My first espresso machine, and frankly my introduction to the world of good coffee, was a second-hand Brunopasso HA-12 in Japan. I had tolerated drip coffee for an occasional pick-me up before that time but never really liked it (except for the smell of course). I had no idea what coffee could/should taste like until after I learnt how to use the Brunopasso. I really had no idea. I put some coffee in and ran enough water through for a normal cup of coffee. It tasted horrible. Eventually, I read enough advice on how to make a proper espresso and watched enough videos to figure out what I should be doing. Eventually I managed to pull a nice, full-bodied shot with an ample amount of crema for my tastes. I learned through trial and error, timing and tamping, and a lot of bad coffee. I'm not sure what a 'real' espresso should taste like as I've never ordered one at a real cafe, but I know what I like.
So my comments are from that perspective. I'm not a coffee snob, but I appreciate a good, full-bodied, strong cappuccino or latte, but I don't know what the rest of the world may think of my tastes. Your experiences will, of course, vary.
Originally, I had planned on buying a Breville to cover my coffee needs while in New Zealand. I had heard many good things about them and was on the hunt for a second-hand machine, being the student that I am. However, at the last minute, I switched my preference to a Krups after reading about the frustrations others had experienced with the double walled pressurized baskets that Breville uses. Personally, I have nothing against pressurized baskets. My Brunopasso had one, although it used a crema disc rather than a double wall. I'd also used an unpressurized basket in a co-worker's lower model DeLongi. The difference of the end product didn't seam to vary much. All I could tell was that the unpressurized basket was more sensitive to grinding and tamping. Again, this is probably due to my inexperience in making an espresso, but then again, from a design point of view, people who buy lower end machines are more likely to be inexperienced and perhaps even, shockingly, uninterested in the finer points of the barista trade and just want a decent cup of coffee.
Anyhow, when I decided against Breville, a very cheap but lightly used Krups came up on the auction site, so I made a bid and won. I remember the co-worker mentioning that he used to have a Krups before his DeLonghi and really liked it. You can imagine my surprise, then, when upon getting the Krups XP4050, I found it also used the same type of double walled pressurized basket that I had tried to avoid with the Breville. There was no turning back though...
From the very beginning I was quite impressed. The size and simplicity of it really made me smile. I like the fact that I don't have to use a stop watch and constantly watch the espresso for changing colors to indicate the cut-off point. It was very easy to experiment with a few timings and volumes before I finally settled on, and programmed in, a 22-ish mL ristretto that doesn't even have a hint of bitterness and a nice, 1 cm or so crema on top.
Of course, there was a period of trial and error. If the grind is too fine, perhaps what might be used in an unpressurized basket, it will clog. I've only experienced this 2-3 times, but I have, hopefully, managed to find the right grind that will leave me with a nice amount of crema and no clogging. It's a small price to pay. The results of clogging are, as others have noted, dramatic indeed. Rather than a small but voluminous leak around the seal as I experienced with my Brunopasso, the Krups will tend to become really quiet and then explode with jets of steam shooting out both sides for a fraction of a second before a waterfall spoils the small amount of espresso you might have obtained before the clog.
I'm still trying to make friends with the steam wand however. I'm not sure of the logic in it's design. It's rubber, but shrouded in metal, with an additional inlet to admit air to mix with the steam. Does this assist in generating microfoam or a relief valve? I'm not sure, but I haven't been able to consistently make a nice head of foam. To be honest, I wasn't able to consistently do it with my Brunopasso either, and it had a much stronger flow of steam that was fully controllable with a knob on the side. It might just be me. I have managed to get nice microfoam on occasion, but it's hard to replicate. In the end, it doesn't matter too much as I don't know how to do latte art and in the end, the taste is basically the same to me. Lattes are just milkier...but I guess a proper coffee snob would take me to task over that comment.
I'm just an average guy who wants an above average tasting cup of coffee without dedicating my life to it's acquisition. Granted, it has become somewhat of a hobby and has conditioned me to decline the free plunger coffee at my school, but it's not my life. For me, this machine serves that purpose. I haven't experienced the breakdowns that others have mentioned, although if you think about it, reports of failures should be disproportionately represented here because the owner would rightfully feel a need to vent those frustrations. For every negative review, there must be tens or hundreds more that are completely satisfied but simply not bothered to write a review. I can't imagine any company that could stay in business if 50%+ of their products really failed at the rates that are reported on product review sites such as this. Every product has design flaws and the like which are important to consider when making a purchase, but every company also manages to produce a few lemons from time to time and some people also tend to be luckier than others and get consecutive lemons. I wonder if those same people also buy lottery tickets. Perhaps they should.
I've been lucky, or perhaps average, in that my Krups XP4050 has performed well to this point. It was more than a year old when I purchased it and I hope it will last at least for the three years while I'm here in New Zealand. It's not a perfect design, the drip tray leaves something to be desired, but I think for the average coffee drinker who just wants something a bit better than average, but maybe not quite as good as in a cafe, this model will not disappoint them.
If you are a true snob, however, you might want to look elsewhere.