After my first machine died (a cheap Moulinex Izzy), I decided to go for a decent machine with a reasonable price, as my budget was a bit low. That time, the Media-Markt stores at Athens, were I live, offered among others the Saeco Via Veneto for 99 euros (about 135 US $). The offer seemed to me very reasonable and I had already heard about Saeco as a prominent italian manufacturer. The machine was offered with the pressurized pf, double basket and dosing spoon and covered by a 24 months warranty by the local greek importer (Carad Hellas S.A.).
At first, I was Impressed by the press'd portfilter, but the taste of the shot was very bitter and the crema looked very artificial. After doing a little research and reading reviews here at Coffegeek and various newgroups, I bought from Ebay the standard brass-chrome pf and a decent steel tamper. With much expectation I tried the machine with the new pf with standard pre-ground coffee bought at supermarket. It was a total failure! No crema at all, thin and sour. Then I discovered how important is a grinder! If you're going to use Via Veneto with the standard pf, a more finely ground coffee is needed, more fine than most of the known packed pre-ground coffees like Lavazza or Illy. I bought an Ascaso dosserless grinder (in US, is known as the Innova), I bought 250 grams (8.8 oz) of canned Illy beans and started experimenting, hoping to achieve a good result. After several tries and adjustments of the grinder and tampering, I reached a quite good result. The crema was not as thick as with the press'd pf but was real, the aroma was better and the taste was much less bitter, not thin with quite rich flavor. After playing with the infinit settings of Ascaso, I could make a shot at about 20-25 seconds for a double espresso. As the aluminium boiler is very small and the temperature is dropping quickly during brewing, I tweak a little the machine, by pressing before brewing the steam button for 10-15 seconds. Then I press it again off and brew. As of the frothing wand, it is not the strongest point of Via Veneto: it's very short and with panarello froths quite well but not at microfoam level. Anyway, for my cappucino is better from nothing. Cleaning is easy and the dispersion screen is easily removed with its spring with two screws. At this point I must emphasize that my Via Veneto is a bit different from that which is depicted here. Mine is almost black with rough matte finish and different buttons. After contacting by phone the local importing company, they told me that the machine with regular home use (1-3 cups daily) must serviced once a year and descaled with special solvents at their facilities with a moderate 30 euros cost. Until I have the cash for Miss Silvia, I'll stay with Via Veneto, as I consider it a "school" of improving "barista" skills. I'm going to experiment with different beans from various brands until I reach a good result (i don't think from my up today exprerience that packed beans from supermarket is the best way for improving brewing skills!) . It is a machine for everybody and with its press'd pf you can brew with "crema" almost every ground, even a bad or stalled one. If you want to do more serious work, then use it with standard pf, coupled with a good burr grinder and a metal tamper with fresh beans.
P.S. I apologize for my not very good English.