Silvia is an excellent AAA ballplayer, but Oscar is a real major leaguer. If you find this under $700, get it instead of Silvia, you'll not reget it.
Positive Product Points
fast, Fast, FAST! Steams 20 oz in under 10 seconds, pulls shots one after another and comes up to heat quickly as well. Better yet, pulls flawless shots. Oh yeah, easy to clean and refill as well.
Negative Product Points
Aesthetics are so personal that I hesitate to call it ugly, but to those who think an espresso machine should be shiny and have limbs sticking out all over the kitchen Oscar will seem a tad homely. Personally, I like it.
I cannot help but compare Oscar to the Silvia I have used for the last two years for several reasons. First, Silvia is the benchmark for "affordable" home machines, and second, Oscar took Silvia's place on my kitchen counter. So before I begin let me say that Silvia is a very good machine, and if someone simply cannot afford the Oscar, Silvia is a very viable machine, most especially if you seldom make drinks for more than a couple of people at a time. That out of the way, here's my viewpoint on them both.
Oscar, like most pro machines and unlike the picky Silvia, is easy to use once you learn how to control it's power. You must pull a blank shot before the first shot else the heat exchanger (HX) will be sending pressurized steam out for the first shot, resulting a 15 second shot. After that, you can pull shot after shot at consistent temps. If you let the machine sit 3-5 minutes between shots, be sure to pull another blank. You must also bleed the steam wand each time you turn it on to equalize pressure in the boiler (wait about 5 minutes after powering him up). If you leave Oscar on all the time you do not need to do this step again. Other than those two things, using Oscar is simple, as it needs to be when used in a low duty cycle commercial setting - which is the original design spec for the machine.
After warming up, Oscar comes to full temp in about 20 minutes, and he works quickly as well. My 5:30 am routine - blank shot, pull double, pull second double, steam 16 oz - takes less than 3 minutes. Add in clean up time and in under 5 minutes I have a quad latte to jump start the dawn.
Shot quality is amazingly consistent, with near God shots the norm. About 1 in 10 shots is a God shot and about 1 in 25 shots slips below the norm. Steaming is also wonderful. Some have complained that Oscars steam too fast, not so. Having worked at a locally owned espresso shop on pro machines I was always confused by comments on the powerful steam of Silvia as I found her slow and requiring an inordinate amount of attention. Oscar, on the other hand, steams like a pro machine, quick and powerful. Microfoam is a breeze, perhaps because the steam is so dry. Yes, he is powerful and so if you are coming at this from a dual-purpose boiler machine (Silvia, Gaggia, et al) you will need to re-learn, but after a half gallon, it should be a snap.
Clean up is also quick and easy. The black plastic over does not show fingerprints, while the important parts are metal and well made. As an example, compare portafilters on the Oscar and Silvia. Both work well, but the Oscar's is mirror-polished, sleeker, and yet also has heavier tabs for securing in the grouphead.
The combination of speed and ease makes the Oscar perfect for entertaining. With Silvia, when we had friends over after dinner coffee drinks for four was a 20 minute exercise. With Oscar that time is cut in half. Better yet, with Silvia drinks for 10 was an all night affair while Oscar turns out that many in about 15-20 minutes. Of course this would not matter if the quality was not up to snuff, but as I mentioned earlier, quality is superb and consistent.
After 2 years with Silvia I felt myself bumping up against her limits and fussy personality. I need to make my morning milk drink quickly and yet quality is necessary for those afternoon pick-me-up shots. And we have friends over often - so the need for a high-quality, high volume, flexible machine was becoming obvious. Oscar fits that description perfectly.
Silvia is an excellent machine, and at retail ($450 for Silvia and $800 for Oscar) is a bargain. On the other hand, Silvia is hard if not impossible to find under retail while I found Oscar for under $700 at three sites. With less then $250 between them, Oscar becomes a far better choice. As for the more expensive HX machines (ECM, et al), I have tried several at friends houses and at stores and their primary advantages are that several sport temp gauges (of varying usefulness) and their exterior finish. If you can live without chrome and dials, save yourself $500 or more and buy the Oscar. You'll make espresso just as well but with the added joy of knowing you did it for less.
The folks at 1st-line were wonderful, the price was fantastic and it arrived 3 days after the order was placed.
Three Month Followup
After three months my admiration for the Oscar has only grown. It is consistent on shot after shot, yet also rewards a skilled hand. The only thing I can add is that not having Oscar earlier was, in hindsight, a mistake.
One Year Followup
Well, a year has passed and every morning still begins with a bleary eyed geek hunched in front of Oscar. Best of all, over this time Oscar has been almost startlingly consistent, which is a good thing when you *need* that first shot to start the day. Before I go to sleep I turn Oscar on and then, after the AM shower head downstairs. From first steam bleed to final wipe down and shut off takes 6 minutes and the resultant quad latte is so good that I - literally - have had to turn down friends who would willingly drive by every AM for their own.
Besides my morning shot, Oscar also makes cocoas for my boys on the weekends as well a lattes for my wife. He is only occasionally called on to make a late afternoon espresso but at least once a week makes espresso drinks for friends over for dinner. My guess is that this amounts to 30-32 double shots a week on average plus about 4 or so cocoas - not exactly Starbies volume, but enough that the investment has certainly paid off. And where he pays the biggest dividends (besides the above mentioned consistentcy and great shot quality) is when friends are over. A couple of times a year we have a larger dinner party and I can pull shot after shot, all night long, with no break in between. I've also brought Oscar to the office where I made approximately 40 drinks in under 90 minutes. Again, not Starbies volume, but far better quality and the barista was both friendly and tatto free!
In summary, this is the best coffee-related purchase I've made. Oscar makes espresso and steams milk so well, so consistently and so quickly that I cannot see spending more unless it was for purely cosmetic reasons. Should someone break in the house and steal Oscar, I'd immediately buy another, which is about as perfect a recommendation as I can offer.