Someone 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.
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:
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.
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.
Big Lou Clip 1:
Big Lou Clip 2:
Big Lou Clip 3:
Big Lou Clip 4:[yop_poll id=”3″]
Jazz Clip 1:
Jazz Clip 2:
Jazz Clip 3:
Jazz Clip 4:[yop_poll id=”2″]