I really like my 2 fin nors ofs95 and 65. yea, they are a little heavy ,but they both have been given a serious workout.I've taken many tuna on the 95 and well over 100 big bass on the 65. they both have performed flawlessly. You can sometimes find them for between a buck and a quarter and a buck fifty. you can't beat the price on these reels. I'm thinking of buying another 65.
Shimano 14000F/18000F are proven reels.
I don't think $300 is a big investment considering the cost of single offshore trip and how long you can use the reel.
If you buy cheaper reels now, you eventually buy qualtiy reels anyway.l
The Penns have failed on every trip I've been on, go with a Shimano.
I have two Penn 950s and two Stella 20Ks. There is no question which is better, the Stellas. However, The Carbon Fiber, large bottom mounted drag on the 950 will stop a 150 lb. Bluefin. Better than many other choices in that regard.
The only problem with the Penn is that it is like an old FORD (fix or repair daily), you've got to keep all the screws tight. If you do, it is nearly bullet proof. And if you like, parts are readily available and you can fix it yourself. And it's only 125 bucks.
I too have seen the Penns fall apart ( the new 950, not the old 9500). I have the Spheros 14000FA with upgraded drags and love it. Many YFT on it without a hitch (knock on wood). The handle sucks though.
I run both 950's and 9500's. I think they're "good enough." For the money I'm satisfied. I agree the Stellas are better, but I can't stand the price; they're Gucci spinning reels and I'm a Levi's kind of guy.
I had one recent failure on a 950, and it was caused by the side plate screws backing out. The screws worked loose allowing the gears to have enough play to kill the pinion. I ordered the parts on line and it was cheap and easy to fix. I put blue loc-tite on the screws now. I agree with you that the drag design is fine. Also worth mentioning: I grease my drags now with Shimano drag grease. I used to run them dry. Last trip out I was pretty pleased with the drags, as they stayed smooth as far as I want to push them.
I cannot justify a Stella or other high end reel when there is a "good enough" reel (to quote workin) out there that works so well. However, I don't understand why people would buy anything but a Spheros if you are looking for "good enough" vs. best. I am not trying to put anyone down, or bash any manufacture's products, but if you search all these sites over the recent years on this issue, I have never seen anything negative about a Spheros other than the drags, which is a $10 fix. You see plenty, and I mean plenty, of negatives on any other reel in the "good enough" catagory. Plus, the Spheros is LESS than any of the other alternative out there. So why buy anything else in the "good enough" catagory? I just saw one on ebay sell for $125, they go for that price frequently or less. It is rare for a best in class to also be the lowest priced. If consumer reports ever did any article the spheros would be a 'best buy.' If you have another brand already and like it, that is fine, but if you are buying something as your first spinner, follow the majority of the right ups and try the spheros. Just don't forget to upgrade the drags.
What about the Fin-nor ofs it has fiver top washers and one large washer that is in direct contact with the spool so it pullls more drag than the saragosa and cools quickly like the penn.I have the 18000f and the 8000f saragosas along with the 8500ofs and the 7500ofs.The big difference here to me is 1.Shimano is a smoother reel by far 2. fin-nor not as smooth on the retrieve as the shimano but it has drag to boot , nor is the fin-nor gear ratio as fast as the shimano.The end result is how does your budget match up to the prices.PS I WOULD STAY AWAY FROM PENNS ABSOLUTLEY NO QUALITY.I HAVE FELT THIS FIRST HAND