What to check before buying used Rancilio Silvia?

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
mst3000

#1: Post by mst3000 »

Hello HB! I've been lurking here for a few months now, absorbing as much knowledge as I can. I can go on for hours about the 4 M's, Opv, importance of grinders, weighing the dose, until my wife's eyes roll into the back of her head. I initially had my sights set on a Breville, but thanks to a barista intervention and this site, I've decided that a used Silvia might be the best entry point for me into the wonderful world of espresso (side note: the moment I fell in love with espresso and realized that I didn't need chocolate syrups or pumpkin spice in my latte was the first time I had a simple cappuccino from a really good espresso bar down the street from me - it was Counter Culture Toscano, and I was in love).

With the introduction out of the way, the reason for my post: I'm considering buying a used Silvia. I found some good prices off of Craiglist for a few. What should I look for when checking out the machine? If we meet in a public place to make the purchase, I'm not sure the seller would be able to make coffee for me, but I could at least make sure it turns on, maybe check for steam. What should I ask? Also, when I get it home, how should I clean it to get it back into shape? I have Joeglo. Are we talking back flush/descale?

Thanks in advance!

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csepulv

#2: Post by csepulv »

Which Breville were you considering? The Breville double boiler will be a lot better than the Silvia, even with a PID. (I had a Silvia with a PID).

While the Silvia has a rich history as a first machine, there are better options. Used Silvias tend to be overpriced. Also, they have a lot of temperature variance. A PID can help a lot, but the cost of Silvia with a PID usually moves into costs where options like the CC1 would be a better value. In short, it can take a lot more work than necessary (considering alternatives) to get good espresso with a Silvia.

I am sure a few people will suggest used levers as a better value. They can be (I also have one), but they can be quirky too. Potentially great results, but also potentially a lot of frustration, depending on your patience, discipline and interest in the manual process of levers.

Is there a particular reason you are ruling out the Breville?

And I'll add the obligatory reminder about making sure to spend most of your money on a grinder. ;)
Chris

Gfcronus

#3: Post by Gfcronus »

What to check before buying used Rancilio Silvia?
Your head?

emradguy
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#4: Post by emradguy »

While I agree with just about everything that's been said by Chris in reply to your query, I would like to give you some semblance of an answer to your initial question.

But first, keep in mind that merely discounting the machine price compared to a new one does not make the price good. The overall condition of the machine and its components is a huge factor to consider in assessing whether the used price is a good one. i.e., how much money will you have to put into it, along with that buy-in to make it function as if new. how competent are you to perform the work, and is it worth the time and effort to you to do so? Take a look at one of the places that supplies parts ([url]http://www.1st-line,com[/url]; http://www.chriscoffee.com; http://www.espressoparts.com) and get an idea what components cost.

Also consider your own intended use of the machine, and whether you'd be willing to install a PID, and how much cost that will add to the purportedly good price...and what else is available as far as other machines (new and used), as there is probably a better choice for you. In fact, what I'd really suggest is starting your own new thread stating what you intend to do with the machine, what your space, power and plumbing options are. what your budget is, and asking people what machine you should get. If you still want a Silvia after that, well...go ahead and get one.

Now, on to your question...

Take my reply with a grain of salt, as I've not bought any used gear. However, I've been doing espresso at home for well over 10 years, and spent about 8 of those years owning, maintaining and repairing a Silvia. For a while, I had 2 of them in fact.

1) I would make sure you go somewhere that the machine can be turned on and brought up to operating temperature. Run water through the group and steam wand. Make sure you get a relatively even dispersion from the shower screen, and that the flow through the steam wand is a strong steady flush. Then, turn on the steam switch, give it time to come up to the new temp, and then check that you get a steady flow of steam out of the wand. Close the valve, turn off the steam button and refill the boiler by running water through the wand until there's a nice flow again. Leave the machine on while you discuss other things.

2) Ask about water use. what was the source water like? If only unfiltered/untreated tap water was used...what is your city water like? Take a perusal through Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ to get an idea what you want to know. In particular, you're looking to see the potential for scale buildup.

3) Ask how long he/she has owned the machine, and if they bought it new or used.

4) Ask what version it is, in fact, take a look at pictures of the different versions online, so you can tell by looking at it. This will give you an idea how old the machine is in general.

5) In addition to machine age, you want to have a v3 wand on it. Many people with v1 and v2 machines have upgraded the wand, which is a very, very good thing. The v3 wand is of an articulating style, allowing you to raise and lower it, while the older version just pivots in and out. If it has an older wand, the upgrade (which includes a new steam valve assembly too) is about $60-80 (iirc).

6) Ask about usage patterns. How many shots per week on average.

7) Was the boiler ever allowed to run dry? The seller may not know, but if the boiler thermostat reset button ever need pushing, the answer is probably yes.

8) What accessories are included in the sale? At the very least, I would expect original accessories, which include single and double pfs and baskets and a throw-away (plastic) tamper. If there's more than that, even better. I would hope for...a blind basket insert for backflushing, a spare group gasket, a spare o-ring set, a real (58mm metal) tamper, and perhaps even a cleaning brush or frothing pitcher.

What was the maintenance regimen?

9) When was the last time the group gasket was changed? If not within the past year, expect to have a couple of hours job of picking rubber out of the group assembly.

10) Did the owner backflush, and if so, how often. Be aware that Rancilio mandates you don't in their manual, but you definitely can do so, and most users do.

11) Did the owner ever descale? If so, how often and why? Was it for maintenance or a problem?

12) Look at the machine frame for rust, especially under the drip tray (where it is most common). Light rust isolated to under the drip tray is not a deal breaker, but should be removed and then painted with rustoleum on short order.

Check the machine for leaks (in fact, do this periodically throughout the discussion)...make sure there's no water dripping from where the steam wand exits the bottom of the machine. If you're ready to buy it, take off the top plate (it's held on by just a couple of screws) and give the inside a quick inspection.

mst3000

#5: Post by mst3000 »

csepulv wrote:Which Breville were you considering? The Breville double boiler will be a lot better than the Silvia, even with a PID. (I had a Silvia with a PID).

While the Silvia has a rich history as a first machine, there are better options. Used Silvias tend to be overpriced. Also, they have a lot of temperature variance. A PID can help a lot, but the cost of Silvia with a PID usually moves into costs where options like the CC1 would be a better value. In short, it can take a lot more work than necessary (considering alternatives) to get good espresso with a Silvia.

I am sure a few people will suggest used levers as a better value. They can be (I also have one), but they can be quirky too. Potentially great results, but also potentially a lot of frustration, depending on your patience, discipline and interest in the manual process of levers.

Is there a particular reason you are ruling out the Breville?

And I'll add the obligatory reminder about making sure to spend most of your money on a grinder. ;)
I have a Breville YouBrew based on it beating out the Technivorm Moccamaster in SCG's blind taste test (which I now question - it's not a bad machine, but quality seems to have gone down in the last 6 months). I was initially seduced by the look and features (and grinder convenience) of the Barista Express, which I decided a year ago was the machine I would get once I got my work bonus next month. I have heard a lot of good things about the Dual Boiler, but it's outside of my budget (about 600 for machine and grinder, wife-enforced). My original plan was to get a Gaggia Classic and Preciso grinder, but I recently found some good deals on used Silvias on CL - 120 for a V1 (sold now though) and 250 for a used V3 (still available). So my line of thinking was to get a used Silvia for around 200-300, which would give me more wiggle room to get a Vario instead of the Preciso. But I guess now I'm having second thoughts about the Silvia. I figured worst case scenario, I could sell it on ebay for at least what I paid.

How much would you guys pay for a used BES900xl? Used BES920xl? My only concern about the Brevilles is build quality and being out of warranty.

mst3000

#6: Post by mst3000 »

Gfcronus wrote:Your head?
Ha! Sorry, I didn't realize the disdain for Silvia's was that high here... :D

mst3000

#7: Post by mst3000 »

emradguy wrote:While I agree with just about everything that's been said by Chris in reply to your query, I would like to give you some semblance of an answer to your initial question.
Perfect, thanks! This is a lot of great information, for me and for anyone else considering a used Silvia. Good point about including possible work it might need in the true price of it. I think I'll take your advice about posting a new thread looking for other suggestions. I'm not married to Miss Silvia, I just thought I found a couple of good deals on one. Thanks again!

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takeshi

#8: Post by takeshi »

mst3000 wrote:Ha! Sorry, I didn't realize the disdain for Silvia's was that high here...
Have you used this or other espresso discussion sites in your research and looked at recent threads?
mst3000 wrote:My only concern about the Brevilles is build quality and being out of warranty.
While build quality is a plus most that stick with espresso are likely to end up upgrading from something like a $600 setup anyway so I recommend focusing on what's in the cup versus equipment that you think will last forever. Even an old Silvia will likely need repairs at some point.

mst3000

#9: Post by mst3000 »

takeshi wrote:Have you used this or other espresso discussion sites in your research and looked at recent threads?
I did, I found one recent thread on here about someone who had acquired a used Silvia. I was looking mostly for advice on what to look for in a used Silvia. I did see some anti-Silvia sentiment in a few passing threads, but I saw positive comments and threads too.

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boar_d_laze

#10: Post by boar_d_laze » replying to mst3000 »

Don't take the positive comments too seriously. They tend to be owner loyalty and/or nostalgia.

The biggest problem with any SBDU without a PID (or some other form of electronic temperature regulation) is that it can't be temped consistently within the range of your palate's ability to detect over and under extraction. And by "can't," I mean "can't." No amount of technique will make the machine consistent.

That means that brewing good espresso is a crap shoot and that with the Silvia in particular, even if you do everything perfectly, about 40% of your shots will be at least slightly too sour or too bitter, and roughly half of those will be pretty awful.

SBDUs present other serious weaknesses, particularly if you want to do any sort of steaming.

If possible, go another way.

GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER

Rich
Drop a nickel in the pot Joe. Takin' it slow. Waiter, waiter, percolator