Thought I'd start a kneaded incense discussion,what are your favs & views
I think Kyukyodo's Umegaka might be the Aqua di Gio of kneaded incenses--it is not expensive, and it is good. Of course, one of the flagship Kyukyodo products is the kneaded Kurobo. This, is, or is based on, the formula they claim they received from the Imperial Household Agency. It costs over $100 for a handful of pellets. They now have stick versions of it for much less.
That being said, I am not so enthusiastic about kneaded incense these days. I have only charcoal + ash bed. It is *very* difficult to control the heat to keep it from burning. A controllable burner would be the thing, I think. Shoyeido has a non-electric one that has a screen above the ash bed, so you get a bit more control--I haven't tried this one. Also, storage is often difficult--they can get moldy in Japan's humid climate. In dry conditions, they must be very tightly wrapped or they will dry out.
Now that I think of it, kneaded incense is part of the answer to Orgoglio's question about incense in the feudal age, one of the earliest forms of incense, commonly used by aristocrats for perfuming their clothes and hair. Shoko or granulated materials are another old style, having been used for Buddhist purposes since the old days. The sticks came much later, like the Edo period (? citation needed). Shoko is also fairly complicated, but you can buy preformed channels, made out of somewhat neutral materials. Just light one end and fill the channel with shoko. I do this for meditation sometimes. (The original way of burning the shoko is to press a channel shaper into your ash bed, creating a trail. Fill the trail with mako, a neutral powder. Light one end of that, and then sprinkle the shoko on top of the trail. A simpler version, often used in temples, is to just sprinkle the shoko on a small piece of burning charcoal, but that just gives you a short puff. Sorry, OT! )