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The Science of Stradivarius

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

I ran across this video about Stradivarius violins on YouTube and couldn't help but be reminded of themes native to Hi-Fi audio reproduction:

 

post #2 of 18

That is a great video thank you.

 

In this excellent thread:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/486598/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths

 

I noticed:

 

http://www.westerlunds.se/blindtesteng.htm

 

a report on blind testing of violins.

 

Stradivarius didn't do so well in the test :)

 

Often classical music discussion can sound a bit like Hi Fi discussion and all the same issues with suggestion and autosuggestion exist there imho.

 

I do listen to classical music these days, almost exclusively, but it contains its own brand of "BS" just as all things do!

post #3 of 18

It's a nice link and I don't doubt the result but I also wouldn't allow one ancient hand made Violin to condemn the entire breed. You'd be surprised at how much Steinways can vary.


Edited by goodvibes - 2/1/13 at 9:38pm
post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by p a t r i c k View Post

That is a great video thank you.

 

In this excellent thread:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/486598/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths

 

I noticed:

 

http://www.westerlunds.se/blindtesteng.htm

 

a report on blind testing of violins.

 

Stradivarius didn't do so well in the test :)

 

Often classical music discussion can sound a bit like Hi Fi discussion and all the same issues with suggestion and autosuggestion exist there imho.

 

I do listen to classical music these days, almost exclusively, but it contains its own brand of "BS" just as all things do!

 

Interesting link. I was curious if they had ever done an ABX test with a Stradivarius. This article examined other scientific reasons for the Stradivarius sound signature, but they never got around to pinning it down, and the last section of the article entitled "the psycho in acoustics" is very telling, as was the writer's decision to conclude the article with it. The final sentence reads: "Perhaps that ability to capture our imagination 300 years later is the true magic of Stradivari." This all kind of reminds me of the film The Red Violin, which I really enjoyed. 
post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Strangelove424 View Post

 

Interesting link. I was curious if they had ever done an ABX test with a Stradivarius. This article examined other scientific reasons for the Stradivarius sound signature, but they never got around to pinning it down, and the last section of the article entitled "the psycho in acoustics" is very telling, as was the writer's decision to conclude the article with it. The final sentence reads: "Perhaps that ability to capture our imagination 300 years later is the true magic of Stradivari." This all kind of reminds me of the film The Red Violin, which I really enjoyed. 

 

Personally I think that maybe we like the story of an instrument that has some unattainable quality which was made 300 years ago and the Stradivarius fulfils that. It is perhaps not about the Stradivarius, but rather that we wish there to be something like the Stradivarius. If the Stradivarius had not existed then maybe a different violin maker of that time would have been picked to be the favoured one and had this great thing built up around it.

 

Maybe it is a bit like our desire to take individuals out of history and turn some of them into superheroes of some sort and in some cases even into deities.

post #6 of 18

awesome.  a GOOD percentage of the music making/recording/crafting industry is dedicated to the science of resonating wood.  If wood couldn't resonate, the music we listen to today would be very different.  woodwind reeds, drums/percussion, string instruments, piano, speaker cabinets, speaker cones made of processed and treated paper...etc.  Cowbell would still be the same though.


Edited by kramer5150 - 2/2/13 at 7:28pm
post #7 of 18

Wod instruments sound quite different depending on the relative humidity.

post #8 of 18

1 wood instrument that has been through many hands does not draw a universal conclusion. There's another way to look at this as well. Most of us could drive a go cart around a track faster than an F1 car. If we played Jeff Beck's guitar we'd think it out of tune. Could be it needs the right guy pulling the strings to sing in a way others can't.

 

I'm not claiming that's the case and this particular instrument may be a dog or even all strads over rated but I wouldn't paint with a broad brush from one test. Like any acoustic instrument, the musician should try the individual piece before deciding.

post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

1 wood instrument that has been through many hands does not draw a universal conclusion. There's another way to look at this as well. Most of us could drive a go cart around a track faster than an F1 car. If we played Jeff Beck's guitar we'd think it out of tune. Could be it needs the right guy pulling the strings to sing in a way others can't.

 

I'm not claiming that's the case and this particular instrument may be a dog or even all strads over rated but I wouldn't paint with a broad brush from one test. Like any acoustic instrument, the musician should try the individual piece before deciding.

What test are you referring to? You did not specify, so I will assume the ABX, since that's the only subjective one that was discussed. In my experience, a good sounding violin is a good sounding violin. There's no special tricks required to play one, and the entire point of having a good violin is to make it easier to play something that sounds tonally good, not harder. Furthermore, in the context of that ABX test: "The players were Bernt Lysell, concert master of the Swedish Radio Orchestra in Stockholm and Per Sandklef, principal of the second violin in the same orchestra. The violins were played two rounds by each player. Different excerpts were used each time (Bach, Bruch and Sibelius)"....  F1 drivers, so to speak, driving multiple F1 cars. And if the fault lies with that specific Stradivarius, that's probably not much solace to the person who just paid tens of millions for a lesser example.   

post #10 of 18

Of course it's no solice and I never doubted the result. It still doesn't mean all strads are worse than these other violins. Perhaps this is not a great example, perhaps it is. It's hand a made old world item weathered for hundreds of years. Buyer beware. The F1 reference was to show that the player is part of this equation. You can't take the human out of this particular ABX. I've found that items that offer more in performance often perform worse when not used or setup with a deft or even accustomed hand.  

Chill. I never said the results were skewed. Only that the universal statements of absolutes of quality were ridiculous based on this one test. I thought this was the forum where subjective evaluation was useless unless you don't hear something yet here one subjective test of an individual instrument is an absolute determination of a 100 different strads out there. LMAO


Edited by goodvibes - 2/3/13 at 12:46pm
post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by goodvibes View Post

Of course it's no solice and I never doubted the result. It still doesn't mean all strads are worse than these other violins. Perhaps this is not a great example, perhaps it is. It's hand a made old world item weathered for hundreds of years. Buyer beware. The F1 reference was to show that the player is part of this equation. You can't take the human out of this particular ABX. I've found that items that offer more in performance often perform worse when not used or setup with a deft or even accustomed hand.  

Chill. I never said the results were skewed. Only that the universal statements of absolutes of quality were ridiculous based on this one test. I thought this was the forum where subjective evaluation was useless unless you don't hear something yet here one subjective test of an individual instrument is an absolute determination of a 100 different strads out there. LMAO

 

"Chill"? Really? Are we in elementary school? You questioned the ability of world class violinists to play a violin. Which is beside the point, since a person can hear the tone a violin makes with one note on an open string. It's not an F1 car, it won't oversteer. Should that Stradivarius be a bad example, and should the elusive Stradivarius sound be worthy of the mythology, I'd still enjoy seeing scientific investigation into why.  

post #12 of 18

Grade school? LOL. I bet you're 1/2 my age and are showing it if you think one instance proves a universal. I also know that a lot of VG string instruments are made in Northern Europe and have been for a long time. I'm not even arguing that Strads are better. Just that one example isn't proof. Pretty soon we'll need scientific proof of which piece of music is good.blink.gif

 

Here's a  quote from a violinist regarding such a test.

"On the other hand, the report of this test leaves too many questions unanswered. Perhaps it is not widely known just how important the set-up of a violin (or any other string instrument, of course) is to the sound and feel of that instrument. A tiny movement of the sound-post – the little stick inside a string instrument that lies close to the bridge – can alter the tone completely. In Italian, this sound-post is called the "anima" – the soul. And it is essential to find a luthier or restorer with an instinctive knowledge of where it should be placed in order to elicit the best possible sound; players travel across continents to have their sound-posts moved a fraction of an inch. The shape, thickness and height of the bridge have to be right, too, in order for the instrument to vibrate freely. The strings have to be top quality. And then there's the bow, which is almost as important as the instrument. Presumably the same bow was used for every violin in this test; but different bows react differently to the same instrument. It is the correct combination that matters most."

 

There is voicing familiarity and matching involved to get the best from an instrument and these characteristics tend to be more critical when the piece has more upside. If you've heard a 'properly' tuned piano vs one tuned buy someone both great at it and familiar with the instrument, you'd be amazed at the difference.

 

Again. I'm not saying that the results were wrong or even that Strads are better. i couldn't know that but I do know that test shouldn't convince one of a universal truth.


Edited by goodvibes - 2/3/13 at 6:53pm
post #13 of 18

Blind test held in Sweden comparing modern Swedish violins with old Italian violins, with (it seems like) a Swedish audience scoring the quality.  Could have bias in setting up the instruments, tuning, bows, etc.?  Judges could be more familiar with violins from Swedish makers?  edit: not to mention that the people running the test could possibly be related to those selling the Swedish violins, thus having a stake in the results being a certain way.

 

All 55 responding participants were subjected to the exact same order and performances (!!!), so no randomization of order effects or different performances being superior to others (e.g. by chance, the first player playing violin B may have delivered a better musicianship and technique than when playing violin C, or anything like that.  Maybe there is a tendency for people to score the first performance/violin better because they're more alert during that one, or maybe for the last, or something else.).  Supposedly different excerpts were used "each time".  Seems like little to no repetition.  Statistically the experiment is very weak, even disregarding all the issues in the previous paragraph.

 

There's a lot to cast doubt on the results, whatever they may be.  Also, even if you could make strong statements about the six violins tested, you can't immediately generalize that to all Strads, Gaglianos, etc.

 

 

Personally I strongly suspect that the old revered violins may not be as good as some modern violins, or in the least not really any better, but I wouldn't really say there's (very) good evidence, as in conclusive, to support that claim.

 

edit: I could've sworn the topic of blind testing violins including Strads came up more recently than the above "study".  Let me do a quick search... found it.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_preferences_among_new_and_old_violins

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

 

Would be better to find the original paper rather than secondhand reporting, but I didn't find it with a quick search.


Edited by mikeaj - 2/3/13 at 9:01pm
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_preferences_among_new_and_old_violins

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

 

Would be better to find the original paper rather than secondhand reporting, but I didn't find it with a quick search.


Here's the full paper:

 

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/3/760.full.pdf+html

post #15 of 18

Thanks for the assist.  Got to level up my Google-fu.

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