That is the present sad truth. I bring this up because of the following question I received. It is a good question.
"I'm interested in making chocolate at home, and am also wondering how inexpensively can I do it? its tough to invest $600+ into a hobby that I have no idea if I will like. My thoughts? Well, how did they USED to do it?"
I will start off addressing the last part first. How did they used to do it? Well, who do you mean by "they"? If you are talking about those in Mexico and that area, they used and still use large, flat griddles to roast on. They peel the cacao by hand. They grind it with a heated stone metate. It is a LOT of work AND you will not get the smooth modern chocolate that you are used to. If you are meaning, how did "they" used to make smooth "modern" chocolate the answer is that large, heavy expensive equipment has always been used. Chocolate as we know it today did not exist before the industrial revolution.
$600. I will not say that is not a lot of money - it is. What I will say is that it is not even close to what a small chocolate lab pays for chocolate making equipment. Let me give you some idea.
Roaster - $5-$10,000
Small cocoa cracker - $2,500
Close to $40,000. Now that is a lot of money and that is where I started a few years ago. That is why I am pretty happy that I can offer all the tools you need for under $1000. I was told time and again when I started looking into making chocolate at home that you could NOT do it. That the equipment was not available, too expensive and the techniques too difficult. Well I have proved that wrong. No, it is not inexpensive, but it is not prohibitively expensive either. I look at what some people spend on making their own espresso at home - $400, $800, $1500 for an espresso machine (not that I would not mind one myself). Yes, those are people dedicated to espresso. They are not doing it for the cost savings - they are doing it for the superior product. And that is what making chocolate at home is all about really. Making a product that has the potential to be vastly superior to what is out there, and making it how YOU want it!
This all brings me around to saying that I will not say it can not be done less expensively. I did not like being told I could not do something and I won't do the same to you. But I will say I have brought the price WAY down and that I don't know how to make it much less expensive - maybe someone out there will come up with some other alternatives.
Oh, and the original question - "how inexpensively can I do it?" If you want to put some sweat equity in, and coddle the equipment you have to get, I think someone can get into making chocolate at home for the price of a Santha. You need the wet grinder to get rid of the grit of the sugar. It is the ONLY thing I have found that will do that. The rest you can make do with what you have around. You can roast in an oven. You can peel by hand (although I can only do 2-3 lbs an hour). If you add the roasted cocoa nibs slowly to the Santha, they will grind them, but it takes time patience and perseverance. I really recommend going on e-bay and getting a used Champion for $100 or so, in addition to the Santha. It will save you lots are work and frustration. With the Champion you can grind the unpeeled roasted cocoa beans. The flavor may not be as "clean" as winnowing the husk away first, but it will do the job.
So, $250-350 is about the bare minimum you can spend at the present to get into chocolate making at home. What you will have then is smooth, silky chocolate with a great fresh flavor that is hard to find anywhere else, and the satisfaction that you made it yourself!