Some updates: My TBE exhaust arrived late yesterday. And I painted my tail lights over the weekend. First, the tail lights: I used VHT Night Shades Red and Duplicolor Clear Acrylic Lacquer. I won't go into too much details since there are many how-to threads floating around, but ended up applying two light coats and then one medium coat of the VHT, followed by 4 coats of the Duplicolor. I needed to get the lights back on my car to get to work the next day, so I only wet sanded one of the fixtures as a quick test. The polish I had was old and not very good, so I will be picking up some new stuff this weekend. TBH, the orange peel effect isn't too bad on the lights if you are careful when applying. The wet sanding does smooth it out of course. I will finish sanding and polishing them at some point in the near future.
I ended up going with the Maddad Whisper CBE and Metal V2 DP. I put a lot of thought into the cost/benefit of going this way or the another, but I ended up here. I was a bit worried that Rich at Daddy SSCP was going to be unresponsive after reading several complaints on various forums, but it turned out to be exactly the opposite. Rich replied to my numerous questions extremely thoroughly and in a timely manner. I was very impressed and it helped me make my final decision to go with his products. Almost three years ago, just before picking up my WRX I had done similar research and decided on the Whisper back then... so I've sort of come full circle after considering many different options in the mean time.
I was also exchanging many emails with Nameless performance sales and engineering. They were also very helpful and professional. Unfortunately, the only pictures I could find of their TBE with Magnaflow muffler showed some of the pipe hanging a bit low. I don't know if it would scrape on anything, but I didn't like the looks and other solutions were tucked up a bit more. It could be the pics were old and Nameless updated the design, but I did not get enough feedback to change my decision on the Whisper. I think Nameless has quality products for a good price, but they just didn't fit my needs as closely as the Maddad even if it was a few hundred cheaper. (So much for saving money!)
Speaking of money... I set out to find a relatively quiet and not overly expensive way of getting to stage 2. I wanted some improvement in exhaust sound, but not much more volume. I learned along the way that if I wanted the absolutely quietest and cheapest option, a shorty DP (like the one from Maddad or similar) is the way to go. I replaces only the portion of the exhaust that yields the biggest gains but leaves the rest in place including the stock catalytic converter. For a few hundred bucks you get near stock sound and decent stage 2 power when tuned.
The exhaust arrived from California (I'm guessing it is manufacturered by Stromung...?), and was packaged nicely. There was a hole in one box where a hanger pushed through, but it was padded up nicely with foam wrap so no apparent damage. The muffler has a shallow "dent" in it that looks worse in the picture than in person. The welds look solid, but not nearly as nice as the ones I've seen from Nameless. You can also see the "fake" heat shield that the Metal V2 comes with. Here are some pics: