Helmholtz Resonators


Accession Number: 2012.psy.84


A complete set of nineteen brass spheres with tapered openings at opposite ends. One opening is funnel shaped to allow to be inserted into the ear.

Each resonator is marked with its resonating note followed by the “K” monogram and the number of the resonator (markings are on the lip of the bottom opening). From largest to smallest, they are marked: Ut2 K 2, SoL2 K 3, Ut3 K 4, Mi3 K 5, SoL3 K 6, 7 K 7, Ut4 K 8, Re4 K 9, Mi4 K 10, 11 K 11, SoL4 K 12, 13 K 13, 14 K 14, Si4 K 15, Ut5 K 16, 17 K 17, Re5 K 18, 19 K 19, Mi5 K 20. Koenig went by the scales of UT, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si corresponding to our C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Ut2 = approx. base C, 128 Hz.

Alternative Name: Acoustic Resonators

Primary Materials: Resonators: Brass, Stand: Wood


Dimensions (cm): Height = 31, Width = 25, Length = 85


Each resonator oscillates in sympathy with a particular frequency of sound.

Condition: Excellent. The set is complete.

Associated Instruments:

Manufacturer: Rudolph Koenig, Paris

Date of Manufacture: c. 1890


Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

Donated to UTSIC: No

Historical Notes:

Helmholtz made the distinction between complex sound (musical sounds or vocalizations) and “pure tones” central to his investigations of auditory sensation and perception. Resonators established that “musical tones are the simpler and more regular elements of the sensations of hearing, and that we have consequently first to study the laws and peculiarities of this class of sensations.” [Helmholtz 1863, p. 43.]

Helmholtz’s theories of sound had a considerable impact on those interested in physics, psychology and music. Helmholtz viewed music as the one art form that had “withdrawn itself from scientific treatment” [Helmholtz, 1857.] Following the publication of his famous treatise on sound, Helmholtz inspired a number of researchers to make more serious studies of the laws underlying music.

Rudolph Koenig, the maker of the above set of resonators, made a career out of “building Helmholtz’s ideas into apparatus.” [Boring, 1942.] Rudolph Koenig was born and educated in Koenigsberg, East Prussia (currently Kaliningrad, Russia). In 1851 Koenig moved to Paris to apprentice under Vuillaume, the celebrated violin maker. Inspired by the new research of Herman von Helmholtz and the growing “science of musical sounds,” Koenig started his own scientific instrument business in 1858. He quickly gained an international reputation for the quality, precision and beauty of his acoustical instruments. In 1862 and in 1876, Koenig won Gold Medals at the London and the Philadelphia exhibitions, respectively.

1) Helmholtz, Hermann von. 1863. Die Lehre den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik. Braunschweig: F. Vieweg und Sohn.

2) Boring, Edwin Garrigues. 1942. Sensation and perception in the history of experimental psychology. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co.

3) Pantalony, David Altered sensations : Rudolph Koenig’s acoustical workshop in nineteenth-century Paris. New York : Springer, c2009.