In 2012, Claudia Fritz from Sorbonne University packed a small concert hall near Paris with 55 volunteers from the violin world, including musicians, violin makers, music critics, composers, and more. From the stage, she asked seven internationally renowned soloists to play six violins. Three of these were new. The other three were Stradivarius violins, built by Italian craftsman Antonio Stradivari during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Stradivari reportedly made around 1,100 violins and violas. Around half of these survive today, along with the perception of their exceptional quality. They’re favored by the world’s top players, and they fetch millions at auction—not just because of their antique status and unquestionably fine craftsmanship, but because of their sound. Stradivarius violins supposedly just sound better than their modern counterparts.
But try telling that to the listeners at Fritz’s concert hall. Without knowing beforehand which instrument was which, they couldn’t tell the difference between the Strads and the new violins. More than that, they felt that the new violins projected better. And when Fritz repeated the experiment with 82 other listeners at a different venue in New York, they came to the same conclusion, and found that people also preferred the sound of the new instruments. “It was a very well conducted experiment with no room for cheating or tweaking of results,” says Martin Swan, a violin dealer who specializes in old and rare instruments, and who was one of Fritz’s assembled listeners. “I’m sure these will be challenged and sputtered over by the old guard.”