I hate to spend to much effort promoting certain duck call brands. First off, if they're not paying me, then I'm not all about the free and "expert" advice. But, since I'm not an expert, it's just informational on what I think is actually the best.
Calling ducks isn't necessarily a strong tradition in North Carolina. Goose Calling in and around Currituck is - but only by mouth...no calls needed for those guys. And swan calling - well, commercial calls are available, but you're very best Ric Flair impression will suffice. Nevertheless, modern mass marketing has influenced us into believingthat we do in fact need a duck call to shoot lots of ducks. I have close to 20 duck calls, so it's safe to say that I am a victim of the gimmick and impulse involved in this marketing ploy. Alas, the most important thing to remember is that without practice, your calling will do more bad than good. In my early years, my calling definitely convinced more ducks to fly away than to fly by. However, I spent more time blowing the duck call in the truck than in the marsh - which is what helped me arrive at a somewhat level of fair proficiency. And I've tried all the calls, too. As a general rule of thumb, blow the call before you buy it. Go to a store or to a maker's shop and blow the call. Blow it loud, even if you're bad. And don't let the salesman tell you it sounds good. You know if you sound like krap or not, and should decide based on that. Different brands are built based on the DESIGNER'S style - not yours. Also - the fancy colors and etchings don't help the functionality of the call, so set your mind on to purchasing a solid black call or green call FIRST. After your skill set is developed, you can buy a chartreuse colored call for all I care. Another rule of thumb - if it's fairly popular among your friends, then it's probably a decent brand to blow and buy...
Duck Commander - I don't like that these guys have over-glamorized duck hunting. Still, Ol' Phil made some nice duck calls that, to me, are pretty ducky sounding and are great for novices. I preferred the Green Mile call in my younger years. It's good on the high end, and does require an awful amount of grunting, which is tough for a beginner to master. It's a nice, easy two reed.
RNT - These calls can be especially squeally....but that's good. I only but the single reeds in the high end brands. They were designed with a single reed, so the double reeds just don't sound very authentic. I especially like the single reeds for the "hiccup" call, which apparently is all the rage now, even though I've been blowing the hiccup for several years. Single reeds are tough to master the feed call with, but practice pays off. If I were a novice caller, I'd stay away from this brand until I had developed a repertoire on several very different calls.
Echo Calls - These are a skilled, working man's call. I like them, especially the bottom end poly carbonate calls. The timber call is tricky to blow for me, but I generally blow Open Water calls that require a lot of hot air. Still, the low end calls a re a good bargain. Echo provided me with my "intermediate" level of calling...
Big Guys Best - Not my favorite. They require a lot of compressed air.
Zink Calls - I've never had an easy time with these easy. In the hands of a skilled called (someone on the Zink Pro-Staff) they're spectacular. They also make really good goose calls..probably better than their duck calls.
ABC Calls - Yep, Allen Bliven in North Carolina. His calls are very good, if not comparable or better to the big names listed above. I think they're absolutely beautiful and they have a nice profile. His wooden calls sound absolutely magical. I've had a tough time with the big open water acrylic, but the wooden calls are great. It's my go to call. They have wonderful low ends, great hiccup capability, rattle out the feed calls, and some have a very true sounding ringing hail top end.
Miscellany - There are lots of local makers of calls across the country. In fact, if you have a lathe and patience, you , too could turn your own. Many of these calls lack in performance but can overcompensate with good looks. If you're buying a call for the mantle, buy local and unique. Generally, though, the calls blow terribly.
Now that I've said all of this, you have to make a decision on what is best for you. My only advice, though: Blow it before you buy it, commit to practicing, and use a pintail whistle 80% of the time!