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A direct comparison between the Rancilio Silvia and the Lelit PL041, February 2010.

Rancilio Silvia (2008 model)

Lelit PL041 (2010 model)

The Rancilio Silvia and the Lelit PL041 occupy more or less the same market "niche", single boiler non-heat exchange domestic espresso machines. The main advantage both machines have over a host of cheap Chinese made machines is their build quality. Stainless steel bodies and marine (no lead!) brass boilers, matched with clean, uncluttered interior design mean that the machines are easy to repair and have extended longevity.

The photos and comparison table below set out the main features of each machine.

Rancilio Silvia

Lelit PL041

Overall Effect

Boiler Volume with Element

330ml

270ml

Negligible

Group/Portafilter Basket Size

58mm

57mm

Silvia can use a wide variety of aftermarket baskets.

Element

220v 50hz 1100watt

220v 50hz 1050watt

Lelit heats up slightly faster.

3-way Solenoid valve

Yes

Yes

Equal

Overpressure Valve

Yes

Yes

Silvia's OPV is adjustable.

Showerscreen

Dual layer perforated plate and mesh screen

Single layer perforated plate

Silvia has slightly better water distribution when clean.

Boiler and valve materials

Marine Brass & Stainless Steel

Marine Brass & Stainless Steel

Equal

Body/Frame

Powdercoated steel frame and SS Body.

All stainless steel.

Silvia's frame can rust.

Shot Quality

Excellent

Excellent

Equal

Internally both machines have many similarities, and a few major differences. The major ones are the Silvia's group offset from the boiler and the Lelit boiler's water path. In the last couple of years Rancilio has appeared to concentrate on mostly cosmetic improvements rather than performance boosts, which has been rather disappointing in the light of their fairly savage price increases.

Lelit has tried to improve their build quality and quality control without pushing up their prices too much, which has increased the gap between the machines.

The Silvia group. Note the chromed plastic collar and protruding showerscreen screw.Lelit group with recessed 2.5mm hex screw and chromed brass group collar.
Current model Silvia boiler.Lelit boiler. Note "Quick Release" hose fittings.
Single filter baskets. Silvia (L) holds 7.5 grams at most. The Lelit basket (R) can take up to 10 grams.The Rancilio double basket holds 15.5 grams maximum, the Lelit double 18 grams.
Portafilters and baskets, Rancilio on left. The differences in size are obvious.Finally, Silvia's worst feature, the "guaranteed to spill extremely low volume" drip tray. I hate wet feet!

In the long term, if all you want to do is make great espresso and milk drinks with the kit that comes out of the box, the Lelit is your best bet. The espresso quality is at least as good as the Silvia and these days the build quality is too. BUT ... and it's a big but ... if you want to experiment with, for instance, Slayer filter baskets in a bottomless portafilter, the Silvia is the machine to buy. The biggest difference between the machines is the amount of aftermarket kit you can add to or adapt for the Silvia, made possible by the 58mm standard Rancilio group and portafilter.

The last time I compared the versions of these machines I said it was like Mercedes vs. Mazda with the Silvia being the Merc. These days it's more like Mercedes vs. Lexus. Both are classy machines, the Merc (Silvia) is more expensive on an apples-for apples basis but can be optioned up to the limit of your wallet, think AMD. The Lexus comes with everything you need built in to the purchase price and no optional add-ons. I suspect that in the end which machine you buy becomes more a matter of personality than performance.

Finally, it doesn't really matter which of these machines you buy, unless your machine is matched with a quality grinder you're wasting your money. What constitutes a quality grinder? A good place to start is http://www.home-barista.com/grinders/titan-grinder-project-can-it-beat-mazzer-robur-t4499.html . (Note that most of the people who do this sort of stuff started out with the Silvia, which gives you a good insight into the mindset involved.)