Musicians’ ability to perceive and present their unique sound is greatly influenced by the acoustical properties of a given performance space. Musical properties such as dynamics, timbre, intonation, and tempo are closely dependent on spatial acoustics. As a consequence, the musical score and orchestration are often affected by the acoustic environment in which the composer intends to have the music performed. An experimental virtual acoustic system at McGill University located in a large scoring stage was used to examine the effect of spatial acoustics on musicians’ assessments of spatial quality of the sound field enveloping them during performance. Three acoustic conditions presented distinct room acoustic characteristics, including reverberation time, clarity, stage support, early lateral energy, and interaural cross correlation coefficient. Eleven professional string quartets, 44 musicians, were invited to render subjective evaluations by responding to surveys after performing under each condition. Results showed a strong preference for virtual acoustics over the natural acoustics of the space. Factor analysis revealed three primary underlying perceptual dimensions: stage support, spatial impression, and tonal balance. “Quality of reverberation (naturalness),” “amount of reverberation,” “hearing other musicians,” and “height sensation” were salient attributes highly correlated with their preferences.
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