17 November 2019

Sound analysis

The Neolin is characterized by a particular color of sound, often described by those who have tried or heard it as more “dry”, more “in the bass”, more “precise” or even more “modern”. So what can we say about the sound when we analyze it in comparison with a classical violin?

This is what did Pierre-André Fautrier, sound engineer at Radio France. A Neolin of the second series was compared to an 18th-century Italian violin of the first order, both played by Sarah Nemtanu, first solo violin of the National Orchestra of France, and recorded under the best conditions imaginable (that is, the most neutral possible ), in the studios of Radio France.

The analyzes confirm what the ear hears:

The classical violin has a very “unbalanced” harmonic band, which means: high-order resonances are often more powerful than lower-order harmonics, with a clear concentration in the areas around 1500 Hz and 3500 Hz. This is what contributes to the particular “singing” and “mellow” timbre of the classical violin. This is also what makes it so difficult to amplify, because if the chosen amplification system’s sensitivity is not concentrated in these frequencies, the sound is inevitably distorted. The strong point of the piezo system are the very high frequencies, in the tens of thousands of Hz – not only in these regions doesn’t the human ear hear any more, in addition the harmonics of the violin begin to considerably weaken from around 6000 Hz.

The Neolin, with a total power of different harmonics roughly equal to that of the classical violin, offers a very different picture: The first 10 to 15 harmonics are all about equal in power, with only the fundamental one a bit higher. So that’s what makes the sound more “dry”, less “singing” too. In the neighborhoods of 500 and 3000 Hz, we find on the Neolin a “breath”, which helps to distinguish its timbre from that of the classical violin. I am tempted to dare a comparison between a “belcanto” voice for the classical violin and a “jazzy” voice for the Neolin … During the sound analysis, the anti-mute shows its usefulness: fundamentals are even more powerful, and more acute harmonics: more power, more aggressiveness. The amplification of the Neolin has surprised us: besides the fundamentals, the average harmonics (around 2000 Hz) are particularly well amplified, with the “breath” also present at amplification. Unlike the standard piezos, which exacerbate the treble, the “boton” pickup installed in the Neolin “cut” around 7000 Hz, about the 15th harmonic, except for very high notes that develop harmonics up to About 20,000 Hz. A little disappointed with this rather different result (on paper) compared to the sound without amplification, we were quickly reassured by the sound engineer who often records amplified violins – according to him, the Neolin was much better than what he was used to hear! In fact, by making a setting that boosts the fundamental, and that inhibits the treble (3/4 bass, 1/2 medium, 1/4 treble on an acoustic amp for example), we obtain a sound very close to the natural sound. What is surprising is that it is necessary to turn down the treble, although they are not very present at the start!

That would explain why most piezos do not sound natural: We can remove their aggressiveness by lowering the treble, but most of the sound information is precisely contained in these trebles, the few sound information remaining in the bass does not have much to do with what the ear hears while listening to the non-amplified instrument! An electromagnetic microphone would rather work the way the “boton” does: a lot of sensitivity in the first 10,000 Hz, at 20,000 it cuts off.   For acoustic “cracks” who would like more in-depth analysis, I have graphs and recordings that I could provide!