best espresso are the Caffe de Sol from Vita in Seattle and Malabar Gold. Since Malabar Gold is available locally and Vita charges a fortune for shipping, it's Malabar Gold for now. I get a rich, creamy and flavorful double espresso almost every time.
One thing I really appreciate is the bright lights. I wouldn't like them if I was sleeping in the kitchen, but in my kitchen which is very bright when I get a sunny morning (rare here in San Francisco), I can see the lights which I couldn't with the Silvia. The switches are simple if a bit poorly marked. Another thing that I like, although I haven't had to use it, is the automatic water shutoff. And it looks terrific.
Steaming isn't as powerful as the Silvia with the three hole tip but I get better results with the one hole tip that 1st Line includes. The stock frothing aid tip works OK but not great, and the three hole tip didn't work for me at all. I don't mind the lack of a knob - my experience has been that I always turned up the Silvia to the maximum position. I don't try to make beautiful patterns with the milk, I have read that it's not great foaming for that.
I don't know yet if it's normal, I get some odd sounds and steam coming out near the tank. It doesn't seem to hurt operation, but it's a little odd.
I bought my Silvia and Rocky from 1st Line over ten years ago and it was a no-brainer to use them again. The woman who handles sales on the phone is helpful and has been there since I first bought from them.
Three Month Followup
I'm using a different bean now that I really like and getting consistently great espresso. I'm happier with what I get than I am with all but the best local shops. What I really like is the consistency - when I used the Silvia, I got a great shot every now and then - and with this one, I get great shots about 9 out of 10 times.
I did have a problem - the plastic hose to the portafilter developed a pinhole leak. It didn't hurt the espresso, but it sprayed the inside and dripped out the front. 1st-Line was great, I sent a photo so they knew which hose, and they immediately sent me a braided stainless steel replacement, much better than the original hose.
One Year Followup
I have no problems getting excellent espresso with this machine, bettre than what I got with the Silvia. I still enjoy the ability to steam and brew at the same time, although it would be nice to have more powerful frothing. The power indicator light burned out, it seemed a little early in its life for that to happen. 1st Line sent a replacement immediately, hopefully the new one will last more than a year.