Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 136
  1. As Good as Old

    Outta sight.

    Soloist Ilya Kaler tests a violin.


    Even elite violinists cannot tell a Stradivarius and a top-quality modern violin apart, a double-blind study suggests. Claudia Fritz, a musical acoustician at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and colleagues assembled more than 20 new and old violins, including six Stradivariuses and two Guarneri del Gesús. In a listening test with 10 leading soloists, researchers winnowed the list to six old violins and six new ones. Wearing dark goggles, the soloists played the remaining instruments in a small room and in a 300-seat auditorium, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Violinists generally preferred the new instruments and did no better identifying old and new instruments than they would have by guessing.

    "There is nothing magical [about old Italian violins]," says soloist and participant Olivier Charlier. However, Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, who also participated in the study, questions its fairness: "Whereas I believe that [the researchers] assembled some of the finest contemporary instruments, I am quite certain that they didn't have some of the finest old instruments."

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