I know there are a million posts about this subject, but none that actually answer the questions I have [...]
I have a Cyclone Rake Classic. Bought it used a couple years ago. I was the third owner. It's a little beat up but still works good.
1. I too have the MDA so can't tell you what the suction is like with the generic boot. However you could just go with the generic boot to start and see if it's acceptable, and if not, then order the MDA separately. You'd only be out the shipping for the separate item vs getting it all together.
And you know, the Woodland Power Products company is pretty customer oriented.. They might be willing to let you buy an MDA (so you could compare both ways) and return it if it didn't make an improvement over generic boot. I'd just call them first to make sure, since you'll end up cutting the MDA and they may not accept it back after that. But I wouldn't be surprised if they did anyway.
2. I have the heavy-duty urethane 8" hose. No rips so far after 2 seasons (actually no rips through 3 separate owners I guess). I also have the estate extension hose, same heavy large material. That one I sort of wished was the lighter stuff because using it is like wrestling an anaconda. Of course this is partly because the green "wand" at the end is the older design with two handles but no support strap. I suppose with a shoulder strap like the newer ones come with, the weight of the hose wouldn't be so bad.
3. I don't have the blower housing liner, and with the thickness of the housing I can't imagine a case where I would need it. Maybe if you're routinely sucking up gravel, volcanic rock, broken glass, etc, it might be worth it. I can't see acorns or sticks justifying it though.
4. Can't really help you on this one.. haven't used the other 2 brands you refer to. Hopefully someone with one of those brands can chime in. I can say the CR is made of very heavy duty materials.
5. My classic came with the Tecumseh engine so can't give you any feedback on the Vanguard, sorry.
So, these are my questions. I have looked at a neighbor's DR and tried it out. I was happy with it, but it looks like more of a pain to store (he just leaves it together and backs it into his second garage) [...] Any guidance from owners of these machines would be appreciated as well as any "coulda, woulda, shoulda" that you thought of after you bought said machine. Thanks so much.
The CR is easy to store.. it does really take up only a 2' x 4' spot on the floor when disassembled and folded up.
One complaint about my CR is it's dusty as all getout to operate. When I'm done I look like Pigpen.. it's literally like I took a cinnamon shaker to all my exposed skin. I have to blow the dust off myself with a compressed air hose before going in the house. And if any cars were in the driveway they'll look like they just drove through the desert. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a little, but it does leave a fine layer of dust on everything nearby. Of course my soil is very sandy so that's a big part of it. A "regular" yard would probably not produce as much dust.
That's all that comes to mind at the moment, but I've commented on this unit in a little more detail in a couple other postings if you didn't run across them already:
Using a Cyclone Rake for Mulch Transport