Stradivarius No Match for New Violins, Test Finds

Soloists assess renowned instruments with surprising results

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 8, 2014 11:08 AM CDT

(Newser) – Musicians have long been captivated by the instruments of the Stradivari family; centuries after they were built, they've become the stuff of legend. Yet new blind tests seem to shatter the notion that a Stradivarius is actually superior to today's violins. In fact, the tests found expert violinists prefer the new models, and couldn't even distinguish which were new and which were old, LiveScience reports. "Like most people in the violin world, I grew up absolutely believing there was a difference between an old sound and a new sound, and most violinists could readily distinguish it," says violin maker and researcher Joseph Curtin. That is, "until I ... was really forced to listen with my ears, rather than my preconceptions."

His team had 10 famous soloists don sight-obliterating welder's glasses and play six old and six new violins in two environments: a practice studio and a concert hall. The worn edges and antique style of the new ones obscured their youth. The violinists (who, for music buffs, included Olivier Charlier, Pierre Fouchenneret, Susanne Hou, Ilya Kaler, and Giora Schmidt, the Telegraph notes.) rated the instruments in a number of categories, including tone, playability, and volume. The best-performing instrument, according to the soloists as a group, was a new one—it was the favorite of four testers and the second-favorite of four others. The runner-up was a new violin, too, while the third-place finisher was a Stradivarius; the makers of the new ones weren't revealed. As for whether the violinists could discern between new and old, LiveScience notes they were "no more accurate than the flip of a coin." Think you could do better? Take a listening test here.

In this Thursday, March, 27, 2014 photo, Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, plays the the 1716 Milstein” Stradivarius at the Colburn School in Los Angeles.
In this Thursday, March, 27, 2014 photo, Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, plays the the 1716 "Milstein” Stradivarius at the Colburn School in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
This framegrab image from video, provided by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows soloist Ilya Kaler wearing welder glasses so he can’t see the violin.
This framegrab image from video, provided by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows soloist Ilya Kaler wearing welder glasses so he can’t see the violin.   (AP Photo/Stefan Avalos, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America)
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