Silvia's a very solid, heavy machine, as well as looking great in that stainless-steel, commercial restaurant equipment sort of way. There are few plastic or electronic parts to fail or break. Lots of heavy metal to contribute to temperature stability. It's easy to clean, and can be backflushed.
Negative Product Points
I wish Silvia had better thermostats with a tighter on-off range, the original three-hole steam wand tip, and some type of level sensor for the water reservoir.
I paid $399 with shipping and a few extra things thrown in, at 1st-Line (very happy with the transaction). The machine is amazingly solid. It doesn't move when you tighten down the portafilter.
I've been using it for about 2 months now. I was somewhat discouraged the first few days My early shots ranged from good to undrinkable. The more I use it the more consistent they become. My shots now are always good, with about 20% being really, really good . Very rich espresso, not sour or bitter, wonderful crema. It is necessary to develop some finesse with this machine, but it is not great mystery. The first few days I used Silvia, I think my biggest problem was not knowing what good espresso was--hard to get there when you don't know where "there" is. With a little effort anyone can produce good espresso.
The steam production is excellent. With two 20 ounce pitchers I am able to make microfroth enough for 4 double cappuccinos is one steam cycle, in about one minute (either two double shots of espresso before and 2 after, or froth, then the 4 doubles). I use Mark's cheat to start steaming just before the boiler light goes off, maintaining a steady pressure. The milk stretches very quickly, usually more than doubling before reaching 100 F. My pitcher runneth over.
I would recommend this machine to anyone who appreciates good machinery and good espresso; who doesn't mind a little extra work for a superior finished product; who wants as much control as possible over the variables that control the quality of the end product. It's not for folks who value convenience over quality.
I had a lot of expectations when I ordered my Silvia. They have been far exceeded. A superior machine.
I bought this through 1st-Line, and the experience was flawless. It shipped same-day, and was in my kitchen just a few days later. Jim has been incredible in terms of support. He has answered most of my questions via alt.coffee before I even had a chance to contact him directly. If I need anything that Jim sells, he'll definitely get my business again.
Three Month Followup
A year and a half later, I am still loving my Silvia. The worst shots I pull from Silvia are still better than anything I've been able to purchase from a cafe.
My machine came with the 110C thermostat. I occasionally had problems with lots of steam and sputtering from the grouphead, so I put in the 100C replacement t-stat. I can't say I've noticed huge improvements in the cup, but the sputtering has stopped.
I must admit that if I had it to do over again, with my current experience under my belt, I probably would not buy another Silvia. Instead, I'd look for a used commercial machine. As my enthusiasm for espresso has grown, through my experience with the Silvia, I've realized that I really can benefit from the advantages of a commercial machine, (even though I rarely drink milk drinks myself, I find myself frequently pumping out lots of milk drinks for friends). I will be very picky about which commercial machine I move onto from here, however, as I'm finding that Siliva produces as good, or maybe even better espresso than a few of the smaller-boiler HE machines I've played with. Silvia probably won't be my last espresso machine, but maybe it's been a necessary step in my own espresso progression.
A Silvia is like a Kitchenaid mixer or a Wusthof knife. They are fine tools. Silvia doesn't produce espresso, but you can produce great espresso with it. It's only a piece of the equation.