Study: How different strings affect violin qualities

Edited: July 18, 2020, 4:06 PM · I found this scholarly paper comparing Dominants, Kaplans, and ProArte strings to each other. "How Different Strings Affect Violin Qualities" https://asa.scitation.org/doi/pdf/10.1121/2.0001007#:~:text=The%20brand%20and%20model%20of,their%20playability%20and%20sound%20quality.&text=Subjects%20rated%20the%20difference%20between%20the%20two%20violins%20again.,D2%20and%20D1%2DK2).

Super interesting read! Two take aways from this that are interesting: 1. Most of the differences are not statistically significant. Considering the large price range of these strings, that is worth noting. 2. The cheapest strings (Daddario ProArte) arguably perform the best. They scored the highest in the "overall quality" as well as in richness and resonance which are often the qualities most desired.

Just some food for thought.

Replies (16)

July 18, 2020, 4:04 PM · I wonder how much the psychology of knowing you're playing on expensive strings plays in (pun intended) to your overall experience with them. I mean, when you're spending $100 or more on three strands of plastic filament wound with kitchen wrap... Not to mention the running gag that is the violin E.
July 18, 2020, 4:08 PM · Buy expensive strings instead of practicing guys.
July 18, 2020, 4:13 PM · Good point. I imagine all kinds of experiemnts could be done (may already have) where the blind test subjects are told false information about the price of the strings to see if it affects their perception.
July 18, 2020, 4:14 PM · The 3 strings compared are, Dominate, Kaplan and Pro-Arte. "Food for thought" I'm sorry, I want a different menue.
July 18, 2020, 4:19 PM · Jeff, same here! None of my all time favorites is included.
July 18, 2020, 4:26 PM · Mmmm. There's some degree of confounding violin factor involved here. Quote: "A pool of similar student quality violins (all being sold around $600 Canadian dollar) with the same type of strings were assembled at a local luthier shop. An experienced violinist, as well as two violin makers, were invited to select the two most similar violins from the pool. The violins and their strings were relatively new. Because they were coming from the available sales stock of a workshop, they had not been played on a regular basis."

When the violins are compared in the subsequent phases, it is done in pairs. Violin 1 has one string type (held constant at Dominants) and Violin 2 has either the Kaplans or the Pro Artes. The players do not get to try a given violin with different strings.

They are comparing quite similar strings. All three types are nylon-core strings, as far as I know, with similar windings. The lesson here might be if the string cores are similar the end results will be fairly similar, which we by and large already know. I would certainly not bet on my ability to distinguish, from mere playing alone, Pro Artes from Dominants. (The Kaplan winding has a somewhat different feel.)

July 18, 2020, 4:29 PM · The real lesson might be to avoid getting too neurotic about $600 instruments.
July 18, 2020, 4:39 PM · $600 CAD is a little less than $450 USD. I entirely agree. If you're playing something just a cut above a VSO, $27 for a set of Pro Artes from Shar might well be a better value than $45 for a set of Dominants on Amazon (about $65 on Shar).
July 18, 2020, 6:53 PM · So putting Evah Pirazzis on a Stentor Student II might not be worthwhile? Who knew?

(The brand specificity is because I've actually seen exactly that, in a community orchestra I once played in. Not naming names.)

July 18, 2020, 9:46 PM · Oh, I see tons of students and amateurs with cheap violins and either EPs or EPGs. The sound is seductively good when they first go on, and they take forever to go false (and almost never break), so people keep them on the violin for 2+ years, not realizing that they've long since become dull.
July 19, 2020, 12:14 AM · The experiment appears to be not very rigorous in its setting.

The biggest flaw I consider to be the sampling of violins; more violins should be brought in, and violins shouldn't be selected to be similar to each other, since we have no idea whether their conclusion would extend to violins not similar to their selected ones.

Second, the procedure is a bit puzzling:

> The decision to use violin 1 as the reference was somewhat arbitrary, as the two violins were selected based on their similarity within the pool of available instruments. However, during the selection process, violin 1 was considered to be a bit better according to the violinist and violin makers who participated.

The shouldn't be a "reference" violin. It should be randomized. For each participant, an additional assistant should re-string the violins with random strings, note the violin/string combination, and then have the experimenter take the violins. Neither the experimenter nor the participants would know which violin is strung with which string.

And to design session 2 based on the result from session 1 seems to be a bit "hacky". The procedure should be laid clear from the beginning, to avoid session 1's result from biasing the experimenters.

Last, I disagree with their interpretation of the result.

> The result that the three experiment conditions lacked significant differences was unexpected.

And their primary conjecture for this result is the strings are not different enough.

They didn't consider that the volunteers were specifically instructed to compare the quality of violins; as a result, they might ignore the typical differences caused by different strings, possibly unconsciously.

July 19, 2020, 1:53 AM · Claudia Fritz has also conducted "blind" experiments comparing how listeners perceive new and old violins. She obviously did her best to be scientifically rigorous, but inevitably left a few potentially influential factors dangling. In none of the studies have the results been statistically significant, meaning nothing can be concluded with any degree of certainty. End of debate? Well no - the discussion we had here a couple of years ago went on for more than 1200 posts.
Edited: July 19, 2020, 2:58 PM · IF, the violins were overly bright.. MAYBE the pro-arte are preferred, but.. they sound so dull after a couple of weeks that I wouldn't recommend them. Dominants last a long time.
July 19, 2020, 3:47 PM · The main problem is that all of this is subjective. There is no agreement on what a violin should sound like. We all have our opinions about makers, strings, and all other aspects of the instrument.

Of course the people who make the strings want you to believe that theirs makes a superior sound. As with all subjective things, what sounds best to you is, in fact, the best for you.

Lydia does make one good point - most of us play our strings way too long so that when we change (usually forced to change) the sound quality is dramatic because the degradation is a very slow process. I resemble that analysis and perhaps tomorrow I'll put a fresh set of strings on my instrument - if I think about it and remember. Then again, I only play for myself, my wife and the cats and so far none of them are complaining. About the sound quality. The cats, however, demand their dinner after my daily afternoon practice/playing session.

Edited: July 19, 2020, 9:22 PM · The assessment of musical sound by humans is subjective. However, all the elements of it are quantifiable. The one that is left out of every analysis I have seen so far is, however, also quantifiable: audiographs of the human participants (i.e., hearing sensitivity (i.e., loudness) vs. frequency). I suspect if this measurable human element were included in instrument, bow, string and rosin evaluations more quantitative results might emerge.

I have become aware of the differences in human sound perception as my hearing acuity has decreased with age. My wife, the same age, during the same time has retained her youthful hearing sensitivity that ranks above the 0DB standard over the entire measured frequency range. Consequently I always have to close a door when I play violin at home, but she loves cello music and can tolerate viola.

July 20, 2020, 5:08 AM · Any study that recommends Daddario strings is suspect in my book!!


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