You know those bumper stickers that say "My other car is a Mercedes"? Well, my other espresso maker is a Pasquini Livia. :-) But when I decided to buy a second machine for another location, I decided to go with a less expensive, but still quality, machine. After going back and forth between the Racilio Silvia and the Gaggia Coffee, I decided on the less expensive Gaggia.
I knew that I would give up some of the features in the low priced Gaggia that I have become accustomed to in the Pasquini. In particular, the Livia has a larger boiler, a pressurestat, backflush, larger reservoir, the ability to brew and steam concurrently, and a lot of stainless steel. Of course, these features come at a cost - the Livia sells for over 4X the price of the Gaggia. For $300, I consider the Gaggia Coffee Deluxe a best buy. The Gaggia offers a commercial-size group head and an impressively heavy portafilter. In fact, I think I like the Gaggia portafilter better that the one that comes with the Livia.
The Gaggia Coffee comes with a removable plastic Pannarella or "turbo frothing wand". I have not been able to get decent steamed milk or microfoam using this attachment. After a few tries, I removed the attachment, using just the permanent stainless steel tube. That did the trick, producing decent microfoam and/or steamed milk - not quite as good as the Livia, but respectable. BTW, there is another attachment included - some kind of pump designed to froth large quantities of milk, that is still in the original bubble wrap. :-)
Since the Gaggia Coffee De Luxe from costco.com shipped with 2 cans Lavazza pre-ground espresso coffee, I thought I'd try to see if I could avoid buying a grinder. Your mileage may vary, but I was unable to produce espresso with this coffee, because even though it was supposedly ground finer for espresso machines, it was still way too coarse. No amount of tamping with the included plastic throw-away tamper helped. Well, at least it was worth a try.
So I paired the Gaggia with a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder. Even though the Rocky costs nearly as much as the Gaggia, I was not disappointed. From my first attempt, I was rewarded with a good quality espresso with plenty of crema.
As I said, I knew that I'd be giving up some niceties. The lack of a 3-way solenoid means that after brewing, some water is left in the portafilter, so the puck is a little messy compared to the Livia. I have found that I need to be a little careful when I disengage the portafilter from the group head after brewing so that the pressure does not cause hot water and grounds to squirt out. But this also means that I don't have to backflush cleaner through the Gaggia either.
The Gaggia's drip tray is deep, which is good, because after frothing/steaming, you have to turn off the steam switch and run a considerable volume of water through the portafilter before the boiler temperature drops back down to brewing range. I definitely recommend steaming/frothing first, and then brewing, so that the crema does not dissipate while you are steaming.
My Gaggia was pretty noisy when pulling shots, but I determined by pressing against the top that a good deal of the noise was caused by vibration of stainless steel top. I was able to significantly reduce the noise level by gently tightening the two phillips screws on the top cover, being careful not to strip the screws. So I would recommend checking this if your unit seems noisy.