I understand that this is an anecdote so take from it what you will.
I have been drinking non instant coffee for the last 7-8 years. A mate of mine bought me some 'Illy' ground coffee and a plunger (French press as I discovered the Yanks call it
) an it was the best coffee I had ever made. From there I was hooked and never went back to instant. (At a pinch, I will emergency some Nescafe espresso instant, but there has to be no other real option. I will also use ground coffee like instant and let the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup if I don't have a machine or plunger.)
A couple of years after my intro to real coffee, I bought a self grinding coffee maker, but it was a bit of a pain the ass to use and clean, and the coffee didn't taste that much better through it. So I went back to the plunger and ground my own beans. Although the coffee was good, it still wasn't up to the good barista coffee from a cafe (not Macca's or other faux coffee shops) that I used as a yard stick.
Over the last 3 years I had tried stove top percolator (not bad), too messy and laborious. I even started to self grade different coffee blends/grinds and have a list of coffee on a scale of 1 - 10. There are at least 25 different coffees on the list and a favorite pre-ground and whole bean (surprisingly the best pre-ground is better than the majority of whole bean's!).
Around 12 months ago I bought (2nd hand $70. $700 new) my first proper espresso machine and the difference in taste is obvious with the same coffee as used previously. I would think 9 out of 10 of the different coffee's I have made with it taste better than with plunger or percolator.
With a new coffee I am going to try, I eat a bean or two to get an idea of the flavor the final product will give, it seems to be a good indication of the taste of coffee through the machine, but not necessarily the plunger.
For my morning coffee I have to use the plunger as the machine is too loud, but in the afternoon and evening, I have the better tasting machine coffee. I would think I could pick the difference between my machine and plunger any day of the week.
On a side note, I have done a coke v pepsi double blind test with my wife and was quite surprised that I didn't do as well as I thought I would.