Excellent first espresso machine for the home. Highly superior value to lower end machines, well worth the step up. Exceptional resale value if later upgrade desired.
Positive Product Points
This machine represents one of the best values in home espresso machines on the market today. As you perfect the holy trinity of pulling quality espresso shots (your tamp, coffee brand, and grind) a home barista can make espresso almost on par with commercial machines costing many times Silvia's price. The unit is constructed with high quality materials and components, and should last for many years under home use as well as retaining good resale value.
Negative Product Points
The machine does not offer an external indicator for water level, which would be useful. The tamper that comes with the machine feels cheap, and not ideal for a good tamp because it is convex. Single shot filter basket isn't easy to get good results from, even using a Reg Barber tamper, and could be improved. I would like to see the steam wand extend an inch or so further away from the machine horizontally for better clearance from the body of the machine while steaming.
Having owned a commercial level machine before, I had been a bit spoiled before I bought this machine at the recommendation of a friend. I have been using my Silvia for about a year now, and am really happy with this as a home machine. With some practice between tamp, coffee brand, and grind, I have found that I can pull a shot that is very very close to what I was getting out of my $5000 commercial machine. It should be noted that my Silvia is a pre-pod adaptable version of the machine.
Let me explain what I mean by 'very very close'. I am not saying that Ms. Silvia will pull a shot exactly equal to a machine costing 10 times as much. But with practice it can be so close as to be nearly undetectable to all but the most demanding of palates. The difference is even less in a latte vs. a straight espresso shot. The main difference I see is that is is easier to get higher quality results on commercial grade equipment. So as I see it, the Silvia offers the espresso lover a great value play. The next level of equipment will run three times the price of this machine, and not every user will get the value out of the expense (though many will).
The Silvia is very easy to operate if you have any experience with espresso machines. My vendor shipped a free disc covering all aspects of operating the machine. The switches are high quality, and are firmly on or off. The internal components are all top notch, and should be highly durable in a home environment.
In terms of aesthetics, I find the machine's looks a little 'boring'. To be fair it is quite classy with it's stainless steel housing, and the 'boring' comment has more to do with the boxiness of the styling. The only other drawback in terms of aesthetics is that it is a bit noisy when pulling a shot.
One of the trade offs that a buyer ends up accepting at this price level is that the machine will be a single boiler/dual use design. This means having to wait between pulling a shot and frothing milk. It doesn't sound like much of a problem in theory, until the user is watching his or her precious espresso sit and wait while waiting for the boiler to come up to temp to steam milk for their latte. I found frothing a bit challenging at first until I got used to this machine. My commercial machine really spoiled me as far as frothing. With the Silvia one needs to use the steam more artfully to get great froth. The key is to start with the tip just below the surface of the milk and create the bubbles first, then go deeper to bring the milk to temp. Once you get used to it, it's a snap. But coming from commercial level equipment I was used to machine where good frothing results were so easy to come by that I didn't even think about it.
As far as other thoughts on this machine, I use a modified steam wand tip sold by my vendor. I like it, and think it was a worthy addition to the machine. I disregarded the tamper that came with the machine, and suggest that a higher quality tamper is required to get superior results with the machine. I use a Reg Barber, and love it. A water level indicator would be nice on the machine. But at this price point (given the high overall quality of components and workmanship of this machine) lack of one is forgivable.
One of the truly great things about this machine is that it has been on the market for several years now. It has a proven track record in the field, and been a durable workhorse. Repair parts and service ought to be available (should you need them) for years to come. This is not the case with every machine on the market, and should be seen as a major benefit of owning this machine. These factors have kept resale values of used Silvia machines relatively high, which could be an added benefit in the future should the owner get the itch to upgrade.
My buying experience was completely positive. Machine arrived when promised, with order full and complete (no back orders). Note that my price was for a package that included a Rancilio Rocky grinder and stainless steel stand with drawers (as well as various useful sundries). Additionally, wholelattelove included a cd that explained the set up,, use and cleaning of machine completely and fully.
Three Month Followup
This is actually an 18 month follow up. I have started to have a problem with Ms. Silvia. The machine seems to be running low on pressure (bad pump?), and is unable to push water thru grinds any longer. The machine has not been used very hard for 18 months (an average of 4-5 shots a week since new), and I am annoyed that I have a repair issue. Luckily the Silvia is a very common machine on the market, so finding a local repair shop should be easy. I will update this entry shortly.