A432 Tuning – Bullpoop or Other?

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio, Tech 8 Comments

NOBSSomeone called me an “Audio Mythbuster” a long time ago. Especially when dealing with audio “folklore”, I’ve never been one to accept statements that are purporting to be fact but sound more like subjective opinion.

Same Page

Now for those of you who haven’t heard about this, there are a number of sites and blogs out there that discuss the merits of using A432 as a tuning standard. To get everyone on the same page, a tuning standard is a pitch that is used as a reference by which to tune your instrument. In common practice, the A above middle C on a piano is tuned to 440 Hz – meaning that the strings struck by that piano key vibrate 440 times per second – hence the name A440.

Before an orchestra plays, the note that you hear played by an oboe is an A (usually A440, but orchestras sometimes tune below or above that frequency for various reasons). The overwhelmingly vast majority of commercial music is tuned to A440.

The Fun Out on the Internet Tubes…

Just Google “A440 vs. A432” or “A440 conspiracy” and you’ll get a nice bunch of reading. Here are a few the I found:

Facepalm

And some of my favourites (with cool late 90’s HTML skills):

The claimed benefits from playing and listening to music tuned to A432 range from better health, world peace and universal harmony to just plain “it sounds better”. There are even theories that Hitler changed the tuning standard to A440 for a whole list of nefarious reasons. Some theories go back to Bach being some evil mastermind promoting A440 with his Well-Tempered Klavier work.

Putting Your Ears to the Test

Regardless, this all lead me to put something together that brings some sort of objectivity to the debate.

Below, I’ve posted several clips of two pieces – a little Jazz jam and selected excerpts from Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 8 No. 13 (Pathetique).

The general parameters:

  • All instruments are synth / sample-based.
  • Equal-tempered scales are used.
  • I’ve inserted a few seconds of pink noise before each example to clean the auditory pallet if you will.
  • All examples are 320kb fixed bitrate MP3s.

I used different sections from the Beethoven Sonata and kept the song in the original key (C minor). The jazz jam is the same identical clip, but transposed half-steps (semi-tones) away from the original so that your brain will have to “reset” what you perceive as the tonal centre of the example. The difference between A440 and A432 is 31.8 cents – a difference that is easily perceptible to the human ear if the examples were played back-to-back. I wanted to make each example of the same music stand on its own as much as possible.

img_1467

I don’t care if you get a special feeling, find some sort of inner peace or reject the importance of the number 42. I’d like to see whether there is a “significant” number of votes correctly identifying the example(s) that are tuned to A432 … that is to say … if any of the clips are indeed tuned to A432.

If tuning to A432 does have some significance, then the results should show that.

Please just use your ears and no cheating with any analysis tools.

Beethoven Clips

Big Lou Clip 1:

Big Lou Clip 2: 

Big Lou Clip 3: 

Big Lou Clip 4: 

[yop_poll id=”3″]

 Jazz Clips

Jazz Clip 1:

Jazz Clip 2:

Jazz Clip 3:

Jazz Clip 4:

[yop_poll id=”2″]

Comments 8

  1. Alright dude, I’ve cast my votes – right or wrong tho, I urge you to reserve judgement on the 432 hz phenomenon until you’ve spent a week recording very loud music for a week in that tuning out in the forest on solar power – that was my “experiment” – all I’m willing to say without sitting in the same pub with you is that I’ve been using that tuning ever since 😉

    1. Post
      Author

      Hey Josh! Thanks for contributing.

      I didn’t know you’d recorded that album at A432. I was totally focused on the solar powered thing. Hope you don’t think this was in response to your project!

      I personally have no qualms about tuning to a different reference, but what I’m trying to see is if there’s any significant result to whether or not A432 tuning can actually be perceived by a listener.

      All the proponents out there seem to say it sounds better (at the very least) or that it’s the answer to world peace and rebirth of unicorns. 😉

      It’s one thing to say that a tuning sounds better if you’re predisposed to the fact that it’s tuned that way – there’s a definite influence to ones judgement in that matter. It’s an entirely different thing if you’re not made aware of the tuning and then asked to make a judgement… That’s what I’m trying to get out there. Hopefully, I’ve designed this to stand up to scrutiny. 🙂

      1. Nah, no hard feelings here – I’m simply a defender of the 432 hz tuning because to me it just physically “feels” better to play/ sing in that tuning.

        When you combine an album worth of music writing/recording @ 432 hz with a week out in nature, you get a good old fashioned life changing experience 😉

  2. Hi Dave, great topic. I’m recording a children’s cd using 432 at my producer’s urging. Only time and good ears will tell about the validity of 432 vs 440. The jazz examples were more difficult to gauge for me. All I know is that music sounds a little darker, with some shrill tones made nicer at 432. I’m surfing any site and listening to any sound examples I can today. Curious as to what you find. Thanks. Larry

    1. Post
      Author

      Hey Larry,

      Great to hear from you and thanks for taking the poll! Was there any specific reasoning that your producer gave for urging you to record at A432?

      So far, it looks as though the polls are inconclusive. There is no statistically significant outlying result. A440, A432 and A448 are all getting high marks…

      We’ll see!

      Dave

  3. Hi Dave,
    My producer showed me a website and said this is a direction that some people are going in (using A=432). This piqued my curiosity. I am a Music Therapist by trade, and so I am open to anything that has the slightest possibility of making the music I play more appealing,or healing. I only wish there was more actual research done on this. Blind studies done with a group listening to music at 440 and a second group listening at 432. So, I’m trying it. It might all come down to aesthetics for me.

  4. Pingback: A432 Tuning – Bullpoop or Other? - Acoustic Fields

  5. Looks like 1/4 for Beethoven and 1/3 for the jazz piece. Are those the correct picks? I know I was “certain” of 1 and 4 in my head for Beethoven, at least. They were much more pleasing.

    I know guitars are commonly tuned to 443hz as an alternate reference, but I’d never heard of 432hz before. Very interesting.

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