Great performance for the money; buy this one and put the rest into a grinder and roaster!
Positive Product Points
Good quality espresso with lots of crema (with non-pressurized portafilter). Can produce microfoam, even without frothing gizmo. Very solid build quality.
Negative Product Points
Small boiler causes heater to kick on during shots. Comes with crappy pressurized portafilter. Small boiler also effects frothing performance. No 3 way solenoid means soupy pucks.
I bought this machine on ebay for $145 from a guy who sells lots of Saeco machines. It was labeled a demo, and came in a beat up box, but was in perfect working order when I got it. It is the black steel type machine, but without the rapid steam feature. A little usenet research showed that apparently Saeco donated a large number of demo and overstock machines to charity. That charity (unnamed) is now auctioning them off on Ebay to raise money. Given the price I paid, I couldn't be more happy. On the advice of this website, coffeekid.com and others, I immediately ordered a non-pressurized portafilter from 1st-line.com. This makes a big difference in the quality of the shots, especially the crema.
Using a refurb Solis Maestro grinder on the third finest setting, a firm tamp and about 15g of coffee, my first home shot ever was a little over 2oz in 25 sec, with almost 1/4 inch of crema with coffee that was about a week old. Since then, I've begun to roast my own coffee and the quality has gotten even better. I'm very happy with the quality of the espresso, especially the money. I would definitely recommend one of these machines, and spending your extra money on a good grinder like the Maestro and a coffee roaster. That total cost of about $330 blows away ANY espresso I've ever had in a coffee shop. And I bet it's better than a $300 machine with a cheap grinder and store-bought coffee.
Frothing performance is fairly good. The machine comes with a "Paranello" frothing attachment, which is unnecessary. Even I, with my limited experience, can make microfoam without it. One annoyance is that the frothing wand is very low, making it hard to get the pitcher under the wand.
There are some negatives. The boiler is small on this machine, as expected by the low cost. The heater light comes on almost every time during a shot, and the manual says this is normal. The espresso is still good, but it's not able to hold a consistent temperature for the whole shot like a better machine. The small boiler also means that the frothing performance is not as powerful as it could be. In addition, the machine does not have a 3 way solenoid to release excess water when you cut off the shot. This means the pucks are soupy, but you can still remove the portafilter immediately after a shot without grounds flying everywhere.
In conclusion, I think the machine was a fantastic buy for the money, and fully believe the advice that you should put a larger fraction of your money into a grinder and roast your own coffee before buying a really expensive espresso machine. This machine is perfectly adequate for my uses, and makes great espresso. Maybe one day I will update it to a Rancilio or something, but for now I'm VERY happy.
I bought it on ebay. The seller was a good ebayer who followed all the rules, and communicated well.
Three Month Followup
The Classico still works great today, and I've learned a lot more about how to get the most out of it. I clean the brew group and dispersion screen about once a week with Cafeiza cleaner, and use Brita filtered water for brewing. I was also able to borrow a Fluke probe thermometer from work to measure the boiler temp. The heater turns off at about 95C and turns on again at about 85C. The thermistor is at the top of the boiler, and it takes about 45 seconds for the bottom of the boiler near the group to get to maximum temperature, about 94C. I preheat a cup, which causes the heater to come on. I then wait until the heater turns off to remove the portafilter. After drying and loading the portafilter, enough time has elapsed for the boiler to be at optimal temperature for the shot. Also, it takes a good 15 minutes for the machine to heat up such that everything inside is at operating temperature. With my Solis Maestro grinder and home roasted coffee (Hearthware Precision), I have no trouble getting 25-27 second 1.5 oz doubles, with a full ounce of crema (as long as the coffee is less than 3 days old). One new discovery-I bought one of the new 1st linr $30 rosewood tampers, and it made a BIG difference in shot quality over the cheap aluminum tamper I had before.