Real Sword #1 and LCT #2 AKs on the market IMO. VFC deserves honourable mention,
RealSword will be harder to find right now and may be over your budget, but it has better stock internals and externals IMO. I recommend the 56-2 if you can find one, Just an all around amazing gun. The downside is that the sector gear and piston are proprietary, however Real Sword stock parts are good and easy to get.
LCT will be easier to find and makes almost as good of a gun IMO. Great externals, and the internals are 100% Tm compatible. They make a large variety of models. Probably the better choice for the new player who wants to dabble in upgrading and is what I would recommend to you.
On the lower end of things CYMA makes a good 'workhorse' AK that has good value to cost ratio. The problem is the externals are made from pot metal, they don't look or feel nearly as good and can break if you're the kind of player who's hard on your gun.
I would put Echo 1 in a same category to CYMA. My Echo 1 had major compression issues from stock.
Last edited by Kozzie; June 30th, 2013 at 00:40..