Stand Mixer: KA 600 Pro or Cuisinart
I drove myself crazy trying to choose a stand mixer, too. I knew Bosch, Electrolux, Viking and commercial Hamilton Beach mixers were out of my price range. I also knew I did not trust KitchenAid. Cuisinart had a lot of excellent reviews online and I read the detailed test on the Cooking.com message board - http://forums.cooking.com/showthread....
Last Thursday, my shipment from Amazon.com arrived and I am very pleased with the machine! The price was great, $338 with free shipping. I know from past experience that Amazon has terrific customer service, so I felt good about ordering from them.
So far, I have made mashed potatoes, two separate 3lb batches of basic dough for focaccia bread, and a 6lb batch of molasses wheat bread. The machine has mixed and kneaded like a champ.
Bought a Cuisinart 5 qt about a month or so ago and have been very pleased with it. Bread, cookies, whipping... Found out about it because of a Cook's Illustrated recommendation. I'd had a K5A (most similar to the 600Pro series now, I think) many years ago. It was a workhorse, but I didn't enjoy using it at all. Wanted the lift bowl thinking I'd use the inner/outer bowl combination for beating over ice or hot water, but never did use it for that and found the lift operation very clumsy for adding ingredients, changing beaters, removing bowls. Since I knew I didn't want to go that route again, I was comparing the Cuisinart to the KA tilt models, and with one exception the Cuisinart seemed much better. That exception is attachments, especially the pasta maker and, maybe, the ice cream maker.
However, I've got a serviceable ice cream maker and have used a motorized standard pasta maker for years, so that became a non-issue.
The Cuisinart is very user-friendly, somewhat quieter, and does a terrific job. I'm very pleased.
Funny how things go. I was a demonstrater for Cuisinarts when they first came out. Now I have a Cuisinart mixer--and a KA food processor!
I am a novice cook; so, take my advice at your own risk. I acquired the Cuisinart 5.5 Stand Mixer recently. I have only had a few chances to use it but thus far I am satisfied with the purchase. I picked it up on clearance $200 on a brand new unit. I have done cookie dough mixes and pie crust mix that both came out satisfactory. The attachments are not stainless steel but appear to be a brushed metal (on aluminum maybe). The bowl is simple to lock and unlock to remove. The tilting head took me a bit to get use too. The timer and FOLD button are great additions. I have yet to use the outlets. The downsides is the product is not made in America, it's a bit noisy (but this maybe similar to most stand mixers), and the majority of exterior is in a plastic covering. It is powerful and is sturdy in spite of plastic on the exterior of the body.
I have never used the KA 600 Pro but the luxury of the KA is the number of attachments which far exceed the Cuisinart offering. KA has a huge following and reputation. You also maybe able to luck out and get the 620 Pro on discount that will match the price of the 600.
Cuisinart warranty is a longer. KA has been making mixers longer. KA has more attachments. KA likely has more users. Cuisinart unit is very similar to the Viking unit which was made for pro's originally. The KA 600 is a larger unit than the Cuisinart 5.5 but likely on par with the Cuisinart 7Qt. The KA 600 can use a mini 3Qt bowl while the Cuisinart is fixed the 5.5Qt unit or 7Qt unit.
I would recommend you visiting Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table, Kohl's, or Macy's to see if you can view these machines in person. That'll likely help with perspective issues.
This may be a stretch but I cannot imagine their mixing functions to operate very differently.