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Stradivarius violins : Horrible Truth
  • Modern violins have beaten Stradivarius-made instruments worth millions in a blind test involving 10 world-class soloists.

    The musicians were asked to rate the instruments for sound and playability among other factors and then choose on that they would want to use on a tour.

    Strads, as they are known, were made by the famous Stradivari family in Italy in the 17 and 18 century and are widely regarded as the best violins.

    The study, by violin maker Joseph Curtin and acoustics expert Claudia Fritz, of Pierre and Marie Curie University in France, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on Monday.

    The researcher decided not to reveal the makes of the new violins to avoid appearing as if they were making an advert.

    But the most popular and second best violins were both modern instruments. The musicians were also asked to say whether they were playing a new or old violin. They did so successfully 31 times, but were wrong 33 times.

  • 45 Replies sorted by
  • But about plasticity in the more human notes with modern instruments?

  • What is "plasticity in the more human notes"?

  • That´s interesting... Blackmagic is selling violins then ;o)

  • @Cid LOL too funny

  • There have been similar studies over the years. I saw Ann Akiko Myers perform on her Strad. It's a very special instrument and she, like most musicians, has a relationship with the thing. The thing does sound amazing but I'm sure a high end modern instrument is good too. It's like a camera. Yesterday I was playing with a friends 40 year old 16mm Beauliu. It was heavy and worn and beautiful. Wow would I love to use it. I don't think I'd shoot it the way I'd shoot a BM4k or FS700. I'd be different, the footage would look different, it's just a different kind of thing. And here's a possible group buy opportunity for the PV membership:

  • The outcome of this experiment is sooo not-surprising. Similar experiments have been done many times with similar results:

    • "Audiophiles" ranking MP3 encoded audio files higher than 96kHz/24bit PCM in blind tests
    • Sommeliers not being able to even tell wines from completely different regions and grape species apart
    • "Modern art experts" not being able to tell apart children's paintings from those of "valued artists"
    • ...

    There's plenty of areas where "fandom" defines the price or "preference" only when the label is known.

    BTW: The myths about Stradivari's violins have long been found: He used wood from trees that grew in a particulary cold era, and that caused the wood to be somewhat more rigid and the cells of the wood to be a little smaller than usual. Modern instrument builders can achieve the same effect by processing ordinary wood physically/chemically, with the same results on the sound. No magic involved.

  • I've seen a viola de gomba builder who uses timber cut from the certain side of a particular pass in the alps because of it superior properties.

  • For those interested, more info about the study here:

    The physics of violin sound are interesting too:

    It would seem that in addition to finding best wood type, famous luthiers knew how to design violin body so it resonates at frequencies relevant to music played on them. It's not unexpected that similar or better quality can be achieved with current high-tech measurements and manufacturing.

  • Making of good instruments is extremely complicated. Including usage of very good wood, sometime very old to get very stable properties.

    Each instrument is one of a kind if done by real master.

  • Well. Does not surprise me. But the human perception does not happen in a blind test. So I guess old and famous instruments can have an effect on how people perceive the music, just like people feel differently when they look at the "original" Mona Lisa, even though they have no idea if it is or if it is a copy. Clearly fetishism.

  • But the human perception does not happen in a blind test. So I guess old and famous instruments can have an effect on how people perceive the music.

    If you are comparing stuff - blind tests are only real options. As for perceptions and how your brain is affected by looking at something specific - no one knows it, as it can be byproduct of humidity in the Honolulu and number of mushrooms you ate yesterday, or may be something different.

  • @arnarfjodur I like that. Perception doesn't happen in blind test. This pianist is so good you can appreciate with the sound muted.

  • @Vitaliy_Kiselev "it can be byproduct of humidity in the Honolulu and number of mushrooms you ate yesterday, or may be something different"

    Yes, that is the general complexity of investigating anything to do with human beings, especially when it comes to human perception. Controlled tests are difficult.

  • Controlled tests are difficult.

    Test above is quite scientific. It is proper way to eliminate factors that can affect perception and focus on real sound.

  • @Vitaliy_Kiselev I was making a mixed reference joke :)

  • I do not have any problems with this test and I think it is quite informative. All I am saying is that in some cases, human perception matters, beyond "real sound". When it comes to art, subjective human perception is what matters the most, not objectively measured data. And this perception is always influenced by all kinds of factors, such as context or external references.

    I would suggest that to measure "real sound" it is best to do this with tools. But if you are considering which violin will please an audience the most, or even from which violin the performer will do there best, there can be factors that have nothing to do with the actual sound coming out of it.

    Personally I don't care at all about violin brands and have no interest in Stradivarius or any such things. I think if you read carefully what I'm saying you'll see there is no contradiction here.

  • Agree with arnarfjodur. Another way to say it is a musical performance is not merely a sonic event. And also the mushrooms...

  • All I am saying is that in some cases, human perception matters, beyond "real sound".

    But that's exactly what the study claims to reveal! That professed preferences have little to do with the actual sound the instruments are producing.

    But, in this case, the musicians were converted by these tests: they wanted to know who made the instruments they actually preferred, so they could go out and buy one. So three cheers for rationalism. These people care more about the music than what appears to be a myth.

    As for audiences -- some may be happier thinking the players are using Strads or Guarneris, but I doubt the few codgers who still go to classical music concerts will boycott them because the instruments are "only" worth $50K each and not $3 million. And most of these people are far too deaf -- high frequency roll-off with age -- to tell the difference between student violins and Strads.

  • They suggest that climatic cooling over many decades affected rates of tree growth and may have contributed to the acoustic quality of the violins produced by Stradivari and his contemporaries.

    Dense wood with narrow growth rings may help to "instill a superior tone and brilliance in violins," the researchers wrote, adding that wood grown under fast conditions is less resonant and unlikely to survive the stresses placed on a violin.

    I remember hearing about why Stradivarius violins might be considered good. The above link talks about slow tree growth in the Maunder Minimum (little Ice Age), which gave the violins their acoustic qualities.

    I've also heard that some (not all) newer violin manufacturers could compete with the acoustic sound. Don't quote me on that though: I don't play the violin.

    So... maybe it's part perception and part better quality control? Just a thought.

    Edit: just saw the post by @karl.

  • @vk. . "Test above is quite scientific."

    thanks enough said. science tests on art. and I get it, however, for my money I trust an artist over any science guy. I suppose that's why the writers can't state the names of the musicians that were tested along with the violin makers.. the maybe the national enquirer could run this piece of garbage.

  • however, for mY money I trust an artist over any science guy

    Problem word here is "trust". Logic and science do not trust someone, they measure and compare using proper methods. Just love trust and opinions lead to nowhere.

  • Another way to look at it is that no one has ever heard an actual Strad, so we don't know what they sound like. In the late 19th and early 20th century, these instruments were drastically altered to make them louder, sacrificing the tonal balance. The bass bars were removed, the necks were removed, and the bridges and tailpieces were replaced, and so on. Changes were made to the soundposts and the soundboard as well, permanently and irreversibly altering the sound.

    Crucially, as far as tone goes, the original twisted gut strings were replaced by wire, and then by steel. A chin rest was then clamped onto the lower bout, effectively deadening the sound, as a large portion of the upper soundboard is no longer free to vibrate, and the instrument has now almost doubled in weight, further deadening the upper harmonics.

    So, strangely enough, no one has ever really heard the signature sound of Stradivarius. Ironically, there are possibly two instruments in original, unaltered condition that are in museums and rarely played. Hopefully they will not be retrofitted with telephone wire like the others.

  • Just to provide a point of comparison, let's say I took my 1930s Martin guitar and put good quality, laser corrected nylon strings on it. And then compared it to a high end classical guitar. Well, the Martin would sound OK, but it would lose every time because of the one simple change--putting the wrong strings on it. It was not built for nylon strings, and, in fact, there were no Nylon strings when the framer--the designer--hand built that guitar. So the idea of Nylon strings did not exist as a sound that any person had ever heard, at that time.

    So you could run this test, with the wrong strings, and say, see, it doesn't sound good. But actually it is a totally awesome guitar. Then suppose you took the soundboard and the neck and bridge off, and replaced them with something else. Well, then you have a different instrument. And probably not a good one.

  • " trust and opinions lead to nowhere."
    -Vitaly K. 4-11-2014

    I want that in your book of quotations someday. =)

    that being said...

    I Guarantee on a sunny day next to the Matterhorn a Stradivarius sounds better, simply because the magic that is inside of it; and that it emits, is real.

  • I saw Ann Akiko Myers play a Strad that once belonged to Napoleon. Did that make it sound better? No, but I liked knowing that piece of information and feel it enhanced the experience in some subtle way.