I don't know about Denon, but I had a fairly inexpensive Dual circa 1990 and it sounded pretty good through my then limited system, albeit with a cheap AT25 cartridge. However changing to a (more expensive) Rega Planar 3 with super bias cartridge gave MUCH more detailed pleasing sound. The Rega is about as manual as they come.
So I don't know if auto turntables should necessarily sound worse (I can't see why they should), or whether it's the case that the better decks just don't have the feature, perhaps eschewing it in favor of spending the money where sonic improvements may be had, or perhaps because the manufacturers believe that auto is not needed in the high end market.
Why not get two decks and go through a switch into the phono pre-amp? That way, when you're feeling energetic you can do the manual stuff, and when you're too relaxed you can use the auto deck. I remember when I got the Rega it ended my habit of falling asleep while listening to my records ... now I have to use CDs for that purpose.
Please let us know what you end up doing, as I would also like an auto good sounding deck. Some of my favorite sleepytime music I only have on vinyl !