I purchased the Briel about 8 months ago as my third espresso machine. As it seems goes with most espresso-ers, each step is upward. I started with a Krups Bravo, moved to a Dualit, and now I have the Briel Multi-Pro.
In two words, it's 'very good.'
The Pasquini Livia is still my favorite (though not currently affordable) home machine, but for the price the Briel does a really good job.
I find it is stylish to look at, unobtrusively sized, and easy to clean. It also matches my Milano BEST burr grinder quite well.
The frothing wand is easy to clean, and allows for very precise milk texturing. With some of the learning curve behind me, I am now able to make quite impressive micro-bubbles pretty consistently (I find that adding a tablespoon of evaporated milk to the regular whole milk brings it closer to the depth and strength of European milk).
It has OODLES of power. I can set the Milano to nearly powder the beans and the Briel spews out a fount of red and black gold in about 27 seconds (with crema disc removed). It is not the tallest crema I have ever seen (prolly 15% by volume vs. 30% on the Pasquini) but it is consistent and delicious.
The spout temperature is pretty good for Coffee Americano - if that is your sort of thing. Also, it has pretty rapid recovery for a non-HE (more about that later).
The bargain basement price does come with a few nasty bits though - worth keeping in mind as you shop around. This is all based on a sample size of one, so your mileage may vary.
The steam control knob is not knurled so there is little friction to help you grip it. With wet hands this is a real pain. Further, it requires a Herculean twist to bring to and from Full Stop. Should I fall short of Full Stop, the damn thing drips a small but annoying amount of water. This is a small batch-made product, so each machine will have its own "personality", I know this, but it is still a pain.
Briel has decided to add a really annoying "Feature" to this thing which enables you to choose the amount of espresso you want in your cup, push the button and walk away. Problem is, since I roast my own coffee, not all batches have the same strength/ fortitude/ heartiness/ depth /etc... and if you are making one-off cups, you have to slide the cup out from underneath the stream of hot coffee if you guess the wrong amount for that particular group of beans.
Since this is not an HE (Heat Exchanger) machine, the boiler has to drop temperature and raise temperature to shift between steaming and pulling. It is par for the course for this type of machine, but I figured I would address it. It happens fast, but twenty seconds is 20 too long sometimes.
Finally, you have to PACK THE HECK out of the porta-filter (after preheating, of course) and do a double twist with the tamp in order to get 2 shots of espresso grind to clear the head.
In closing, I would say this is a fantastic starter semi-pro machine. I have been able to pull ten doubles in a row with no fade, but I suspect it would be asking too much for above 20 an hour.
Also, while the pump is plenty strong to froth a 1/3-liter of milk, it is neither high enough on the machine physically nor powerful enough to drive much more than a 1/2-liter pitcher properly.
A great buy at $250-$350, but any higher and look at saving up for the Pasquini.