Which instrument should you avoid before you settle for nothing more than that “pretty voice.”
The answer: both. They’re just different.
“It gets more and more difficult to perform high-contrast and complex music when you can’t just make the same notes appear on one string and play the same notes and get them to sound the same,” says Scott McFarland, the violin-maker’s resident musician.
“One of the things that I love about a cello is the way all of the strings sound.”
McFarland, whose work has been published in the British Journal of Music, has made the case that the best way to achieve the same musical results as a cello at higher volumes is to get to understand the way an acoustic microphone, which is like a pair of high-end speakers, works.
He explains that for a real cello to be used, the sound comes from the upper strings, but when the sound comes out at the bottom of the cello’s body, which is what you hear in an instrument’s high-gain transducer, there’s a tiny loss — as much as one-thousandth of the original sound coming from the highs.
“It’s like the sound is coming out one end and then a second is in,” he says.
The result is that at high volume, “you get this sort of sound that’s very distinct,” McFarland says with emphasis.
The same isn’t true at low volume, McFarland says. It’s like a sound that is muffled in a high-powered headphone, which makes it feel like it’s coming “from the bottom of the microphone,” he says.
McFarland wants to make high-sensitivity acoustic microphones like those in many phones, for phones to be more accurate than low-sensitivity ones, such as those in earphones, for music listening by people with hearing damage.
For cellophones, McFarland proposes a system in which the transducer is only one or two strings, so the sound waves can be amplified as high as possible without getting muffled.
“If you can get to that point, you can make this kind of thing that sounds amazing,” he says.
“It’s kind of a compromise, but it’s the way that I want to make music.”
One other note on how much the higher-volume sound might be worth: If you put a
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