So I've decided to finally take the plunge and get an espresso machine. I've got stovetops, an Aeropress, and french presses coming out the ying-yang, but I now I'm craving the real thing!
However! Since it's my first, I've got a limited budget. $400 is pretty much my absolute limit (I've already got a decent burr grinder).
My initial research has led me to Gaggias pretty much exclusively. The Saecos have pressurized portafilters, so they're out, and a (regular price) Solis SL70 is too much $$$. Gaggia has lots in my price range; too many in fact!
To make things even harder on me, Gaggia has revamped their entry-level machines. The Evolution appears to be discontinued, and there's these new ones, the Pure and the Color. I'm also considering the Coffee Deluxe, but it's at the top of my price range and I don't know if the extra money is worth it.
Ok, so looking at espressotec.com, the Pure and the Color look to be identical, except the Color is red and $60 more. I guess that rules the Color out, unless anyone knows more about it...?
The Evolution appears to differ from the Coffee Deluxe by being plastic on the outside instead of steel. I get the impression of greater durability from the Coffee Deluxe, but I probably won't use this machine for more than a couple years so perhaps it's not worth the extra $90.
The Pure is an unknown. 0 reviews on coffeegeek.com and wholelattelove. It has a stainless steal boiler while the others are aluminum, but its heating element is possibly on the inside and some say steel is *not* better than aluminum...
I think I like the Evolution best, but I don't know where to buy one (I'm in Victoria) since they're discontinued. (And would I have to worry about parts because of this?)
I've also researched the topic on various forums on the topic of "cheap but good Gaggias" extensively before buying a barely-used Carezza on eBay for about USD $120".
The old Gaggias are almost all the same internally. The higher end models (Classic, "old" Baby, Baby D...) have a 3-way solenoid, whereas the lower end models don't have the solenoid (Carezza, Evolution, Coffee Deluxe). Other than the solenoid, better external construction, variations in water tank size, and in some cases passive cup warmer, there is absolutely no difference between the high end models and low end ones. All of them have the "commercial brass" lower group, and the aluminum boiler upper group, with 1425W heating elements on the outside of the boiler (apparently less chance of calcium deposits causing problems with this design).
The new Gaggias can be divided in two groups. The higher end models (Baby Twin, Baby Class, New Baby) keep the same design as described above, but add a couple of new features such as touch-sensitive controls. However, the lower end designs (Pure, Color, Dose) have been revamped completely. The brew group is now stainless steel, and the heating elements are on the inside of the boiler, which requires less power (1100W).
From what I know, the only difference between the Color and Pure is the color of the plastic housing. The Dose adds dosing capability (able to pre-program a button with a precise water volume to brew).
Some people say the revamp is the influence of Gaggia having been acquired by Saeco. There is some debate on whether the new design is better than the old one. Some people say the old design is superior since the design is "tried and true", having been the standard Gaggia engineering for decades, and parts are very readily available, and their replacement well documented on the internet.
There are many "old Gaggias" available on eBay and at various US online retailers (example: www.wholelattelove.com/gaggia.cfm ) . I'm not sure if those available new have been sitting on the shelf a long time since those machines have now been discoutinued.
If you are looking in Canada, I saw a brand new Evolution at "Centre du Rasoir" in Montreal for $430, right in your price range.