A few things:
1. Richmond Ultimatum
A significant majority of reviews of the Ultimatum have been positive. If you don't count the reviews on the "Kitchen Knife Forum" it changes from a "significant majority" to a "vast majority." This is unsurprising for a few reasons which don't have much to do with the particular knife.
- New products tend to be polarizing;
- Nearly everyone LOVES what they just bought; and
- The KKF represents a large number of people who don't like Mark Richmond, Richmond knives or CKtG.
I have yet to use an Ultimatum, but bought one (in 52100, it should be here this coming week) on the basis of what I've read and heard.
The first thing you should consider is whether or not you want a "mighty gyuto," because -- at around 200gm and around 3mm thick above the chin -- that's what the Ultimatum is. Which is to say it's about as thick as a Sabatier au carbone, and about as heavy as an au carbone would be if it was a wa-gyuto. I bought mine partly with the idea of exploring the similarities.
From all accounts the finish on the Ultimatum is very good, and so is the standard, OOTB Shaun Fernandez edge. The idea that the Ultimatum is a "project knife" only makes sense for someone who bought one expecting it to be a complete clone of the Masamoto KS. In fact, it only clones the KS's Sabatier-like profile -- but not its thinness, flex at the tip, or many other outstanding qualities. On the other hand, I wouldn't cut the back out of a chicken with a KS.
The moral of the story is that weight and thickness determine destiny, and if you're not interested in a "mighty gyuto" or at least something damn close, don't bother with an Ultimatum. By way of adding a little nuance to the moral, I ordered the Ultimatum with the proviso that if I didn't like it I could turn it around and exchange it for the ever desirable KS. The think about the KS is that my Konosuke HD occupies a too similar niche.
2. Richmond Artifex
The Artifex is a good, inexpensive knife, without any pretense to cosmetics, and which punches well about its price. It's hallmark is value. Period. If you want to see what a decent knife but otherwise unspectacular knife is like in Bohler 390, you won't be able to do it any cheaper; but Bohler 390 won't turn an Artifex into a Masamoto KS -- or, for that matter, a Gesshin Ginga, Misono Sweden, Konosuke HH, Sakai Yusuke, etc., etc., etc.
Again, the key is knowing what to expect. If what you really want to do is spend the least amount of money on a decent, right-sized knife born to work the line AND fool around with the alloy, it's a good choice. If you want something else, you want something else. Easy peasy.
3. Masamoto HC:
The HC is Masamoto's best western handled, mass produced, carbon gyuto. It's quite probably also the best western handled, mass produced carbon gyuto period. There are other western handled, carbon gyuto which might be as good or even a little better, but they're less mass produced than (a) "semi-custom," and (b) also well out of your price range.
The HC is not a western handled version of the Masamoto KS. They share a similar profile but the HC is thicker and heavier. The KS is made from Shirogami #2, while the HC is made from another, very high end and very pure alloy -- perhaps Takefu VS2. Although they share the same Sabatier type profile, if you really want a KS you won't be happy with an HC.
As with all Masamoto western handled knives, you should ask the retailer to make sure that there are no gaps or cracks on the handle of the knife they ship you. Otherwise F&F and QC are typically Masamoto.
I really, really like the HC, and think they're just that tiny bit better than Masamoto Sweden or the better Sabatier carbons. If I didn't already have so many Sabs at the time I got interested in Japanese knives, I'd have a set of HCs.
4. MAC Pro:
The MAC Pro is an excellent western handled, mass-produced, stainless gyuto. It's in the same league as the Masamoto VG; each knife having slightly different strengths and weaknesses, both made from the same (or a very similar) alloy which is either VG2 or something a helluva lot like it. The VG is thinner, narrower, and very agile. The MAC is a bit thicker, but much stiffer. Both have better handles than your CN, your more likely to get good F&F, and I'd argue that both have better profiles as well. On the other hand, a CN is less expensive and has considerably better edge taking and edge holding characteristics.
Hope this helps,
Edited by boar_d_laze - 12/14/12 at 5:44pm