For light duty, with the PID modification and consistent technique, the Silvia is a great performer and a great value!
Positive Product Points
Solidly built with quality components Boiler heats quickly PID professionally installed and easy to use With PID consistent quality shots easy if care taken Good steaming capability Lots of help on the web
Negative Product Points
Single boiler - wait between brew and froth and back again No boiler auto-fill As others have noted, no external water level indicator
I used a lesser machine intermittently for a number of years, but never consistently because, well, the expresso tasted awful. Not surprising, given cheap grinder, off the shelf coffee, pressurized portafilter for fake cremae, and so on. Recently I decided to take a step up, since I really do love espresso (usually straight, occasional latte) and wanted to make it at home and improve on the chain shop quality available locally. Did research this time, and came up with the following based on my constraints:
Constraints: Did not want to go overboard with cost, so value uppermost. Will never need to make more than a drink or two at a time, so single boiler appeared to be the way to go. Reliability: no repair shops available locally
Plan: Remove variables, with constant dosing, distribution, tamping, and coffee quality - Stir with needle in cup, transfer to portafilter, stir again then level with strait edge, tamp 30# with calibrated tamper (Espro) once in center, then N-S-E-W. Finish with a twist to polish the puck. One pound of Intelligentsia Black Cat delivered every Tuesday. Yum. Invest in a good grinder - got a Rocky doserless; felt I could control my OCD enought to "live with" steps; a higher cost grinder did not fit into the constraints new, and I just didn't feel like searching for a deal on used.
After reading about temperature surfing, decided I would not get a Silvia without PID; bought modified Silvia and Rocky combo from HiTech Espresso. With that modification, the machine is easy to use. Warm up for 1/2 hour in the morning. Flush once. Brew when temperature stable. Adjusted grind for 2 ounces in 30 seconds with a double basket. This took 3 - 4 shots. I am extremely happy with the consistent shot to shot quality. I don't have a professional palate, but I did experiment with purposeful over and under extraction. When dialed in now, and with fairly consistent technique detailed above, I produce no sour or bitter shots, and the espresso easily beats anything I can pay for locally (faint praise, I guess). Do have a naked portafilter and the extraction also "looks good". Steaming is helped by the temperature readout - I push the stem button and blow some water/steam out the wand. The temperature starts to rise from 222 degrees (where I have it set for brewing). When it gets to 275 degrees (the boiler light is still on) I begin to steam. The boiler light stays on and steam production remains constant as long as I need. After a bit of practice, I can produce reasonable if not professional microfoam. It helps to keep the pitcher in the freezer, so I have a bit more time before the temperature gets too high. Then I turn off the steam button, and pull some water into the boiler with the brew switch, which brings the temperature down for the next shot. If I'm done, I pull water through the dispersion screen with the Brew switch if steaming was the last activity, clean up, empty the drip tray, refill the reservoir with Britta filtered water, and ready for the next time. 5 minutes for a morning shot, 10 if a latte for my SO is also required.
I hope the machine is reliable, because the setup has really met my expectations and, if all remains functional, will keep me satisfied for a long time.
No real complaints. The Silvia with PID mod was shipped 5 business days after my order, and arrived packed well and without mishap. There was a glitch with the Rocky, which Dave (Hi Tech Espresso) had ordered from elsewhere to be shipped direct to me, and it arrived a week after the Silvia. During the interval, Silvia mocked me from the counter, since I had no grinder. I guess patience is a virtue. I practiced steaming until Rocky came. Dave is a pleasant guy, and immediately responds to both phone calls and e-mail. Excellent buying experience overall.
Three Month Followup
I've used the machine heavily for more than 3 months - at least 5 shots per day, 95% espresso. I remain very pleased with Silvia. It is true, that if you let your guard down with grind/dose/distribute for a moment, you may be rewarded with "spritzers" and a sink shot. I remain a fan of WDT - it is quick and works well to prevent this from happening. Experimenting with different coffees, I noted that different temperatures made them happy, which led me to systematically examine the temperature at the portafilter and its relationship to the PID (boiler) set point. Now, as long as I flush 2 oz. if the machine has been idle for a half hour or more, I have a good idea how the set the PID for different coffees. This has really paid off in consistent espresso. I'm happy with Silvia and don't feel any pangs of upgraditis at this point. A Silvia with PID is an excellent choice to get into serious espresso with an investment that is not quite crazy (I did upgrade my Rocky to a Macap M4 stepless though, and I did see an immediate benefit).