Good starter machine available at local big box stores, but poor value
Positive Product Points
Thermal block gets to temp quickly. Drip tray is pretty large. Looks nice/not too big. Preinfusion feature unusual for this class.
Negative Product Points
120 volt thermal block. No temp control. Vibe pump struggles with ristretto shots. Momentary power switch can't be used with an outlet timer. Steam takes a while to get up to power.
I've been using this machine for 2.5 years. Functionally I would recommend it to a budding espresso enthusiast or an occasional espresso/cappa/latte drinker. However, given the high price point for this machine, I think there are better options
I've got it paired with a stepless/doserless macap M4 grinder (overkill for this machine, but I wanted to buy a grinder that I could grow with)
Out of the box you can make decent shots and good milk-based drinks (lose the frother enhancer, its useless, and I let the steam get up to speed before I put the pitcher under the wand) with average grocery store beans.
Easiest way to up the quality of shots is your beans. Play around with what you can get your hands on. Shoot for medium roasted beans, and use the 1-3 weeks post roasting date (this can be a PITA, but is a MUST for great drinks). Vivace's Dolce works well for me.
With a few tweaks/mods you can make quite good shots. IMO, better than I make on my dad's Silvano (though to be fair I've only made a few dozen shots on his machine). But, the point is, an better machine, won't guarantee a better shot.
If you've had this machine for a little while and are looking to step it up a notch without dropping $600+, here's what I did: Pressurized portafilters are not needed if your making the shot properly. So I would recommend getting rid of it, as well as the plastic insert screwed to the portafilter (it adds a surprising amount of resistance to the extraction and can choke the machine more easily on ristrettos). I bought a La Pavoni MP68 basket (and trimmed the gasket so it locks in) to use instead of the stock one; alternatively, you can machine the stock basket and remove the bottom layer of metal (lathe works nicely), but I find the MP68 holds a better volume (more) of beans and releases the puck more easily (no internal edge). Breville carries extra gaskets and baskets for good prices, so you can easily buy a spare gasket/basket if you don't like the modifications...
Here's a snapshot of my shot program: Flush 2 oz in cup. Dose 16g in MP68 basket. Tamp (the same every time, maybe 30-ish lbs). Flush again and then lock the portafilter in. 25-30sec extraction (timed from turning on the pump) resulting in 1.5-2oz of espresso/crema (I use the fineness of the grind to dial in the time and volume)
I am able to make good espresso on a very consistent basis with this machine set up this way. Better than any local shop (I live in northern Delaware).