yay hildie! i was leaning towards Kromski myself, lots of loyal followers, but I'm meeting less than fans too now that I've met some spinners.
my spinning teacher just raves about his latest wheel, the Baynes Upright and it is affordably priced and somewhat upgradeable, not quite so much as the Ashfords. One thing he told me, though, which I wasn't aware of, is you don't necessarily need a lace ratio to make lace, basically that you can do just about anything with any wheel if you learn how. (sticking surprise presents and things in your hank might be difficult with smaller orifices, though)
He piqued my interest with that, but then I tried out the owner's Majacraft Suzie and am about in love with it. It is pricier, but well worth it for what you get, and it has tons of accessories and upgrades. Hers was 10 or 15 years old and you couldn't tell by the look or the action of the wheel, it was amazing and gorgeous. I think I might hold out for it a little longer so I can get that one, but I'm still considering the Lendrum Folding too.
The moral of the story is, they are all right about trying before you buy. I scoured and obsessed over wheels for weeks, had it all picked out down to what stain I was going to use, then in a matter of minutes, not so much. that website for the lendrum has really awesome information about wheels, how to select them, the differences, etc. it's also been suggested to me by multiple spinners and weavers to attend a guild meeting, where you will have the opportunity to talk to lots of people and see different types and styles and learn all kinds of stuff. there is a listing of some illinois guilds here
have so much fun! i'm obsessed and in love already!!! (could you tell?)