Maybe a used Denon 47F would be best. Yes it has some auto features but I've heard it against the Rega's and it best them.
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The older Japanese tables can be quite good - don't forget Techniques (Panasonic), Yamaha, etc.
From what I've seen, the entry models from Rega, MH and Pro-Ject cut lots of corners to keep costs down (motors taped or glued in place, MDF platters, etc). They are to be commended for resourceful engineering, but rather than spend your $300 on a new R1/2.2/Debut I'd look for something used higher up the line or one of the older units mentioned above.
Something to think about - typical inflation rates cause prices to double every 15 - 20 years. Your $300 budget today is like a $75 - $100 budget in 1980 - which wouldn't have got you much of a new table. On the other hand you probably could have picked up a decent used table for $100 in 1980.
look for a Systemdek IIx. They can be found for $250 +/- depending on condition and tonearm included. They have a great deal of potential. If you're mechanically inclined and willing to do your own tweaks and setup you'll get much more out of a table. If not, stick with a relatively new (but used) Music Hall MMF5.1
in my experience all tables are very different, just as much or more than cartridges.