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Midrange Espresso Machines

The $1000-2000 price range of semiautomatic espresso machines is full of options. Some are as good as it gets in terms of features until you get up to double their price; others are technological relics that cost way too much money.

Most machines in this price bracket are either Heat Exchangers or Dual Boilers. Heat Exchangers use one large steam boiler, with a separate pipe for heating brew water running through it, so steam pressure and brew water temperature are linked. Dual boilers have separate brew and steam boilers, so the temperatures are separately controlled.

Before I go in depth, my short list for machines below $2000 is:

  • Breville Dual Boiler (huge modding and DIY service community, extremely good temperature stability)
  • Rancilio Silvia Pro X (great build quality, very solid brewing and steaming performance)
  • Lelit MaraX (very small, good option if space limited)

There are other good machines than these, but they are not as feature rich or as ubiquitous.

Machines I Would Recommend:

These machines all are reasonably well specced and well built and won’t cause you any additional difficulty brewing.

Breville Dual Boiler ($1600 US, less elsewhere)

In Short: This is the stripped down more manual version of Breville’s flagship Oracle automatic machine. It’s probably the best machine in this range if you want to really go in deep with temperature, flow, and so on for your shots - if you can deal with its large size, slow steaming, and questionable aesthetics.

The Good:

  • Temperature stability is excellent because of PID controlled boilers and PID controlled group head heater.
  • Hot water is dispensed from the brew boiler, so adding flow control via simple modifications (“Slayer mod” or “GS/3 mod”) is possible.
  • UI is very good and easy to use.
  • Quick heatup time (around 10 minutes from cold to ready).
  • The pressure gauge reads from near the group, and is pretty accurate to actual in-group conditions.
  • Programmable preinfusion done via TRIAC control of the pump.
  • Common to find used for well under new price - not uncommon to find them between $750-1000 US.
  • Portafilters are 58mm, but slightly differently sized than the more common E61-style. Made of stainless steel instead of chromed brass, which makes cleaning easier.
  • Stock baskets are good quality.
  • Dual pumps (one for brew, one for steam fill) a large plus.
  • Huge modding community for things like flow control, noise reduction, and so on.
  • Steam wand is very easy to use and the steam is very dry.

The Not So Good:

  • Relatively slow steaming because of limited steam outflow from small holes in the tip (3x 0.7mm)
  • Steam wand is not no-burn.
  • Quite large (roughly 15-16” in all dimensions), which can make it awkward for smaller spaces.
  • Steam subsystem uses silicone O-rings which need to be checked for leaks about every 6 months.
  • Pretty loud in operation as stock.
  • Somewhat annoying to do internal maintenance because of its internal layout, which is borrowed heavily from the more automated Oracle series.
  • The 3-way solenoid valve is not the greatest quality part and can fail prematurely. Luckily, it’s an easy part to swap, and uses a standard base.
  • Brew pressure is often set too high from factory, usually 10-11 bars.
  • Looks are… polarizing.

Rancilio Silvia Pro X ($1870 US; less in Europe)

In Short: My personal choice for this price range if you don’t want flow control. Built like a tank, with very strong steaming performance and great flat profile shots, and a relatively small footprint.

The Good:

  • Both boilers are PID controlled, so tempurature stability is very good.
  • Progammable soft (no pump) preinfusion. This sort of replicates the E61-style “feather the lever” pre-wetting where boiler pressure pushes water out of the group without activating the pump.
  • The chassis is powder coated steel, with stainless steel or powder coated steel panels.
  • Internal build is heavy duty, with a well thought out layout for easy maintenance.
  • Pretty quick steaming because of the stock 4-hole tip (4x 1.1mm).
  • Brew pressure is set correctly from the factory at 9 bars with no group outflow.
  • Stock portafilter is quite deep (it can take 22-25g baskets, which usually require a bottomless portafilter).
  • Two separate pumps for the brew and service boilers, so it can dispense hot water or fill the service boiler and pressurize the brew loop simultaneously.
  • Stock baskets are IMS made, so pretty good.

The Not So Good:

  • The PID’s UI is somewhat confusing to set for anything more complex than brew and steam temperatures. Keep the user manual, you’re gonna need it.
  • The turn-on timer is pretty much useless, and I’d recommend just using a $20 smart plug instead.
  • The stock drip tray is a terrible design. Luckily, Pantechnicon sells a 3D printed replacement part, but it is still baffling that they didn’t update this from the original Silvia or Silvia Pro.
  • The pressure gauge reads boiler pressure rather than actual group pressure, so it should be ignored or at least taken with a grain of salt.
  • Steam arm is a traditional type, no no-burn tubing here.

Profitec Pro 300 ($1800 US)

In Short: An overall similar machine to the Silvia Pro X, but with a slightly rebalanced feature set. Good choice if you want flat profile shots and don’t need massive steam power.

The Good:

  • PID controlled brew temperature. Only the brew boiler is PID controlled; this is okay, because a pressurestat is perfectly adequate for a service boiler.
  • 400ml brew boiler and a 750ml steam boiler. This should make for slightly better brew temp stability for long ratio shots, but slightly less steaming capability.
  • Much better drip tray than the Silvia Pro X.
  • 2 hole steam tip with no burn steam arm, and it can take any m8.5x0.75 tip.
  • Ring group is (as far as I can tell) E61 portafilter compatible.
  • Very nice mirrored stainless outer panels.

The Not So Good:

  • Only one pump, so dispensing hot water and brewing simultaneously is not recommended (or necessarily possible).
  • No pre-infuse. Not a huge issue with vibratory pumps since they have a relatively slow pressure ramp.
  • The service boiler is relatively small and runs at relatively low pressure, so probably not a great idea to use a 4 hole tip with it.

Lelit Elizabeth ($1800 US, much less in Europe):

In Short: Take a Breville Dual Boiler, give it a standard E61 sized group, and shrink it down, and give it a heavier frame. You now have a Lelit Elizabeth. This is less compelling to me than other machines on this list overall, but still a strong contender.

The Good:

  • PID control for both boilers.
  • Steam powered preinfusion option - it uses the pressure from the service boiler to push water into the group at about 2 bars.
  • No burn steam arm with 2 and 4 hole tips included.
  • Very shallow depth (11” without portafilter), so good if you’re limited on counter space.
  • Portafilters are brass and 58mm, and the ring group is E61 portafilter compatible.
  • Steam boiler runs at about 2 bars, so the steam is quite dry and very powerful.

The Not So Good:

  • Small service boiler, so you may run out of steam power if doing multiple drinks back to back. Recovery time is short because of its small size, but something to keep in mind.
  • Only one pump, so dispensing hot water and brewing simultaneously is not recommended (or necessarily possible).
  • The stock tamper is a crappy nylon one, which isn’t really forgiveable at this price point.

Ascaso Steel Duo PID ($1625 US)

In Short: A unique machine - instead of dual boilers, it uses dual thermocoils (advanced thermoblocks). Great if you need a quick-heating machine and don’t have much space.

The Good:

  • Dual thermoblocks allow for brewing and steaming without waiting for changeover.
  • PID temperature control over both.
  • Thermoblocks mean quick heatup time - well under 5 minutes from cold.
  • No-burn steam wand.
  • Side accessible water tank means under-counter refilling is easy.
  • Aesthetics are minimalist and inoffensive.
  • Programmable pre-infusion and auto-volumetric shots.
  • Small footprint.

The Not So Good:

  • Thermoblock steam is generally not nearly as powerful as boiler steam.
  • May not be suitable for high flow shots like turbos as the thermoblock may not be able to keep up.
  • Steam valve is a solenoid, not a manual rotary valve - this may be a negative or not depending on your preferences.

Lucca A53 by La Spaziale ($2000 US via Clive Coffee)

In Short: A customized La Spaziale Vivaldi II. This is a flat profile machine but is a steam monster - it has a much steam boiler than any other machine here. It is unfortunately hamstrung by its rather oddball 53mm group head and large size.

The Good:

  • PID control of both boilers (400ml brew, 1.2L service).
  • Tons of steam power with stock 4x 0.9mm hole tip.
  • It has both brew and steam pressure gauges, but I am unsure of the accuracy of the brew pressure gauge.
  • E61 style mechanical preinfusion chamber an optional add-on.
  • Lever controlled steam rather than knob - kind of a nice touch to me.
  • Built like an absolute tank.

The Not So Good:

  • Rather strange UI, not the easiest to use ever.
  • 53mm group, which makes accessories more difficult to find than the ubiquitous 58mm.
  • looks are polarizing at best like the BDB.
  • Cup clearance is pretty bad (Gaggia Classic levels of clearance).
  • Quite large footprint.
  • Only one pump, so dispensing hot water and brewing simultaneously is not recommended.

Lelit MaraX ($1700 US, less in Europe)

In Short: The best home Heat Exchanger on the market, bar none. If you want a low cost E61 machine, this is it. Everything else falls short.

The Good:

  • E61 group, which means most parts are standard and an aftermarket flow control paddle can be added easily.
  • PID control with two thermocouples - one in the brew loop, one in the steam boiler. Remarkably good temperature control for a heat exchanger and does not require a cooling flush.
  • 3 temperature settings (Low/Medium/High, corresponding to about 89/91/93C, +/- 2C).
    • It may seem rather brute force compared to machines that show 1C increments, but heat exchangers at their core are rather unstable, so +/-2C is quite good.
  • Very small for its boiler size (1.8L) at only 22cm/9” wide and 41cm/16” deep.
  • No burn steam wand with 2x 0.9mm tip, and can take any M8.5x0.75 tip. The boiler is large enough to handle a 4 hole tip.
  • Low noise for a vibratory pump machine.
  • Good mechanical preinfusion.
  • Quicker heatup times than most E61 machines (around 20 minutes) due to an intentional overheating during the startup phase.
  • Relatively easy to do maintenance on internally because of a well-thought out layout.

The Not So Good:

  • Steaming performance is somewhat variable depending on where the machine is in its temperature cycle.
  • Stock baskets in the past were quite bad, but apparently are now IMS baskets on newer builds.
  • Heatup time, as with any E61 machine, is long due to the group’s gigantic thermal mass.
  • Like almost every E61 machine, it lacks programmable shot times or volumes (if that matters to you).
  • The stock feet are, unfortunately, quite bad.

Bezzera BZ13 PM ($1550 US, more in Europe)

In Short: The only other Heat Exchanger I’d recommend, solely because of its small size and quick heatup time. It’s also the cheapest option here and by far the cheapest Italian built machine.

The Good:

  • Electrically heated group for very quick heatup time (about 10 minutes minimum, ideally 20-30).
  • PID control of steam boiler, but not brew water exchanger; cooling flush likely required if left idle for long periods.
  • No burn steam wand, 2 hole tip as stock. Should take standard M8.5x0.75 steam tips.
  • Small footprint.
  • NSF rated, so technically it could used in a very low volume commercial setting - though I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Not So Good:

  • No easy way to add flow control, and no preinfusion chamber like on an E61 group. Likely not a major issue.
  • Pressure much too high from factory (OPV set at 11-12 bars), though relatively easy to adjust down.
  • The group design does not do well with overfilled baskets; don’t over-dose your basket with this machine.

Machines I would not recommend:

Compared to the above options, these machines are generally too expensive for the features and functionality they offer. If you get a good deal on one used, then it may be worth considering.

Profitec Pro 500 ($2000 US) In Short: Not bad, but too expensive compared to others on the market. Most PID E61 heat exchanger machines are similar to this one. A PID on the steam boiler of a heat exchanger is kind of a gimmick - it does nothing to control the brew water temperature, which still relies on getting the thermosiphon tuning correct and/or flushing the group.

The Good:

  • Large 2L boiler
  • Build quality is excellent.
  • No burn steam wand, M8.5x0.75 tip threading.
  • Pressure set roughly correctly from factory.

The Not So Good:

  • PID control, but only of steam boiler temperature.
    • Apparently they’ve done some tuning of the thermosiphon to not require flushing, but I can’t confirm this.
  • Price rather high for its feature set.

ECM Mechanika ($1900 US)

In Short: This machine is indicative of the vast majority of non-PID heat exchangers from the likes of Quick Mill, Rocket, Izzo, VBM, and so on - expensive for the feature set, but built very well. These are old technology and really just shouldn’t be considered at their overinflated price points.

The Good:

  • Extremely well built
  • Large 2.2L boiler
  • Same no-burn steam wand as most other E61 machines in this range.

The Not So Good:

  • Pressurestat control of the steam boiler, so a cooling flush is necessary if it sits idle.
  • Not recommended for its lack of features vs price.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II ($1400 US)

In short: Built cheaply and inexplicably lacking an overpressure valve, this machine is so close to being a value king but lands firmly on the “don’t buy” list from truly baffling shortcomings for the price.

The Good:

  • Low price
  • Large 2L boiler
  • Programmable shots
  • NSF Certified, so technically usable in a commercial setting - again, not recommended.
  • Plumb in kit available

The Not So Good:

  • Pressurestat controlled (again), so flushing is necessary.
  • No OPV, so pressure is only limited by the pump (so it can ramp to 15 bars, way too high).
    • This can be added, but really shouldn’t need to be at this price point.
  • Cheap plastic panels. Even Breville, often derided as “appliance grade”, has metal outer panels.