Does louder mean better?

January 25, 2018, 10:03 PM · Okay, last question I promise! I have it narrowed down to two violins and would appreciate your input as you all have been very helpful so far.

I am deciding between the Klaus Heffler 703 from David Kerr in Portland or a 1914 (or 1917 can’t tell) Markneukirchen violin with the name Paul Do’rfel? Written in side of it from Schuback violin in Portland.

The Markneukirchen has a really great sound, It’s very “clear”, easy to play but it is not as loud as the Heffler. I feel like overall it has a better sound than the Heffler except the G string, it is definitely not as loud and deep as the Heffler. I really enjoy playing it though.

The Heffler is very loud, so loud my husband goes up stairs and closes the door now (which he never used to do when I was playing my old violin). I have also started to notice my left ear has started feeling a little “deaf” after playing it all this week. So maybe it’s too loud? Or is that not such a thing? I think it has a good sound overall, but It’s a little more touchy (maybe because it amplifies all my mistakes, due to it being so loud) but I think I will be able to adjust.

My instructor likes the Heffler more, but said they are both nice. I have gone back and forth repeatedly all week and can’t seem to make up my mind. They are the same price and both from local luthiers. I tried the Ming and Lord Wilton from fiddlerman and they don't quite compare.

I understand that volume/projection is a big deal in a violin. If we say the the Heffler is a 10 on the projection scale and the Markneukirchen is an 8 does that automatically make the Heffler a better violin? Is it possible that it can be too loud and end up being obnoxious?

Thanks for the input!

Replies (36)

Edited: January 25, 2018, 10:46 PM · You've got a teacher! Ask your teacher to play both violins for you so you can see what they sound like from a little distance. Perhaps that can help you decide.

"Projection" has a lot of aspects, but it is definitely not something you can be sure of so close up that it deafens your left ear. And if you chose a violin that does that you can always play it with a plug in your left ear - at least you can cut the sound level so it is no louder than in your right ear (12 to 18db, depending on how long your neck is and the angle at which you hold it).

I'll tell you this, if you have aspirations and practice hard you will one day want a
violin that can be heard over an orchestra - you can always play softer if necessary! Ask Lydia!
Different strings can make an unbelievable difference in sound - especially with the G string. I have greatly changed G string behavior by changing E strings - just saying.

Edited: January 25, 2018, 11:35 PM · In my opinion, louder does not equal to better. Buy a violin whose tone you really like, because you are going to be the principal person listening to this thing, and a good instrument can really help motivate you to practice. In your circumstances, I would pick the Dorfel and tinker with the string combination and/or soundpost placement.

Also, I'm a strong believer that most players don't need a lot of projection, because they simply don't play in circumstances that require it. Any violin, even a tiny fractional size instrument, produces enough sound to be played in a church service, for instance, and it will be fine in a recital-sized hall. Most amateurs are best served by instruments that blend well in orchestra and in a chamber-music group.

If someday you find yourself in circumstances where you need a soloist's projection, buy a different violin at that point. You'll have outgrown your student instrument by then, anyway.

By the way, if you look up Paul Dorfel on Google, it appears he was a respected individual violin-maker of his time. I'm guessing one of the forum's luthiers could tell you more.

Edited: January 25, 2018, 11:43 PM · I've run into a situation like this before. My teacher advised me to spend lots of time with each instrument to get to know it well, which you are. I used to not do that because I've never been in a "can't choose between violins" situation before this one. Are the violins similar in characteristics and playability, or are there some noteworthy differences between them? In your case, I think it has a lot to do with what type of sound you prefer. Louder doesn't exactly mean better, but if there's no other reason to choose the Markneukirchen over the Heffler besides projection, the Heffler may be a better choice.
Also keep in mind that violins can change over time tonally during an active use period, especially brand new violins and violins that have recently come out of long-term storage. The violins you are currently trying are likely to have been played very little recently. When you put a currently actively used violin into long-term storage, the violin will lose projection, resonance, and in some cases, even richness of tone and depth. However, currently inactive violins can fully regain their sound qualiny after at least 1 month of regular use. It's possible that the Markie may become louder after you use it for awhile, or the Heffler might sound richer and more beautiful (or any other scenario, usually for the better), though please don't count too much on potentials when buying violins. Do expect some tonal changes, but don't be too surprised if the results aren't what you've expected, especially if they turn out to be for the better.
I also recommend trying the violins in a variety of spaces, especially if you'll perform a lot because violins project differently in different size spaces.
January 25, 2018, 11:19 PM · Loud doesn't always mean better.
But what strings are those violins? Strings can make a difference in terms of volume and aid the unevenness in sound. And fine-tuning the soundpost can also make a difference.
January 25, 2018, 11:52 PM · Right, dont need to be a violinist to know what is better for you, its the Markneukirchen. Because you say you like the sound, its easy to play and your huspand likes its better too and you have ear problems with the other, so that is then out of question obviously.

You know what you like and both your family and your ear agrees with it :)

January 26, 2018, 12:46 AM · Louder might be better for a soloist, but its not really better, its just louder.
Edited: January 26, 2018, 1:44 AM · I would choose the one with better tone over the louder one, but then again most of my playing is in a small room in my basement, where even a quiet instrument would seem loud.

I chose my violin (a 1986 Joseph Kun) shortly after returning to the violin after a long hiatus. I went to my local luthier and spent a couple of hours playing about a dozen instruments. I liked my violin because of its tone. The notes just rang and rang.

Having played it for over a year now, I still like its tone. However, I've tried quite a few different types of strings, and I've noticed big differences in tone and playability. I wonder if I would have picked a different instrument had the strings been different.

So my suggestion would be to put a good but "generic" set of strings on both instruments (Dominants, maybe?) in order to make a fair comparison. Also, I really like the idea of having your teacher play both instruments for you, so you can get more of an audience-like perspective.

January 26, 2018, 1:44 AM · Swap the strings of both violins to confirm that the "clarity" and "loudness" of each one comes from the instrument and not the type or the state of the strings.
January 26, 2018, 3:08 AM · Please get permission from the shop before making any changes to the instruments, including experimenting with strings. You don't own the violins yet, so it's just the right thing to do. They may prefer to have you come in with the instruments so they can put a number of different strings on for you to try while you are there, and verify that the string switches aren't throwing anything else out of whack.
January 26, 2018, 3:21 AM · good point!! I was thinking that too.
January 26, 2018, 3:55 AM · Please, please, use ear protection before it is too late!
Try in the left ear only, then in both ears, lifting the chin a little to avoid bone conduction. Then you will have a better idea of how others hear the violins.

Loud? This can be boomy, honky or screechy rather than full or rich.
And the teacher's preference does not have to influence your own.

Edited: January 26, 2018, 9:07 AM · I feel like it depends on whether you're a soloist who needs to project. If you have no intention on a serious career in solo or chamber music, it's probably better to ignore the volume to a reasonable extent.

Respectfully have to disagree with some others - I would advise listening to your teacher on choosing violins (even though the final decision is yours).

Edited: January 26, 2018, 6:14 AM · There are loud violins that are only loud. In my opinion, what is most important is the range of expression and voices that you have with a particular violin, and volume is a very important part of that - but not just loudness.

The capability of playing softly without losing timbre or tone all the way up the neck is something you should test (or have your teacher test). Personally, I would select the louder violin if I liked the tone and it did not lose timbre or tone when played softly. It is nice to have a wide dynamic volume range.

January 26, 2018, 6:48 AM · In addition to loud not being equal to better, loud doesn't always mean the violin will project better....

In order to project, a violin has to push the right frequencies. Some violins are loud (as far as a decibel measurement) but easily get lost in an ensemble because of the quality of the sound. A boomy warm sounding violin might sound loud to you but won't project much.

When I'm testing instruments, strings, or bows, I always try to do some recording from a distance. I will often set the recording on the other end of my home and play from the opposite end. Do the same with quartet, piano, orchestra -- preferably in a large room or hall. The recordings can not really tell you all about the quality of the sound, but they can help to ascertain projection.

January 26, 2018, 6:54 AM · Does louder mean better?
Edited: January 26, 2018, 7:25 AM · No advice to offer, but I just wanted to say I feel for Crystal (the OP) having to make this decision as a relative beginner...it’s just that I think some things are much easier to do when you’ve had certain experiences to inform you. And while it’s wonderful that so many in the forum community are trying to help her by sharing knowledge from their experience, words sometimes cannot convey all the nuances of meaning and understanding that having done something yourself will. Whichever instrument she chooses though, I’m sure it’ll be an opportunity to learn and I wish her every enjoyment of the new violin. All the best!
Edited: January 26, 2018, 7:52 AM · The player is supposed to help any projection issues. Of course this is made easier with the right instrument. Make sure with your teacher that it projects decently well, even if the other is "louder."

Be sure you like that G string; of the instrument you like the best, I mean.

Personally, unless an instrument sounds really grating or super tinny under the ear (and even that can be subjective), loudness is never a con to me. You can blend in with a loud violin, though you have to do the opposite-rein the tone in rather than working too hard to make it sound. This is why maybe the teacher is well-meaning in preferring the louder instrument.

In the end, loudness is not the same as an horrible tone, and a "beautiful" tone may not be as practical if it can't be heard well. Not saying that your instruments must represent either of these extremes, of course.

Whichever you choose, I hope you are Happy with it, and that it helps your music. It's up to you to make it sound at its best, "loud" or otherwise-enjoy this process.

(Reading the 8 vs 10 note, if the tone of the 8 is super better, 8 is great. Just make sure it is an 8, not a 5-6 projection-IMHO.)

Edited: January 26, 2018, 7:59 AM · "easy to play" is not a quality I would easily brush aside. The more violins and violas I have tested, the more I am convinced that this, hard to describe, element of playability is one of the most important. Why?
Well, if the player has to spend a lot of time taming the beast, there is not enough time left to play music. I am aware that many violinists will disagree and that some violins are like wild horses.... worth taming.
louder and better and apples and oranges - not comparable. good luck defining "better"
January 26, 2018, 8:08 AM · This is my personal preference, but I will choose Heffler based on your description. I always love violin with deep and boomy G-string. Although I play violin, I sing bass in the church choir and my ear is naturally attracted to lower sound.

On loudness: given everything else being similar, I will choose a louder violin. I have seen a video comment by the cellist David Finckel, who said that you want to choose an instrument that is loud (of course, with everything else being equal or similar). His reasoning is that as you grow in your skills as cellists (and similarly to violinists), you will have more "tools" at your disposal to change the tonal quality and color. However, if the instrument is not loud enough, you cannot make it louder. Obviously this is more from the stand point of a performer.

One of the previous comments mentioned that you can ask your teacher to play both violins for you and you listen at a distance. I think that is a great idea. Violins sound "dirty" under the ear may sound rich farther away.

Another suggestion (also my personal preference): put a noise reduction ear plug in your left ear when you practice. There are such ear plugs with minimal sound distortion available. Regardless the quality of the violin, the fact is your left ear is closer to the sound source. Therefore it make sense to protect your left ear. Also it helps you to listen to the sound reflects back from the room and should be closer to what the audience would hear.

January 26, 2018, 9:20 AM · Additional things to consider, given two instruments you like equally well. Which shop do want to have a relationship with afterwards? Are the trade-up and after-sale service policies the same? Does one shop have a significantly better selection of step-up instruments? Will one violin have a significantly better resale value than the other, in case you buy your next violin elsewhere? Did you get to hear both instruments with some great bows played by great players in a larger space?

Both look like good shops from their websites - one run by a VSA double gold winner, the other maybe larger that hosts the traveling violin shows and has a large selection of high-end violins. Pretty cool to have resources like that in the same area.

January 26, 2018, 9:46 AM · Personally, I would not worry about resale value unless you want the value in the violin. Trade-in policies are nice, but not necessary. You can find uses for your old violins (loan it out to a friend, donate it to a public school string program, etc). It's okay to change the strings on a trial violin, but if you decide to turn it down, please place the original strings back on again. I would follow the advice of your teacher. If your teacher has no exact preference and leaves the choice up to you, think about what type of sound you prefer, playability concerns, etc.
January 26, 2018, 11:06 AM · Many shops have a policy that say that you cannot change set-up for an instrument on trial. That includes changing the strings, even if you put the original strings back on afterwards. If you're unhappy with the set-up or the strings, I would ask the shop if they'd be willing to consider alterations. You might or might not have to pay for it. If the strings on a violin are old, they'll often willingly change the strings anyway, and as long as you choose a reasonably-priced string set, they can usually put on what you want.

While strings make a difference, they don't change the fundamental character of a violin's tone. A proper set-up of bridge and soundpost can make a big difference, but a good shop will generally have properly set-up violins.

Finckel's advice needs to be very carefully qualified. For an artist, given two instruments that are roughly equal in range of color and playability and beauty of sound, yes, probably the better choice is the one with more projection, for professional use. But given a set of trade-offs -- and student instruments are full of trade-offs -- projection is much less important than other playing qualities.

Student instruments these days are often made bright and loud, because many players are drawn to these superficial qualities. Avoid the trap of buying the loudest thing you can get your hands on, especially if you find the loudness bothersome.

By the way, what will make your playing more impressive to the listener -- and better for you as a learner -- is the *contrast* that your violin can produce. If it's Loud Loud Loud all the time, that's extremely wearying to the ear.

January 26, 2018, 5:13 PM · I've never heard that you can't change the strings on a violin on trial (sometimes from a shop, sometimes not). I remember taking violins on trial (sometimes paying for them), changing the strings, and if necessary, put the originals back on again. It depends on the circomstances of the shops. I remember buying a violin from a music store with a 1-month trial policy after purchase. They never said you can't change the strings. Thanks for putting it out there.
January 26, 2018, 8:47 PM · I think a violin that you have actually purchased, but where you have a grace period for a return, is a very different case from a violin that you don't own. In a purchased-with-return-possible situation, I'd expect you could change anything that wouldn't affect their ability to sell the item afterwards.
January 26, 2018, 11:04 PM · It sounds as if you are not too advanced, yet. One thing to look for at this stage, more than anything else IMO, is honest response. Can you play easily in tune? If you adjust tone with your right arm, will you get quick results? Obviously, you don’t want to limit output too much in volume, but until you know exactly how to play the thing, that won’t be so much of a problem within reason.
Edited: January 27, 2018, 11:59 AM · 1) The loudness and other qualities can be a factor of the strings and setup as much as the violin itself. A fiddle outfitted with Passiones (gut) will be basically unrecognizable if someone puts on Evahs or Vision Solos.

2) Loudness is actually a complex concept. A brighter, more edgy tone can sound louder, especially when you're next to it, but isn't necessarily any louder if you use a decibel meter or if someone is listening to you 50 feet away. Unless you're a soloist and you need to project to seats 200 rows back, go with what you like.

3) Loudness and responsiveness are different things. Some fiddles will reach maximum volume relatively easily; others require more bow and pressure to really max out. Again, go with what you like.

I like a brighter, more forward, more responsive fiddle because I'd rather dial it back and play with a more gentle bow technique. I like Vision Solos; I dislike gut strings and dark fuzzy-sounding violins. I don't like a fiddle that you have to play pedal to the metal. But many people have the opposite preference -- they love the dark overtones and a bright sound is grating to them.

January 27, 2018, 12:44 PM · I think the difference that strings make tends to be more apparent to the player than to the listener. There will be some strings that are really bad on a violin (at least with a given set-up), but strings don't really fundamentally alter the character of a violin.

I do think it takes some experience and discernment to guess what traits of a violin are related to set-up and/or strings, and what is inherent to the instrument, though.

January 27, 2018, 1:51 PM · Wanted to add, without wanting to debate, "stir the pot", or being contrarian for its own sake, that gut-core strings can sound bright, powerful, open, and wholly "unfuzzy" with many players and violins. While people often think of Eudoxa as the epitome of that "rich, warm gut tone" (ironically, often without having even tried them) there are many other string options that sound powerful and clear while still being genuine gut-core products. A regular Passione A and a Tricolore pure gut A are very different, for instance. This is why, in my humble opinion, one should be wary of misconstruing gut in general, "Eudoxian" terms, as if they were not up to the musical task for the "modern" musician (too dark/unfocused, too light tension, too pitch unreliable, too weak, etc.)

Eudoxa are excellent sounding strings BTW-did not mean to malign them as inadequate. Just that some players *may* think of them as too "old school" to be usable today-and it's their right to believe whatever, in any case. If I would be "cursed" to use only Eudoxa strings on my violin forever for free, I would happily carry that "burden"-even if they are not my #1.

(Mr. Boyer: the above was not a shot at you-just a general comment inspired by your statements *and* personal experience with anti-gut/pro-synthetic bias. Please like and use what you do. I also use synthetics sometimes, though not as often anymore.)

Happy playing to all-loud or otherwise.

Edited: January 27, 2018, 3:44 PM · Okay, thanks everyone for all the valuable input. I appreciate it! I brought both of them back to my instructor and had her play them for me while standing a bit far off and they both project very well. The Heffler was a "10" and the Markneukirchen an "8.5-9" but there is something about the Markneukirchen that I really enjoy listening to and playing.

My teacher even changed her preference saying that she could understand what I meant by it being "easier to play". She said they are both very good, comparable and that she thought I should ultimately go with the Markneukirchen at this point.

The Markneukirchen was on consignment for 5k but I was able to get it from the owner (through Schuback) for $3650. I am very excited about my new violin and feel confident that I got the "right one" for me right now. I do think I will eventually experiment with different types of strings to see if I can get a deeper/richer sound out of the g string but I'll have to ask Schuback what is on them currently when I go in tomorrow to make the transaction final :)

I am also looking forward to not feeling deaf in my left ear from the Heffler anymore haha

Thanks again everyone!

January 27, 2018, 4:05 PM · So glad to see a comparison where the antique wins out over the moderns on this forum. I've been recommending comparing antiques to new for ages to almost deaf ears.
January 27, 2018, 6:27 PM · An adjustment could give you the oomph you want from your G and D strings.
January 28, 2018, 7:55 AM · Notice the OP ended up choosing an antique instrument that was out of her budget limit, which was under $3K? AND if she was to buy it from a dealer, it would be $5K.

Yeah, under $3K, it is still very hard to find a good antique European instrument and not be price-guaged by a dealer.

No, no one has deaf ears. But statistically, under $3K, the best buy is still modern instruments.

January 28, 2018, 9:22 AM · Not at my store!!
January 28, 2018, 9:44 AM · You never know. The modern, under $3,000 instruments I have played sounded loud, but lacked character. While it's not entirely satisfactory (in my view) to have a poor projecting violin that has "character", there must be some older value instruments with decent resonance out there.

To me, loudness does matter, but not at the expense of everything else (playability, tonal quality, etc.) There are also loud violins that are very hard to play due to what I find "extreme" setups (that might be the norm for most, I admit.)

Having said all of this, while I like and usually recommend value, older workshop instruments, I must say one would be lucky to find a good one that is affordable nowadays-certainly under 3k.

January 28, 2018, 9:53 AM · like I said, not at my store!!
January 28, 2018, 12:34 PM · Congrats on buying an instrument that you like, Crystal.

Consignment prices are usually "soft" numbers, quite negotiable -- the prospect of a sale now, as opposed to some possible future sale, often induces owners to part with their instruments at a lower price than the optimistic sale price they originally set.

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