I took delivery of Venus in January 2004, so I have been using her for well over a year and have gotten to know her inside and out. Venus replaced a FF X1 that i owned for less than a month (i was extremely dissatisfied with the FF). I've gleaned so much information from this forum that I was starting to feel very guilty for not getting this review done.
I bought Venus along with a rocky ss doser from Jim at 1st-line, and both products arrived in the same box, well cushoned in an explosion of styrofoam peanuts. Although the manufacturer's packaging didn't appear to be damaged, it was obvious upon removal that somewhere along the line the box or just the machine alone had been dropped and as a result of poor packaging or bad QC at the factory, the machine was damaged. The "power" toggle switch was bent along with the steam wand and the drip tray railing (interestingly enough, the same railing damage is apparent Mark's pictures on his first look review.). I bent the latter two back in place, and contacted Jim who kindly sent me a new toggle switch.
After flushing and waiting the required amount of time, i was ready to make espresso. The first batches were horrible--I couldn't get rocky to grind fine enough, and i couldn't tamp hard enough to keep the water from blowing the puck away and rushing through. Awful, just awful. Every time I made a shot, the thing sounded like it would rattle apart. Plus, water dripped from the steam wand. There were several issues that I had to work through during the first month or two:
- Pressure was incredibly high. Thanks to CG forums, I learned how to adjust the OPV. However, I couldn't get it to go low enough to reduce the pressure and not leak from OPV. I ended up taking the OPV apart and cutting the spring.
- Cup holder/lid rattled like crazy. I ended up using some of the velcro material that i used to modify the rocky doser vanes to cushion the lid. this had reduced but not completely eliminated the rattling.
- Drip, drip, drip from the steam wand. I replaced the o rings on the stem. Still dripped. Replaced the stem. Still dripped. Removed and reseated the steam wand--this seemed to fix for the most part.
Other issues: Sharp, sharp, unfinished edges--particularly on the drip tray cover and the lid. Have to be careful when handling these items otherwise you'll need a box of band-aids in your workstation. The piece of steel that the lid is made from is of much poorer quality than the rest of the machine--it's thinner and the chrome plating is poor.
Now that the kinks have been worked out, I make good espresso with this machine. Really good. I temp surf and get consistant results. I toyed with the idea of installing a PID, but that would only A) ruin the aesthetics of this Italian beauty, and B) serve to further supress my true illness, which is upgrade fever. I want a Lyra and I want it bad.
I cannot comment on steaming--i rarely froth milk because it's a time killer. It's sad that here lately, I rarely offer guests coffee, espressso, etc. because I don't want to spend all of my time in the kitchen waiting for proper steaming temperature. A Lyra (or an S1) will cure that.
Regardless of what others have said about this and other Isomacs, it's easy to keep clean--a once over with a windex soaked paper towel and she's back to showroom beauty. Other users complain that the lights are confusing--seriously, folks, there are only 4 lights--use the machine for 20 minutes and you've figured them out.
If you are drinking espresso, and only espresso, Venus is a solid choice. I, however, make a lot of long drinks and have become incredibly annoyed by the rebound time. If you make long drinks frequently, or have lots of guests, this (or any other dual-purpose small boiler machine) is not the way to go. Although I've not used Sylvia, if I were in the market for this class of machine again, I would definitely pick Venus over Sylvia. Nicer looking, larger boiler, etc.