I do believe that generally, the more you spend on a coffee machine, the better cup of coffee it will make. However, this is impacted slightly by the quality of coffee you use as well. It will take more than a 150 dollar coffee maker to make a can of Folgers taste good – no offense Folgers lovers!
First and foremost, it comes down to capacity. Back in my grad school days, I had use for a small 4 cup coffee maker, only because it match my apartments tiny appliances. I did find I was continually making coffee, because whoever decided to call the segments 'cups' must have wanted to be funny! When I came to my senses, I never again bought anything smaller than a 12 cup coffee maker.
Is brand important? Not so much as price. For the most part, you can expect better quality materials as the price increases. I like drip coffee makers, though I have owned a French press from time to time (only to discard due to my in ability to remember to clean it in a timely fashion). So long as it has a glass carafe I'm ok. Internal part materials do have impact on taste, but I have found that with regular cleaning with de-scaler, its negligible. In all reality cost at this point only really determines how long you'll probably own the machine.
Options – now HERE's where the purchase of a machine determined. Buy what you need. Don't need stop and pour, clock, timer, etc? Don't spend the money on it then. Spending money on features you'll never use really isn't money well spent. I apply that mantra to nearly everything I buy. For me – delayed brew, so I can have that extra 20 minutes in bed and stop and pour, for those times I need my java fix – are two critical requirements on a coffee machine.
Once the requirements for the machine are met, then its time to buy beans. I do prefer grinding my own. I truly believe that fresh ground coffee is one of those aromas that are near perfection, followed closely by baking bread and bacon! I use a moderately priced burr grinder, and while I may not like lack of grind options, it does do a more consistent job of grinding the beans vs a rotary grinder. The grind it provides on its largest setting is smaller than I expected, but it works well with my machine.
Beans are important. I believe in trying out several varieties until you find one you like. Remember too that coffee, like any crop, is subject, in quality, to growing and harvesting conditions. So differences in flavors from batch to batch of beans may exist. Finding a decent roaster will normalize any variations from growing. I do think from a consistency perspective that Eight O clock Coffee Co. provides a relatively good product for the money in the lower 48. Here in AK, where all coffee is expensive, I tend to try to find the best coffee for each dollar. To date, my coffee of choice is San Francisco Bay French Roast, available from Rogers Gourmet Coffee & Tea. The aroma and flavor of the coffee is strong, robust, but not overly acidic. It is, hands down the best coffee I have purchased from an enjoyment perspective. This is followed closely by Trader Joe's French Roast, and Green Mountain Coffee's Columbian.
So when it comes to a good cup of coffee – buy a larger machine, buy a machine with the features you want/need, and try keep trying different coffee vendors until you find one that meets your expectations. Finally, don't be afraid to try different things, you'll never know when you find something truly spectacular!