Excellent machine that can produce top quality espresso and very good micro-foam. Recommended as a 2nd machine however, as it takes some time to fine tune.
Positive Product Points
Commercial Grade and size parts, built like a tank, excellent steaming - fast and powerful - you can create latte art with a little practise, produces excellent expresso once you know the machine, reliable and easy to find parts if needed, probably the best machine out there for its price especially if your making just one milk based drink! Easy to buy after-market parts like filter baskets, PID etc.
Negative Product Points
Wouldn't recommend for a first machine, takes awhile to fine tune temperture surfing, takes awhile to produce more then 2x double shot milk based drinks, you do need a good grinder for best results, I would recommend a thermo-couple (cheap and effective) or a PID.
I have owned my Rancilo Silvia for 7 months now, and brought it second hand. It came with a build in thermo-couple. This is similar to a PID in that is displays the boiler temperture. It doesn't control the heating element however. It does make temperture surfing a lot easier!
I work as a barista, and wanted a domestic machine for home use. First I tried a Sunbeam EM6910 which could steam and brew at the same time (twin thermoblock). Its espresso was average and steaming was very slow, and pretty bad. It broke after a few months, so I upgraded to the single-boiler Rancilo Silvia!
The Silvia takes some time to heat up as its a heavy machine. While its possible to use it within 8-10min (google "Cheating Miss Silvia"), its best if it has 20-30min warm up. You can easily get around this by using a timer, and have it switch on 30min before you want a coffee.
The Silvia without a thermo-couple (or PID) can be pretty hit and miss. The boiler temperture ranges from 88 - 118'C (190 - 244'F). I found the best temperture for brewing is 105-108'C (221-226'F). Note this is the boiler temperture, the brewing temperture will be between 92-94 hopefully. It can be hit and miss, if the machine is left too long the shots will taste "burnt", while if you brew too soon it will taste weak and slightly sour.
The best way I found to use the Silvia was to run water through the Silvia until the "elemet light" comes on (190F). I then prepare my shot (dose/tamp). The machine then heats up, and the light goes off. I wait a few seconds. Once the temperture is 222F on the thermo-couple I hit the brew button. You can count up from when the element light goes off, trial and error, if you don't have a thermo-couple. If I leave it too long, the temperture keeps going up to 244F. Once brewing, the Silvias Boiler drops a few degrees as cold water replaces the hot water when brewing. I find its best to brew when the temperture of the boiler is going up, as opposed to down. This is because the boiler is still slowly increasing in temperture, so when you brew it doesn't lose as much heat.
At the end of the shot, I hit the steaming switch. I used to do this at the same time as I started brewing (I think I read it somewhere) but this sometimes results in a burnt shot. Hitting the steam switch can stop the Silvia from losing too much heat when brewing, but if you brew when the boiler temperture is still increasing it doesn't matter the same. Once the steam has been on a little bit (boiler 250F) I purge the steam-wand, maybe an ounce of hot water comes out. Then I do it again at arrpox 280F. You want to brew before the heating element goes out. This stops the steam from running out. Also, steam as little milk as possible, and use a small jug. Creating a whirlpool in the milk is very straight forward with the Silvia using smaller volumes of milk. Stretch (add air) into the milk at the begining. A little for a latte, a bit more for a cappa. Be sure to run hot water (hot water switch) through the steam want after, until water (not steam) comes out. You can produce great latte art with the Silvia.
Over all, this is a great machine. The Silvia's best shots are nearly as good as the commercial machines I use at work. When you steam small amounts, it is as good as commerical machines at producing micro-foam (just not as fast). You really do need a thermo-couple (or PID) to get consistant shots. Otherwise you can count up from the time the brew switch goes out to get a repeatable brewing temperture (which is still good, but hit and miss). With a thermo-couple. every coffee I make is very good. The Silvia needs a good dose and tamp technique, but I think many people are scared off by reviews on how fiddly the Silvia is. Sure its not the best first machine to learn on, but a great second one.
I brought the Rancilio Silvia Second hand, off a fellow kiwi from another forum. It had the Thermo-Couple already installed. It was $700 NZD, probably not comparable to the US Second hand market.