Well, I was originally shooting for a DeLonghi pump machine (EC460) but couldn't find any reviews on it that weren't blantant product promotions, and after reading all the negatives about their other machines here, I decided to do a bit more hunting. I read the reviews for the X3 and X1 and was excited about the price range these were at and the reported high quality of them. After looking around, I landed on this machine as it had everything I was looking for: Large Tank (well, it could be larger now that I'm in the thick of it), solid boiler, good quality portafilters and a functioning steam wand suitable for making good, solid foam.
I ordered mine off of an eBay refurbished dealer per the reccomendations from someone here, and I am glad I did. Absolutely no surface imperfections whatsoever, maybe a bit on the polished top, but it would be getting that way with use anyways. Everything was in the box, minus the plastic tamper that doubles as a shower screen. Didn't really plan on using that anyways.
First use: My new grinder hadn't yet arrived, so I picked up some pods from the Bucks. Quality was okay to good. Decent crema and taste was not sour in the least. A couple shots later, and they were getting even better. I was so excited about this that I must have pulled about 8 separate shots, sampling and downing each one. Good thing this was on a Friday afternoon! I was good to go for the evening. I even butchered up some beans in the whirly grinder to a fine grind and pulled out a few decent shots that way. Both portafilters heat up nicely with one blank shot pulled through and can heat up by leaving them attached to the grouphead for a few minutes while unattended.
Second use (with grinder): I purchased a Capresso Infinity, again I was impressed with the reviews and I hope mine doesn't malfunction, for use with this machine. I dialed into a Fine setting and it produced a perfectly even and fine grind throughout on the first try. It even dosed out a perfect 2 tablespoons! Enough about the grinder... Using the double basket provided (you get a single shot basket, a double basket and three different pod holders for differnent ESE shots), two tablespoons will fill it loosely to the top and tamps down with good clearance. A flat tamper seems to work well with this machine so far, I may experiment more in the future. Double shots come out in around 23 seconds, thanks the the convenient (but dreadfully tacky) clock. Solid crema, fantasitc aroma and no sourness with quality beans. Temperature seems quite alright.
The steam wand is a tricky bugger. Too low in the milk, no foam. Too high in the milk, bad chunky foam. You really have to get a good eye for this, read the detailed review for the X3 and you'll get a good idea of what you have to do. I've been going a bit low lately and skipping most of the foam for a nice, strong Latte. I have been able to produce some very dense and resilient microfoam. I didn't want to test it out, but I bet I could have balanced a quarter on top of it.
The "cup warmer" is mostly ineffective unless you leave the machine on for about 15 minutes prior to use. The top on mine looks like it doesn't set quite flush with the body and may be the cause of the rattling noise I've been noticing increasinly. When I first used this machine, I was blown away by how quiet it was. After a few uses, it got louder and louder. I might try opening this up and placing a couple of heat resistant shims inside to try and lower the noise level between whatever parts are making contact when the pump is running, it's very metalic and loud right now.
Overall, this is a spectacular piece of equipment for the price. You will not be disapointed, unless you are expecting a pro-level machine at home for less than $500 bucks...but that's a poor expectation.