I'm thinking of getting the Edge Pro Apex 5 - if it can do most of the things that freehand can do, the value there at $275 seems too good to pass up. It's expensive, but all things considered it seems like a good deal to me. I'd prefer to become better at freehand but I'm trying to be realistic about this as well: my days are so busy that I'm not sure I can take up yet another project that requires practice and do it particularly well. More than anything I'm thinking about performance - I just want a *sharp* knives. Not "kind of sharp" which is what my knives are now.
For your knives an EP is certainly a valid choice. Each system has its plusses and minusses. The EP significantly flattens and accellerate the learning curve compared to freehanding, and those seem to be your priorities. So, yeah. Good call.
Kit 5 is the "super deluxe" set and far more complete than it needs to be. Not only do you not need a 7 grit progression, 4 is probably ideal. On the other hand, a 10,000# polish is not a bad choice for your knives at all, they can certainly hold it. With the EP, I'm not sure there's any more economical way to cover the bases which you seem to want covered than kit 5.
Also, if "money is no object" you might want to seriously consider the EdgePro Pro. Yes it's another couple of hundred bucks, but it's a lot more stable.
By the way, learning to be a competent freehander isn't all that difficult. You could certainly do it. I figure it takes 5 to 20 times more practice than an EP. Don't feel compelled to to respond to that. You seem to have made the right decision, and I'm not challenging it. Just sayin' is all. Don't get paranoid, but other readers lurk.
It's worth adding that a top flight, four bench-stone, freehand sharpening kit would cost as much or more -- especially if you include a flattening stone and stone holder would run to a similar price range as the Apex 5 Kit.
You also wrote,
1. Are there any practical blade length limitations with the EP Apex? I contacted the company and they said unequivocally, "No" but I'd also be interested in the opinion of someone who's used it and knows it well. I've only seen it being used on knives 240mm and under but I'm assuming it can handle 270mm blades just fine.
Yes. No worries, but let me supply some detail.
The EP is used with a technique called "sectioning." That is, you slide the blade along the table after you finish sharpening each section. That way, each section is sharpened at a (more or less) constant angle. Finally, when you sharpen the tip you'll have to adjust the angle of the knife to keep the arc-sections of the belly approximately perpindicular to the angle of the arm in order to preserve the edge angle.
This sounds more complicated than it is in practice -- especially after a little practice. Make sure you watch Ben Dale's videos several times before working on your knives. Also make sure you allow yourself a chance to learn -- it's an easy system, but don't expect instant success.
When you "open" your knives, i.e., profile them for the first time, it's important to lay down a very flat bevel without any high or low spots. By all means, use the "Magic Marker trick" so that you can easily check the bevel shoulder doesn't stray from parallel to the edge, and remains even along the length of the knife.
You also asked,
2. How does the EP handle single / asymmetrical bevels? Well? Poorly? Well with a lot of practice? The Masamoto has an asymmetric bevel. I see no reason why it shouldn't handle an asymmetric blades well but I thought it would be prudent to ask first.
Single bevels? Not great. Proper sharpening of single bevels requires flattening. EP no can do. You can work around it by sharpening just enough of a back bevel to draw a burr which can then be deburred, but it's not the same thing. Hamaguri edges, are right out.
No problem regarding the Masa's relatively restrained level of aysmmetry.
One of the primary benefits of doing your own sharpening is that you're not bound by the knife maker's edge geometry. For one thing, Japanese factory edges are problematic more often than not. They're usually done more quickly than well. And, for what it's worth that's generally true of Masamoto but not so much of Misono.
More, Masamoto doesn't know some magic proportion which will work best for you. That's up to you. If you're planning on using a "steel" to maintain the Masa (good idea, IMO), you don't want more asymmetry than 2:1. IIRC, 2:1 is just about how the Masa ships.
I generally recommend 60/40 asymmetry as an opening geometry for most western users; then that they gradually sharpen the bevel increasingly asymmetric until going a little too far; then dialing it back.
Also, one of the big advantages of a precision sharpener like the EdgePro is that it allows you to competently sharpen double bevels. Your knives will perform very well with a 10* secondary and 15* primary double bevel.
Your knives are hard, but not immutable. They will lose their true (rolling and waving) from impact on the board. There are two possible fixes. One is to sharpen, the other is to use a honing rod (aka a "steel"). Steeling is certainly more convenient and properly done on an appropriate rod-hone doesn't wear the knife down as much as "touch up" sharpening.
So, my recommendation for the Misnos and the Masamoto is 60/40 symmetry with 15*/10* double bevel.
Hope this helps,
Full Disclosure: I have a LOT of time on benchstones (both oil and water) but not very much with an EP. A good deal of the above is based on channelling other folks' experiences. That said, my advice is fairly mainstream and I'm confident about it.