This is my first foray into expensive espresso machines. Being a student on a low budget - I really couldn't afford the Rancilio Silvia. At the same time, I had dabbled with tweaking my trusty old Rotel machine (a garage sale find, extensively modified to include an external temperature controller and a bigger pump). Being sick of the plastic-y feel of the Rotel, I was ready to upgrade to an all-metal machine.
Having recently bought the Isomac grinder as a gift for a friend, I knew what to expect from Isomac in terms of build quality. So when a good deal came along on eGay for a refurbushed Isomac SuperGiada, I jumped on it! (plus it being christmas and all...). The machine was shipped promptly - the box actually came with a label from 1st Line Equipment LLC in NJ, so I think s.n.designs on eGay basically sell refurbished machines from this much better known firm. It certainly looked new - the grouphead didn't show any signs of having ever been used, or at least it had been thoroughly cleaned afterwards.
The machine has performed flawlessly from the get-go. The pressure gauge is pretty well calibrated (I checked it externally). After a week of experimenting with the grind settings on my Zassenhaus hand grinder, and the tamp - I was consistently pulling 20-22 second shots of naturally sweet espresso. The only trick I miss with this machine is that on my old Rotel machine the espresso switch turned on the pump, but you had to give the porta-filter handle an extra 1/4-turn twist to pour the espresso out. That way, you could let the pump build up to full pressure (easy to tell from the sound), and then pour. With the Isomac, the espresso switch (did I mention I love the toggle switches? eat your heart out you Silvia owners!) directly pumps espresso through the coffee. It's not too much of a big deal, since the pressure gauge tells you the pressure, and by using the trick of pouring a blank shot before you achieve the objective of pre-priming the pump anyway.
In sum, I was very hesitant about being able to afford such an expensive luxury, but the quality of the product has qualmed my worries. Overall, I am a happy camper!
PS: For camping trips, I think the Zassenhaus grinder and my $15 Bialletti Brikka espresso pot make a great portable espresso rig! As a coffee source, I buy most of my coffee beans from New Orleans Coffee Exchange - friendly people with super-friendly prices, and they really know how to roast a coffee!