Its funny - in my thread about mixers from a couple weeks ago, the first few posts were from people telling me not to get a mixer too. I decided to get one anyway because I got 24 channels of decent pre and eq for $750 (shipped!). Will I use them all? Not yet. But I will eventually. I have 16 channels of I/O - why only get 8 channels from an onyx or spend $3k on 16 channels of pre for a project studio? At least this way I COULD use all 16.
The boards I was considering were a Soundcraft 400B or 600B, a Soundtracs Topaz Project 8, a Mackie 8 bus, and a board from a company called Aries (some english trident rip off, best I can tell). I checked out some of the recommendations made on here (Amek, D&R, SC Ghost), but found that most of them were out of my price range (below $1000, preferably).
I ended up going for the Soundtracs for a couple reasons. First, the reviews I read about it and the posts in other forums, spoke really highly of the preamps and EQ it offers. "Musical", "Useable", and "Solid" were often used in descriptions. Second, every channel has a direct out, which was a requirement for me as well. I also really liked the form factor of this board - it's not a 200lb behemoth that'll clog up my whole room.
The only real drawback for me was that it's not modular - if a channel goes out, it's out. And the only guy who seems to really know these boards lives in England, so it'd probably be cheaper to buy another one.
A lot of reviews compared it to the Mackie's, but suggested that this is a better value. The 24 channel 8 bus with a meter bridge is still coming in at around $1500, which is a bit more than I wanted to spend. With the soundtracs at $750 (shipped!!!) I can still spend another $750 on a good preamp, have 1 or 2 channels of sweet signal and 24 more channels of pretty good sound. Or I could buy a decent mic (or two).
A couple tips for your search:
1) Site search google for craigslist postings, ie "site:*************** soundcraft 400". It'll pull ads from ALL craigslist. Make sure you check the dates though, some of the ad's might be OLD. If you're willing to pay some shipping, this opens up your possibility a ton.
2) Post wanted ads on your local craigslist. I did and got a couple responses - nothing I wanted, but you might have more luck.
3) gearorphange.com has some good boards, but they're over priced. That's where i found that Aries board (which I think he still has. Sounds nice, just not what I was looking for).
Good luck, and be sure to keep us posted about your decision!