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8 violin clips for tone evaluation


Don Noon
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This is an interesting and destabilising test. I gave it my sincere best shot right from the beginning, when Don posted the first file, but I have to admit I can't honestly say anything about the different violins. It's a stark reminder to me that what we're looking for in a violin can be worlds apart depending on what and how we play, what we hear as an ideal or a model in our heads, what we hope our violins will do to help us get there. I really don't want to seem dismissive or disdainful, but what I'm hearing is so far from the kind of sound and playing that I spend my days trying to achieve and try to help my students approach, that in all honesty, I can't really judge these violins. (I haven't listened to the second file) It's a bit like showing a car nut a bunch of motorcycles. He might be able to spot the make, model, year etc of any car, but to his eyes, a bunch of bikes might all look the same.

 

A couple of thoughts I'd like to share: I once participated in a test organised by Claudia Fritz and her team. I believe there were 6 or 8 violins to try, and once I was in the darkened room with my goggles on, there was an initial "meet and greet" where I could play for a few minutes on each fiddle. I was encouraged to bring my own fiddle to try in the same circumstances to get a feel for the room's acoustics. Once the real test began, I was given only pairs of fiddles to evaluate one against the other. It took over an hour, but they gave me the 6 or 8 trial violins only in pairs, with some pairs surely identical to see whether I'd rate the violins against each other the same way. I came back for another test later, listening to recordings of the second Strad vs. Modern test, and once again, the protocal was comparing pairs of recordings, with only the testers knowing what I was listening to. 

 

Another thought: I have a little "home studio" where i work on recording projects. I do use it to record my violins, old ones in my collection as well as new ones I've made. I'm constantly shocked by how two violins that can sound and feel so different under the ear can sound so similar through a mic at even a close distance. Just for info, I usually use Neumann k184 small capsule mics running through an ART tube pre-amp and d/a converter into a PC, my favourite software being Adobe Audition. For fiddle tests I often use one mic going monaural to minimise any room effects, but also use a pair in ORTF spacing when i want a spacial sense. For the recording nerds, I usually use 32 bit depth, but I haven't really found an audible difference in going all out for high sample rates. I'm getting old so I'm sure I can't hear the high frequencies anymore anyway.

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Thinking back over more than an hour's worth of listening, I remember a first impression that synthetic reverberation might have been imposed. One clip was stronger in this sense of artificiality. After a few runs this sense diminished, especially after Don mentioned the hard surfaces in the room. Now combining a Don's further information and other comments and working from memory alone, I'm thinking #2 is the best candidate for equalization.

 

Now which clip is the source? Possibly #3.

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Time to end the suspense and move on.

 

#1:  my first violin, regraduated several times so that now it is quite thin.  To me, the "oldest" sound.  The B1+ resonance (around B on the A string) is a bit overly-resonant, but a very comfortable fiddle to play.  Ti Solo strings.

 

#2:  a regraduated Pfretzschner student instrument, large body (359 x 209).  More info. in this post: http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/332093-d-noons-trashbin/?p=668960.  G and D strings are ~30 year old Spirocore steel strings, very dead.  Very difficult to play due to setup issues... very low overstand and fingerboard projection, even with tweaking the neck during re-gluing of the top, projection is only 25mm.  I didn't want to cut a bridge down that low, so the action is excessively high.  My least favorite to play, both from tone and playability.

 

#3:  The apparent winner in the preference category.  And it is the Walmart firewood fiddle.  Evah P strings (very old).  Measurements of bowed scales and the recorded tune show that it is overall less loud than the rest, by about 1.5 dB.  It is probably  more obvious to the player, where the same amount of effort yields less sound.  It's actually quite pleasant to play.

 

#4:  My #19, by most accounts of good players who have played it, a very good violin.  Placed fairly well at VMAAI in tone, even with (as I found out later) a separated glue joint.  Very powerful and projecting, but probably not obvious unless pushed hard by a good player in a larger space.  My personal favorite to play.  Evah P strings.

 

#5:  Ultra lightweight Sitka top experiment (49.3g w/o bar), on a VSO body.  Helicore strings.  OK fiddle, but very much like an amplified electric fiddle.  Loud and instantaneous, but not pretty.

 

#6:  My #15, Helicore strings, and silver medal tone winner at VMAAI 2014.  Very lound and projecting.  Same as in the recording of post #39.

 

#7:  Exact same recording of the firewood fiddle of #3, but amplified 1.5 dB overall to match the others, and local bumps of +2dB @ 700Hz, +6dB @ 1700 Hz, and +2dB 2000-4000 Hz to attempt to "improve" the sound by boosting the weaker areas.

 

I honestly had not expected the firewood fiddle (unenhanced) to be a clear winner, nor my favorite good violin to basically be the bottom of the heap.  Many things to think about.

 

One really helpful result:  higher density wood, even with unimpressive speed of sound, can work just fine (unless power and projection are top priorities).  So more of my stock is now in the "good wood" category.

Another pleasant result:  I can imagine that my arching skills have improved so that I can get good sound out of cr@p wood, without even trying too hard.

Another good result:  I can now get back to finishing my VSA and VMAAI instruments.

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Ha,pretty entertaining stuff. Well for me, over the years, the psychology of the violin has become the most fascinating thing about it. The knowing what something is prior and how that effects things, the not knowing, guessing, then guessing wrong, what that does and all of it in between.

 

So as interesting as the violin is, I find myself more intrigued lately with what people think they think about violins and their tone rather than the actual tone because I've been convinced for quite some time that one fiddle is actually many different fiddles, depending on who's listening, where they are listening, who they are listening with, what mood they are in when listening, how long they have been listening, who's playing, where they are playing, what the temperature/humidity is, if it's a full moon, perhaps a leap year :D

 

Of course the feel and feedback of a violin, as it pertains to a professional players perspective is a completely different thing from expressing preference, BUT, there is quite a bit to preferences as there is quite a bit to analyzing RECORDED tone.

 

This could have been a listening test with established players, Strads and all that and the results would still be all over the place.

 

I think that even comments like Ben's are important and tell us lots, meaning there are people who will not even want to judge sound if certain parameters are not met.

 

On a personal note, for you Don, I feel that this style of quick and dirty building is going to be very beneficial for you in the long run and that as hard as it may be to chill out on the analyzing of it all, as it is your nature based on your abilities, I think that when you calculate, you build "calculated" machines, and when you build without much thought, you will build natural objects of art.

 

Well thanks again for doing the test, it was fun and educational

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Well, I'll say this.  The sound sample from post 39 sounds like a completely different fiddle, in a completely different league -- even though it's the same fiddle as one of the seven samples.  That tells me that the difference in recording and playing is huge, while the differences between the recordings of the six fiddles are almost inaudible.*

 

The seven samples, by the way, don't sound all that good to me.  I don't think your fiddles were presented in the best light.  And I place almost no credence on user preferences in this instance, because we were pretty much just guessing.  You might just as well have flipped a coin.

 

* I will say that I got the VSO regrad right, even though I didn't post my preference.  Don't ask me how.

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hmm... I have listened to the recordings and decided to stay away from commenting for several reasons. First and second are low rate mp3 at 93kbps... why??? Then there is not enough playing information. No vibrato, no playing in the entire range, no different techniques of bowing, different music pieces and so on. A good way to find and "arguments' that recording tests are meaningless. Well, performed in such a manner, they are really meaningless. My question is, are you guys taking the sound seriously? 

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.... and here comes Artiom again... Seriously, everthing I read from you says 1.: you have no social antennas what so ever. 2.: you are a self declared world champion in, well, everything. 3.: Seems you use doushiness to overcompensate for something? 

I have read all the posts, and listened to the soundclip myself, and find it very facinating and entertaining. I actually learned something, allthou a informal and not "professional setup test." You should try that someday, Artiom. Lower your shield, be amused, entertained, laugh a bit maybe? 

hmm... I have listened to the recordings and decided to stay away from commenting for several reasons. First and second are low rate mp3 at 93kbps... why??? Then there is not enough playing information. No vibrato, no playing in the entire range, no different techniques of bowing, different music pieces and so on. A good way to find and "arguments' that recording tests are meaningless. Well, performed in such a manner, they are really meaningless. My question is, are you guys taking the sound seriously? 

 
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Conclusion: We should light our fires with nicely flamed maple, and perfect tight and straight grained spruce - and make a violins out of the pile behind the house?

Don. Thank you for sharing with us. I have a new challenge for you. Make violin out of one of these:
 

post-79507-0-07705600-1467148672_thumb.jpg

:D

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hmm... I have listened to the recordings and decided to stay away from commenting for several reasons. First and second are low rate mp3 at 93kbps... why??? Then there is not enough playing information. No vibrato, no playing in the entire range, no different techniques of bowing, different music pieces and so on. A good way to find and "arguments' that recording tests are meaningless. Well, performed in such a manner, they are really meaningless. My question is, are you guys taking the sound seriously? 

 

.... and you just commented.  :lol:    Anyway, don't worry too much, it's all in good fun and quite instructive.

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.... and you just commented.  :lol:    Anyway, don't worry too much, it's all in good fun and quite instructive.

 

I did not comment the sound aspects, to be more clear. I posted this because such tests lead to the wrong conclusions, such as all fiddles sound almost the same on recordings or firewood is the best material to make violins  ;)

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One really helpful result:  higher density wood, even with unimpressive speed of sound, can work just fine (unless power and projection are top priorities).  So more of my stock is now in the "good wood" category.

Another pleasant result:  I can imagine that my arching skills have improved so that I can get good sound out of cr@p wood, without even trying too hard.

Another good result:  I can now get back to finishing my VSA and VMAAI instruments.

 

My only concern was tonal color and core. Playability was not my problem as I was not playing them and loudness wasn't something I could judge. A certain amount of roughness / edginess is also more of an "under the ear" concern - it'll dissolve quickly in a large room. Pretty shocking the example of having one of the violins played by somebody else and in a larger room.  Then, after listening again now that the results are out, I still think 2 and 7 are the better ones, with 2 having a slight edge. That IS interesting to me because they seem to be the least "engineered" of them all. 

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I did not comment the sound aspects, to be more clear. I posted this because such tests lead to the wrong conclusions, such as all fiddles sound almost the same on recordings or firewood is the best material to make violins  ;)

 

They do sound the same if you give them to Pinchas Zukerman who is going to overdrive the daylights out of them and firewood may not be the best but it worked better than other woods in this particular test. That tells us firewood is not necessarily the worst. No more but no less.

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You can only reach wrong conclusions if you think wrongly and don't consider all aspects of the test.  There are right conclusions to be reached, too.

-Recording conditions matter a LOT

-Player matters a LOT

-Listener preference is not uniform

-Be suspicious of trying to make conclusions from recordings

-Heavy, low radiation ratio wood produces less overall sound (but it can still be a nice sound)

 

I'll definitely have to enter this firewood fiddle in the VMAAI "tone only" category, to get another test, with a better player, bigger room.

 

I'll also give more thought to doing a proper neck set and setup (and new strings) for the Pfretzschner fiddle, to see what it can really do,

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I too disagree with Carl's statement.  

 

It has been my experience in comparison testing that powerful players who push instruments to (or beyond) their capability will highlight what the instrument can and can not do.  Instruments played at a comfortable level sound much more the same to me.

 

At a minimum, I think a player like Pinky would create a much different ordering of preferences.  In my test, the least powerful instruments tended to be most preferred tonally.  My "good" instruments, intended as powerful soloist violins, would probably do far better with a player like Zukerman.

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I agree to disagree on this. And then, what's the point of making all these experiments then?

 

You can not possible disagree with Stross in this. And you should not. The more a player drives and holds a violin to the limit , the less acess he has to the tonal variety. Pinchas is a great violin player but his constant tight tone does not let for a lot of sophistication. This style of playing had it's day but it is going out of fashion. I will say it is already out of fashion.

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I too disagree with Carl's statement.  

 

It has been my experience in comparison testing that powerful players who push instruments to (or beyond) their capability will highlight what the instrument can and can not do.  Instruments played at a comfortable level sound much more the same to me.

 

At a minimum, I think a player like Pinky would create a much different ordering of preferences.  In my test, the least powerful instruments tended to be most preferred tonally.  My "good" instruments, intended as powerful soloist violins, would probably do far better with a player like Zukerman.

 

" Instruments played at a comfortable level sound much more the same to me."  it means you need to educate your ear urgently.  You seem like a very promising maker but each sentence in your post tells me you have major misconseption about violin tone and violin playing. Without some understanding of the sophistications of violin tone and playing you will not know how what you make sounds and works for the player. I enjoyed your test but if you could play half the volume and with less rosin we could hear much more.

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Gosh Don, sorry I suggested a blind test now, I would have thought "we" could have had a fun educational experiment that "we" could all enjoy, but apparently not.

 

I'll keep my negative comments about negative comments about the test to myself...again disagreement or disparaging words fine, it's how it's said that matters.

 

There are plenty of people who found it beneficial, more than did not. People who are suggesting that those that found the test helpful or educational, or yourself for doing it the way you did, that "we" are lacking somehow is extremely presumptuous, which of course most people find distasteful. 

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I'll keep my negative comments about negative comments about the test to myself...again disagreement or disparaging words fine, it's how it's said that matters.

 

There are plenty of people who found it beneficial, more than did not. People who are suggesting that those that found the test helpful or educational, or yourself for doing it the way you did, that "we" are lacking somehow is extremely presumptuous, which of course most people find distasteful. 

 

This is not negative coments - it is constructive criticism. Don has good ear. He needs to study well a short piece like a small fragment from a Mozart Sonata. Then he can compare with many other violins and players in recordings. This way much more information about his violins is available. We can give more reliable opinions and Don's violin making benefits.

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