So I've been thinking about this for a bit. When I dive into a new hobby like this I spend the first bit of it learning new stuff and then the next bit of it unlearning other things that I had assumed were correct based on prior experience. In this case I'm thinking about things i have to unlearn about surface prep.
Part of the reason we're seeing different things when we weather and reanodize a second time w/o etching again, is that you're using comparatively advanced means of weathering like tumbling that leaves a more complex and 3D surface than the beginner stuff I've been doing, which is all hand weathering using abrasive media designed to cut or polish material. I'm thinking that what I do leaves, by force, a much evener surface with less exposed surface area than tumbling or blasting would, and while that sounds great at first, I think it's part of the problem. Some of the nicest looking anodized surfaces I've made yet have been on titanium that I did nothing more to than wash it and then go back and forth down it with a Scotch Brite for a few minutes. Some of the most drab and colorless anodization I've done is on metal I spent literal hours polishing -- not to mention, how easily scratches show on a high polish surface.
I've been staying away from building or buying any sort of mechanical weathering apparatus because they take up space and are somewhat noisy in my experience. Also $. Doing it this way has definitely been less expensive, and I've frankly enjoyed the manual meditative aspect of it, but I think I'm seeing the limitations of relying on finer grit sanding media, and to some degree, sanding media in general.
I might have to break down and buy some kind of drum tumbler but... the ones I'm seeing online all seem to have like three star reviews until you get into professional grade equipment which I'm not at all sure I wanna commit to doing. Also not sure I want to deal with the faff of modifying the less expensive ones the way you had to in order to get one that you could get even weathering on a single knife scale, know what I mean?
But one thing I do know about tumbling is that you gotta do it for a while to get a result you'd like to actually see, and I don't know if I'm down for shaking a PVC cylinder filled with sand and busted dishes for hours on end.