superautos require care and maintenance too, and have their own problems, most important of which is (as someone else pointed out) mediocre drinks.
Since you don't want to have to tweak and think a lot, I would scratch off SBDU machines as well. Their temp stability is not as good as a decent HX or DB, and they are finicky regarding optimal timing, unless you PID them, which is another tweak. Also, they are slower than decent HX or DB machines. Learning to flush an HX isn't difficult at all, and there are good ones at your price range, especially if you're willing to look at used ones. Go read through the Breville DB owners thread here. It's in your price range and has a lot of fans who've discussed it ad nauseum. Of course, there are some here who feel Breville's past track record of poor service and quality prohibit them from recommending the machine. I can neither recommend it or support their concerns, because I have no experience with the company.
As pointed out, a general programmable appliance timer (like one you use to turn lights on and off when you're not home) is the way to go to have you machine warmed up and ready to go in the am, when you're ready to use the machine. My machine comes on every morning at 5:30 am, so when I'm ready to make coffee (6:30am or later) it is ready for me. This is a no-brainer.
Many of us that do this daily have families too, and we don't see the time spent on our coffee habit/hobby as excessive or unmanageable. YMMV, but it's something you have to decide. If you're willing to grind coffee beans, tamp, push a button or flip a lever to draw the shot and then clean off the portafilter and rinse out the frothing pitcher, you can do this without too much tweaking.
Yes, periodically, you will have to find time to descale the machine (30min - 1 hour 1-4x/year, depending on your water source), or replace the gasket (10 minutes 1x/year).
. Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
I think it's a kind of consensus that an espresso machine, regardless of type, requires maintenance.
One auto mechanic once told me, "Pay for it now, or pay for it later."
Worst case scenario, scale kills machines and renders them inoperable. Coffee oils which get old get rancid and affect the taste of your shots.
Descaling is something that is about as crucial as an oil change for your car. If you skip doing it, it will cost you a lot of money if you do and will generally result in the failure of the machine. It is a pain, but necessary. If you don't want to bother descaling the machine yourself, you can always get a shop to do it for you if you want to spend the money. (Just like how you can change the oil in your car yourself, but it's just easier to go to a lube shop.)
IMO, The regular maintenance schedule with a semi-automatic or a volumetric automatic is considerably easier than that of a super-automatic, depending on who made it and what the service procedure is.
I think if you are budgeting $1k for a machine, that puts you into Entry Level HX territory and you should scratch SBDU machines off your list completely. I would budget at least $400 for a decent grinder though. Again, if budget is a concern, it's better to cheap out a bit on the machine and spend your money on the grinder, than cheap out on the grinder just so you can get a better machine.
Like Emradguy mentioned, there is a HUGE thread on this forum about the Breville DB machine. I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility, but yes.. you have to deal with proprietary non-standard parts.
When I think about it, the Breville has one considerably unique feature that no other machine that I know of on the market has.. It tells you when it needs cleaning, so you don't have to worry about when you need to backflush with detergent. A "Clean Me" light comes on and you follow the directions. Easy Peasy Pie...
The downside to the Breville is that you cannot descale the machine yourself. It will lock down after about 6,000 brew cycles (Which means that the machine becomes useless) and you'll have to send it off to a Breville service center for descaling. The number doesn't sound that high, but if you drink 4 drinks a day, that's 1500 days, or about 4.1 years of normal use.
So, it is a feature laden machine, but the jury is still out on it. If you were to buy one of these machines, get it with the longest possible extended warranty you can buy so that way, in 4.1 years, you can just get a replacement machine.
The other thing I should mention is that with hard work comes great reward. I probably spend more time cleaning my machine than I do actually brewing the shot. Realistically, after taking that first sip, it makes it all worth it.
Every Superautomatic I've had a coffee from tasted very bitter with very little flavor. You can get away with that if you drink primarily milk drinks, but that doesn't apply in your case. It is absolutely critical that you have a machine with decent temperature stability if you want to drink straight shots and Americanos.
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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