So I just got the order confirmation for my order of a Cheness "Kaze" 9260 diff-temper. I also bought a blackened steel "higo" style tsuba, because they were cheap and I like the design.
There's a good (if unsophisticated) review of the Kaze here. I chose the Kaze over the tougher Shura because I wanted a cosmetically prettier blade with a hamon (temper line) as well as the benefit of a harder edge. I'm absolutely giving up some durability here. The Shura will withstand a truly unbelievable amount of abuse. But, apparently, it doesn't cut quite as well as the Kaze on softer stuff, due to the Kaze's differential temper. I'm going to have to spend some serious time working on my technique, or I'll break this thing. And I'm fine with that.
There have been rare QC problems with a few Cheness swords. More often, it's little stuff like loose ito (handle wrap) and such. But that seems typical of swords in the $300 range. So I'll definitely take the tsuka (hilt) off when I get it and inspect the blade. I'll have to do that anyway, in order to put the new tsuba on. This is no Bugei or Howard Clark blade, but that's not what I'm after. I'm just looking for something I can practice cut with and it won't matter if I damage it. And for that, the Cheness looks pretty darn good.
Also, I'd eventually like to look into making the wood pieces of the hilt out of hard polyurethane. It'd be very interesting to see how the shock-absorbing and elastometric properties of polyur would stack up vs. a traditional honoki wood hilt.
I'm very interested to know where Cheness gets their blades. Cheness's CEO Paul Chen (not the same as "Paul Chen"/Chen Chao Po, the guy who runs Hanwei) has said that they come from China. I wonder if these are actually made at Hanwei's forge in Dalian, but with Cheness's choice of steel (9260 silicon-doped spring steel) and cross-sectional design.