The $300 Recorder Question, or, "Which cheap audio recorder should I get?"
So, what about recommendations? Well, at the time of writing, there are a few different things out there. Really, there are too many to list, and countless threads discussing pros and cons of specific models. So here's a brief breakdown of what you'll find (with a few notes):
Low-end (under $300)
Zoom, Tascam, Yamaha, Sony, and Roland are the common names here. Recorders from $99 and up. These are all hand-held.
Tascam, by far, has the most offerings in this range. Their vast array of model numbers can get a bit confusing. They do, however, have the only hand-held recorder in this price range that can actually take +4dB (balanced) line-level by 1/4" TRS connection. That's a pretty big plus.
Zoom has become very popular. Their least expensive recorders, the H1, H2, and H2n, all have 1/8" connections only. Pre-amps in the H4 were terrible, and only slightly improved in the H4n. Another big difference between the H4 and the H4n is line-level input. The H4 could take -10dB (unbalanced) line-level in via 1/4" TS connection. The H4n says it can take line-level via the 1/4" TS ins, but this is not true. Those inputs are actually designed for instrument-level signal, such as from a guitar, which is not really mic-level and not really line-level. Either way, it's much lower than -10dB line, and feeding a line-level signal into those inputs will result in overmodulation (distortion).
These recorders also feature built-in mic arrays. One thing I absolutely love about little recorders like the H1 is that you can take them anywhere you go and grab some great ambient sound beds as you travel. Despite the fact that I run with a bag-friendly recorder, I do keep a small recorder with built-in stereo mic array just to grab quick sound beds.
Popular models: Zoom H1 and H4n, Sony PCM-M10. The H4n is one of two with XLR ins, and the pre-amps leave something to be desired. The new DR-40 from Tascam looks very promising, and offers XLR as well as +4dB line in through 1/4".
Kind of a "neither here nor there" price range that has only a few offerings from Sony, Marantz, and Tascam. These are all middle-of-the-road hand-held recorders.
Popular models: Tascam DR-100, Sony PCM-D50. The Sony is often described as a better recorder, quality-wise, but does not have XLR ins. The DR-100 has XLR in, and though the pre-amps are notably better than those in the Zoom H4n there's only so much you can ask from a low-cost recorder.
While this range has some higher-end hand-held recorders from Roland and Sony, we're also now in the price range for some really nice, bag-friendly recorders from Fostex and Tascam, including both a two-track recorder with digital in and TC and a multi-track recorder from Tascam.
Roland has a 4-track recorder that's under $1000; a good recorder with not-so-great pre-amps. There's also an offering from Marantz in this category, but it's not really a hand-held and it's not really bag-friendly. A decent recorder with a clumsy design.
It should be noted that the HD-P2 from Tascam has an annoying quirk. The XLR inputs are labeled "MIC/LINE IN", but this is not true. That's a leftover labeling scheme form the DA-P1, the DAT predecessor to the HD-P2. The DA-P1 could actually take line-level input over XLR connection. The HD-P2 cannot, and you'll probably fry the input boards if you try. I don't know why Tascam did this, but they did... and it's frustrating. For line-level in on the HD-P2, use the RCA inputs. Other than that, the HD-P2 is a solid performer.
Also, you may find some posts about the Tascam DR680 (multi-track recorder) overheating. This seems to be a result of packing too tightly in a gear bag with little air-flow/ventilation, and it also seems to be a pretty rare problem. Nonetheless, it has come up, and I thought it was worth mentioning.
Popular models: Fostex FR2-LE, Marantz PMD660/661, Tascam HD-P2 and DR680. The Marantz is clumsy, but performs well. Pre-amps in the FR2-LE are very good, even though the headphone amp leaves a little to be desired (overall, a stellar deal on a reliable recorder). Both offerings from Tascam are great, each geared to a very different purpose from the other (2-track vs. multi-track). The Roland recorders don't get as much attention these days.
The Bee's Knees (over $1000)
Now we're getting into some serious gear. Roland and Fostex have offerings in the lower end of this range. Sound Devices, Nagra, Sonosax, and Zaxcom (and one more from Roland) take it from there, and go from just under $2000 to well over $10,000. Great pre-amps, great designs, sturdy construction, and time code options abound.
Tascam also has a newer offering in this range with an 8-track recorder (HS-P82), that comes in around $5k.
Popular models: The Fostex FR2 is a solid offering that often gets overlooked, and has a time code option available. Sound Devices pretty much has the market here with 2-track, 4-track, and 8-track offerings, with and without time code. Their 552 mixer has a built-in stereo recorder. Nagra has been the old standard, since the days of open-reel tape, and has a digital recorder (the Nagra VI, $8k) that shows up on very high-budget productions. Also, if you want the absolute best hand-held recorder out there, Sony has one for a little under $2000. Just sayin'...