This machine has turned out to be an absolutely great experience these first three months!
Being a lurker for ages on all these espresso sites just to find the perfect espresso maker, I finally ended up with the Silvia in my kitchen. Which of course was the same machine every decent review pointed to all the time.. But researching a long time is necessary when buying an Italian machine in Sweden, since this machine sells for $800 here at the current dollar. Yes, a lot of money that is, and I would definately have gotten it cheaper if I had bought from a US dealer, even though the machine would have traveled overseas a couple of times... But I didn't find a US dealer who could provide anything but the wimpy 110 volts, so I bought my machine from Finland instead for some $650. Added a Rancilio Rocky grinder to that. 25 kg Italian steel arrived 1 week later.
Setup and trimming time was not long since I'd read and prepared well. Just bought good coffee. Grinder set up to something that looked like a decent default grind. Warmed the mamchine appropriately. Filled the double poratfilter flat with coffee. Applied the (already well practiced) 30 lbs tamping. Performed a 27 sec pull and watched the extraction, smell and taste. Iterated this a few times with all parameters constant until I settled the Rocky at 10.5 grind. After that the machine was instantly useful and produced good espresso!
And after a couple of months I now find it easy to re-calibrate the grinder to new coffee and get great espresso from the Silvia after 1-2 shots.
The machine is generally sensitive to grind, and tamp. But at my current experience level (1-2 shots/day) I don't consider it very sensitive to under/over-extraction, and even less sensitive to temperature variations. However those variables might soon be better understood by me, I now consistently get great shots! Coffee quality though has been very important, and I cannot really imagine how you would get good control and consistent shots without a good grinder. Spend the extra bucks for the Rocky and have more fun.
I have not owned another espresso machine, but comparing the machine quality and the result I consistently get with other machines is pretty simple. The Silvia produces espresso comparable with my local coffee shops, with fantastic crema, powerful steam, but it can't quite make the thick enough froth that should come with a cappucino.I have to paractice more or get that 'frothing tip accessory'. Mechanical quality is best in class, and I would guess by far. All metal is pro/semipro quality, and especially the important filter holder is extremely impressive. A funny comparison is my friend's chrome Fracis X1 which looks great, and it's a good thing my buddy is more interested in home decoration than perfecting espresso. When looking at any vital parts on the Francis machine it all looks very cheap and flimsy, and it's obvious the money went into design on that machine rather than into the espresso. The brew group and portafilter is made of tiny aluminum parts rather than heavy solid brass like on the Silvia. It's constantly clogged and my buddy don't put any tamp at all on his coffee because he obviously otherwise can't get the pressure to make a shot at all! And of course, if you don't have a grinder you can't control grind and pull timing very easily. Comparing those two machines I would obviously prefer the Silvia for making espresso. And when it comes to looks I would go for the Silvia again, just because I like good industrial design.
Even though this machine is expensive in Sweden (and so are most other machines here compared to e.g. US), I recommend it over any other machine available here in that price range, and I would definitely buy it again. And I would, again, not buy it without the Rocky grinder. My overall rating is high because I don't think I would have found a better espresso maker for the money. If coffee means more than looks to you it's a no brainer.