You could spend more, but I don't think you could make better espresso.
Positive Product Points
Negative Product Points
Unstable temperature control (needs a PID) Yes, there is a learning curve for this machine
I was diving into home espresso headfirst and had no previous experience with any machines. I had some time on my hands although not a lot. I had what I thought was a luxurious budget, although it was peanuts compared to what some CG'ers spend on their equipment.
I bought my Silvia used. It was meticulously maintained by its previous owner; it looked & worked as though it might be brand new. I believe that the reviews on this site are mostly fair and spot-on. I will try to avoid repeating what so many others have said so well. I do think that Silvia is solidly built. It's a bit industrial/boxy-looking. The switches are all high-quality. The other parts also appear to be built to last. The dispersion screen, the O ring, the casing: all are heavy-duty. The rubber feet are firmly attached (how many appliances come with skimpy rubber feet that fall off after two weeks?) The resevoir is reasonably sized, but of course it must be checked often and there is no gauge for the water level. I think it's nice that the resevoir is completely removable for cleaning. The machine is a bit heavy, making it easier to lock the PF in place. The drip tray is more than adequate, provided I catch water from any flushing or blank shots into a mug. Don't flush right into the drip tray; it's not big enough for that. The drip tray is large enough to collect the backflush from approximately 10 uses. After about 10, the tray must be emptied (be careful, it's hot). There are sharp edges on the drip tray that would benefit from a minimal amount of machining to dull them. I store my espresso cups on top of the machine because they look cool, but not because they get especially warm up there.
Cleaning and backflushing are easy. Descaling is easier. All should be performed at regular intervals, and the necessary supplies should be included in your budget for any espresso machine.
Temp surfing sounded pretty easy to me. I read all about it on this site and on others. When I purchased Silvia, I had no intentions of adding a PID. In fact, I found temp surfing to be difficult, and it made me anxious, and it made me rush my grinding and tamping, and in general it made my coffee-making less enjoyable. After about a month of temp surfing, I bought a PID kit from Jim Gallt of MLG - a CG sponsor. The installation was straightforward and the temp control is exquisite. My Silvia, having been purchased used, is beyond warranty coverage, so no worries about voiding a warranty.
I don't think I could be happier at this point. I'm grinding with a Mini Mazzer, which seemed like an extravagant purchase to me, but the stepless adjustment is really the key to getting the perfect grind. I think that in the end, Freshly Roasted Beans plus a Mazzer plus a PID'd Silvia equals excellent espresso. I hope Silvia lasts a long time, but if it ever breaks (and can't be fixed), I would be reluctant to spend any more on a machine. If I did, I think the extra money would be spent on convenience or bells & whistles. It wouldn't be spent to get better coffee. My coffee freakin' rocks. It takes me about six minutes to bang out two doubles in the morning, including cleanup. I recommend an appliance timer as it gets Silvia nice and warm in advance of morning use.
Silvia has enough steam power for a large pitcher of milk. I have hardly ever run out of steam with my Silvia. The boiler is reasonably powerful. The PID actually helps with steaming, too, as the controller has a temperature readout and it's much easier to start steaming at the "top" of the cycle.
I'd like to make a pitch for home roasting. If you have no local roaster from whom you can buy reliably fresh beans, try home roasting. Freshly roasted beans will dramatically improve the outcome of whatever setup you currently have.
I bought it used from a fellow CG'er. Thanks J!!!
Three Month Followup
Little has changed. I edited some of my original comments for grammar. I also ran out of steam a few times, but only a few times. It is summertime now, and I have to balance my love for iced cappucino with my aversion to pouring an amazing shot over some ice cubes and adding milk. I am still 100% happy with this machine. I gave in to temptation and bought a bottomless PF. The espresso sure does look cool streaming out of the basket all stripey and creamy, but I am not sure it actually tastes better. The best reason to use the bottomless PF is to use the triple basket that came with it. It is not too difficult to restrict a triple shot down to a double, and this is what I make almost all the time. I think some might consider it cheating, but I'm not entering competitions, I'm just drinking great espresso.