There is a reason this machine is so popular. It works!
Positive Product Points
Large Boiler Tank. Heavy Duty Construction. Ease of Use. Looks Great.
Negative Product Points
Too much time needed switching from espresso to frothing and back.
I had owned a la Pavoni Professional that I bought in Italy. Gorgeous machine. Copper and Brass, external pressure gauge, just a work of art. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I got the grounds too fine and I couldn't pull the lever and when I would release the filter holder from the group, coffee grounds would spray all over. You've all been there. A mess. I never could achieve the "barista" skills required to consistantly get a great shot of espresso. I figured I was the perfect candidate for an electric pump espresso machine. I decided after much review reading and coffee web site cruising to drop the coin for the Sylvia. So far, I have not regretted my decision.
As with any espresso maker, warm up is necessary. So it is also with the Rancilio. 20-30 minutes is a good amount of time to let it warm up. I get my wife to flip the power on when she leaves the house at 5:30 AM five days a week, so by the time I get up at 6:30, the machine is at optimal operating temperature. I really like the design of this machine. Sturdy, with lots of stainless. The welds in the drip tray are clean. Excellent craftmanship. The pump motor runs smooth and so far, I have not choked it with a too-fine of grind. This is most likely due to the fact that I listened to what other consumers said about not skimping on the grinder; so I bought the Rocky Doserless. I wrote a review of it if you are interested (My first, so don't be too harsh). The Rancilio consistantly produces a first rate espresso with tons of crema. The sugar floats on top for what seems like an eternity. I like it sweet and hot. And hot is what you get. Excellent brewing temperature.
Since I only rarely drink cappucino, the fact that there is a definite lag time when you want to froth milk doesn't really bother me, but if you are a big milk fan, this is something to consider before purchasing the Sylvia. Frothing is easy and even without a three-holed attachment, I can achieve a great microfoam. The real drawback is returning to espresso after having purged the water from the lines. You have to re-introduce water into the lines before you can brew another shot. I think back on the la Pavoni, how I could pull a shot-steam milk-pull a shot with no down time. Oh well, what I now get is a far better shot of espresso than I did with the la Pavoni.
The passive cup warmer is what the name suggests-passive. The cups aren't all that warm, but the chill is definitely gone from them.
The provided tamper is a joke. It doesn't even fit. With the fifty dollar gift certificate I received from Aabree, I ordered a 58mm Rosewood handled barber Tamper. I can't wait for that to arrive.
I intend on updating this review after 3 months, but right now, I am very satisfied and look forward to my morning shots.
Good Experience at Aabree.com. Quick shipment, free, of course. They'll throw in a really nice stainless steel stand with two drawers if you purchase the matching Rocky Grinder. Fifty Dollar Gift Certificate (Reg Barber Tamper with Rosewood Handle!!)
Three Month Followup
After two years and many, many shots of espresso, I have 0 complaints about the Rancilio. Performance is consistant and reliable. I clean it with every 2 new lbs. of Intellegentsia "Black Cat" espresso blend, using a blind filter and "cafiza" espresso machine cleaner, made by Urnex. Really a simple process that seems to keep the machine running cleanly. No pun intended;-) I exclusively make espresso. Cappuccino is reserved for my wife (very rarely) and friends (also rarely). When I look at the prices of the machine now, I realize what a bargain $450.00 was. (Thank you economy) BUT, even if I were purchasing a machine in today's market, there is NO better value for the dollar than the Rancilio. Excellent machine; built like a "brick s__t house" Unless you are made of money, this is a no-brainer purchase.
One Year Followup
This is a 7 year follow up: I can only compare the Rancilio Silvia to a Mercedes-Benz Diesel Automobile. It just keeps running and running. Unbelievable! I have changed my morning habits in preparation. I now religiously coax the machine to the optimum temperature with every shot. I set my microwave timer to 1:00 (conveniently, it sits directly above my machine), I put a cup underneath the frothing wand, open the steaming valve and turn on the water flow switch (middle button). When the temperature indicator light illuminates, I simultaneously start the timer and shut off the water flow and close the valve. In the next 60 seconds, I grind my beans (Rocky grinder, naturally) tamp, etc. and start my Nespresso Aeroccino Plus, (more on that puppy later) and when the timer reaches 0---I start the pull. While this may seem to be a lot of work---the results are consistently superior. Side note: I didn't invent this myself, but read it in one of the many informative articles on the Rancilio Silvia here on Coffeegeek.com. I did modify it to 1:00 from the often-stated :45 sec., however the extra 15 sec. yielded better results. Your machine may differ. I mentioned the Nespresso Aeroccino Plus. In my original review, I noted that one of the drawbacks on this machine (and of all single-boiler machines) is the time needed to froth milk. So much time that I simply gave up on cappuccinos (convincing myself that I exclusively drank espresso). But I tried the Nespresso Aeroccino Plus and, while the temperature of the milk could be a hair hotter, this is a quality machine that is convenient, quiet and well-built. So, mornings, I am back to cappuccinos and thereafter espressos. I am convinced that this machine is the best value for your ever-waning dollar that you can buy.