I have to believe this machine is as good if not better than Livia. If you don't NEED an E61, this may be your machine.
Positive Product Points
Sturdy, reliable and easy to set up and use Polished stainless steel finish and all stainless construction Stable brew group temperature 2 Commercial portafilters included Excellent steaming capacity; brewing and steaming at the same time Ability to plumb it later on Auto shut off protects ruining boiler element Chris two hole steam tip
Negative Product Points
Reservoir gets hot -- don't they all? A bit of a hassle to get to boiler pressure adjustment
This machine, in two weeks of use, has changed my espresso/cappucino rituals. No more temp surfing. No more waiting for steam pressure while the shot cools and loses crema. No more purging an oz. of water out of the steam wand.
Hey, I loved Silvia. It was head and shoulders above the Delonghi pump it replaced. I got a good grinder (Cunill Tranquilo) and with that setup I made awesome shots. I made shots that approached godshots. I also made plenty of undrinkable shots. The Relax has provided me the tool to produce much more consistent espresso and cappucino.
The drip tray is very large by comparison to the Silvia. I am more than satisfied with the convenience. Everyone in the family likes having boiling water immediately available through the wand. It is conveniently located over the drip tray.
The brew group seems very stable with very little recovery time needed to go on to the next shot. The temperature testing I have done so far indicates I need to draw off about 6 oz of water before I can be at a good brew temp. The "thermically balanced" group acts just like the E61 group in that regard. Once I have done that, I quickly pull my shot(s) and they are not bitter. One thing I like about no E61 group is I don't have that big exposed chunk of 250deg steel burning people. We have a tight kitchen counter area. The espresso part of it competes with many other uses. I think the family would not be amused brushing up against the Tea or Millenium.
The other thing that pushed me toward this machine is the fact that the brew screen comes out with a screw and no prying against the gasket. Ultimately, I just want a reliable machine without a lot of maintenance and reordering parts. I don't have a problem with a gasket every year or so, but I didn't want to ruin a gasket every time I cleaned the screen and head.
When the machine arrived it was cycling between 1.2 and 1.4 on the boiler pressure. I didn't realize how much water I needed to bleed off and the shots were bitter (Machristay Italian Roast). I opened the machine up (you have to remove the cup tray, unscrew 2 screws and work the reservoir support/cover out of the way) and lowered the b.p. Big difference -- I've now got it cycling between .95 and 1.1 or so and the shots are not bitter.
There is plenty of steam volume and it appears unending. At first I didn't think it was as good as Silvia. Silvia seemed like such a powerful blast. But the Relax starts dry and powerful and stays that way. The Chris 2 hole steam tip is great. I can whirlpool and microfoam with no problem. Initially I was not thrilled with the steam wand on the left. I was too used to it being on the right with Silvia. I got used to it very quickly. Nothing better than finishing the milk right when your 25 second shot is done!
The machine fits easily (even with cups) under my cabinets). I think the cup warmer works quite well actually. At least as well as any passive arrangement can. Better than Silvia's. The reservoir water gets very warm too. I wish I could plumb the machine now but since we don't own the house we're currently in, that is impossible. The auto shut off button was set so that the machine would turn off when there was still 2/3 of a tank. This button can be easily raised to bring it to a more reasonable 1/3 tank trip switch.
Be careful when moving the machine -- some of the stainless sheet metal under the machine is a bit sharp.
My purchase decision was based in large part on reading comments on this site. I knew I wanted a HX machine. I was partial to the looks of the Livia but it seemed that the prevailing winds among CGers were blowing me toward the Tea. I found the Relax by browsing Chriscoffee.com. It appeared to have all the specs of the E61 machines Isomac made, except for the group. I followed a couple of threads on the Relax's brewgroup and learned that although it was a more traditional group, it was a commercial sized group with some new-fangled thermosyphon to stabilize the group temperature. When Chris put them on sale I couldn't resist. And I couldn't be happier. It's a great machine.
When you factor in the kilo of fine beans (your choice), the blind filter, and the hand-holding you get from Chris, I don't think you can buy it from a better place. However, check your prices and WLL may have it cheaper with an extra year warranty.
Three Month Followup
Almost 4 months of daily operation and I have had no problems with this machine. I am completely satisfied with its consistency of operation. Temp stability is outstanding. I have no reason to switch to an E61 group. I just bleed off some steam and 4-5 oz of water in the morning and its ready to produce shot after shot.