Hi HBeing -- I sent you down this road of Mac and thinking about freehanding I think (or I feel "guilty" as if I did, anyway)... so I'll chime in: BDL is talking electric Chef's Choice I'm pretty sure, for comparison; I don't think he's recommending their pull-throughs over others. I'll let him come by and confirm or deny or elaborate.
I'll put in the word for stones. If you're talking waterstones, you don't want a 240/1000 combination before you start. Or it would be ok, but less than ideal. That 240 is for very rough work, reprofiling; if you're starting with a new knife, the 1000 side is all that would (or should) see your edges for a while. The biggest factor there is that until you get comfortable with holding a steady (relatively) angle, you don't want something that's going to cut away as much metal as the 240-side. Work with the medium-grit until you have a bit of technique, you won't mess up your knife irreparably that way. (So if going combination, then a 1000/4000 or 1000/6000 or something. You'll be ready for the higher grit before you need the rougher).
You spend more for the stones anyway, however, than for a manual pull-through, because you also want to get a flattening stone. (I was pushing some other accessories on another thread, too, but I won't here; for me there are things for convenience/clean-up that got me more into the actual DOING of the sharpening, comfortably, but they're not necessary and they involve spending yet more money and many people don't need 'em. Stone holders and trays and such).
Benefits of using a whetstone: you'll get a sharper and more polished knife than with any of the machines/manual "machine-like" sharpeners, you'll learn some things eventually about different kinds of edges (you can change the symmetry, you can add a microbevel, you can sharpen to steeper angles if that interests you over time), eventually you can thin behind the blade when the knife needs it.... For those who like to spend the time, it's actually fun (not a chore) to learn.
Disadvantages are that you might end up *not* enjoying it and practicing enough to care. It does take a bit of patience. But it's not rocket-science, it's rubbing a piece of metal on a brick. (That makes it sound like it can't possibly be as fun I just claimed, either, though, doesn't it?) I paid for a lesson which shortened a learning curve considerably, and felt vaguely competent after 4 hours. I think there's plenty of good instructional material on-line (and in Chad Ward's book) that it's not necessary for someone else to do that (though for me it was certainly a good thing. And it wasn't free; could have gotten a very, very nice knife for the price -- which is the disadvantage). So you might not get great edges for a while. And you might scratch up your knife. Of course the obvious is that it's not automatic, if you just want to get it done, it's way slower -- especially at first -- than using something you don't have to think about.
Backing off on the disadvantages, it doesn't take long to get better than factory-edges, with whatever flaws. I'm not a "good" sharpener, but I can do better than most new knives. And unless you're using a coarse stone way before you're ready, whatever damage you do is likely easily fixed (scratches and such). A rust-eraser or some fine wet-dry sandpaper will rub out scratches on the face or back of the knife. The tips were less than perfect after the first four hours, too (but nothing that got in the way of performance - just some visible unevenness that will be "repaired" in a few more sharpenings).
All that. LennyD started a "fear not the stones" thread which I have meant to contribute to with a slightly different take on these thoughts, but haven't done yet. I suppose for me I was insecure enough that I needed the lesson before feeling comfortable even practicing. But afterwards I see I shouldn't have been so scared. Sort of like learning to swim as a kid, I guess. I just needed someone to say "can you hold your breath and float, and then do *this* with your arms"? Obviously couldn't swim for real, still, but learning from there was not frightening and was very fast. It's like that.