I was in the same boat as you. Although I had played for about 15 years off an on I never really took golf serious until last year.
I was gaming a cheap Maxfli complete set that had various quality issues (won't bore anyone with the details). Anyway back in Jan I had roughly $400-500 to spend on a set of irons that I want to last me for a long time. I went into golf galaxy over a series of days and literally hit every 7 iron in their demo bin. Thankfully business was slow so they didnt mind. I narrowed it down to a few I felt comfortable with (and ones that seemed the best on the simulator). This being the Ping G10's, Cobra S2 Max and the Taylormade Burner plus, all within my budget.
First thing I noticed about the Pings was I was about a club shorter than my normal and hit everything high. I am not a long hitter to begin with so this had me concerned. As far as quality though, Pings are stout.
So I narrowed it down to the S2 Max and the Burner plus.
On the Mizuno Launch monitor we found that with the same swingspeed I was generating about about 3-4 more mph of ball speed which equated to about 5 yards longer with the Burners over the S2's and my shot dispersion (left/right) was less with them. To be honest I thought the S2max's were a nicer looking club but the TM's just felt better at impact and the ball seemed to really jump off the face.
I opted for the TM's which then Golf Galaxy fitted them for me.
Being I am shorter (5' 3") I knew I would need some adjustments. First off I was using senior flex shafts previously. After seeing my swing speed, they fitted me for regular shafts. After using some impact tape we observed that I needed 3/4" taken off the shaft. Then we determined that my lie angle needed adjusted to 2 degrees flat. Also being my hand is smaller than average we re-gripped with undersized grips. I had a $50 coupon, the clubs were on sale for $399. With all the adjustments and new grips it came to $440 out the door.
Granted still on the cheap end compared to what most people game but for me these clubs are night and day better than what I was gaming before. After a couple of rounds at the range I am very happy thus far. Cant wait for it to warm up and game them on the course.
If you have any questions, I did alot of research on various game improvement iron sets. Shoot me a private message and we can go from there.