Not to take anything from the above posts, but a different perspective is the "investment" potential. I don't care how great someones Ibanez sounds or whether it beat a Loar in a blind test, it won't have the monetary value. I have a great-sounding Flatiron A5-1 with Bill Monroe Strings and a snake tail in the sound box - ha, but it still won't fetch over $2,000.00 (I like to dream), whether it sounds better than a MM or not.
My choice (O.K. my wife was involved as well) has been to strive for the "best" mandolins I can find in my price range. I've done a pretty good job and love what I've kept so far. That said, I have no doubt that my secret desire is to have the distressed master model (even at the higher prices) as I darn-well bet you they have the tone and will keep their investment potential in the years to come. I also bet you the same is true for the more noted independent luthiers (i.e., Smart, Wiens, etc.) as their prices not only reflect their success in appealing to the tone, but also the market potential of their instruments.
ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!
'20 A3, '84 1N, '84 A5-1, '06 Phoenix Bluegrass, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5