This post is the result of my own experience and is being offered up for those who may be considering a change of materials.
I have been contact printing on Azo (8X10 and 12X20) for a couple of years now. No doubt about it the Azo prints appeared to be very nice. Azo is acknowledged by many as being the "epitome" of silver papers today. My comparative benchmark to those Azo prints were enlarged prints from 4X5 negatives on my Saunders 4550 XLG VCCE enlarger. This enlarger manufacturer is favored by John Sexton, Bruce Barnbaum and others. I enlarged on Seagull VCFB. Again considered by many to be a good paper.
About 3 months ago I had the opportunity to purchase three Durst 138S condenser enlargers. (I can almost hear the gnashing of teeth at this point.)
The addition of these condenser enlargers into my operation has totally changed my view of things. When I begain using them I immediately noticed enhanced print sharpness, better tonal representation, and better local contrast then what I had produced before.
Not totally unreasonable many would say since this may be due to the change of enlargers. But I will go on to say that this is true when compared to my Azo contact prints too. I next approached individuals with varying degrees of photographic experience in a blind print evaluation. The prints that invariably were the most highly favored where the condensor enlarged prints on JandC Polywarmtone Classic and Oriental Seagull fiber graded paper. The most common comments were that the enlarged prints had greater depth and presence; that they exhibited more of a "glow' then the Azo prints and the diffusion enlarged prints.
So what is the purpose of this account? It is to simply indicate that one should find their own way. Determine their own best equipment and materials. The recommendations of Ansel Adams and others is based in their application of certain materials. There are alternatives to those materials and sometimes the acknowledged "epitomes" turn out to be something else.