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Interesting Study on perception of famous instruments   You are logged in as Guest
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Joan Maher


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Joined: Dec. 3 2013

Interesting Study on perception of f... 

Came across this via a radio programme and was very interesting about the perceptual evaluation of violins from the musician (and audience) perspective.

Article reads:

Toss out the old Stradivarius!
French researchers have busted a common myth that the tonal qualities of a real Stradivarius can not be matched by any other instrument in the world. A new study shows modern fiddles sound better.

research project links



Joan Josep Maher
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 17 2017 11:19:52
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3435
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

I have read a few other studies that report the same results. Still, perhaps in some way countering these conclusions, we have stories like the one in this book,

"The Violin Maker."

The violinist Eugene Drucker, a member of the world famous Emerson String Quartet, commissions Sam Zyguntowicz, one of the world's leading violin makers, to make him a new instrument, perhaps to replace Drucker's Strad.

The book gives a lively and detailed account of the relationship between player and maker, a very full account of the making of the new instrument, and interesting bits of the history of violin making.

In the end, Drucker praises the new instrument very highly, but says he still prefers the sound of the Strad "under his ear."

As I have mentioned before, Richard Brune and I prefer the Estesos and Barberos among his collection, while Ricardo likes a Conde (or two?) better.

Listening as an audience member, and playing are two different modes of evaluation. Is it surprising they might produce different rankings?

Furthermore, knowing that it's a Strad or an Amati or a Guarnerius could make it sound better. When someone comes to town to play a Strad, they seem always to advertise it in the concert announcements, while no mention was made of who made Paco's or Tomatito's or Niño de Pura's guitars.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 17 2017 21:38:49


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Joined: Jun. 22 2012
From: Seattle, USA

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Richard Jernigan


Furthermore, knowing that it's a Strad or an Amati or a Guarnerius could make it sound better.

I think this is a big factor - it's really hard to do a 'blind' comparison with someone who has played a Strad and knows what they sound like. They will immediately know which is which, and even if they're completely honest with themselves they might tend to favor the Strad since it's familiar and is the de facto definition of how a violin should sound.

And someone who hasn't played a Strad and doesn't know what they sound like is hardly an expert that the classical music crowd would take seriously ...
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 18 2017 5:03:50

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Joined: Nov. 18 2010

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

Among the things debunked has been the phenomenon of projection. It´s been stated that differences perceived at player´s ear will be equally varying in auditorium.

I´ve been participating and following in a relatively extensive exchange of arguments about audibleness, based on the actual violine tests and venturing into all things psychoacoustic, including hi-fi.

It could have been a fest for some foro pals, who perceive subtleties like precision mechanics, tempered tuning or strobe tuners as esoteric. There were physicists who essentially claimed nothing would matter. Like, whether listening to a kitchen radio or a sophisticated stereo was to be making no true difference in blind tests, etc. Trying to see where they come from I found a university examination paper that stated tweeters, no matter which built and brand, made no evident difference to about a dozen listeners in blind tests.

It made my acoustic world view stagger, who owns a stereo that makes everyone remark how its sound never bothers / makes listeners unaware of relatively high volume until one wanders into distant rooms; and who invested over 90 grands into fine recording gear.

But there were also other physicists and geeks who supported my layman case as to why electronic components and even cables can matter.

What couldn´t endanger my conviction at any time, though, was the question of varying acoustic condition between instruments. Aside from individual playability that translates into matters of performance and modulation, plane physical difference in sound emission just can´t be denied. No double blind test can debunk that.

This is not to say, that mental influence on perception was to be any lesser than in any of the other realms of sensory and subjectively influenced perception, which can all be of incredibly deceiving measure. -Always worth realizing about it, to help human perspective become critical on methexis.

Concluding in the violin discussion, me welcomed modern builders´ success, and how similarly to violin makers the guitar luthiers´ guild, much to my surprise, outside from Spain (and to a degree from Germany, France or England, regarding classical guitars, right) prospered with a still growing number of makers who, whether apprentices or sometimes even autodidacts, are putting out truly remarkable gems.

So different from times like in the seventies, when most nylon stuff from outside Iberia used to be bulky duds, no matter their price label. (Yes, with to me then unknown exceptions from Italy, Japan or what have you, but rarities still.) And, who would had thought it, makes even contemporary flamencos order today from anywhere in the western hemisphere and USA.

Anyway, saying that especially in times of general price inflation, the new and likely proportionally largest number of fine builders ever, are being a gift to today´s playing enthusiasts and their chance to get hands on an inspiring axe.

Here´s my hat off to them modern luthiers and to their passion that makes many endure a financially meager situation while having to pass retailer´s heavy slices, or being unable of launching self-marketing.(Like most dedicated artists and artisans seem.) -Which again makes me state that there is an international info, feedback and commercializing platform missing, where PR needing makers could present themselves and their output. At some point maybe also turning into physical stores.
We, besides, had someone among us who was planning such a domain, but I haven't heard of it again.

Think of it: Stores full of handcrafted labels the public has never heard of, but finds that there can be picked up specimens with delight. -For names that start making ground, possibly with resale value too.

Even if characteristic variants in stock would be huge (individual specimens offering significantly more of X, but less of Y and vice versa); how refreshing a boutique array would be in comparison to common stores´ departments with industrial series of student or concert level batches and their relatively shallow field of variety?

Among the debaters, one claimed the old myth according to which resonating corpuses would be wearing out over time. I mentioned to him how some Torres guitars are still being among top of the sounding shelf.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 18 2017 5:54:43

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Joined: Nov. 18 2010

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to timoteo


ORIGINAL: timoteo

- it's really hard to do a 'blind' comparison with someone who has played a Strad and knows what they sound like. They will immediately know which is which, and even if they're completely honest with themselves they might tend to favor the Strad since it's familiar and is the de facto definition of how a violin should sound.

And someone who hasn't played a Strad and doesn't know what they sound like is hardly an expert that the classical music crowd would take seriously ...

In the tests it showed that everyone, including strat fans, players and laymen, could not tell apart instruments and often times took the one for the other. The test results really did not leave room for expertise, and actually gave advantage to a modern specimen.

I agree into the existence of tonalities that shaped perception of how an instrument shall sound (like probably with Stradivaris, or with Condes for instance). But there also exists a plain / pristine sonic quality like with the Hauser category, which can bewitch the ear in spite of lacking color.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 18 2017 6:19:07

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Joined: Oct. 16 2009

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

Read this over on Maestronet- some of the top violin makers in the world have commented on this thread. The results are talked about in depth in terms of what the test means. This is not what it looks like on the surface. Wade deeper into the subject and read the comments by violin makers. Then look further and see that this conversation has been going for some time. It would be good to temper opinion with some testimony from the best makers.

This testing is just one in many rounds of similar kinds of testing. You have to scrutinize the method very carefully to understand what it really means. It takes some time to absorb.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 2:16:00
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3435
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to estebanana

Thanks for the link estebanana. The discussion is interesting, and refers to other tests.

One os the comments expresses something quite well that has been on my mind for decades:

"One thing that I think that cannot be accounted for in a test like this, though, is the full capability of an instrument when a musician is intimately familiar with it. I've heard people who play on fine old Cremonese violins say things along the lines of 'I've been playing on it for years, and I'm still finding new voices'. If one of the critical features on an instrument is the dynamic range and flexibility of expression by having more 'voices' available, then a player will need a very long time to learn to bring out the full potential of the instrument. Even though at least one of the musicians had a Strad as their personal instrument, which they did perform on later, it still takes time to get acquainted with something new. It would be very difficult (if not impossible) to test something like the tonal and dynamic flexibility of an instrument."

Maestrolurker, who identifies himself as "enthusiast."

When hearing demos by good players on dealers' web pages, I always wonder how well the player has come to know the instrument, and how well the instrument might be suited to the player's touch, or even to the music being played.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 3:23:46

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RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

Yeah some old Italian and other region instruments just have a spooky capacity to produce many nuances and mysteries in voice, as are certain guitars. Modern instruments can to the same thing. However these seemingly objective and empirical shooting matches are in the end as simplistic as judging a great hitter at the batting cages.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 4:55:24

Posts: 14914
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

I did an objective blind fold test and discovered an amazing truth.

Orange Condes really are the BEST guitars of all.


CD's and transcriptions available here:
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 11:22:33


Posts: 1133
Joined: Jan. 11 2013

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

My 2 cents are that blind folded tests are both disclosing and deceiving.
Disclosing because they put everything in the proper order, or better, they are an help to put us in the listener's shoes.
I noticed that what I listen as a player is different from what is listened by the people in front of me:
Many nuances are not so evident nor the microphone get them as the player thought.
Silly example: I could try some guitars I had previously watched on the tube. The recording flattened the output and many guitars seemed more of less similar. The video couldn't give any hint of what you feel under your fingers or what I listened as a player.
What's the truth? What I listened or what others do?

On the other side, the blind test can be deceiving because at the end of the day we have not just ears but at least 5 senses and some intuition and experience to help us give the proper judgement.

In the case of Stradivari, as in many historical instruments, the problem is that the myth and the fame of the thing doesn't help to give an objective judgement.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 12:45:56


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Joined: Nov. 21 2010

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Echi

I remember when my friend John and I had identical guitars, both Gerundinos and practically identical twins.

But when I played his guitar, it sounded like me, playing mine. When he played my guitar, it sounded like him, playing his.

The difference between the guitars was minimal, the difference between the forms of playing them was great.

Not at all scientific, but I would never evaluate a guitar from a Youtube video
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 13:15:53

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Joined: Jul. 13 2007
From: Chicago

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

I did my own objective study and determined that crumpling is better than folding ;)


  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 19:26:38

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Joined: Oct. 16 2009

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

The violin testing is all predicated on the notion that modern instruments suffer a confirmation bias due to not being old and venerable in label.

But it's all fantasy land in real terms because it's as if everyone has the funding and access to historical instruments. There's no real allusion for the modern player that they are going to be waltzing into a violin dealer to compare a Guarneri to a modern instrument or a good 19th century instrument. If one were a high level player in major orchestra or who had an important teaching career or playing career with a financial backer or a bank to give a mortgage to buy a historical instrument, then sure they open the vault for you.

Most modern players know today you can get a very nice instrument from a modern maker that you can have through a professional career. A few makers have lifetime long lists waiting to be filled because they can deliver that. There is no question. These tests are in a sense esoteric and for the benefit of modern makers to understand were they are on the historical spectrum. A few of the very best are obsessed with challenging Stradivari, and a few are very close, or close enough. But there is only one Stradivari, and there are no secrets. He was just good. He had something from another planet, he was in that sense like Paco, a specially gifted person who worked very, very hard.

And in the end I prefer folds to crumples. And I never spindle or mutilate.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 19 2017 23:46:32
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3435
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to estebanana

There used to be (maybe still is) a professor at Texas A&M who would periodically announce that he had discovered the "secret" of Stradivari's instruments. He would often manage to get some ink in a magazine, or some time on the newspaper wire services. It was that Stradivari dissolved shrimp shells in his varnish, then it was that he sank the spruce logs in salt water for a few years, then it was something else...yeah, right.

I met the guy once. I told him that extrapolating from my experience with guitar makers, I too had discovered the secret of the Strads.

"Oh, and what would that be?" asked the expert, perhaps a bit superciliously.

"He was the best violin maker--according to today's taste. But before the big halls of the 19th century, Amati was the best."

Clearly I was a moron, so the conversation ended there.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 20 2017 4:45:37

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RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

Yeah, Nagavari, he's quite a joke in the real violin world. If anyone bothers to mention him at all.

The difficulty in understanding Cremona made instruments are a few of the ideas. One difficult concept is the ground they used under the varnish. But most of the other problems are pretty well addressed at this point, not fully solved, but the research done on Cremona and other Italian and German work from that in the last five years had been very high quality. A lot of the work is also been used to either vindicate or contest the past great strad experts.
Simone Sacconi is one major figure who observations on strad are being rethought. Or added to. Varnish research has had some great breaks too because a few larger samples of Cremonese varnishes have been analyzed with mass spectrometry. So a lot of real materials data is available and being shared by those to really handle the important violins

Some of the heaviest dealers are also writing and sharing opinions and information. It's a very good time for violin research and there's more to come in terms of popular and professional publication.

  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 20 2017 5:39:27

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RE: Interesting Study on perception ... (in reply to Joan Maher

I for instance am of the impression that well aged wood of a guitar tends to have a special quality to the sound. Also it appears plausible to me that traditionally consistent guild and skill will rather bear techniques like final tuning which may contribute to an output with increased share of individually perfect instruments.

Yet, whatever there be as alleged characteristic, whether primarily through material and structure or secondarily through comforting players who then may be handling the instrument differently: It should be physically evident and repeatable.

In days when even photons are supposed to be tracked individually, special attributes of antique instruments should be detectable. As well as, for sane reasons, by senses of players and listeners too.

"If you know it's a Strad, you will hear it differently," Fritz says. "And you can't turn off that effect."

Million-dollar Strads fall to modern violins in blind ‘sound check’
By Adrian ChoMay. 9, 2017 , 2:15 PM
Perhaps no name conveys superiority quite like Stradivarius. The roughly 650 extant violins fashioned by Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) and his family are worth millions, and they’re thought to outshine even the best modern instruments. But in a pair of "double-blind" tests, in which neither musician nor audience knew which instrument was played, listeners clearly preferred the new fiddles to the old classics.
"The work is terrific," says Christopher Germain, a violinmaker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a member of the board of the Violin Society of America, who was not involved in the study. "I think it's really helpful to everybody to cut through the folklore and b.s. and focus on what we're hearing."
For more than a century, violins crafted by Stradivari and members of his family have been thought to possess acoustic qualities that new violins simply can’t match. (Violins fashioned contemporaneously by members of the Guarneri family are similarly revered.) For just as long, aficionados have sought Stradivari's secret—was it his varnish or the type of wood he used? None of the countless suggestions has drawn a consensus. Nevertheless, the price of a Stradivarius keeps soaring. In 2011, the “Lady Blunt” Strad sold for $15.9 million.
But some scientists and violinmakers question whether Strads and other "Old Italians" really have superior acoustic qualities. For decades, blind comparisons have shown that listeners cannot tell them from other violins, and acoustic analyses have revealed no distinct sonic characteristics. In 2014, Claudia Fritz, a musical acoustician at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and Joseph Curtin, a leading violinmaker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, reported that in a double-blind test with 13 modern instruments and nine Old Italians, 10 elite violinists generally preferred the new violins to the old.
Now, the team has shown that listeners also prefer new instruments—at least when considering a specific small set of fine violins. The researchers started by looking at a quality considered unique to Strads: They are supposed to sound quieter “under the ear" of the violinist, but project better into the concert hall “as if somehow the inverse-square law were reversed," Curtin says, referring to how the loudness of a sound decreases as the distance from the source increases.
The first listener test took place in Vincennes, a suburb of Paris. Researchers gathered three Strads and three top-quality modern violins. An elite violinist played the same musical excerpt—for example, five measures from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto Opus No. 35—on each of the nine possible pairings of violins. Then, a second violinist played a different excerpt on all the pairs, with the order scrambled. The violinists wore modified welding goggles, so they couldn’t tell whether they were playing old or new instruments.
As the violins played solo and with orchestral accompaniment, 55 listeners rated which instrument in each pair projected better by making a mark on a continuous scale with one violin, labeled simply A, on one end and the other violin, labeled B, on the other. The researcher then averaged all those evaluations, and found that subjects generally thought the new violins projected better than the old ones—although the researcher left it up to listeners to decide what that meant. The effect was unambiguous, Fritz says.
The team then performed a similar test in New York City without the orchestra and with a different set of Strads and new violins. Again, the 82 listeners in the test reported that the new violins projected better. This time, Fritz and colleagues asked subjects which of the two violins in a pairing they preferred. Listeners chose the new violins over the old, they reported yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The New York City study also showed that listeners' preferences correlated with their assessment of projection, suggesting the loudness of an instrument may be a primary factor in the quality of its sound.
So, will the study cause Strad prices to plummet? No, Curtin says, as the value of the instruments is based on much more than just their sound. But it does suggest that violinists can get a top-quality instrument without spending a fortune on an Old Italian, he says. (The record price for an instrument by a modern maker is a relatively cheap $132,000.) "It's good news for players," Curtin says.
The finding also leaves open the possibility that Strads do sound better than modern instruments under certain circumstances—when the listener knows they are hearing a legendary instrument. "If you know it's a Strad, you will hear it differently," Fritz says. "And you can't turn off that effect."
As for Stradivari's secret, the whole notion is misguided, Germain says. "Stradivari's secret was that he was a genius and that he did a thousand things right, not one thing right," Germain says. Saying his success came down to just one trick is, Germain says, "like saying that if I had the same kind of paint as Michelangelo, I could have painted the Sistine Chapel." through Google translator:

They fascinate not only musicians and music lovers but also researchers: the violins that Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù built in the first half of the 18th century. Various experiments should explore where their special sound comes from. The lacquer , the chemical pretreatment of the wood, or even the small ice age , which influenced the trees, were already used for explanation.
But now French and American researchers have questioned the basic idea that the old Italian violins are superior to modern ones. According to her test with 21 musicians, this is not really the case, reports the team in the specialist magazine "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" .
The scientists around Claudia Fritz from the University of Paris asked their subjects in a darkened hotel room during the international violin contest in Indianapolis. In addition, the musicians set up a dark welding goggle so that they could not see the violins. A little perfume under the chinrest concealed the wood odor of the instruments.
Subjects with Stradivari experience
Most of the test players were professional musicians, the youngest was 20, the oldest 65 years old. The participants played violin for 15 to 61 years, their own instruments had a value of 1400 to 7.7 million euro - because among the participants also found musicians with Stradivari or Guarneri violin.
For the test, the researchers had provided six violins. Three were old Italian violins - one by Guarneri del Gesù, two by Antonio Stradivari. The three new models were a few days to years old. Before the experiment, the scientists had chosen from a larger collection of new violins the three which, in their opinion, sounded most impressive and clearly distinguished themselves from each other.
According to the researchers, the three old violins are worth ten million dollars - about a hundred times as much as the three new instruments.
Blind test: old against new
In a first experiment the musicians were given a new and an old violin - which the players did not know. On each instrument they were allowed to play for a minute. Then they should say which one is more pleasing to them. The violinists tested each possible pair of new and old, one even double. As a result, the musicians decided to go for a new violin. This was mainly due to the fact that a model was particularly rarely favored - a Stradivari built around the year 1700.
But was the decision of the violinists at all constant? A violin pair each musician received a second time during this test, without knowing this. Eleven subjects chose the same violin as the first, ten, but for the other. A sign that the instruments differ from the quality so little that the choice is made randomly - or that the test conditions were perhaps not optimal, the researchers note.
In the second part of the test, the musicians got a chance to deal with the six instruments longer. They were then able to play on each of the violins for as long as they wanted, and also to choose between the violins. Afterwards the musicians should say which instrument they would like to take home with them. They should also name the best and the worst model in four categories that Geiger use to evaluate instruments - modulation ability of sound colors, response, playability and load bearing capacity.
Again, there were no clear tendencies. Each instrument has been chosen as favorite by at least one participant. And apart from one, each landed in the four categories both front and rear. Only one of the new violins found much above-average appeal. And the Stradivari, which was the least popular in the first run, was once more behind.
Sound detected? Wrong!
Whether their favorite was a new violin or an old Italian model, the musicians could only guess. Seven said immediately that they had no idea, seven were guessing - and lying next to it. Only three had the right nose. The remaining four participants did not answer.
The fact that the violins of the Italian masters clearly outmoded modern models can only be asserted with difficulty after this study. The blind test rather suggests that a psychological effect helps the venerable violin to lasting fame. If you play or listen to a violin that is worth millions and is surrounded by an aura of superiority, this particular experience is so fascinating that the sound is beautifully beautiful Must be effective. Thus, the blushing blind test would hardly end the myth of the old violins.

I do quite like the idea of unique antique skill and of preserved unicum. Yet, it feels reassuring to hear that today´s masters are able to create very fine instruments as well, and that there will still be contemporary builds that can´t be distinguished from antique gem by more than a hair if at all.

If quality of contemporary fiddles helps preserving intact antiques, so that they may be adored and played farther into the future (if there is any), just the better. For even folks who don´t have a weak spot for this category (like me who prefers viola and celo) will be thrilled none the less by just looking at such and imagening how it was crafted centuries ago.

And finally, who knows how today´s finest might be sounding in the next century.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date May 21 2017 5:08:53
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