Take your time.
Let me say that again. Take your time.
Having studied Korean sword for a couple of years now I have had a special sensitivity to many of the posts on various Nets which ask the same question that you have.
Take your time.
When people go out to purchase an automobile they research dependability and price, looks and MPG. Maybe they go to CONSUMER REPORTS or POWERS for evaluations and critcal examinations. I am always amazed that when buying a sword, students routinely attempt to purchase the least expensive wrench in the catalogue and then attempt to put said wrench to maximum use for everything from Forms to cutting.
Take your time. Do the research. Do not attempt to find a "one size fits all" sword. The kind of sword you want depends on the use you will put it to.
If you want a wall-hanger buy one of those garish items out of the local MA supply catalogue or go to the local gun show and pick-up on an old WW II gunto. Don't use it for anything but a wall-hanger.
You want something to do Forms or Iaido with go to "NOS" and buy one of their unsharpened Iai-To or perhaps that nifty new shapened Iai-To which is capable of doing LIGHT tamashi-giri (One or two mats). Pay the money. They are worth it.
You want to do some serious cutting go to BUGEI and Talk to James. Tell him the kind of cutting you want to do. He will help you identify the blade thats right for you. You will get a quality Chen blade with quality furniture and secure mountings. Pay the grand. Its worth it.
You want a custom sword-- custom made to your specs. Fine. It will run you 3 G-s or more and the sky is the limit. You will get reasonable polish on a folded blade and all the warm fuzzies attendent to owing such a piece.
Now, it has been my experience that whatever one buys, there is always someone who can cut a few corners and so shave the price. You can always get something cheaper.For instance MANTISS offers Chen blades for less but their furniture is shoddy. However, if you are going to modify your sword study in deference to what you are willing to spend, you are in the wrong art. I will go a step farther and say that if you are going to be guided in you MA practice by cost, you have selected the wrong activity and probably need to move to bowling or baseball.
Bruce W Sims www.midwesthapkido.com