I'm more than ready to upgrade from my old Hamilton Beach machine to something a little more consistent/ serious.
Three possible machines:
1. Gaggia New Baby Black. I'd buy this new with a Baratza Virtuoso, and upgrade to a commercial steam wand. I'm worried about this machine wearing out in a few years, or about getting the itch to upgrade.
2. Rancilio Silvia. Only trouble is that I can afford the machine, but not the machine AND a grinder. Not sure the Virtuoso would cut it, anyways, based on everything I've read about the Silvia). Although I did find a used one for $350. It's 6-7 years old and has had 3 owners, and has had the boiler replaced recently.
3. la Pavoni Napolitana. This machine has a brass boiler, and is a combination espresso machine/ grinder. Not sure about this machine. It's had pretty mixed reviews. The portafilter is smaller than standard size (but not pressurized).
Thanks Colin. That's the direction I'm leaning right now. From what I read on most forums, the espresso quality from a Gaggia won't be that different from the Silvia. However, I'm told the shots from the Gaggia would be a lot more consistent.
The la Pavoni does intrigue me, though. I'm surprised that no one has done a detailed review of this machine, since it would very likely appeal to first time buyers in this price range. I'm almost tempted to buy one, just to try it out and write my own review, except that if I hated it, I'd either have to live with it, or take a hit selling it to someone else. However, if someone were to provide me with a test model (ahem! cough! Espressotec. cough! cough!), I'd gladly write a review from the perspective of a relative newbie moving up from a cheaper thermoblock machine.
I think I'll probably just go with the Gaggia. You're right. It's the most logical choice. Just hope it's enough to ward off the need for an upgrade for 5-10 years, or so.