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Elite Violinists Can't Distinguish Between a Stradivarius and a Modern Violin

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the have-you-tried-the-gold-cables? dept.

Music 469

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "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."

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I'm playing the world's smallest violin (5, Funny)

Richy_T (111409) | about 6 months ago | (#46688041)

I bet that's worth a fair bit.

Re:I'm playing the world's smallest violin (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 6 months ago | (#46688653)

Can you play with the other hand too?

Wow! Stereo!

Time to add another layer of BS indirection: (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | about 6 months ago | (#46688055)

It's because they are "playing it wrong" in the tests

Re:Time to add another layer of BS indirection: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688151)

Ugh - get it right. They are holding it wrong...

Re:Time to add another layer of BS indirection: (4, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 6 months ago | (#46688247)

Ugh - get it right. They are holding it wrong...

Ok, Stop fiddling around!

Re:Time to add another layer of BS indirection: (1)

aminorex (141494) | about 6 months ago | (#46688541)

makes me feel sad for the dude who paid over 1000 BTC for a strad recently.

Moo (5, Interesting)

Chacham (981) | about 6 months ago | (#46688067)

Important paragraphs:

Fritz cautions that the study is too small and too subjective to draw broader conclusions about new or old violins in general. "Our observation is about these 12 violins," she says. "Maybe if we had done this with 12 other violins people might have been able to tell the difference." One aim of the study was to determine what violinists look for in an instrument, which remains hard to quantify scientifically. "I donâ(TM)t like violins that are too direct," says soloist Solenne PaÃdassi. "I like a sound that's more diffuse."

Not everyone is convinced that there isn't something special about the old instruments. Hou says she found the study somewhat artificial in that choosing an instrument for one tour isn't the same thing as choosing one to use for the long haul. A modern instrument may sound better right away she says, but an old Italian may be able to produce more colors of sound that only become apparent after months of use, she says. "I played the Avery Fisher Stradivarius for 6 years," she says, "and it took me 3 years just to get accustomed to it."

Re:Moo (4, Funny)

seepho (1959226) | about 6 months ago | (#46688295)

Too late. The summary already gave our resident armchair-experts enough fodder laugh over how everyone is stupid except them.

Re:Moo (5, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 6 months ago | (#46688453)

Forgive me, but

colors of sound that only become apparent after months of use, she says. "I played the Avery Fisher Stradivarius for 6 years," she says, "and it took me 3 years just to get accustomed to it."

Sounds an awful lot like

Simply put these are very danceable cables. Music playing through them results in the proverbial foot-tapping scene with the need or desire to get up and move.

Elitists come in many shapes and sizes. That doesnt mean there universally substance behind their claims.

Re:Moo (2)

seepho (1959226) | about 6 months ago | (#46688609)

But there's not much substance to the study, either. You're doing exactly what you're complaining about.

Re:Moo (5, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 6 months ago | (#46688689)

Too late. The summary already gave our resident armchair-experts enough fodder laugh over how everyone is stupid except them.

Except the armchair-experts are probably right. There is a huge number of precedents for snobs thinking their choice is objectively superior, but being unable to distinguish them in a blind test:

1. French wines consistently win tasting contests over California wines, yet have no advantage in blind tastings.
2. Steinway pianos are indistinguishable from other high end (but much cheaper) pianos, when played out of sight.
3. Some of Rembrandt's greatest paintings, the very paintings that made him "great", and were considered quintessential Rembrandt masterpieces that could never be equaled by lesser artists, turned out to be fakes.
4. Monster gold plated cables.

Re:Moo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688459)

Ahh yes, the "colors of sound", some of those mysterious qualities and adjectives of sound that only people who are trying to justify spending way too much money seem to ever be able to understand.

Re:Moo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688555)

Ahh yes, the "colors of sound", some of those mysterious qualities and adjectives of sound that only people who are trying to justify spending way too much money seem to ever be able to understand.

Stradivarius, sold by Monster Cables.

Re:Moo (5, Insightful)

the gnat (153162) | about 6 months ago | (#46688465)

A modern instrument may sound better right away she says, but an old Italian may be able to produce more colors of sound that only become apparent after months of use, she says.

The phrase "confirmation bias" springs immediately to mind. People hear what they want to hear, and the knowledge that they're playing on a three-century-old, million-dollar violin gives them certain expectations.

Re:Moo (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about 6 months ago | (#46688637)

A modern instrument may sound better right away she says, but an old Italian may be able to produce more colors of sound that only become apparent after months of use, she says.

The phrase "confirmation bias" springs immediately to mind. People hear what they want to hear, and the knowledge that they're playing on a three-century-old, million-dollar violin gives them certain expectations.

If that were the case, then you'd expect them to think the older, more valuable one sounded better right away, not the newer, less special one; so this seems to be a statement against confirmation bias.

Re:Moo (2)

MindStalker (22827) | about 6 months ago | (#46688645)

Another big issue is that these were 12 top of the line violins. Its pretty impressive honestly to say that violins that hundreds of years old can sound identical to 12 top of the line modern violins. No other 300 year old instrument is likely to sound as good as a modern top of the line version.

Just like wine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688077)

There is no such thing as secret knowledge shared only by erudite who can tell between morning wood taste and salty grape balls.

Rep (1)

phishen (1044934) | about 6 months ago | (#46688095)

Yeah, but you're still not cool if you don't play a Stradivarius ...

Well Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688099)

who da thunk it

misleading title (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688107)

"cannot tell the difference" -- that's not what is being said here. Instead, the violinists were asked which ones they preferred. Certainly they could distinguish between them.

Won't affect the value (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688127)

Just like Apple devices, the truth won't change the price.

Modern audiophiles are no different. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688135)

This is nothing new. Audiophiles and musicians are notoriously stubborn when it comes to accepting reality. There are still people who insist that vinyl records are a more genuine/accurate representation of sound than digital formats. There are people who insist that they can hear the difference between 320kbps mp3s (using the highest-quality available compressor) and their uncompressed counterparts.

Science and math proves all of these things wrong, yet people still insist they're right.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (-1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 6 months ago | (#46688331)

There are people who insist that they can hear the difference between 320kbps mp3s (using the highest-quality available compressor) and their uncompressed counterparts
So you can't? And hence you conclude no one can?
Sorry, that is bullshit!
Science and math proves all of these things wrong, yet people still insist they're right.
A contrair! Sciense and math exactly proof that. You have a braindead idea about math and sciense.
You can only hear up to like 20k Herz.
But there are so called overtones, multiples of the base frequency. In this case 40k, 60k, 80k 100k etc.
No human is able to hear 40k and above frequencies, but we all can hear if a 20k frequency is combined with an 40k overtone, or an 100k overtone even. Modern lossy compression algorithms cut off these overtones (as the overtone itself is unhearable) ... nevertheless we can hear if it is 'there' or not.

Same is true for wine tasting and other human senses ... in your next post you will explain to us that Ki/Chi is humbugs and does nit exist ... just because you never tried to feel it.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46688365)

Chi does exist. She lives with Hideki.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (2)

chuckugly (2030942) | about 6 months ago | (#46688511)

Modern lossy compression algorithms cut off these overtones ....

The interference caused by the overtones is audible and is therefore preserved in a well implemented A/D conversion, and anything significant in the audible range will not be discarded by a decent compression algorithm. No need to have the overtone itself preserved at all.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688545)

"There are people who insist that they can hear the difference between 320kbps mp3s (using the highest-quality available compressor) and their uncompressed counterparts
So you can't?"

People who can hear a difference have one or 2 damaged ears or were born with a defect out of the norm and should consult a doctor, the compression is only working for people with 'normal' hearing.
If you hear a difference, your hearing is not 'normal'

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 6 months ago | (#46688581)

That's why you do double blind testing, with 'experts' on the test panel.

Much is bullshit.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688595)

No it's that ABX testing has shown that even the "audiophiles" can't tell the difference.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (-1, Troll)

seepho (1959226) | about 6 months ago | (#46688409)

Can you show me the math that proves that there's no difference between an uncompressed audio source and a 320kbps mp3?

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (3, Insightful)

bondsbw (888959) | about 6 months ago | (#46688573)

that there's no difference

That's not the original claim. It was:

There are people who insist that they can hear the difference

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (-1, Troll)

seepho (1959226) | about 6 months ago | (#46688631)

Fine. Show me the math that says people cannot here the difference.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (2)

jdschulteis (689834) | about 6 months ago | (#46688583)

Can you show me the math that proves that there's no difference between an uncompressed audio source and a 320kbps mp3?

There's a difference between "no difference at all" and "no difference that can be detected by human hearing".

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (0)

seepho (1959226) | about 6 months ago | (#46688657)

Whichever. I like math. I'd like to see either.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (1)

Iniamyen (2440798) | about 6 months ago | (#46688639)

There is a difference, but there's heaps of evidence that tell us your ears won't be able to hear it.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (0)

russbutton (675993) | about 6 months ago | (#46688507)

And what kind of equipment do you listen on that gives you this opinion? I'll grant you that there's a whole lotta snake oil in hi-end audio, but were you to listen on my system (Linn LP-12 turntable, Bryston preamp, Linkwitz Orion loudspeakers), you'd hear real differences in vinyl vs. CD. Is one better than the other? Not really if your goal is simply to listen to good music. But the differences are certainly there.

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (2)

blueg3 (192743) | about 6 months ago | (#46688571)

He didn't say they weren't different. He said people think that vinyl is "more genuine" or "more accurate" than digital. Genuine is a weasel word -- it's ill-defined. (Probably the most reasonable definition here is "closest to how the creator of the music intended for you to hear it". But, I digress. It's hard to measure.) Vinyl is certainly less accurate than a good digital representation.

It can be different, though, because it introduces flaws that the digital representation doesn't have. Maybe those flaws make the music "better" in some sense, but not "more accurate".

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688681)

I hate to break it to you but even the founder of Linn couldn't tell the difference between vinyl and something ran through a digital processor.

http://www.bostonaudiosociety.... [bostonaudiosociety.org]

Re:Modern audiophiles are no different. (0)

Midnight_Falcon (2432802) | about 6 months ago | (#46688593)

There are people who insist that they can hear the difference between 320kbps mp3s (using the highest-quality available compressor) and their uncompressed counterparts.

[Citation Needed]

Obviously, you've never played music on a real system like a Funktion One. At large-scale, the difference between WAV and 320kb mp3 is very noticeable. On a pair of cheap iPod headphones, it is not.

Yes, but you *can* tell the difference if... (5, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | about 6 months ago | (#46688143)

Yes, but you *can* tell the difference if you play the recordings on the original vinyl with a tube amp. That's how Stradivarius intended his instruments to be heard. He even held the wood close to a fire for a few minutes, to give it that warm sound.

ha! (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46688173)

nice.

Re:Yes, but you *can* tell the difference if... (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 6 months ago | (#46688313)

Damn! *stands and claps*

Re:Yes, but you *can* tell the difference if... (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688343)

Your jest might not be too far from the truth. While the violinist are extremely skilled in their playing ability. Are they of equal skill in listening, to the degree an audiophile would be? The older violins will have more of an earthy sound. A bit flatter but with greater depth and woody-ness. (My experience on this is my 1920 German violin to my 1990 Italian one) The influence of modern day size and dynamic compression techniques in recordings has in general made us treble happy. We like sharper more acute sounds compared to that of the analog era. So could it be the same favoritism of a more sharp crisper sounds of newer instruments due to what we hear daily?

Re:Yes, but you *can* tell the difference if... (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 6 months ago | (#46688575)

You're unwittingly pointing out the flaw in the study. The Stradivarius arguments been going on for hundreds of years... the tube amp argument for 30. But technology has changed. New violins are better than what was made even 10 years ago. The same goes for transistor amps (at least in regards to instrument amplifiers) If I were to play guitar for you on a 1950s tube amp, and then a 1980s transistor amp you would immediately declare the transistor amp utter crap. Trained ear or not. Now if I were to use one of the better transistor amps from the late 90s early 2000's you might not have the same opinion. And if I were to use a modern amp modeler like an AxeFXII you'd probably say it sounded better than a tube amp. Though the price of such a system is in the $3k range so the vintage tube amp might be cheaper. But the price will come down. Tube amps are on their way out.

Now they are able to make violins by modeling them on computers and such... In fact, the AxeFX I mentioned before can do "tone modeling" and you could record the Stradivarius into it and it could model any violin to sound damn near exactly like it. So basically, technology is eclipsing the uniqueness of many technologies.

Sorry about the loss of the magic (4, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | about 6 months ago | (#46688161)

People have some kind of innate (or maybe learned, but deep) fondness for "authentic". They'll pay for things that were touched by celebrities, as if there's some kind of magic that's transmitted through it.

These were, almost surely, the best violins available. The Stradavari family had extraordinary skill, surpassing anybody else at the time. It's remarkable and amazing that it should take us centuries to make other instruments with similar precision, balance, and quality.

But it's not amazing that we should eventually do so. There was no magic to these instruments, just tremendous hard work and a commitment to quality. These are rare, but hardly unique, especially over the course of centuries.

Let us appreciate these for what they are: remarkable artifacts of history, hand-made to extreme precision, durable enough to stand the test of time and be selected for their quality. There's no point in adding an additional layer of BS about some magic, unattainable extra that can't possibly be reproduced. It doesn't diminish the instrument, nor does it make every hack a great musician. Great instruments and great musicians will continue to make great music; surely that should be enough without sullying it with gullibility.

Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688375)

But but but .... ad clicks and fodder!

Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (4, Insightful)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46688387)

Just like ancien mechanical clocks are marvels of engineering especially at the time of their fabrication, they're totally imprecise compared to even a low-cost crystal-clock Timex plastic watch.

Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688517)

My understanding is that the value of a Strad isn't so much a pining for the supposedly lost art of violin making as it is that Europe was emerging from a little ice age. The result is that the wood used in Cremona possessed a mixture of unique qualities that were ideal for violins. Until we can find or treat timber so that it acts the same exact way as in the wood of that day, the sound of modern violins would reasonably perform differently.

In that way, that these are authentic is the very difference that makes them valuable, and not simply because it was worked by some highly skilled tradesman long ago.

You're right: it's not magic. But neither, it has been argued, is it replicable--this study is one of the few that takes the contrary position.

Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688549)

We've come a long way in 4 centuries, eh?
We can finally create a violin that can't be distinguished from a Strad.

Re:Sorry about the loss of the magic (1)

Beerdood (1451859) | about 6 months ago | (#46688655)

I this same sort of parallel with guitars as well; all of my musician friends that play guitar seem to highly value older guitars (made in the 60's and 70's) over those made recently. And they're not just valued for their sentimental value; every decent guitar player I've met seems to have some sort of fascination with vintage guitars and *knows* the sound is considerably better than anything they can buy today. I don't see this parallel with non-string instruments, such as brass, woodwinds, percussion or keyboards (possibly a couple of exceptions for keyboards, i.e. a hammond B Leslie; but certainly not the norm).

Maybe there's some other factor here, but I still have a hard time believing whether older string instruments are actually better sounding. As OP suggested with the Stradivari, they were certainly well crafted in their day. But surely we have the technology and material to surpass that now - especially with the same companies that continue to make guitars, right? Or is there truly some scientific factor that makes the sounder better (such as the wood "maturing" or drying up more over time, or something like that)? I still don't know whether vintage guitars actually sound better, or if everyone's just fooled into thinking they sound better because Hendrix or Page played that exact guitar that one time in the 70's - they don't sound any better than new guitars to me. Perhaps there is something "special" about older string instruments that hasn't been explained well yet?

Just (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 months ago | (#46688165)

have some play a few violins of different quality and record them.
See if there is even a scientifically measurable different in the sound. At that point you can determine if any change that may be there is within the optimal human range to detect.
Of course that's just sound, it could mechanically be better, or feel better when held.

Re:Just (1)

chuckugly (2030942) | about 6 months ago | (#46688535)

There will surely be a difference from example to example; that's not the debate. The debate is whether the old instruments are preferable.

I'm an OK violinist (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688167)

I'm in my mid-thirties now, and have been playing since I was 5. I played 5 hours a week until high school, which rose to nearly 10 a week. I took a hiatus from playing in college. I play about twice a month now, having many other demands on my time. I'm not all that good, but I enjoy it and hope to pass some form of love of playing music to my children.

I can tell the difference between my crappy violin and nicer ones in the store. Do you know how much a top quality modern violin costs?

These things aren't remotely affordable. A crappy old one might cost $1,000. A top quality modern one will cost you what a decent house might. Saying that a modern violin is more affordable than a Strad is like saying that a Bugatti Veyron is more affordable than a F-16 fighter jet. I'm not buying either one.

Re:I'm an OK violinist (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 6 months ago | (#46688613)

I can tell the difference between my crappy violin and nicer ones in the store. Do you know how much a top quality modern violin costs?

Perhaps a few multiples of $10,000; I've never heard of new instruments going for significantly more than this. (Only the best grand pianos cost that much.) If you're a professional musician, an investment like this isn't unreasonable, and is certainly much more attainable than a Strad. I also know amateurs who play on instruments (not just violins) that cost as much as a decent new car; obviously these are all upper-middle-class people for whom music is a huge part of their life (even if they aren't being paid for it), but they're never, ever going to be able to afford a Strad either.

History Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688183)

Not surprised. This is a human thing where we place extra value on items based upon their history. So a five dollar bill is worth five dollars unless it was the bill that Elvis was holding when he died then it is suddenly worth some huge number of dollars. Why we think the history of an item is significant is what is so hard to understand.We feel some connection that doesn't really exist.

Re:History Effect (1)

DrXym (126579) | about 6 months ago | (#46688235)

A Stradivarius would still have value for its age and rarity. Doesn't mean they are best sounding instruments in the world and there is no reason to suppose they are either.

What Strads did they use? (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 6 months ago | (#46688201)

It's well known that many Stradivarius violins have only average sound quality- and there hundreds of them.

I for my part ... (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 6 months ago | (#46688203)

can distinguish sounds of a violine much better than I'm able to play a violine.
In fact: I cant play a violine at all.
Who came to the brain dead idea that an elitist violinist has perfect ears? (I have perfect ears, I'm 47 but on hearing tests I'm 14 year old .... nevertheless: I hvae not such a good ear for 'tunes' or tones ... why should a 45 year old violinist be better off than me?)

Re:I for my part ... (2)

gigaherz (2653757) | about 6 months ago | (#46688289)

The thing is, you can have good ears and bad hands, and you KNOW you can't play the violin. But someone with good hands and bad ears may be playing wrong, and won't be able to tell. Because for all practical purposes, good hands mean nothing without good ears, any elite violinist should by definition have good ears.

Re:I for my part ... (0)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | about 6 months ago | (#46688683)

Just like beethoven.

Yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688209)

And it's the same with sound card vs on-board. Most people can't tell the difference, even so called "audiophiles", in a blind test.

This is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688231)

Somehow so many other theories in the world of sociology go over the heads of Slashdot that I'm simply not surprised that most here don't understand why Stradivarius violins are worth so much. Perception matters more than facts when it comes to human beings. How do you think two parties with the same ultimate agenda have managed to take over a nation of 300+ million with wanna-be intellectuals thinking their party is the right one?
 
People have their heads stuck firmly up their own asses.

I bought mine for bragging rights not sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688233)

and it was worth it.

Don't hate me for that.

Hate me for being better than you.

What do the violinists think? (1)

tinkerton (199273) | about 6 months ago | (#46688237)

Well, at least Stradivarius is as good as a top quality modern violin. Maybe they don't consider the Stradivarius as better. It could be something similar to a fancy dress: adding festivity and status. It can be the feeling that you're just playing with something very rare that used to be the top. And sometimes people just want the opportunity to find out if there is something special to a legendary instrument.

Sometimes period instruments and associated techniques add authenticity. I know that there used to be a technique with the bow in cello playing that was very different. I don't know if that's the case for violins.

the conclusion is wrong (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688255)

The real conclusion that should have been drawn, is most people who claim they are experts, are not.

Much like how over 90% of Ivy league-educated economists were unable to see a bubble was forming in real estate nearly 10 years ago.

We live in a society where we act as if a person's credentials actually mean something, but most of the time, in reality, they mean absolutely nothing. It's just a placebo effect.

Stradivarius instruments were not created by God (1)

line-bundle (235965) | about 6 months ago | (#46688257)

I do not understand why some people believe these instruments have something so powerful it cannot be replicated. If Antonio can do it, so can a good modern human.

We are all human and what one human can do, so can another. We need to look at our generation as no worse than generations past, and in some ways better.

Re:Stradivarius instruments were not created by Go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688463)

The issues is the process.
Stradivarius did not document what he did to make his violins, it was a trade secret.
It also could have been something out of his control, like the weather during the years the trees matured for the wood.

The value of a Stradivarius (4, Insightful)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 6 months ago | (#46688263)

I can't tell the difference between a signed first edition of On the Origin of Species and a regular seventh edition either if I'm only allowed to look at certain pages, but that doesn't mean they're of equal value. The value of a Stradivarius lies not in the sound it produces but in its provenance.

Re:The value of a Stradivarius (4, Insightful)

gander666 (723553) | about 6 months ago | (#46688349)

That is fine for a collector. For someone who plays for a living, not so much. Most of the artists who play the Stradivarius' don't own the instrument. They are loaned to them from their benefactors.

I play guitar. I have a few nice guitars, and I thought I had an expensive habit. A friend who is a concert viola player has a "mid range" viola from a good maker, and it cost $45K about 15 years ago. Probably worth $60K or so today. And that isn't from one of the better modern makers.

And my wife gives me grief for my $2k used Tom Anderson guitar.

Re:The value of a Stradivarius (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 6 months ago | (#46688389)

By the way, I just checked and there is currently a first edition of On the Origin of Species on Abebooks for 135k, and it's inscribed by Darwin's son. No autograph. Still, if I have Silicon Valley level money I'd probably snap it right up.

Re:The value of a Stradivarius (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 6 months ago | (#46688405)

The value of a Stradivarius lies not in the sound it produces but in its provenance.

But the provenance is only of value because of the superior sound. Paintings by my grandma are 'rare,' but not valuable.

Of course this is all old news in the art world. Painters are "great" because of their great works. Their works are valuable because they are by great painters. Yet forgeries are indistinguishable from authentic works on artistic merit, so verification is turned over to chemical composition of paint and canvas, documented history, etc. In other words, it's all completely irrational and merely an consequence of some particular biases that humans have.

Re:The value of a Stradivarius (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 6 months ago | (#46688497)

Initially, quality is what is important, because initially quality is the distinguishing factor. However, if there is a large enough amount of time between when this quality first appears and when this quality can be replicated then the provenance becomes important too. There's nothing irrational about it; given a choice between two things of equal quality, the thing that has a greater number of desirable features will be more valuable. And considering the history of an object as valuable is only irrational in the sense that every intrinsic value judgement is irrational.

Re:The value of a Stradivarius (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 6 months ago | (#46688713)

Quality of sound is inherently subjective. The sounds were not identical, just the double blind preference did not favor the Strad. If someone believes that a Strad (or tube amp, of vinyl, or whatever) sounds better, then does it make any sense to argue? This is 100% about entertainment, so the Strad may be better IF you are allowed to tell the audience that is what you are playing.

Personally I wouldn't buy a $1M violin (if I still played and could afford it), .and I also don't have a tube amp and got rid of my vinyl records many years ago. However if someone receives more enjoyment from those things than without them, its their $$$ to spend as they like.

What about the intangibles? (1)

Ranbot (2648297) | about 6 months ago | (#46688275)

It doesn't surprise me that there's no noticeable difference between Stradivarius and well-made modern violin. But I wonder if there are other intangible benefits owning a Stradivarius, like boosts to the player's confidence and drive to excel. At any high-level musical play the differences between "very good" and "great" musicians are often very subtle.

I would also be willing to bet that that professional violin judges have some unintended bias towards players they see have a Stradivarius. Maybe this data will level the playing field though...

What's in a name? (4, Funny)

suprcvic (684521) | about 6 months ago | (#46688307)

New violins don't have cool names like Stradivarius though. That name is so epic, it could make anything look or sound high brow and expensive. Stradivarius Coffee, home of the $75 latte. Stradivarius Bounce House, let your kids bounce around for only $125/hr. Stradivarius Water, Anything less, will dehydrate you, only $49.99 per 8oz bottle made out of the finest Stradivarius plastics. With a name like that, people will pay anything.

study missed a major point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688315)

One of the major differences between a truly fine instrument and a good is how easy for the musician to play well and express themselves Two instruments may sound similar, but the better one will be much easier for the musician to play on. It is interesting how the study didn't consider this...

anonymous (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688317)

elite "americans" violinists...

flawed study equipment (2)

Tumbleweed (3706) | about 6 months ago | (#46688327)

They didn't use Monster(tm) cables!

Audio engineer's perspective (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688353)

3 years ago I had the privilege and pleasure of running sound mix for a piano (9 foot Steinway) and violin concert. The violinist played a borrowed Stradivarius. I expected it to be deeper, richer, fatter, fuller, etc., like a viola, but it was kind of bright. Turns out that's what makes them so good. The violinist commented that it's like playing an electric guitar- you get much more volume for the same bow effort and enables far more dynamics. He was almost giddy with excitement. It certainly made a lot more sound than I'm used to from one violin.

We now have the tools and tech to analyze the wood, finish, glues, bracing, etc., and people have, so I fully believe a well-made new violin could duplicate the Strad's sound. The $ value is, like any antique, based on who is willing to pay what.

Re:Audio engineer's perspective (2)

crmanriq (63162) | about 6 months ago | (#46688599)

So you're saying that the Stradivarius is the single coil pickup of violins? (ie Fender Stratocaster)

(And you were expecting it to sound more Gibsony?)

So... Yay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688373)

We can finally produce violins as good as a guy did 300 years ago.

Yay us? I guess... Took us long enough.

What could he have made if had he electricity and the modern world?

This is hardly news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688383)

I saw a documentary several years ago where they blind tested violins and came to the same conclusion and just now I checked out wikipedia and it seems there have been more tests as well.

Car Analogy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688407)

There is a Wikipedia page on the original study [wikipedia.org] conduct back in 2012. Edward Carlyss criticized the study by saying, "He said that what makes the older violins better is how they sound to an audience in a concert hall and that it is irrelevant whether a violinist prefers a certain violin in a hotel room. He felt the test was as valid as comparing a Ford and a Ferrari in a parking lot."

Sigh.... (3, Interesting)

niftymitch (1625721) | about 6 months ago | (#46688411)

Many of the old strads have been modified to have a taller bridge
or this or that to improve on the voice.

The old strads that were less than wonderful have been used
as kindling or rebuilt and refitted to be playable. i.e. only the
instruments that stand the test of time made it to today.

One anomaly in the good ones that is almost impossible to measure
is the way the wood was dried. One supply had been submerged in
volcanic ash and was gently permeated with silica as well as it
was cured for decades before being sawn into boards and finally
dried. Should someone pull some Mt. St Hellen spruce out of Spirit
lake and slow cure the boards well we could have a modern fiddle
that in 700 years will prove to be a master.

They're collectables... (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 6 months ago | (#46688431)

People impose value on something and then suddenly everyone has to have one.

If I had the world's greatest art at my fingertips... would I fill my home with it? No. I already have access to the same art. I can get prints or lithographs of any of it and really its close enough that would would care. And if you want to talk about the texture of the brush strokes... fine, there are some prints that exactly match the topography of the original work so closely that it takes a forensic art expert to suss it out.

I could have all of that and more. Why this fascination with getting your hands on the original work? Its a status symbol. As if you're less of a twit because you happen to own an artifact created by someone in the history books. Who cares. You aren't them and simply buying something expensive doesn't make you more sophisticated or special.

You could take the same money and invest it in a giant gold dildo statue and it would be about as meaningful.

Maybe I'm being unkind... but I do not understand collectors at all. Its right up there with gambling... I don't get the fascination with it.

Why am I flushing my money down the drain again? Why am I blowing an absurd amount of money on stuff that can't possibly be worth that to any individual?

All these things violins should just make their way into exhibits or something. By all means... lend them to musicians. But stop putting these stupid things up for auction.

Was that an appropriate location for a test? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 6 months ago | (#46688455)

Looks like thet did the test in someone's living room -- shouldn't they have rented a concert hall or someplace more appropriate to where the instruments would be played on tour?

Double-blind? (1)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | about 6 months ago | (#46688457)

That's not double-blind. I haven't watched TFV in its entirety, but for instance @19:00 there is a violinist playing with goggles and a researcher handing her the instruments that can see clearly what is what.

Incidentally, sorry but I cannot resist: double-blind? Maybe we should say... double deaf! /ducks

Re:Double-blind? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 6 months ago | (#46688499)

That's not double-blind. I haven't watched TFV in its entirety, but for instance @19:00 there is a violinist playing with goggles and a researcher handing her the instruments that can see clearly what is what.

Incidentally, sorry but I cannot resist: double-blind? Maybe we should say... double deaf! /ducks

That's what I was thinking too, but they said that the instruments were identified by numbers -- is a Stradivarius obvious to a causal observer?

I can see why they didn't go truly double-blind with goggles on the researchers when dealing with a 10 million dollar instrument.

Out of context (3)

russbutton (675993) | about 6 months ago | (#46688471)

Articles and comments like this are made by people who are not musicians, let alone people who play violin professionally. In the world of today, we live with technology all around us. Everyone has their preferences and some technologies suit some folks better than others. The Mac guys hate Windows and I hate 'em both. But modern technology is consistent. Set 10 MacBook Pro laptops up and they all work EXACTLY the same. Not so for violins. Not even for modern makers.

These things are analog. You tune them by twisting a wooden peg. They don't even have frets! Each instrument is unique and so are we. Professional players really take their time searching for an instrument that suits them.

I play trumpet Thank God. Our instruments are MUCH cheaper. But most of the pro players I play with own several instruments because of all the little variations between them. Go to the home of any serious guitar player and ask how many guitars they own... It's quite common to find guys who own a dozen or more.

Are the Stravdivari and Guarneri violins worth the 8 figure prices? It's all a matter of supply and demand. There are only so many of the old instruments and if enough people want them, then the price goes up. The value of something is what someone is willing to pay for it, which in the case of violins, does not necessarily correlate to how well it plays.

My wife also plays baroque violin and has a French instrument, made in 1774, which cost her only $12k. She tried out nearly 20 baroque violins before she settled on this one and it's a gem. There aren't many people playing in the baroque style, so there isn't as much demand. Most of the old Italian instruments have been altered over the years from their original form. "Modern" violins (those made after about 1830 or so) have necks that are bent further back and put more tension on the strings. They are engineered to play louder than the older instruments. The bows are bigger and heavier as well. And the bows are concave instead of being convex and have more horse hair on them so they play louder.

Because there isn't as much demand, the prices for the old instruments are much lower. The old instruments are worth that much because people are willing to pay for it, not because they necessarily are "better".

Re:Out of context (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 6 months ago | (#46688561)

Articles and comments like this are made by people who are not musicians, let alone people who play violin professionally. In the world of today, we live with technology all around us. Everyone has their preferences and some technologies suit some folks better than others. The Mac guys hate Windows and I hate 'em both. But modern technology is consistent. Set 10 MacBook Pro laptops up and they all work EXACTLY the same. Not so for violins. Not even for modern makers.

That's true as long as you stay within the pure digital design constraints that the computers were designed for, but if you give them to an overclocker and ask him to tweak them to give the very best performance (such as you'd expect a professional violinist to do - get the best sound from the instrument), you'll find that each one behaves slightly differently. One might have a faster CPU clock speed, while another one might be tuned for faster memory timing and/or latency.

Re:Out of context (2)

the gnat (153162) | about 6 months ago | (#46688703)

Articles and comments like this are made by people who are not musicians, let alone people who play violin professionally.

This probably isn't what you meant, but the actual PNAS article makes it clear that the authors have some real expertise:

The team thus included several scientists, a violin maker and researcher who builds and sells new violins, a violin soloist who owns and plays an Old Italian violin, a professional violist and instrument dealer who owns several Old Italian instruments, and a string engineer and amateur violinist who owns and plays an Old Italian violin.

And of course the actual players used for the study were all professional violinists.

Article Is Wrong (3, Informative)

GODISNOWHERE (2741453) | about 6 months ago | (#46688553)

Read an account about it here:http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20121/13039/

First of all, the violinists were able to tell the difference between old and new violins.

It was a double blind study about which violin the violinists preferred to play. And since musicians that play the same instrument have different ideas of what kind of sound they prefer, it should not be a surprise that some preferred newer models. Of course, no two violins are created equal, and some Stradivariuses sound better than others. There were some constraints to the study, however. The older violins are worth several million of dollars and they were loaned on the condition that they could not be tuned.

Re:Article Is Wrong (1)

GODISNOWHERE (2741453) | about 6 months ago | (#46688569)

Oops. The study was blinded, not double blinded.

Re:Article Is Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688617)

OK, so now I think my correction was wrong, and it was double blinded after all.

whatever (1)

csumpi (2258986) | about 6 months ago | (#46688605)

next thing you tell me is that i can't hear the improvement my $5k www.lossless.com power cable makes to my audiophile setup?

better, maybe, but a perfect copy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46688663)

I suppose the real test was never which one sounds BETTER, since Stradivarius violin itself defined the sound that the best possible violin should have for more than a century.
It was all about making a perfect copy, both sound, tactile qualities, .. essentially making a better Stradivarius violin than the original authors themselves.

Once we get over that, we will see a plethora of new instruments suddenly get much higher ratings than the old ones. Just like it happened with pianos, guitars, etc.

Sounds a lot like wine... (1)

Morpeth (577066) | about 6 months ago | (#46688673)

Reminds me of the many blind studies show how 'experts' on wine are very often totally full of shit -- which is why my eyes begin to roll when I hear people throwing around their pretentious adjectives when describing their favorite Cabernet or whatever.

Facebook: $16bn WhatsApp, $1bn Instragram (3, Interesting)

HnT (306652) | about 6 months ago | (#46688679)

There are more than enough examples of ridiculous amounts being spent on not much more than popularity or a whim. Why is it so surprising people are willing to spend a lot on legendary and very rare instruments from several hundreds of years ago?
Maybe our modern-day instruments can hold up to those legends simply because today violin makers are standing on the shoulders of giants like Stradivari? A brand-new violin still costs a fortune and the most famous violin-makers today still select their clients very strictly. You essentially have to apply to even be allowed to pay them all that money.

And without trying to be too "voodoo" about this but as a musician myself, I am wondering just what kind of effect this privilege of playing such a rare instrument could have on the violinist. Maybe part of the "myth" is simply that the feel-good knowledge of playing one of the most legendary instruments out there can slightly improve an artists performance to push it to where "magic" happens?
World-class athletes do all sorts of "magic" to push themselves beyond their limits, to get just a slightly better performance. Why should the same not be true for performing star musicians?

Needs Wooden Knobs (1)

BinBoy (164798) | about 6 months ago | (#46688687)

Try listening on a stereo with wooden knobs... or a computer with wooden keys.

The study was wrong. (4, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 6 months ago | (#46688733)

These violins are to be heard, not seen. They should have done a double deaf study not double blind study.
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