This is the point of diminishing returns. You can spend more, but why?
Positive Product Points
This machine is relatively affordable, quality construction, very stylish, and makes truly delicious coffee!
Negative Product Points
I'm not crazy about the plastic hinged top filler lid (for the water reservoir), but its not a big deal, especially because you can also access the water tank from the front.
Having worked in fancy restaurants in my youth - some of which had very expensive commercial espresso machines, I feel that I have a sound baseline for comparison. The verdict: Barista is a stand-up performer!
After five years of faithful service, our "el cheao" Braun steam- powered espresso maker was showing signs of fatigue. It made a decent brew (so we thought at the time), but we knew we could do better. After reading the other very helpful reviews, and surveying the marketplace, the decision was easy.
This machine makes better and more consistent coffee than we hoped for. At risk of sounding corny, it's simply a pleasure to use. We don't even use fancy coffee and we get great results. Instead of coffeeshop espresso, we mix regular beans from Costco (heresy, I know!) with decaf. espresso then ground at home, and we enjoy great results as indicated by the telltale thick rich crema.
The fact that you can load water from the top or front (as compared to the rear on many other Italian machines) means you don't have to move the machine - which is very convenient. Also, being able to use coffee pods, should you choose, is also nice. But the best feature in our view is how quick and simple the operation is. No, the BEST feature is that you don't have to go out to enjoy great coffee!
We were hesitant at first to go with the stainless steel finish because it might show fingerprints, etc. In fact, it's very easy to keep clean and is the showpiece in our modest little kitchen.
In the final analysis, we're very pleased with it: so much so that I'd recommend it to our closest friends (and perhaps even the in-laws! ;)
As a "Starbucks snob" (i.e. generally don't like the place), I must give credit where credit is due. We enjoyed superb customer service. The staff even suggested that if I'd like a personal tutorial on how to use the machine - even though it comes with a "how-to" video, all I'd have to do is call ahead so they could arrange to have an extra staff member on duty.