When taking a step up or even just a step away from more consumer-focused brands such as Breville, these two machines are brought up in almost every discussion. The Gaggia classic pro and the Rancilio Sylvia.
More often than not, they’re mentioned in the same breath, but there’s quite a price difference between these two machines.
Our mission today is to help you decide between these two machines. Is it worth spending more on the Rancilio, or should you just stick with the Gaggia? Let’s find out.
These two are actually quite similar in the grand scheme of espresso machine offerings. They both have bent metal frames, they both use slightly retro-looking rocker switches to control the brewing, and they both have variable steam knobs.
But there are some key differences in the build and design that I do want to point out, the first of which is the water reservoirs.
Both of these machines can be refilled from the top using a top access point, but the Gaggia can be refilled from the front as well by simply sliding out the drip tray and pulling forward the reservoir.
This is a really nice feature if you have low-hanging cabinets as you won’t have to be constantly moving the machine forward and back each time you go to refill it.
Another big difference has to do with the drip trays. The drip tray on the Gaggia is a bit cheap, but it’s a pretty classic drip tray. It’s nice and deep and has a good capacity.
The Rancilio is made of metal, but it’s a very strange design. It’s a metal grate that covers a very shallow pan.
In my full review, I mentioned that I’m not fond of this design at all. That’s because it reduces the capacity, and it makes it really difficult to take the drip tray out if it’s anywhere close to full. I don’t know why they went this route, but I would still give the advantage to the Gaggia.
If we start to look at the build quality of the parts that you touch regularly between these two machines, that’s where the Rancilio starts to step ahead, as you would expect from the more expensive machine.
Most notably are the portafilter handle and the steam arm. These are probably the two weakest parts of the Gaggia classic pro as they both feel really cheap.
The handle on the portafilter is very thin plastic, and the steam arm is very flimsy and only rotates. The steam arm on the Rancilio is on a nice ball joint, and the portafilter feels much more sturdy.
One final thing worth mentioning before we move on is that the Rancilio is also 50% heavier than the Gaggia classic pro.
You’re going to notice this when doing things like locking in the portafilter because on the Gaggia. You have to hold the top to stop it from sliding around. On the Rancilio, you’ll have to do no such thing. Again, kind of adding to the higher build quality we’re getting on the Rancilio.
Again, I think these two are closer than most people would expect, especially given the price difference. They both use full-size 58-millimeter portafilters, and both group heads can warm up those portafilters very effectively.
I believe both these machines can produce a better, more consistent shot than something like a 54-millimeter Breville, and both are still going to take some temperature surfing because neither is equipped with a PID straight out of the box.
Speaking of straight out of the box. I would give a slight edge of espresso quality to the Rancilio Silvia, which was almost exclusively because of the filter baskets included with the Gaggia.
I found them a little bit cheap feeling, and I struggled to get the same quality out of those baskets that I was getting on the Rancilio.
With that being said, when I put the exact same IMS precision filter basket in both of these machines, I would be lying to you if I said I could taste the difference.
So when set up with the same filter baskets, I believe these two machines are on par in terms of espresso quality and consistency.
One final thing to note has to do with the brewing pressure that both come set up to. If you want to lower those brew pressures down to 9 bar, the Rancilio Silvia will be very easy to do that.
It comes with an instruction manual, and the access point is easy to do with just a few screws on the top of the machine.
To do the same thing with the Gaggia, you’re going to have to do some Googling. You’re going to have to do some DIY work to either cut the OPV spring or get a replacement. It’s just not something that feels like it’s supposed to be done by the manufacturer.
That being said, there’s tons of information on how to do it; it’s just not as straightforward as with the Rancilio.
Before we go on and talk about steaming performance, we have to stop for a second and talk about grinder quality.
When I say that both machines will produce the same quality espresso, that is, assuming that they are using the same grinder quality.
Grinders can make such a huge difference in the quality of espresso that you’re able to produce. So with that being said, if the Rancilio is already maxing out your budget and you don’t currently own a good espresso grinder, it is almost certainly the better choice to go with the Gaggia and spend that extra budget on a good quality grinder.
It might be a slightly reckless generalization, but the Gaggia will make better espresso when paired with a $600 grinder than the Rancilio paired with something like a $300 grinder.
Now that we’ve adequately covered espresso let’s move on to steaming, as it’s probably one of the most significant performance differences between these two machines.
The Silvia comes equipped with a 300-milliliter boiler, whereas the Gaggia has a 100-milliliter boiler. This far larger boiler on the Silvia not only means it’s able to steam faster, but it also has a far larger capacity.
So if you want to steam a lot of milk or brew many shots back to back, the Silvia might be the better option.
However, this larger boiler does come with a downside. Because these are still single boiler machines, you need to wait for them to transition between brewing and steaming temperature.
That transition takes about a minute and a half to heat up a much larger boiler, whereas that transition takes 35 seconds for the 100-milliliter boiler.
So, if the Rancilio can steam quicker, but the Gaggia transitions quicker, does that mean they’re the same speed at making lattes?
Not at all. It does mean that you’re going to need to steam first on the Rancilio Silvia, cool the boiler down, and then brew your espresso second. It’s far faster to cool the boiler down than to heat it up over a minute and a half.
In the end, it comes down to what capacity you’re going to need. If you’re serving only two people at a time, the Gaggia will be plenty.
Independent of speed and capacity, both of these machines will be capable of making latte-quality microfoam if you have the correct technique.
However, that technique might be a little easier to master on the Rancilio because the steam arm is on a ball joint and will give you more flexibility in positioning.
In my opinion, the Gaggia pivoting steam arm was a big drawback and did take some getting used to.
It wouldn’t be a complete review of either of these machines if I didn’t mention the long list of modifications and the community behind both of them.
I want to start by saying that none of these modifications are required in my mind. Straight out of the box, these machines can make great quality espresso and steam great quality milk.
However, if you are someone who likes to tinker, there is an endless array of modifications. PIDs, precision filter baskets, shot timers, overpressure valve modifications.
All of these things take a machine that is already good value for money and elevates it to a ludicrous level of performance for money invested.
Which One Is Best For You?
Like I mentioned before if you don’t already own a good quality espresso grinder, and the Rancilio is maxing out your budget, then the Gaggia classic pro is a clear choice.
You need to pair both these machines with a good quality grinder to achieve the level of quality you hear people talking about.
However, if you already own a good quality espresso grinder or have the budget on top of the price of this machine, the Gaggia does have a better build quality and is more powerful.
In the end, you should feel no remorse for going with either of these machines. They are both solid foundations to build a great espresso setup when paired with the right grinder, and you can always upgrade them in the future.
Where Can You Buy Any Of These Machines
Both these machines can be purchased from Amazon.com. The Gaggia Classic Pro is coming in circa $449 and the Rancilio Silvia at circa $775 You can be assured that buying from Amazon you can return if you have any issues.