It's hard to imagine a better machine for no-drama, consistent production of great espresso.
Positive Product Points
With a good grinder and beans and a modest understanding of the espresso process. this machine produces extraordinary espresso very consistently and with a minimum of fuss. It's rare that I find a coffee shop that produces an espresso as good as I can make with the Spaz. It also does excellent steaming, but I'm an espresso rather than a latte guy.
Spaz owners have their own on-line forum at http://s1cafe.com/. They're a helpful and passionate bunch.
A collateral positive was that the Reg Barber tamper that I got for my SL-70 is perfect for the Spaz because the portafilters have the same diameter (though the quality of everything in the Spaz is miles better).
Negative Product Points
The "Mini Vivaldi II" is the Vivaldi II with an internal tank rather than direct plumbiing. The tank is pretty easy to access from the front of the machine (remove the cup rack, and slide the tank straight out), but there's no visible water indicator, so you have to guess when it needs to be refilled -- or just wait until a red light goes on. If water gets too low, the machine won't start, so there's no danger to the machine. Direct plumbing would be more convenient if you can do it, but the tank makes it easy to control the quality of the water you use.
My wife was hoping for one of those all-stainless works of art, and she's disappointed in the esthetics, though personally I think it has a serious, ready-to-take-on-anything look about it.
Maybe for some a negative point is that making great espresso is almost too easy -- some of the skills you need to coax an HX machine to produce great coffee aren't needed here.
My Solis SL-70 was becoming erratic after serving me well for four years, and I was ready to graduate to something closer to the high end of the espresso experience. After a lot of time looking at lots of machines and reviews, I settled on the Spaziale, and, after nine months, I'm still very happy with the choice.
When I first got the machine on a cold day in January, the only coffee at hand was a can of vacuum-packed Illy espresso beans that had been hanging around in a cabinet for a couple of years. For the few days I worked with those beans, I never got very good or consistent results. But then my shipment of Black Cat arrived from Intelligentsia. With fresh, familiar, high-quality beans I was quickly turning out the best espressos I've ever produced -- almost all crema in the pour. I got pretty good results with my old SL-70, but nothing as good or consistent as I get with the Spaziale. Along with the Spaz, I bought my first bottomless portafilter to help ensure that grind and tamp were where they're supposed to be, and found I was able to get a lovely, channel-free pour. On the rare occasions when I get it wrong, the bottomless portafilter can send coffee well away from the cup. But I find that a light "nutating" motion followed by a firm tamp and polish produces very consistent results.
It's a two-boiler machine, and I usually keep the steam boiler turned off (because I rarely use it) but the espresso on, so whenever I want a shot, the machine is always ready. The cups stay warm on the roomy cup warmer.
I love the machine, and writing this review convinced me it's time for another double.
I bought from Chris Coffee, where I had previously bought my Cimbali grinder. Call and ask for Chris -- he was very helpful in sorting through benefits and disadvantages of different machine possibilities, and he was willing to help a little on the price. The machine arrived promptly and everything was in good shape. The machine took only a few minutes to set up and worked out of the box.
Three Month Followup
During its first two years, the only service issue beyond routine cleaning was that the group head gasket (into which the portafilter seats) hardens over time and needs to be replaced about once a year. When the gasket gets to hard, the portafilter doesn't seal well and you get leaking around the side. The machine had come with a spare gasket, and it took me maybe 15 minutes to replace it the first time (since I didn't know what I was doing). The second time, it took about five minutes. I buy a couple of gaskets at a time so that I always have a spare.
One Year Followup
As it neared 3 years of fairly heavy service, the machine developed an electrical problem and started tripping the GFI on its circuit. Iím not much of a handyman, and tried to find someone to fix it, but a local espresso machine repair guy didnít return my calls. So I called Chris Coffee, and the patient service people Ė Roger in particular Ė took me through diagnostic steps to figure the problem was probably the heating element in the coffee boiler. They shipped me a replacement element, and patiently took me through another half dozen calls to get it installed. Amazingly, it solved the electrical problem! Unfortunately, after pulling a couple of shots, the machine stopped pumping water. Iím guessing some scale or something got loose during the replacement process Ė the old element did have a lot of green gunk on it. It took at least another half dozen calls, but Roger continued to patiently and genially guide me through the process of disassembling the solenoid assembly atop the group, and cleaning out a few orifices. Once everything was back together, the machine seems to be working as well as ever. Iím not sure whether to blame Spaziale or my water for the electrical problem, but itís hard to beat the service at Chris Coffee.