So I'll break this down into components, and explain the importance's and misconceptions of each part.
Muzzle energy is like saying fps, but more accurate. Instead of comparing one fps to another, I'll just state muzzle energy in joules since it's more comprehensible.
1.48j is 400fps on a .20
1.6j is 420fps on a .20
2.04j is 470fps on a .20
"Joule creep" is explained under barrels, and is the reason we should NOT chrono with .20g BBs
Starting with the 'mechbox'!
Your mechbox, polarstar fusion engine, whatever a daytonagun has, GBBR valves and whatnot, supplies a burst of compressed air to shoot the BB.
No matter what type of platform you are using, they all do the same thing with varying amounts of pressure, volume, and expansion rate, generally to achieve the same muzzle energy.
The main importance of a mechbox, is that is seals as perfectly as possible.
So the maximum amount of compressed air available is sent down the barrel, and also because leaks cause turbulent air flow and can affect accuracy.
Few things to note
1) It doesn't matter what's in your mechbox. If it's a stock crossman piece of crap mechbox and it compresses perfectly, it'll shoot as well as a $600 mechbox.
2) Once your mechbox is compressing perfectly, all other upgrade parts are in their simply to increase rate of fire or durability.
3) No matter what a polarstar user tells you, their gun does not apply any different physics to a BB. They use the same method of compressed air to shoot a BB, they simply have more control over the air volume and air pressure. If they had more pressure, or better compression behind a BB, it would result in higher fps.
4) Exception to the above rule, polarstars always win on longer barrels. The limitation of an AEG is it's set cylinder air volume and inability to maintain a constant pressure behind the BB on a long barrel. *but in order to maintain the same pressure behind a BB in a long barrel as you would in a short barrel, the muzzle energy would be MUCH higher.
5) Due to ported cylinders, the piston accelerates faster before starting compression, resulting in higher initial pressure. Ported cylinders and short barrels are more effective than unported cylinders and long barrels on an AEG because the higher pressures center the BB in the barrel faster and more effectively.
The hop chamber & hop rubber
The most critical part in getting range, is getting accuracy. And the most critical part in giving you accuracy, is the hop rubber. It's also the least expensive performance upgrade!
At ranges of 200+ft, the slightest little defects in the hop rubber will be apparent.
The hopup works by imparting backspin on a BB as it gets shot past the hop rubber. This backspin induces what's called the magnus effect.
The magnus effect is the slower a projectile is moving, the more effect the lift will have. This is why when you slightly overhop a BB, there is a hump late in the flight path instead of it leaving the barrel at an upward angle.
For tuning, if your BB flies straight, then ends it's path by flaying off in a random direction, you need to use heavier ammo. Technically you do want it to fall short. At the end of a straight path of every BB, the forward velocity will become so slow that the magnus effect will take over completely, and depending how much the backspin has degraded, the BB is now very likely wobbling due to changing air conditions applying friction at differing amounts on the BB, and so combing the wobble and magnus effect that increases as forward velocity decreases: it'll veer off in a random direction. You want to balance between gravity and the magnus effect; Ideally, your BB should fly as far as possible, but succumb to the force of gravity before the BB flays out randomly. Using a BB that's too heavy will simply shorten your range.
The best hop rubbers we've seen are the V or W cuts, which apply pressure to two points on the BB instead of one point at the top. This aids in applying backspin in the correct direction.
Rhops and flat hops provide a longer, flat contact patch for the BB instead of a single round nub or fins. The longer contact area applies less pressure over a longer area to provide the same amount of backspin. The major advantage being less pressure, explained next;
Heavier ammo is always better.
A very common misconception is that heavy ammo travels slower. Although initially true, comparing a .20 at 420fps against a .30 at 340fps, after about 100ft or so, the .30 will actually be traveling FASTER than the .20
Heavy projectiles lose their inertia less quickly than lighter projectiles. This is also the main reason why you shoot targets 2km away with big heavy rounds instead of 5.56
Of course having a heavy round also helps fight windage and deflection due to foliage.
Because heavier objects lose their inertia less quickly, a heavy round also loses it's backspin less quickly, which means more consistent range and accuracy.
So running the heaviest ammo possible is always best for range and accuracy.
When you get to a BB that's TOO heavy, you'll notice it falls short. For example you change from .25s to .30s in a stock gun and lose 60ft of range.
This is because the hop rubber can't impart enough backspin on the BB to lift it to the same range.
My classic example is a 300fps stock GBB pistol versus a 320fps stock marui aeg. You put .30s in both and the pistol will get better range every time.
Now there's two reasons for it; first and most likely, the rubber just can't apply enough pressure to get the friction to impart the proper backspin without jamming the gun. The second, is that your gun just can't supply enough air PRESSURE to push the BB past the rubber, due to air leaks, running an unported cylinder, etc. So you lose too much muzzle energy just trying to get the BB past the hop rubber.
Upgraded hop rubbers can help greatly, but flat hops and Rhop is best. Due to imparting less pressure over a longer area, you can shoot a heavy BB with less air pressure. Making it possible to using heavier ammo than you would normally be able to, which means more accuracy!
FPS does factor in here, as heavier rounds lose their inertia less quickly, it's more beneficial to have higher fps on heavy rounds since they will travel further. BUT there are plateau's to the performance of each weight.
For example the difference between 1.6j and 2.04j (50fps) using .30g BBs was negligible. However using .36g BBs at 2.04j netted better range than at 1.6j.
So match your muzzle energy to your BB, run the heaviest BB you can without losing range, run light ammo only in CQB.
Okay so LOTS of misconception on what a barrel does, how it does it, what kind of barrel to use, and how much effect a barrel REALLY has on the BB.
So this is the theoretical explanation of how a barrel works;
Compressed air shoots the BB down the barrel, and the BB is centered in the middle of the barrel as it's moving by a ring cushion of compressed air between it and the barrel wall, meanwhile the decompressing air behind the BB is propelling it forward. Some air bleed past the BB and barrel wall as the BB travels down the barrel, which is more noticeable in widebore barrels.
In practice, the BB bounces quite a bit inside due to the hop rubber starting the BB off on the wall of the barrel and the magnus effect messes with the air current around the BB, but it ultimately becomes centered in the middle of the barrel.
One thing that's critical to understand, is that once a BB has become stabilized (centered) in a barrel, it can only ever become DE-stabilized from that point. So for example if a BB stabilizes itself after 7" of barrel, and you have a 20" barrel, you run the risk of actually LOSING accuracy!
As I said above, there's an optimal point where a BB is stabilized. Air pressure, volume, laminar flow, BB weight and hop rubber all have an affect on that. Safe to say it's different with every gun, but it's proven over a variety of platforms to be in the 3-12" (75-300mm) range. The longer your barrel, the less air pressure is behind the BB for a longer period of time, the more time it may take to stabilize.
GBBR's seem to have higher initial pressure, making the BB stabilize in a very short distance. WE PDW's and kriss vectors and gas MP7s tend to get very impressive range and accuracy despite their short barrels. Pistols as well can be very accurate when paired with .30s
AEG's tend to be in the 280-380 range, because they're compressing their own air from an open nozzle (instead of the air fully compressing, THEN being released). As stated in the mechbox section, having a ported cylinder allows the piston to accelerate before starting compression, resulting in higher initial pressure, allowing it to perform more like a GBB.
With PTW's (which are internally the same as AEG's), we've noted better accuracy with 9" and 12" (220-300) barrels as opposed to 14.5" and 20"
It should be noted that AEG's can produce air pressures up to 200PSI on ported cylinders.
If you have two 1.48j guns, one with a 20" barrel and one with a 9" barrel, the setup on the 9" barrel pushes that BB out with a lot higher pressure, and therefore stabilizes that BB in the center of the barrel much faster. Whereas the 20" barrel has lower pressure to center the BB, it runs a greater risk of bouncing around. So with higher FPS guns you can get away with running a longer barrel since you'll maintain higher pressures to center the BB, but ultimately shorter barrels are better overall. They also reduce the risk of inaccuracy due to fouling; the crap that builds up in the barrel.
Part to do with length. Joule creep is when you chrono at 1.34j with a .20g BB, then magically chrono at 1.52j with a .28g
Back when everything was AEGs, joule creep was pretty much non existent. It IS possible on AEG's, but rare.
It's specifically GBBRs and polarstars that are most commonly susceptible to it.
It's caused by two things:
1) Having very high pressure behind the BB. A .20g is very easy to get moving, it gets pushed out no problem, the air finishes depressurizing freely once the BB has left the barrel. But a .28g is heavier, takes more effort to get moving, more pressure builds up behind it, and ultimately it ends up accelerating faster than the .20. This effect is most common in short barreled GBBs such as pistols.
2) Having too much air volume being pushed down a long barrel. Instead of a short burst of 120PSI gradually decompressing and losing pressure as the BB goes down the barrel, the extra air volume maintains that same pressure all the way down the barrel, resulting in higher fps, for the same reason as the first method. This is the more common joule creep apparent in most GBBRs and HPA setups.
This is why chronoing on a .20g BB is highly inaccurate.
The two easiest ways to circumvent this problem are
a) Chrono on the ammo weight the player will be using and hope they don't lie about the weight.
b) Chrono everyone on heavier ammo, like a .30g BB. Although still not perfectly accurate since people typically use .25 to .36g ammo, it gives you a much better idea of what their gun is actually shooting in terms of muzzle energy. Now although joule creep can work backwards (A gun can potentially have higher muzzle energy on a .20 as opposed to a .30), higher muzzle energy is much less dangerous on lighter ammo than heavier ammo because it loses it's inertia more quickly.
Let me start off by saying, the tanio koba twist barrel is a wide bore. If the rifles in it really did impart sideways rotation on a BB that already has backspin on it, the gun would only ever shoot in a very wide sloped cone pattern. The magnus effect works in every direction, but we only want it to be directly vertical.
The reason they can only be used at 330fps is because at higher fps, the BB is traveling so fast through the barrel that the air in the grooves simply can't keep up to it, they need to travel about 20% faster to maintain the same speed as the BB. So when there's no pressure in those grooves, it gets filled by the ring cushion of compressed air around the BB. No cushion around the BB means no stabilizing. So just use a smooth widebore, rifling doesn't work, and doesn't offer any advantage over a smooth bore.
There's lots of conjecture on this subject, but what I've found from actual field testing is that it really doesn't matter until the barrel starts to foul.
AEG's don't have the volume to use 6.23 barrels, so they'd lose performance there.
The idea with the wide bore is that a larger air cushion will somehow improve performance. Although it hasn't shown to HURT performance as long as you have the volume and pressure to use them, it's more susceptible to problems with turbulent air flow. But in the end should be less affected by barrel fouling.
The idea with tightbores, is to increase air pressure around the BB (forcing air from a large volume to a small volume increases it's pressure) and making it stabilize faster. We didn't get that memo, so lots of people tend to run 500mm 6.01 barrels in their sniper rifles lol
Let me make it perfectly clear, the super tight barrels are for SHORT barrels, like pistols. They lose less air around the BB, making compressive forces higher and more efficient use of the air as well. HOWEVER, they're far more prone to fouling and losing accuracy quickly.
Between the 6.23 and 6.03 in the few polarstars I've seen, I couldn't notice any real difference in accuracy or range, just gas consumption.
With AEG's, a good quality stock 6.08 can potentially be just as good as a prometheus 6.03.
With ptw's, I haven't noticed any difference between my 6.10 orga and 6.04 stock barrel on the same hop roller.
Basically just go tighter as you get shorter, try not to run anything smaller than a 6.03, AEG's shouldn't use the 6.23s, and make sure you have enough air volume if you use a 6.13 in a longer barrel.
As for fouling, If you shoot more, get a widebore. If you shoot less, tightbore.
This makes ALL the difference in barrels. ALL OF IT.
I've seen my 420mm 6.03 vsr barrel shoot as well as a 6.10 363mm, a 6.23 509mm, and a 6.01 460. Basically as long as you have a quality bore and the right force behind the BB, all barrels will perform the same until they start fouling.
As far as I'm concerned, the highest quality barrels out there (for ptw and AEG) are the prometheus 6.03, PDI 6.05, orga 6.13, stock systema ptw 6.04 and orga 6.10 for ptw. They have the best bore quality, and pick whatever bore you need and length you want.
A madbull barrel is an improvement over a stock barrel, but don't kid yourself, it's aluminum, it scratches, it's not as good and not nearly as durable as the aforementioned barrels. The price is attractive, but one scratch is all it takes for you to lose your money.
Brass is good, stainless is better, stay away from aluminum.
*There's been a lot of hating on brass as a barrel material. The reason for this is because people refer to STOCK barrels as BRASS barrels. However the defects of the stock barrels are MANUFACTURING defects and have nothing to do with the actual material. Brass is just fine as a barrel material.
Long barrels, short barrels, wide or tight bore, all have the potential to shoot exactly the same before fouling.
My kriss vector with it's teeny 6.05x5" barrel gets the same range and close to the same accuracy as my 6.04x9" and 6.10x16" ptws
Experience with my 6.03 VSR barrel was that fouling can start to affect accuracy after as few as 130 rounds, so clean your damn barrels after every game. Use windex. or alcohol. Acetone is best but don't let it touch your hop rubber!
I don't know how or why this started but it doesn't make the least bit of sense; people have said to clean your barrel with silicone oil.
The BB never touches the barrel wall, it does not need lubricant, lubricant will only help accumulate dust and foul the barrel faster.
Use windex, remove all the grease and residue from the barrel, you want it to be a clean, polished metal surface, free of any contaminants.
And lastly, there are very few physics principle that transfer over from real steel, so please stop comparing the two. Rifled rounds DO NOT WORK in airsoft.
Airsoft principles are solely based on stabilizing a projectile at very LOW speeds.
Real steel principles are solely based on stabilizing a round at very HIGH speeds. Nobody cares what a bullet does when it's no longer going fast enough to kill something. But we ONLY care about what a projectile does when it's not going fast enough to kill something.