As to smoking characteristics (and I don't own nor smoke Dunhills) they get mixed reviews. Our senior resident Dunhill owner and smoker foggymountain identifies several series of Dunhills he wouldn't own. A number of reports of poor smokers both on estate and new pipes have been posted. So most-like a Dunhill could be a good or bad thing. I have a Yello-Bole and a row of Savenelli that smoke way better than some Dunhills, according to many posts I've read. And cobs!
Ashtons... I love Ashtons... I've only had two Dunhill's and buyer remorse caused me to return them or flip them.
The Ashtons I have owned are what I imagined Dunhills to be when I was a gimlet eyed newbie.
Sablebrush... you are truly one of my favorite people to read on this forum.
I currently have 3 Dunhills, I have owned 9 or 10 through the years and they all smoked well, a few smoked great and these remain. As to which pipes I reach for, as others have said, if I keep a pipe, it smokes great. I don't have any interest in collecting pipes for the sake of collecting.
If you can get an Ashton with a nice, thin stem (hard to find with current production Ashtons), you'll have a pipe that smokes similar to a Dunhill at half the price (or less).
Also, you might take a look at Lane-era, production-model Charatans -- i.e., the catalogue shapes, not the big freehands. I bought my first Charatan a while ago, a Lane-era Belvedere pot, and it is really well made. Great fit and finish, with a smooth, open draw. The stem isn't quite as thin as on most Dunhills, and the button is different, but it's a great pipe. I picked it up used for about $50.
If I ever develop a smoking cadence, I might be able to separate technique from pipe quality so that I would then be be able to say that one pipe smokes better than another. Sasquatch recently posted that precise internals matter, but to me almost nothing separates the mediocre from a fine smoking pipe. When I draw on a pipe, any pipe, I end up with smoke in my mouth. If I draw more or less hard, I get more out less smoke. I light and the pipe goes out, and I relight, which has nothing to do with the pipe or the quality off the smoke it affords. I have a Kevin Arthur with a finely sculpted bit, worthy of any high-end, completely sculpted and open, and I notice no difference when I puff it as compared to my cheap pipes with the small, perfunctory slot.
Now a thin bit that's easy on the jaw, that's important.
Certainly I have pipes of higher quality and many more that are modest, and I appreciate quality, and the perception of quality does improve the smoke. But not really. My Castello and Ashton perform no better than my Jost and Andre.
What does matter to me is weight, drilling and adequate cure of the wood. While we're on the subject of wood, Castello is touted for their 10 year old wood, but mine doesn't smoke any better because of it; or maybe it does and my plebeian palate is out to lunch.
I dunno. I've been smoking pipes for 16 years, much of it as an information chowhound on the forums, and none of that investigation has tuned me into the characteristics of the superior pipe.
So not trying to dampen anyone's joy, but I think y'all are victims marketing. Yet there is a chance I could be wrong. If you like, school me.
Mr. Plug- I am sure you do have a smoking cadence after sixteen years with the pipe....
And to me the most important factor is the briar and how it's been handled, before, during and after its made, from not green stock. I.e., how it's been smoked and handled. If smoked dry and not left in a damp condition, the briar will continue to mellow. All within reasonable bounds of engineering and making, within norms for draught and chamber size. The rest is aesthetics, which can and do play a part in how we regard the smoke-worthiness of our pipes. But regardless of all the above, we all have our favorites. Sometimes mine is a basket bought Parker I found for a song; other times it's my blingiest Dunhill, or a lovely Barling Canadian, etc., etc.
plug: I smoke my pipes two, definitely different, ways. Work smokes are for the nicotine. The evening pipes are a different, much different, experience for those I require a finely built, properly (to my eye only) proportioned, which fits my hand and teeth so that I hardly notice the intrusion, pipe. All that is part and parcel of my evening smokes. A good book or other diversion is also required. My goal is not the nicotine so much as the tactile experience of the pipe, book, movie or conversation. The pipe is a part of the experience and not even the most important one of my "winding down" time of day. Frame of mind is the most important component to my evening smokes.
I'm not sure I ever saw a pipe marketed when I purchased my first, a decent smoking, leather wrapped Ropp if my memory serves, certainly nothing special. It was what Woolworth's had in the cabinet that caught my eye. So, I for one do not feel victimized. I know "playing the victim" is all the rage today, I just don't feel it. So, in my case, I can't speak for others, consider yourself schooled!