In pursuit of writing an even handed review, I have waited until owning the S1 for two months before authoring this report. This is my fourth espresso machine and I decided to step up to a more commercial and professional machine. Believing in the axiom of "buy right, but once" I researched thoroughly before purchasing. I looked at the Rancilio, Wega, Cimballi, Reneka, Andreja and all the E61 machines before deciding on the S1. Actually, I doubt there is an espresso machine under $3K that I didn't research! My wife thinks I over-analyze, but she knows that I usually pick out the best. Top on my list of requirements was a machine with Double Boilers and a Rotary Pump. I figured there was good reason that all of the large professional/commercial machines (aka La Marzocco) have dual boilers and rotary pump. The more I researched, the more I was convinced that the S1 not only offered most of the features I wanted, but also the best bang-for-the-buck. True double boiler, rotary pump, volumetric dosing and easily adjustable temperature control all for under $2K.
It became very clear that Chris Nachtrieb (of Chris' Coffee Service) had a lot of commercial espresso machine experience and was tremendously passionate about espresso. I believe his pursuit of the ultimate prosumer machine led to his association with La Spaziale and the refinement of the S1. Chris' commitment to this machine is evident in his continued refinement and upgrade of the original S1 - new motor mounts, redesigned electronics for easier temperature control, new steam arm and tip, thinner diffuser disk so the PF can hold more coffee, etc. I felt confident that I was purchasing a maturing machine that will be around for many years.
So, the big question is with all the research on the best equipped machine and all of the technical prowess packed into the S1, "How does it perform in real life?" The simple answer, "Superbly!" I now know that the La Spaziale S1 allows me to pull better shots than probably 99% of the cafés in the country. But, the greatest joy is hearing my wife and friends say, "This is the best espresso (or latté) I've ever had!"
I need a lot of steaming power to keep my busy early morning household satiated (read lattés for my wife, daughter and frequent guests). The S1 delivers with a 2.5 liter steam boiler providing copious amounts of steam and instant hot water. I'm now totally spoiled by the double boilers. I know you can steam and brew at the same time with a single boiler E61 machine, but for how long and continuously? With the S1 I don't think twice about pulling hot water and steaming milk for my wife's Chai Latte and, at the same time, pulling a shot for myself! I, also, have the freedom to use the instant hot water to rinse the PF and heat cups at anytime.
I was concerned that the S1 could not be placed on a timer and, therefore, would slow down my early morning routine. Well, my concern was misplaced as the S1 heats up both steam boiler and brew boiler in under 13 minutes! With the rotary pump I have not only tremendous reliability and consistency, but SUPER quiet operation. I'm able to pull an espresso without waking up anyone (my quiet running Macap grinder helps). The temperature consistency is rock-solid and the temperature adjustment is so simple. With the LED lights on the control panel you always know, with a glance, what temperature you're running. No more temperature surfing as with an E61 machine. The volumetric dosing is graceful and simple to program (another great pro/commercial tool). The dosing feature is addicting - I know that my shot is dialed in to perfection and I can concentrate on foaming or grinding for the next pull. With the large steam boiler and fast group boiler recovery the S1 easily accommodates multiple and rapid pulls. Whether for myself, my whole family or a house full of guests it's fast and easy to serve up espresso and lattés for everyone!
I, also, love the S1's heavy portfafilters - which offer great feel, balance and thermal stability. The PF's are 53mm, but the double PF is very deep and holds close to 19g of coffee. As an aside: I sent out the double PF to be made bottomless (thank you Espresso Parts NW) and it's been a great teaching tool. The most minute channeling shows up immediately. Another aside: my Espro Tamper helps with consistent tamping and less chance of channeling.
The S1 requires direct plumb and works best with a 20 AMP plug. As I said previously, I was looking for a more commercial and professional machine and direct plumb and 20A are part-and-parcel to the program. If you're concerned about either of these requirements, let me set you at ease. The ability to have the S1 setup for 15A or 20A is simple and easy. Go with the 20A plug version, as most homes are wired to handle 20A receptacles and it's an easy and simple switch to a 20A receptacle (quick trip to Home Depot and 10 minutes to swap out the receptacles). If your home is very old and doesn't have the wiring to handle 20A, then you can set up the S1 (either internally with a switch or externally in Economy Mode) to operate at 15A (while still keeping the 20A plug for future upgrade of your house wiring). Additionally, the direct plumb is another professional and convenient option. No more running back and forth from the sink and making a mess refilling the boilers. The direct plumb kit from Chris' Coffee takes the risk out of setting up direct plumb. I, also, bought the filter kit from Chris because of my extra hard water. The direct plumb took about an hour and a half and is well worth the set up time. Remember do it right, do it once.
I like the option of running the S1 in Economy Mode. This saves energy, but keeps the S1 ready to pull shots at a moments notice. After making the morning rounds of espresso and lattés, I simply touch one button and set the S1 in economy mode and leave it on all day. Throughout the day I can pull a shot at anytime and, with another touch of the button, quickly heat up the steam boiler, if I want a latté.
This a a heavy machine (65 lbs) so it's a great feeling to insert the PF and give it a yank without the machine budging an inch. With my old equipment I'd move the whole machine if I yanked too hard on the PF. Even weighing in with the professional/commercial machines, the S1's footprint is reasonable enough for most kitchens to accommodate without it sticking out like a sore thumb. And the height is perfect for under-cabinet operation. I placed my La Spaziale in a less obtrusive, yet convenient, location in a corner under the cabinets and I can use the large top warming tray without any challenge. The S1 sits on decent height feet (again, similar to pro/commercial equipment) for easier access to cleaning underneath, but not disallowing under cabinet installation.
Although the S1 lacks the full stainless steel jacket of some E61 machines (the Andreja & Fiorenzato Briccoletta are especially good looking), it's still a very handsome machine. Unfortunately, to make an all stainless steel, dual boiler, rotary pump machine probably would have pushed the price over $2k. The one consolation is the chrome front allows me to attach a small timer with a magnet on the back. The lines of the S1 are simple and boldly state, "I'm all about the business of quality espresso!"
In recap: If you're looking at espresso equipment under $2K, there's no competition for the S1's double boiler, rotary pump, volumetric dosing and temperature adjustment.
More detailed research on the La Spaziale S1 can be found in Dan Kehn's Buyer Guide at http://www.home-barista.com/s1-buyers-guide.html and Chas Rimpo's S1 website at http://www.rimpo.org/s1/. Thanks Chas and Dan for helping in my buying decision.