Thanks for the quick response, the Breville is out.
I saw the Saeco Via Venezia at Starbucks for $299, but I can't seem to find much info on it online. Are there any significant differences between the Via Venezia and the Via Veneto that justify the price difference?
The difference in the Saeco (and the Gaggia line) where price versus product is concerned is in the \"packaging\" - that is, the shell that surrounds the innards; the pump, the group, and the boiler. And to a lesser extent, whether or not the group and portafilter are steel, brass or a composite.
As I have stressed before in other forum threads - the basic building block for a good espresso machine remains the same; a boiler (not a thermoblock), an Ulka pump (every espresso maker has the same Italian made vibration pump)and a brewgroup which incorporates the shower-head and the portafilter clasps.
Ideally, the group and the boiler are intimately connected to keep water travel to a minimum - and therefore - energy loss or heat loss LOW.
A water storage and delivery method, a brace of switches and thermostats pretty much wraps up the 21st century espresso machine - virtually unchanged for the last 50+ years.
Back to your questions - Cheaper machines are clothed in a thermoplastic skin. More expensive ones have a heat-retaining steel or composite shell.
It all comes down to weight of components and its ability to retain heat and deliver a flow of water to the ground coffee that is stable in temperature.
I hope this helps - a little long winded but necessary explanation.
But... regardless of its durability and agility in making steam, does it make bad coffee? I mean, does the Breville, with its lousy thoermoblock thing, make inferior coffee - or is it just a lousy way to make a machine that is intended to last awhile? Your comments only go to the durability of the machine, and the archaic nature of the mechanism - how does the coffee taste?