First HiFi and now, Violins

For years, there has been a fringe arena for high fidelity audio reproduction where the cost of entry is obscene.

Speaker cable for $3,000/foot when simple 10-gage Romex or THHN works just as well.

The magazines that promote this kind of tomfoolery have steadfastly refused to base their product reviews on a simple double-blind A/B test and when A/B tests have been performed, the supposed enhanced clarity was a statistical dead heat -- purely random.

The same bleeding-edge has applied to violins for a long long time -- a Strad or Guarneri completely trumps a modern instrument. No comparison. I can pick out the difference in a subway station at rush hour with one ear pinned behind my back. That obvious. Turns out not so much -- from the AAAS Science Magazine (AAAS being the American Association for the Advancement of Science):

Elite Violinists Fail to Distinguish Legendary Violins From Modern Fiddles
If you know only one thing about violins, it is probably this: A 300-year-old Stradivarius supposedly possesses mysterious tonal qualities unmatched by modern instruments. However, even elite violinists cannot tell a Stradivarius from a top-quality modern violin, a new double-blind study suggests. Like the sound of coughing during the delicate second movement of Beethoven's violin concerto, the finding seems sure to annoy some people, especially dealers who broker the million-dollar sales of rare old Italian fiddles. But it may come as a relief to the many violinists who cannot afford such prices.

The first test had a small sample size and was performed in a hotel room - not optimal acoustic conditions. A second test was performed with more players, more instruments and two rooms -- a small rehearsal room and a 300-seat auditorium. The result?

The consistency of results from session to session showed that soloists could definitely distinguish one violin from another. However, the soloists seemed to prefer the new violins, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In their lists of favorites, new violins outnumber old ones roughly 3-to-2, and the most popular violin by far was a new one, denoted N5. Musicians rated qualities of new instruments higher, too. And when it came to telling old violins from new, the soloists did no better than if they had simply guessed.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on April 7, 2014 8:09 PM.

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