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Purple Sounds Best: A Matter Of Mass Psychology
We’re probably nowhere near as objective about sound as we think
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Purple loudspeakers sound better than black ones. At least that’s what I hear when I see them. And plaid loudspeakers sound, well, more complex, with additional harmonics.

Think I’m crazy? Actually, this is a real effect. Well, not purple versus black versus plaid loudspeakers, exactly. But a carefully controlled test might prove something along these lines, as evidenced by recent scientific reports about how the brain fills in some of the gaps, or even obscures certain things, due to input sources other than sound.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or possibly been working on the road nonstop for the past year or so, you’ve likely caught wind of the recent flap about how Stradivarius – the “gold standard” of violins - aren’t always preferred by violinists. That is, if they don’t know it’s a Stradivarius they’re playing.

What’s A Classic?

Claudia Fritz, a researcher at the University of Paris, conducted an experiment at an international violin competition. The gist of it is that 21 violinists played six different violins, three of which were highly prized “classics” (made by Stradivarius and Guarneri del Jesu in the 1700s), and three of which were modern instruments.

The musicians were outfitted with welding goggles so they could only see the outlines of the instruments, the room was darkened, and the instruments were distributed in random order. To cover the smell of the older instruments, all were dabbed with perfume. The musicians played and then ranked the instruments in order of playability, projection, tone color, and response.

For the most part, the modern instruments were preferred, and one of the Strads was even deemed “worst” by a majority of the players. Further, they were unable to distinguish between old and new instruments, and no link was found between the age of the instruments, their value, and musicians’ preferences. For perspective, the three old violins had a combined value of about $10 million, and the three new ones totaled about $100,000 - a 100x difference!

Perhaps you’ve also heard, at least anecdotally, about wine tastings where the identity of the wines were masked, and even educated connoisseurs favored cheaper vintages. In one case, blindfolded tasters could not even tell the difference between white and red!

Of course it’s long been argued that short-duration blind tests only tell us part of the story. Longer term exposure, the argument goes, provides a greater depth of understanding of what we’re looking at, tasting, or listening to. But what all of these studies point out is that psychology, even mass psychology, play significant roles in our everyday choices, whether these choices are for personal or professional reasons.


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