At first it seemed to me like a paradox that a digital print (at negative size) could somehow look more like a contact print than a real contact print of the same neg. The process logically must lose more information than the contact printing process.
And I realized that it does lose more information. But what matters more is what information it loses vs. what information it emphasizes.
The contact print preserves much more high frequency (high resolution) detail. The digital print has a cutoff determined by either the scan or the printing process. Below a certain frequency there's no information at all. But with the higher quality processes, that cutoff is below the threshold of human vision, and it's far below the frequencies that our minds use to perceive sharpness.
So basically the contact print is preserving a huge amount of information that is impossible to apprecieate without a loupe or a microscope.
The digital print, however, can be made to subtly emphasize edge contrast in the frequency range where we're most sensitive to quality. Sharpening works a lot like the mackie lines/edge effects produced by certain develeopers, except that its magnitude and frequency range can be precisely controlled.
The result is that a well made digital print can look sharper and more tactile to the naked eye than a well made contact print, but the contact print (assuming it's on glossy paper that doesn't act as a resolution cutoff) can look much more detailed under a loupe.