I am a bit absent-minded, which can be rough on my appliances, cars and loved ones. I love the Dell Opera because despite my awful negligence and high demands, she still continues to give me the thick beautiful shots with 2-6 cm of crema which I have come to expect each morning. I am into my 4th year, and am well over 3,000 cycles on this machine, and although it has begun to drip hot water from various places as the gaskets finally give, it still is equal to the task.
I have steamed the boiler dry twice, pumped the reservoir dry countless times, left on the steam heat setting for hours on end, and generally baked the hell out of every component in it by leaving it on all day more times than I could count. I have never de-scaled the inner workings, never backflushed, and cleaned the screen only a handful of times. I once poured half and half into the bean hopper instead of my cup (ok, more than a bit absent-minded on occasion) and twice started to pour water into the grinder before I woke up enough to realize that wasn't the way to do it. THIS MACHINE IS AMAZING.
My friend got a new Silvia/Rocky combo for his birthday 2 years ago. I gave him a year to get his technique down and we had a shot showdown with the same beans, using our respective grinders. Now admittedly, I just have a better techique than my buddy: either you have the hand, or you don't...but we both agreed the Dell Opera won the day after I fared little better. It wasn't a bitter pill; we were both quite intrigued and more than a little puzzled: how could a Fiat be a better car than a Maserati? Well, it depends on who's driving, but really, that only goes so far. In fact, the experience was enough of a benchmark that when I had the chance to pick up the same Silvia/Rocky combo AND the stainless base with drawers, knockbox and goodies on Craigslist for under $600, I ended up passing, and stuck with the Dell Opera. I'm still asking myself why, but I'm also still drinking great coffee, and didn't spend another 600 bucks. So there. The machine is Good, and may just be Great. I see they are sold out at the online venue I purchased mine from. No problem, right? There are several almost identical machines, many of which are reviewed right next door. Well...kinda.
The thing is: not all the combo machines in this batch of reviews are created equal. For example, the Fenice also has a brass boiler (best kind), because it is the Dell Opera's "little sister", identical with the exception of a grinder. The Nemox Napolitana is a bit more $ than the Opera. It has a SS boiler (next best), and a pressure gauge (looks cool, can help you know when you're losing steam). The LaPavoni Napolitana is over $200 more for what seems almost the identical machine. I suspect the Isomac Super Giada may be from the same design group. And LeLit...well, you can read the reviews for the PL 042 yourself, it's the same machine as well. "What the what?" you say. Indeed, all these similar all-in one machines with identical knobs/drip trays/dimensions but different weights, features and prices was a puzzle to me as well, so I decided to do a rediculous amount of research into a fairly small maker of espresso machines. The short story? The fabricator contracts this build model to several companies, including Nemox, La Pavoni, LeLit (they really didn't want to tell me that, but I found out), and it has options that it offers to *most* of the companies who want a machine built for their brand.
Gauge of steel, welds vs. rivets, finish, paint, switch/toggle/button, control style and layout, boiler metal, boiler size, portafilter handle, solenoid type, reservoir capacity, whether pressure/temp gage is included--all these options are variable and obviously there are trade-offs--and these are some differences one sees in the final model offered by the company that has contracted with the fabricator. The machine reflects the options available and what considerations a company takes to determine the price of the final product is anyone's guess. There are machines that list less-desirable options, but are more expensive--caveat emptor. LeLit apparently either has a couple options not offered to other companies, or it has bought the rights to use the fabricator's design patent and has R&R'd some further geegaws to add some upscale flair and functionality--at the cost of some build quality, according to some reviews. Or perhaps they shamelessly reverse-engineered it. I'm just saying it's a possibility. If you MUST have a LeLit, buy one of the ones the make exclusively for First-Line equipment, would be my advice. Better oversight and customized for users like you, they have a better rep as far as QA/QC is concerned.
For me, a brass boiler, 3-way solenoid, better-quality heating element, thicker gauge steel, safety thermofuse, and solid rocker switches were the elements most important.
That's why this particular model--the Dell Opera--hits the sweet spot for quality, function, aesthetics and price, at least for this espresso enthusiast.