Isomac should have done better, and you can certainly do better.
Positive Product Points
Absolutely Beautiful - Looks sleek and stylish, un-commercial Commercial Grade parts (i'm told) Boiler Ready in 2mins, machine thoroughly heated in 10 (grouphead, cupwarmer, sides) easy to pull great shots with perfect taste and even crema on stale beans giant drip tray/waste valve
if you want espresso staight, get this.
Negative Product Points
Lights on unit are illogical and self-contradicting Everything to do with frothing/steaming is poorly done Watertank used up too quickly The tamper it comes with is way too small.
First off, i'm very pleased with my purchase -- at 449 on competitive sale it was a steal. It now goes for significantly more because of a bunch of issues, and I don't think its worth the difference.
First up, the machine is gorgeous. I think its the best looking espresso machine by far. It looks great in my kitchen -- anything else would look cheap for being plasticy or insane and out of place for being commercial equipment.
The machine makes amazing espresso. Its ready in under 5 minutes to produce a shot better than coffee chains and other machines can. It takes a little longer, but probably only 15 minutes, to thoroughly heat through if you want to make sucessive shots fast or go for 'god shots'.
People talk about a machines ability to make sucessive shots a lot -- I've pulled as many as 7 shots in a row, all spectacular, with about 30second recoil time on the machine (i spent it tamping packing and cleaning the portafilter). This machine can handle entertaining, don't worry.
That said, I have some major problems with it:
1- The coffee brew light is on when you shouldn't brew, and off when you should. I don't know how other machines work, but to me thats just stupid -- it should be on when its ready, and off when its not. Especially since the power light is on when the machine is on, the steam light is on when steaming is on, and the water light is on when water is on. Its really out of place, annoying, and stupid. Hopefully i can pay someone to rewire this.
2- The steaming/water system is awful. Steam + water do come out of the same wand -- and thats fine with me-- except between the condensation in the various piping and remaining water in the pipes, when you bleed the stale water out of the wand on warmup, 1-4 ounces comes out. thats a lot for just starting the machine up.
I've found that after turning on to steam mode, you need to wait at least 1 minute to start steaming, wait anything less, and 2-4 ounces of water will shoot out of the wand before any steam comes out. 1minute or more of waiting, and you're down to under 1 ounce of water that spittles out along with steam for the first 15 seconds.
This isn't annoying so much that it happens, than it is simply because for even 1 milk based drink, in addition to 4 ounces of water spent on wetting grounds and ending up in your cup, you're looking at another 6+ ounces on the steam wand -- thats 10ounces per drink or, as i like to think of it, having to put water in the machine every damn day. An ounce or too probably comes out via the waste valve underneath too.
Back to the wand, I'm sure it makes hot water fine when wanted -- it seems to do a great job when you don't want it too.
The want itself is tiny. It makes great foam, and once steam starts coming out instead of water, there's plenty of it. But what am I supposed to do with it? Its so short. i keep asking myself, was it made for miniature people using miniature pitchers? Realistically, you can only froth/steam 1 drink at a time in a pitcher that holds as much. Nothing else will fit right.
The pump is great and powerful -- but perhaps too powerful. This probably holds true for all prosumer machines -- but this machine is worthless without a good grinder. The free coffee that came with the venus from Aabree had a great grind. The first 2 bags I had a store grind for me were great. The subsequent bags the store ground for me were too coarse. Anything coming out of the $40 burr grinder i had, too coarse (or too fine once i removed the restrictor plate). I went out and bought myself a Mazzer Mini 2 weeks after buying the Venus -- they're a beautiful pair. Unless you have a friend/neighbor with a good espresso grinder or are willing to buy one yourself, don't buy this machine -- you'll waste your money.
Finally, the tamper it comes with is way too small. Yes, i'm talking about the plastic tamper -- but it should be noted that anyone looking at this machine that doesn't have a tamper needs to get one. The filter baskets are 58mm. The tamper is allegedly 53 or 48 (i dont have ruler). You can not tamp with it. Don't try. Don't think you can put off buying the tamper for a little bit. You can't. Espresso needs to be tamped at least slightly for something consistent. after trying everything circular in the house, i finally realized that i could use the double filter basket to tamp the single filter basket until a real one arrived. You need a tamper with this machine, i can't stress that enough. I'm writing so much about this, because i feel its a crime that the Venus is advertised to have a tamper.
This review probably sounds overly negative. I guess it is.
I love my venus, i wouldn't part with it. The espresso it makes is the best i've ever had.
But: The frothing system was poorly designed though. I'm looking at replacing the wand with something taller. The lights just don't make sense. It runs through water fas.
And: I bought it thinking that i was getting an espresso solution. Its not a solution, its part of it. Figure the price of the venus in addition to a_ a correct sized tamper and b_ a grinder
If you have a grinder + tamper, great -- if not, you're probably looking at another$150 at least to get them -- so keep that in mind.
Aabree was pleasant. They giftwrapped it for me for free. It was fun tearing through the wrapping paper. My girlfriend took pictures.
Three Month Followup
12 month followup, and I'm going to be critical.
Don't buy this machine.
It's pretty, but it was engineered by a chimp banging its fist at a typewriter.
Isomac cut corners and made 1 overpressure valve for the boiler and pump, placed in sequence after the boiler. That means -- too much steam in the boiler, it escapes there (good), but if too much pressure is on the group head, it ecapes there as well -- cold water fills the tank forcing the hot water out. That means no temp stability at all on a ristretto.
The overflow valve is also set too high , at around 14bars. You can not change it to be lower unless you alter the physical valve (the spring is too long) -- either by getting a new spring, clipping the existing spring, or drilling out the spring encolusure to let it sit lower. (this may sound confusing, they are all things that venus owners have done in the past)
The machine is beautiful to look at, but that's about it. I tried an expobar, it blew the isomac away, and so i bought one. I am MUCH happier now.
It sits in the corner, i'm going to put a PID on it when I have more time, and am working on a secondary pressure relief valve.
Followup on buying experience: aabree was great to buy from, their tech department was rude, uncooperative, and an absolute nightmare -- they insisted that a 3 way solenoid valve should drip as the boiler gets up to temp, and thats part of the product's design. a local tech suggested it was either dirty or faulty, stepped me through the cleaning process, and then replaced the faulty part when it was obviously broken. The machine was under warranty, but it was costing me more $$ in time, energy and stress to get a warranty repair than have someone handle it independantly.