Here is a popular description of an excellent experiment (done by a colleague of mine at LAM, Paris 6). The attendant paper is C. Fritz, J. Curtin, J. Poitevineau, P. Morrel-Samuels, and F.-C. Tao, “Player preferences among new and old violins”, PNAS http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1114999109. Surprisingly, this paper already has a Wikipedia page!
Of course, with conclusions like, “We found that (i) the most-preferred violin was new; (ii) the least-preferred was by Stradivari …” there is certain to be controversy. Here is a NY Times article containing criticism by a few professional musicians: that the tests were conducted in a hotel room and not a concert hall, that it takes time for a musician to get to know an instrument, and that quality varies among the instruments by great luthiers of history. I think the last two criticisms have more merit, but for the first, we can just say this study shows one should play million dollar violins in large reverberant spaces because in smaller rooms — the kind of space where the violin will spend most of its time resonating — they don’t sound as good (or play as well) as new more modestly priced instruments.
This article will provide an excellent example of experimental design for my course on the analysis and design of experiments this semester.