I baked for many years without using a mixer or any special gear. I really enjoy mixing and kneading by hand, and think it is a great way to get to know about dough.
But after a while it became clear a mixer would be helpful. Not so much because there were things I couldn't do without a mixer, but because I could do much more of it with the help of a mixer. Three or four batches of bread in an afternoon barehanded is exhausting; with a decent mixer it just becomes challenging to schedule everything so that it is ready to go into the oven at the right time. A good mixer is a tremendous labour saver.
My first mixer was an entry level KitchenAid, something like this. I found it on super duper sale and was very pleased with it. I've put a lot of mileage on it and never had a breakdown, though there definitely were times I had to divide a batch or take a break from mixing because I could tell I was putting too much strain on it.
Last spring I decided it was time for an upgrade. I think it was the Milk Bread with Tangzhong that finally did it: that dough was so sticky it would climb up the hook and get into the head of the mixer in a matter of seconds. For every second spent mixing, I think I spent five scraping down the dough. I'd had it.
After much research, including reading many of your threads here, I set my sights on an Ankarsrum Original mixer (aka Assistent, DLX, Electrolux, Verona, or Magic Mill). It is a pricy machine, but given the amount of time and energy I spend baking, it seemed like a worthy investment that would pay off over the years.
I've been using this mixer since September and really enjoying it. Super sturdy build with a much larger capacity. My KitchenAid used to walk all over the counter when it was mixing and I always had to stop it and scrape the dough back down into the bowl, whereas this thing barely moves and rarely does the dough get stuck on hook. This is the most I've ever seen it budge:
So while it has a bigger footprint than my KitchenAid, I don't have to give it as much clearance since it isn't whipping all over the place and bumping around like my old machine was.
I'm still getting adjusted to using a spiral mixer -- meaning the bowl spins and the hook stays still -- rather than a planetary mixer where the hook moves and the bowl is stationary. My preliminary impression is that while it takes a bit longer to knead the doughs in the spiral mixer with the dough hook, it does a better job, something much more akin to a hand kneading than the serious beating that my dough would get in the KitchenAid.
Also, it may be completely irrational but I've always been scared of getting injured by a planetary mixer. I saw a colleague of mine get his hand caught in a large planetary mixer the first week I worked at a bakery. That was a much more powerful and dangerous machine than my little countertop mixer, for certain. But I like that my new mixer has a large, open bowl that makes it easy to watch the dough develop or poke it while the mixer is running (which I'm certain the instructions tell you never to do) without fear of having the hook swing around and catch a finger. Make of that what you will.
What else? Yes, I actually feel like I am learning a lot more about dough development since it so easy to watch it now. That's a pretty big deal, actually.
The two attachments I use a lot are this heavy beater thing for getting ingredients incorporated:
And then the dough hook once my dough is together:
There also is a plastic bowl and attachments that allow you to use this as a standard mixer/beater, which we've used to beat eggs, make whipping cream and cake with. See?
My favourite accessory that comes with it? Very silly, but the plastic lid that fits the bowl just so. For things like autolyze it is so handy to have. I'm sure you can buy something similar for a KitchenAid, but I never did.
I've been in touch with both the US Ankarsrum distributor and the Canadian Ankarsrum distributor. They seem like good folks who thoroughly believe in the quality of these mixers.
This mixer is a huge step forward for me. I think is both going to make baking easier (and less frustrating) for me and, ultimately, make me a better baker, which is a very good thing! :)
I know some other folks have been considering getting one and asking questions about them. Let me know if there are any questions I can answer or particular features you want me to demo. I should note though that I've never used the Bosch mixer or a higher end KitchenAid so I don't think I can offer a meaningful comparison.