Hi Tracye, I play and compare the way the violin sounds to other violins and pick my favorite. I like a rich sound that rings after lifting the bow off of the instrument and I like to see the strings vibrate as I play them. Personally, I hate the sound of steel strings and prefer the sound of synthetic core strings, but a set will cost around $100. The price is worth it to me because the sound quality is better and I like the warm tone as opposed to the harsh tinny sound of steel strings (about $30 for a set.) If you personally do not hear a difference in sound, I would suggest having someone else play the violin and play the same song on another violin. As far as buying a quality violin, mine came from a well known shop in San Francisco that supplies and repairs instruments for the San Francisco Symphony.