Audio resource for comparing tonal quality of violins

November 20, 2006 at 11:32 PM · I was wondering if anyone knows about any sources of audio clips which demonstrate how violins of various quality ranges actually sound?

This would be pretty useful to someone in the market to buy a new violin, I would imagine. Going to violin shops and trying out many different models is one way, but spotty and time consuming, at best, not to mention impractical when buying over the internet.

Verbal descriptions of tonal qualities are pretty subjective, such as "dark", "brilliant", "responsive", "warm", "mellow", etc.

But compariing different makes and models by actually listening to sound clips of each one playing the same thing (scales maybe?) would give buyers a better way of evaluating potential choices. Or at least eliminating some, to narrow down the field.

If such comparison audio files don't exist, maybe members could submit clips of their own violins, which could be posted somewhere on this website, so that others could access them?

Some objections to this idea might include "inconsistent recording environments", "new vs. played-in violins sound differently", "playing ability of the performer affects the sound", etc.

But at least this could be a starting point to form a database of recordings which might eventually become comprehensive enough to be a valuable shopping guide.

With a freeware sound recorder and a Radio Shack microphone on your PC, you can record and upload sound files of acceptable sound quality, in some standard format (MP3 for example), to allow others to hear what your violin sounds like as compared to others. Yes? No?

Replies (11)

November 21, 2006 at 01:10 AM · In a word,


November 21, 2006 at 10:54 AM · Hi David,

Martin Schleske (a physicist & luthier from Munich) provides some sound examples as they relate to acoustics and violin sound on his site (click on the "sound-button" on the right) with several objectives like "old vs. new setup (soundpost and bridge)", "Direct AB comparison of two violins by Antonio Stradivari from his golden period" etc.. or here. Needless to say, that I didn't understand that much when the going gets scientifical, but some aspects described here seen from the point of view of a luthier, who is a physicist, are amazing! You'll find some ideas or aspects on this site (for instance concerning verbal descriptions of tonal qualities monitored on the screen etc.).

There's another physicist H. D├╝nnwald (P. Greiner works with him), who tested more than 1.300 violins in his lab, you can find some essays or research results written in english via google.

Maybe someday it might be quite usual to make an acoustical finger print of an instrument via software before buying it.

November 21, 2006 at 03:41 PM · Thanks, Mischa!

That Martin Schleske site was a goldmine of information. The comparisons of violins were a little difficult because they weren't all playing the same selections, and the differences were fairly subtle, but interesting nevertheless.

My idea was to do comparisons of more "affordable" violins, for beginners or students who might just need a little help in choosing among instruments in their price range, for example.

November 21, 2006 at 03:59 PM · i think the idea is solid, but it may not be that helpful to put it in practice, especially for beginner level.

for beginner level violins (lets assume mostly are new) the set up is usually not ideal. it simply does not pay to explore optimal sound by experienced hands.

when labelled as inferior sounding, by a machine, without proper sound adjustment, it can be misleading since beginner violins are not given a fair chance.

i think some qualitative terms are sufficient at that level: loud, mellow, bright, not bright, sweet singing like nor not, etc. play the 2 violins side by side on a good quality video which should give you some idea.

if you want more, just have to hold the violins in hand and compare.

November 21, 2006 at 07:22 PM · I'm a 'hold it.. and hear it' kind of instrument hunter. There is so much to it. I suppose it might be interesting to listen online... but for purchasing the feel... the playability... the tone in my ear are VERY important.


November 22, 2006 at 03:39 AM · I have enjoyed the sound clips on Brian Ward-Smith's website: I have purchased two from him and found the descriptions and sound clips accurate. Let us know what you think. Thanks.

November 22, 2006 at 11:27 PM · The difficult part of this isn't making recordings, it's making them comparable. I have a number of different microphones, each one makes a violin sound different, and the difference is quite remarkable. When I record in different rooms, the violin sounds different, and likewise when different people play it. If we all submitted recordings of the same violin, passed around, I bet you wouldn't know it was the same violin.

November 23, 2006 at 01:43 AM · The only way to really tell what a violin is going to sound like is if you hear it in a hall.

November 23, 2006 at 03:48 AM · Alone in an empty hall? That's useful to a certain extent, but it really won't tell you what your violin sounds like with other players, which is possibly one of the most important aspects. . . unless you are only going to play alone in an empty hall. Likewise, if you only play alone, or in quartets in your home, the empty hall test means nothing--how it sounds in your personal context is the important thing.

If you intend to play in a full hall in front of an orchestra, a piano, or with a quartet, you need to know how it works in that particular context. This is because a violin that carries and stands out with other instruments doesn't have to be loud (in volume it can never lick a full orchestra, no matter how loud it is), it has to have a harmonic makeup that fills spots where the harmonic makeup of the orchestra or other instruments (piano, etc.) are short. If it has that, it doesn't matter if it doesn't sound "loud" in the hall, it WILL be heard, which is one of the most important things you might need it to do.

The orchestra has a dip in its output where the ear is the most sensitive, around 3000-4000hz.

A "carrying" violin will be strong in that zone.

Here's a nice discussion of the concept from the singer's standpoint.

November 23, 2006 at 01:56 PM · I think Michael hit the nail on the head. Comparable recordings would be the real test for this to work. You would have to eliminate all the variables (microphone, room, player, etc.) except the violin itself. There's no way audio recordings from different people could be produced with enough similarity to make comparisons valid, unless there was one studio where we all sent our violins to be recorded. That's not practical.

You could never capture all the fine nuances of a violin with a sound recording, especially if you wanted to hear how it sounds in different environments. For professional or advanced players, recordings won't cut the mustard, I agree.

But for a beginner or student level buyer, wouldn't listening to recordings of different violins help to eliminate some, which would be useful in narrowing the list of instruments to go and try out in person? I'm not saying a recording should be the ONLY criterion for choosing, just ANOTHER one.

November 23, 2006 at 04:38 PM · playing in front of an orchestra to test a violin will be hard to arrange, but we may be able to wrestle MD into letting us use his new grand office as the global designated testing center:)

happy turkey eating everyone!

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