A controversial 2010 study conducted in a room inIndianapolis revealed that players were unable to reliably distinguish new violins from old.
In the recent experiment at the Auditorium Coeur de Ville, changes were made to the test set-up.
In the latest test, the number of instruments was increased from six to twelve and only renowned soloists were invited to participate. Instead of a hotel room the tests took place in a rehearsal room and concert stage, and the evaluation periods were increased to two 75-minute sessions.
Participants compared six new instruments with five Stradivarius violins and one by an 18th-century Italian master.
When they were on stage, they were also given the option of playing with piano accompaniment, getting feedback from a chosen listener, and hearing the violins played by another soloist.
That sounds extremely fair.
The results revealed the two most-preferred instruments to be modern, while in third place was a violin from Stradivari’s golden period. At the opposite end of the scale a Stradivari drew the poorest result and a modern instrument was placed second-last.
Incredible – a modern instrument was the clear winner and a Stradivarius the loser in the double-blind test. So what's the buzz about old violins? They are reputed to sound more mellow. It seems their antique value is greater than the sound they produce.
The Gabor limit says that you cannot know the timing of a sound and its frequency – or pitch – beyond a certain degree of accuracy. The more accurate the measurement of the timing of a sound, the less accurate the measurement of its pitch and vice versa.
However, our perceptual system is doing complex things with the sounds we hear.
While I like the sound of a violin or a piano played well, I'd rather listen to Queen singing Bohemian Rhapsody. The combination of musical instruments and voices takes my mind away to another place where no problems intrude. Isn't that what music is all about?