This is a purely academic exercise on my part. I've been thinking about this for some time and have come to the conclusion that print quality is more subjective than objective.
One the one hand, we have the Ansel Adams school in which the photographer tries to achieve the perfect print. The final photograph will have a full range of gray tones with clear whites and inky blacks and give the impression of giving off an inner light.
But on the other hand, some great photographers had other ideas about printing their photographs. Some of my favorite photographers are listed.
Walker Evans' photos always look well-crafted and rich to me but he was known to harrass his lab assistants for spending too much time and effort in trying to make perfect prints.
Bill Brandt's photos are outrageously contrasty. Some of them are totally lacking in detail with burned out whites and blocked up blacks. But they still work for me.
Lee Friedlander's book "The Desert Seen" gives a first impression of the prints being awful and washed out but they were meant to capture the essence of the desert's blinding light and they succeed well at this. I find myself squinting when I look at this book.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard apparently was haphazard in his darkroom work--possibly because he had little time to devote to printing. Yet his photos are still provocative and highly respected.
Robert Frank has made an artform of grainy, soft photographs printed outside the definition of a "full tonal range".
Is the classic concept of print quality important to you or are you more inclined to take a different path?