How appropriate--my first review on CoffeeGeek, for my first GOOD espresso machine (though my only other espresso machine was the one on the side of my 15 year old Krups combo, which, when I bought it back then, was about the only widely available choice for home "espresso").
I bought the KitchenAid ProLine after reading the sparse reviews here and elsewhere, but mainly after having much enjoyment out of my ProLine drip coffee maker and ProLine grinder. I had few complaints about them, so I figured this two-boiler machine for less than $1000 would be adequate. It has been adequate, and is bordering on excellent, with a few caveats.
Since I'm a neophyte (as mentioned in the "positive points" section above), I assumed that I wouldn't be making perfect espresso out of the box, and I was close to being correct. First of all, the included tamper is a poor plastic unit. The warranty card assured me that I'd receive a free metal tamper for registering, which I did, and it made a world of difference (though I'm probably going to buy an even heavier one).
I have been getting closer and closer to a predictable GREAT espresso shot every day (which is pretty much the usage of this unit). I roast my own beans, so I can't really give any comparison with roasts and grinds from other vendors, but I can say that once I tweaked the ProLine grinder to give the finest grind possible, and I got the tamping/coffee loading down, I have gone from 20% "great" results in the first week to something like 90+% now (1.5 months later). This is probably more due to me rather than the machine.
The machine is nicely designed, with a sleek, almost 1950s-ish science fiction movie appearance. I'm a guy, and don't currently have a wife, so the look isn't something that was a point of contention or attraction. I do like it, though. The finish is excellent, the machine is quite heavy (which means that when it's laboring to force the water through the coffee it doesn't bounce around on the counter), and the simple controls don't clutter up the face of the machine. However, the gauges for the espresso side and the steam/hot water side could be better calibrated, in my opinion--I am a single guy, but I am an engineer, and I like gauges to give me as much detail as possible.
The ball-jointed frothing wand is a nice touch, and seems to be pretty resilient, and the buttons and knob for water/steam are utilitarian--all the better.
The rear reservoir takes some getting used to, as does the fact that you won't know the level of water until you get into the habit of pushing the reservoir to either side and looking. There is no level indicator on the front, which I think would be nice. Filling it can be cumbersome, especially if you place it on a counter with other things to either side. I've found that I can do it adeptly by putting the water in a leftover bottle and pouring it in from the less obstructed side. It's not really that bad--it just takes some practice, and it should be taken into consideration before you choose your counter space.
A previous reviewer mentioned the cup warmer on top, and the fact that it might end up being just under your cabinet. It is in mine--my espresso cups (not included in the purchase, FYI) are just below the cabinet. Be sure to measure, as a previous reviewer suggested, but it can't be said too often.
I've found that heat-up time between consecutive shots is pretty quick--unless you're making shot after shot after shot, the unit should be hot enough for your second pull by the time you need it. I haven't tested this with more than three consecutive shots, though. Somewhere in the literature there's a comment that the unit will be hot in about 6 minutes--in my experience, you should plan on heating it with the portafilter in place a minimum of 15 minutes. I haven't done any sort of designed experiment, but I can say that every "excellent" shot I've made with this machine was done after the unit was hot for at least 15 minutes, and I'd wiped any moisture off the filter basket. In fact, now I've gotten in the habit of turning it on and leaving it to heat for at least 30 minutes, just to remove that variable.
As for the quality of the espresso, like I said, I'm a neophyte in the home espresso world, so many of the poor shots I've made are probably less due to the machine than they were due to my technique (which I've learned WITH the machine). Essentially, WHEN I get the right combination of grind, coffee, tamping, machine heat-up, and whatnot, I can pull a single shot at 18-23 seconds, with a very nice crema. Keep in mind, though, that I'm constantly trying new green beans from Sweet Maria's in my constantly evolving home-roasting hobby, and sometimes, I screw up. That being said, for the past two weeks, with a fine grind using Full City+ roasted Brazil Ipanema Dulce, with a firm tamp, I've been getting around 90% of the shots to pour at around 20 seconds with a very firm crema. The best of those have a better flavor and mouth feel than anything I can get in the local coffee shops. The worst of those (the ones that are runny, or not packed well) are still quite good as coffee, so even the failures are pleasurable on some level. I can truthfully say that every single shot I've made, whether under- or over-extracted, wasn't undrinkable, and I feel comfortable after a month to be able to predictably make an excellent shot.
An added caveat: it's hard for me to compare my results with local coffee houses, since here in Penscola, there aren't that many. I will say, though, that my best results on this machine compare favorably to those I've had during recent trips to Seattle, Venice, and Milan, so my results are at least good enough to not lead to much disappointment. Locally, I can compare it to a Starbucks and 2 or 3 other local coffee shops, none of whom are better than my best shots with this machine, assuming I'm not using some bean that's just completely inappropriate for espresso. And, since I'm trying a bunch of different beans since I really like this home roasting thing, I make quite a few of those.
But I've digressed, again. It's been close to 2 months since I bought this, and I'm very happy with it. I don't know if I'd rather have a different machine, or how the ProLine compares with other machines, since I don't have any experience with those other machines. I DO know, however, if you remove the various variables of my burgeoning coffee roasting test batches and my complete lack of knowledge of being a "barista" before purchasing this machine, I've done pretty darned well with it. In fact, I haven't touched my nice KitchenAid ProLine drip coffee maker in about 2 weeks--I've been too busy using the espresso machine.
A final digression: the frother works quite well. I've noticed some reviews here and elsewhere complain about the plastic frothing nozzle attachment, i.e. it might not allow the experienced barista to get the best results and whatnot, but I truly love the results--maybe because I'm not an experienced barista. Indeed, every time I make a capuccino, I think that that particular cup of bliss justifies the purchase price. Very few of my kitchen purchases have become de rigueur so quickly--unless I'm pressed for time, I make a capuccino most every morning (and certainly every night), and even if the espresso pull is a bit long or a bit bitter, there is certainly nothing like the combination of the intense coffee and the perfectly frothed milk with a little cinnamon to make me not regret the purchase. Also, I don't have to tell the person behind the counter to not squirt whipped cream on it.
And, finally, a non-digressive summation: I like this unit, and given what I know now, I'd probably buy it again. I would urge anyone reading this review who is a neophyte (like me) to not get disappointed if you purchase it, and you're not getting perfection in your first few cups. The machine WILL make absolutely excellent espresso--maybe not every time, and maybe not in your first few attempts. I only hope that it was built as well as it was designed, since I plan to use it every day, usually a couple of times a day, until it spews its last gasp of steam.