This article is from the rec.audio.* FAQ, by with numerous contributions by Bob Neidorff others.
One simple answer to this question is that the best tape is the
tape which was used to align your tape recorder. A second
simple answer is that more expensive tapes are frequently
better in terms of quality of the backing, durability of the
oxide, accuracy of the shell and guides, and life.
Background: When you make a tape recorder, you build electronic
circuits which have specific, non-flat frequency response.
These circuits correct for the non-flat response of the tape
heads, the recording process, and the tape. These circuits can
be adjusted after the recorder is made, but adjustment is
tricky, and may or may not be successful with every tape made.
The designer of the tape recorder picked one tape as their
standard when they did the design, and built that recorder
to work well with that particular tape. It may work better
with a different tape, but it won't necessarily sound the
best with what one person calls the best sounding tape.
From a review of frequently given answers to this question,
it is obvious that almost every brand of tape has its advocates.
Many brands also have their detractors. Maxell and TDK tend to
have a strong following, but that is in part because they own a
large share of the US tape distribution market.