Stradivarius outclassed by new violins in blind play-off

RARE LEGACY: The Lipinski Stradivarius, one of roughly 600 violins, violas and cellos still in existence that were fashioned by Italian artisan Antonio Stradivari.


    Apr 11, 2014

    Stradivarius outclassed by new violins in blind play-off


    WHICH plays better - a centuries-old Stradivarius or a shiny new violin? Aficionados often say that older instruments sound better, but a scientific study has found that, actually, expert players prefer new ones.

    Soloists also could not distinguish accurately between new and old violins, according to the study, published in this week's edition of the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

    Ten professional violinists were asked to try six Old Italian violins (five of which were Strads) and six new ones, and then decide which they would pick to replace their own for an upcoming tour.

    The musicians were unaware which instruments were old and which were new, as the new ones were antiqued to give the appearance of age.

    They had plenty of time to play each instrument, first in a rehearsal room and later in a concert hall.

    Six chose new violins, while four chose old ones.

    When researchers compared the violins using preference scores based on a top-four list compiled by each musician, the new violins outscored the old by a ratio of six to one.

    "On average, soloists rated their favourite new violins more highly than their favourite old for playability, articulation and projection, and at least equal to the old in timbre," said the report.

    "Soloists readily distinguished instruments they liked from those they did not, but were unable to tell old from new at better than chance levels."

    The French and United States researchers noted the study was small, so the results might not apply to the worldwide population.

    They said it was still an improvement over a test done in 2010 involving 21 violinists who, when blinded, decided their least favourite of three instruments was a Stradivarius. The researchers said the earlier study focused too heavily on the judgment of 10 highly talented soloists.