This is a real winner. In its price range, there is no other machine that I would buy. While I have never used a Sylvia, from what I have read this is most likely a better machine. The most important point is that it makes great espresso and does it consistently.
The stainless steel housing is beautiful and impressive. The fixtures, including the portafilter, are pro class. You can tell at a glance what is going on by the indicator lights and pressure gauge. The switches are solid and practical. everything is solid and well made.
It has a pressure gauge. This is not so important on a daily basis, but it comes in handy for adjusting the pressure range. My machine would always show a pressure of 13 bar during a pour. 9 to 10 bar is optimal. Since the grind and tamp produced excellent shots, the culprit must have been the pressure release setting. This setting tells the pressure valve when to release excess pressure into the water reservoir. Fortunately this is adjustable on the Venus. Two screws hold the main compartment cover on the machine. Remove this cover and the pressure adjustment nut is right on top. A few turns of the wrench during a pour, while a friend watched the gauge, and the ideal of 9.5 bar was set. Now my shots have less bitterness (you always have some with espresso), and there is far less sour taste. I can really taste the roast. The espresso tastes more like the aroma than before. This is a big selling point for me, a machine that can be easily adjusted to optimal performance. Try to do this without a pressure gauge! Without a pressure gauge you don't have a clue as to how much pressure your machine is putting out to begin with.
Steaming milk into microfoam is a no-brainer with Venus. The two hole wand tip does a great job. It's the tip that folks with Isomac Teas are paying extra to get. It's removable for cleaning, too. The pressure is fine. It won't be as strong as with an Oscar or some other HX machine, but in this category of machine it is fine. Again, easy, consistently great results. Keep in mind that I am never in a hurry to make my drinks and rarely need to make more than two doubles in a row. If you do, perhaps an HX machine would be a better, but more expensive, choice for you.
But, like I said, the most important point is the espresso. Venus does it right. It doesn't take long to heat up, especially if you steam the milk first. I have not found it necessary to temperature surf the Venus. The portafilter holds the heat well. The Guinness effect, mouse tails, tiger flecking, and great taste are my consistent results. I have never tasted better than I make on my Venus, especially now that the pressure release valve has been adjusted.
Are there any points against Venus? Well, yes, sort of. The steam control knob and the wand are both on the right side of the machine. I have compensated by learning to steam milk left handed. Now I have no complaint at all with it. One thing that is a bit disconcerting at first is that the steam control knob doesn't have a mechanical stop. It will keep turning and turning. It does get harder to turn after about two and a half revolutions and I stop when I feel that increase in resistance. Problem solved for me. But there are a couple of omissions that would have made Venus the perfect machine for me. There is no auto-fill for the boiler. You don't usually get that with machines in this class, but it sure would be great to have it. A false pressure relief valve would complete the package for me. Again, this is usually found only in more expensive machines. Lets put it this way, as much as I love my Venus, I would have paid another $100.00 to have these extra two features. But I'm still a very happy camper.
One last thing. Venus is easy to clean and maintain. The portafilter only requires a quick shake over the sink and the puck always falls out easily. No pounding needed. The stainless steel drip tray is huge, so it seldom needs emptying for me. When it does, it's easy to remove and replace. The little grate over the portafilter holder is easy to remove, clean, and replace, too. Windex removes any errant fingerprints from the beautiful polished stainless steel housing.
As you might have surmised, I am totally happy with my Venus. With the addition of boiler auto-fill and false pressure release it would probably be the perfect machine for me. Will I ever get the dreaded upgrade fever again? No doubt. But right now the only machines that I would trade Venus for cost more than double or triple her price. I guess that pretty much sums up my review of my Venus, hoping that I don't sound too much like a commercial for Isomac.
If you have any questions pertaining to the Isomac Venus, feel free to email me. I will be glad to try to answer them.