Originally Posted by Arthur Stone
There were some flaws in the test, but basically, these results have been known for decades. There was a better test some years ago, whereby dealers who regularly handle Strads, and players who regularly play them, could not tell the difference in sound from a Strad and a high quality 'working' violin (IIRC, a J.B. Vuillaume was tested, a Pressenda, a Roca, and I believe some top modern violins) when blindfolded. However, concert violinists were able to tell instantly when playing one.
I don't think that it's surprising that your average competition-level violinist doesn't have the skill to make use of these instruments, or that even a trained audience can't tell you don't have one. It's not that these people aren't highly skilled. They just may not be on that rare level for whom the difference is important, or desireable, and they may not have handled enough Strads to know how to get the most out of them.
In the same respect, I don't think the average or even highly skilled engineer can necessarily tell the difference between the sound of, say, a vintage LA3A and a reissue, on a finished recording. Someone working the controls who is looking for something specific, however, might not be able to get what they want if they get the wrong unit. It's not that either are better or worse. It's just whether that one particular quality that you're looking for is there or not. However, if you don't know that you're looking for it, you might not do any worse if you don't have it.