Re: Daily Beginner Rec Thread...
Lotsa questions! I believe the only difference between the two Kentucky "160" series models, is in the finish, so if you decide to go that route, pick the one whose looks you prefer. Solid wood and carved top are, as you state, pluses; the 160's have a solid top, but it's not described as "carved," so it may be heat-pressed into shape. The KM-254 and the The Loar (hate those two "the's") have carved solid tops. The top is the main vibrating surface, clearly, so differences in the top are more salient to the sound than differences in back and sides.
I'd think you'd do pretty well with either of the two $300+ models, the KM-254 or the LM-220. The Loar instruments get good recommendations here, so do the Kentucky low- and mid-range mandolins, and since you won't be able to try them, I'd get Robert's recommendation and go from there. Epiphone and Tanglewood mandolins aren't "pressboard," but they are plywood, at least at the lower end, and you're a cut above that with the instruments you're considering. You won't get "online ordering issues" dealing with him; folkmusician.com and the other Cafe sponsors are reliable.
You don't say where you are in Colorado, and I know from experience (two years at Ft. Carson) that it's a big state, but a trip to the Denver Folklore Center would give you a chance to try some hands-on. They carry Kentucky mandolins, as well as others. (They also have a Lloyd Loar Gibson they're asking $225,000 or so for, if you decide you have a slightly larger budget.)
And yes, do consider some form of humidification, once you get the mandolin; either a room humidifier or an in-case one, such as a Dampit, is a good idea, especially if you're on the east side of the Rockies. The Taylor Guitars Tech Sheets, though intended for guitar owners, give a lot of useful information about maintaining a suitable environment for wooden instruments.
Enjoy! If you do get to the Folklore Center, say "Hi" to Harry Tuft for me.
Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
Natl Triolian Dobro mando
Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
Stradolin Vega banjolin
Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
Flatiron 3K OM