Before shopping for an instrument, you should know your budget, the sound you want, and how long you would like the instrument to last.
If you don’t have a working budget, then shopping becomes unmanageable. As a general rule, the more you spend the nicer the instrument. And there are many different qualities of instrument being sold. So unless you have a sense of how much you can spend, you can end up being pulled in an infinite number of directions.
Manufacturers also design their instruments to have different characteristics. For the most part, you will probably best be able to evaluate the characteristic of sound. The sound we like can be highly subjective and impressionable. So as you try more flutes with differing colors and timbres, it can be increasingly difficult to know what flute sound satisfies you.
Finally, make sure the instrument feels comfortable. Instruments have different weights, tone hole placements, and mechanisms. Make sure that the instrument you like does not cause you physical discomfort.
It is difficult to say that any particular manufacturer is better than another. Manufacturers try to maintain precise building specifications so customers can expect consistency in their instruments. However, the same flute model can vary year to year and no two instruments are ever clones of one another. If you have an opportunity to attend a flute fair or convention, it’s a chance to be exposed to many different makers. A convention can be overwhelming, however, and not the easiest environment for purchasing an instrument. If you are comfortable making a purchase at a major event, then do it. Otherwise, follow up with the dealer to get an extended loan of a few instruments that you like. You will have to pay for shipping and insurance, but then you will have the opportunity to try out an instrument in familiar venues to get a better sense of sound.
If you are buying the instrument online, see about getting several at a time during a trial period. It’s much easier to evaluate a flute side by side another. Again, there are shipping costs for trial periods. If you are in a music store, you should be able to try several kinds of instruments while you are there without incurring expense. Many stores, however, cannot afford to carry different manufacturers of higher end flutes.
There are many more makers competing at the lower-end range of flutes. A less expensively made flute is not an instrument that will last a lifetime. You can expect much more mechanical and cosmetic wear on a lower-end flute. And after about 10 years of consistent playing, you might find that it is less expensive to buy a new or slightly used instrument than to repair it.
And in the end you will choose something that you like. And most importantly you should be happy with your purchase.