Unless you're a 'serious' consumer of fighting games -- meaning you like to compete online or at local tournaments -- and arcade stick is a bit of luxury. It's hardly something you need. Then again, I do totally own two annoyingly expensive arcade sticks, but that's just how I roll (also: I'm broke).
Still, even if you're a more casual purveyor of fighting games, it's always pretty boss to bust out some arcade sticks when friends are over. For this reason, here is a quick and rough guide to some of the better Arcade sticks on offer. If you disagree -- and I'm sure you will! -- feel free to bombard me in the comments below!
Hori Real Arcade PRO 3 VLX: 30,000 Yen
Disclaimer: I have not had the chance to test this arcade stick. They're actually pretty hard to get a hold of, and you'll most likely need to import, but if you're interested in picking up the absolute best arcade stick on the market, this is most likely your best bet based on the feedback I've heard. Getting one of these, however, will be incredibly tough -- both Amazon and PlayAsia are currently sold out. It retails in Japan for 30,000 yen, which is almost $400. Yep. Pretty pricey.
Official Street Fighter IV Round 2 Tournament Edition: $229
I have the original version of this bad boy, and I have no complaints -- besides the fact it's a wired controller, but I'm sure that's a plus for the serious players who use this (with repsonse lag and all). The major selling point for these controllers is, of course, the fact that all the major materials are from SANWA. That may not be too much of a priority if you're on a budget, but for those who want high quality materials, this is a pretty big deal. This is arguably the best mid-range stick on the market.
WWE All Stars Brawlstick: $TBC
If you can get over the fact that this is a WWE branded arcade stick, this is a great budget effort that will suit more casual fighters just find. I have one of these as my secondary arcade stick when friends are over, and it's well made, responsive and worthwhile. It doesn't feature the SANWA parts of its bigger brother above, but chances are you won't miss them. We called the local Mad Catz distributors and the apparently they don't distribute them locally, but you should be able to import one for less than $100.
Any other suggestions? I'm not exactly a connoisseur, so I'm totally willing to have my choices torn apart by you guys! Let me know in the comments below.