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JBond

Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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5 hours ago, phenix said:

SN2.jpg

 

What is that? The operator's left hand suggests a musical instrument but shirely not.

JBond, the spy recorders are fascinating and your commitment to research is striking. I'm sure you know there were a few spy cameras disguised as other things, I am wondering if you have come across R2R recorders disguised as other things, eg a watch, hip flask etc? Of course the miniaturisation of the devices you've posted would allow them to be hidden inside things more easily and the billet style boxes they are housed don't necessarily reveal what they do (without a microphone plugged in) but they do make them quite enigmatic and once found on a gentlemen's person would raise suspicion I would think.

As Jez mentioned the 'Crevette' I thought I would ask if you have 1 in your collection (even though it's not an audio recorder) or any other co-axel R2R recorders?

Kind Regards.

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The picture is a Nagra SN attached on top a mixer inside a carrying case with some sort of time code. I guess only the poster knows for sure.

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It might be some kind of scene/take recording; it seems that the (external) display shows what the preset control in front of the Nagra is set to.

I am quite curious about the device, I have never seen it before. But it seems that he SN (as well other Nagra models, in whole or in parts) was often used as an OEM device. F. ex. the the first SQN3 was made as an add on-mixer for the SN. I have also seen several Frankenstein-like contraptions with Nagra IV-drive mechanisms and multitrack heads and electronics for instrumentation purposes. And of course the very fine David Lane BBC player/synchronizer...

So if anybody knows about the SN suitcase, it would be interesting to hear about.

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I used the SQN3/Nagra SN set-up c.2000 and it was really very cool but the photo shows quite a different beast - much bigger for starters. The SN I used was often velcro'd to an Aaton XTR by the DP when he was OMB'ing in Afghanistan in the 80's, perhaps this is similar set-up, this might explain the handle the operator is holding (which is strange thing to have on a mixer), but there is no lens or eyepiece visible and there is another handle on the top of the unidentified box which isn't very camera like so this is not much of a theory, just lots of conjecture :-)

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Nagra SN paired with the Noriyuki 3x1 mixer ( Dutch reinvention of the first SQN-3 type C mixer) Noriyuki engineer/inventor Wim Van der Linden  named the Noriyuki to sound Japanese.  The mixer is nested into a Nagra 4.2 chassis case (note Nagra carry handle).   In addition, Nagra 4.2 case holds 2 hidden Cetec-Vega Diversity receivers (note the antenna right angle connector at top rear).    A green fiberglass "frogpole" emerges from the front.    CP-16R handgrip with on-off switch for the SN recorder and pushbutton to activate Audio Services incandescent 7-segment display bloop slate.  Nicad "D" cells powered the mixer/recorder/wireless assembly.  The lightweight rig was shoulder-mounted.  The attached photo may show a  Sennheiser 404 in use.  American Cinematographer Oct 1979, p.1040-1066.  Production sound was recorded double system 16mm film / SN mono at top speed of 3.75 ips (specs: 60-17k +-2),  for NBC prime time operating-room-based 13-part series "Lifeline".  Photos by Rich Lerner

SN Rig.jpg

noriyuki.jpg

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Wow, that's awesome.

Someone should remake this thing. Maybe with a zoom F8 or similar so a lightweight meter bridge/mixer surface (iphone) could be mounted on the boompole saving the operator from straining to check/adjust levels. The deluxe version could have a joystick to control the direction of the mic :-) 

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CORRECTION: The Noriyuki SNM-3 mixer was a 2x1 design, not  3x1.  And the rig in these photos had only one Vega Traveller II diversity receiver in it.    The production supplied an identical SN recorder to the transfer house, along with a Nagra LPS transfer unit.  The production tracks were transferred to 16mm mag fullcoat.  Weight of rig was 1/2 that of Nagra 4.2 with receiver and enough tape to record all day.  Diameter of sound person at waist level was approximately 1/2 that of a sound person with Nagra 4.2 + wireless and enough tape to run for one day.  Navigation through crowded surgical units was facilitated by the reduced profile.

NORIYUKI SNM-3.jpg

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That's a nice little unit by itself.

I wonder if that first unit was put together by the company as advertising for the SNM-3 setup. Showing the small size with everything included.  Inside a gutted Nagra which everyone was using at that time, to show the difference? One just a recorder that everyone used,  the other with everything inside that same size recorder.  It's probably one of a kind inside that 4.2 case.

Must have been a cost savings idea. I would think to have a boom operator with a soundman sitting in front of the mixer and controls, would be a much better outcome. Unless I'm missing something here.

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I love what seems to be a bit of camera tape holding the pop gag on the mic - has it previously dropped off into the open wound?? Or am I reading too much into a rather grainy image? 

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1 hour ago, Nick Flowers said:

I love what seems to be a bit of camera tape holding the pop gag on the mic - has it previously dropped off into the open wound?? Or am I reading too much into a rather grainy image? 

Funny you should ask, because in the late 1980s I was working for Nova on a Parkinson's disease documentary where we were shooting brain surgery at Vanderbilt. I was using a Schoeps MK41/CMC5 microphone and suspension on a "frog pole", nearly identical to the photo above except I had a solid foam tear drop instead of the basket windscreen in the photo. Before going into the O.R. the nurse was spraying all of our equipment with disinfectant, and when she started to spray my microphone I talked her out of it, explaining that it would be in the air never touching anything. Well, as the lights heated up the room, the foam windscreen loosened and fell off of the mic toward the opening in the patient's head. Thankfully, it just missed the opening and bounced off the side of the patient's head. Of course, the piece of equipment that almost went straight to the medulla was the only thing that hadn't been sprayed. I remember the brain surgeon's eyes glaring past his mask. So, yes, the piece of camera tape is probably a good idea.

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There but for the Grace of God went I! I used to work for the BBC programme City Hospital, which quite often meant covering operations - surgeons could be quite skittish when I came to put radio mics on them. I always thought that the Anaesthetists were the Sound Men of the operating theatre, (the unsung and undervalued heroes) and the surgeons were the cameramen (hogging the limelight and disproportionately pleased with themselves). 

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Yes, that probably is tape you see.  Your story about falling parts resonates.  Not sure the camera tape would have totally secured it, but as I recall, that pop screen basket fit tightly on the microphone--but the foam teardrop sometimes would be missing and you'd wonder where it went!  

The gutted Nagra was a new part supplied by N.M.R.Inc. in NY from their parts list.  The chassis-half at the time was under $100.  The phenolic battery case with spring-loaded contacts, handle mounting hardware, and the stainless battery door were also purchased new, housed the power supply for the rig. 

A boom person and a mixer could have been the right way to do it, but it wasn't a cost-saving decision.  There was money.  Flying into Rocky Mountain backcountry not sure what would be there, jumping out of a helicopter to pick up a patient with major trauma, it was cramped all the way back to the roof of the hospital, running into the elevator and through to the sometimes tiny operating room--the care providers wanted to see the smallest crew, so there were major compromises and risks were taken at times.

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Dating and Reverse Record

Note:  I am showing these vintage tape recorders as part of my collection only.  They are out of service and no longer used in the manner they were designed, but remain a part of audio recording history.  It should not be considered in any way as endorsing or promoting any activity contrary to applicable laws and regulations.  

 
I came across a way to finally date the early recorders or at least get them in the ball park. With help from a UK transistor collector site I found on line.    http://www.wylie.org.uk/technology/technology.htm
Yup there are people that have a transistor collection. No, not transistor radios. Not tape recorders, but just the transistors. That person helped me date a later covert recorder I have with very early IC's.
 
Since I learned something about transistors today, and how to date them.  I thought I would check to see what transistors those early Resin Recorders that I earlier posted in this thread.
Remember I said they drilled holes in the resin recorders for the transistors etc to sit in. Well I dug out a couple of them to see what they were.
Look what I found.
1956 and 57,  Raytheon transistors. I knew these recorders were made in the 50’s  Which was a pretty good guess back in 2002 since there was No information about them anywhere.
 
01yrSBx.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

The date code on the other side. This one is 1957 the 24th week.

YMfgwVn.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

Another one.

 
EZJnkEN.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

The date code on the other side, 6-01.  1956 1st week. Its safe to say these are not 1955 recorders. But they are 1956 or 1957 in my opinion. 

 
vw1NR8m.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

Some of you must think I’m crazy for collecting tape recorders. 

There is a whole group of people out there who get all excited over just transistors.
I thought yeah that sounds real exciting, but then again these sites helped me out and are very valuable for research.
Much more than what I do with my collection. 
 
So more proof those first transistor CIA recorders I have are from the 50's. 
I said earlier the recorders were late fifties to early sixties.
I think its more like mid to late 50’s 
 

They even have Museums for transistors. 

http://semiconductormuseum.com/PhotoGallery/PhotoGallery_RaytheonBlues_Page6.htm

 
 
Just think.
In 1956 to 1958 while Stefan Kudelski was making the Nagra II Ci and the "NEW"1958 Nagra III.  
(the first Nagra to use transistors). 
The CIA was using the best transistor technology at the time to secretly make these tiny covert recorders in upper state New York.
 

H6OWIFn.jpg

 
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 

So after making that statement above, I wondered what did Nagra use at that time?

So I opened up my 1958 and 1967 Nagra III to see what they used.

Most of the transistors must be in those metal boxes, the only one I found easily is here on this board show below.
In Europe they started making this type of transistor back in 1954 the OC 72 
Information can be found about it here. http://www.wylie.org.uk/technology/semics/Mullard/Mullard.htm
 
I found this transistor on a board on my 1958 Nagra III
 
WPjBev7.jpg
 
On the same board below on my 1967 a  ASY 27 transistor, common from 1962 to 1974 in
 Europe
 
 
f6qk8T6.jpg
 
 
 
 
 

1956-57 Reverse Record

 

I found out something interesting, I was in the process of taking new pictures of these first 1956 CIA recorders for a different project on Miniature Covet Recorders

nothing new for Jwsound. 

 

I thought since I do have these recorders on Jwsound I would update the story just in case someone was interested and did follow the posts of these recorders.

 

GhZqpJn.jpg

 

  

I made this video to show what I’m talking about.  Watch what happens as I turn the motor over by hand forward, then backwards.

Notice the flywheel moves from side to side engaging one of the two capstan drives (the two smaller wheels) at the top of the recorder and one drive wheel at a time as shown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A - B means, A side, B side of the tape.

 

 

BAePUlS.jpg

 

 

For what I can tell these little recorders record on either the top or bottom half of the tape, depending whether A or B side is selected. There is no mechanical control at all to engage the tape like on “all” the later covert recorders.  On these first mid 1950’s recorders, it was all done electronically. 

On the later recorders that followed, when you selected play or record a mechanical lever would engage the flywheel to the motor.

That is not the case on these very early recorders.  To reverse direction of the main flywheel as shown in the video, you just reverse the direction of the motor by the A-B switch on the front control panel.  The Flywheel is on a floating cam and rolls from one side to the other side depending on the direction of the rotation of the motor.

 

I knew these recorders had two capstans but I never really cared or looked into how it worked until now.  Only one capstan works at a time. When the motor is electronically reversed, the flywheel slides over and the opposite capstan is engaged against the tape.  Also engaged is the correct drive reel.  Recording is done on only one half of the tape, top or bottom depending whether A or B  is selected.  Just like the late model microcassette and cassette recorders with auto reverse, but remember, this recorder is from1956, the Nagra II era.

 

On these first CIA recorders, the covers were screwed down, top and bottom.  On this reverse record model, you “never” had to unscrew the top cover, manually remove the reels, turn the tape over and reassemble the unit to continue on.  You just switched the knob to the B side, the motor reverses direction continuing the recording on the bottom half of the tape.  This is how I thought it might work after studying it but, to be sure, I unscrewed the head so I could see the face of it.  Sure enough, it has two separate tracks in the one head - this is not a two-channel model

 

Koo3GWP.jpg

 

 

(Think of what it would have been like if as a Soundman recording a movie on the Nagra III, 4.2 or even the 4S . 

You're recording, as the tape is getting close to the end you flip a switch and continue the recording non stop on both sides of the tape. Probably many reasons why that could not happen,  but on these little recorders it did.) 

 

By the way what did you do when the tape was running out ? yell out? wave your arms ? nod?

That must be one of the things that became extinct,  stop everything because you’re out of tape.

 

 

 

None of the other little covert recorders have this reverse record feature.  For all the others to this day, you had to turn the tape over to record on the top or bottom half of the tape, unless it was a full track recorder.  As you can see in the picture, the head will record on both the top and bottom of the tape, instead of the normal flip the tape over. 

This is mid 1950’s.

 

jpazSna.jpg

 

 

The 1957 recorder shown in the above picture works the same way with the rolling flywheel but only has one capstan drive.  It does not reverse record but I believe it rewinds the tape. That 1957 shown may be the first two-channel recorder using two microphones.  I have a few of the two capstan recorders which did span a few years according to the dated transistors. 

 

As advanced as this little reverse recorder was for the mid 50’s, I can see why the reverse record was not continued on in later model covert recorders. 

 I would think,  it would be much too easy in a very high stress situation, while recording covertly, to accidentally turn the knob or forget what side it should be on (A or B and erase over something already recorded on the other side.  Whereas, if you had to turn the tape over by hand, it would certainly add a level of insurance to preserve what was previously recorded. 

That is, if you don’t pull the doomsday magnet deploy string … then it’s all over.  

 

7nY3qmF.jpg

 

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The Second Recorder - 1960-62

Note:  I am showing these vintage tape recorders as part of my collection only.  They are out of service and no longer used in the manner they were designed, but remain a part of audio recording history.  It should not be considered in any way as endorsing or promoting any activity contrary to applicable laws and regulations.  

 

 

I’m going to post some more information about the rest of my covert recorders in order and the reason why I think these little recorders led up to "Nagra being the number one covert recorder manufacturer in history and still is today."
 I certainly do not know all of the details - this is only what I think happened.
 
There is NO detailed information anywhere about these little recorders that I know of and probably will never be any information unless I start telling the story and just maybe others that know about this U.S. covert recorder history will either add what they know to the story or let me know what I have wrong.
 
Otherwise, everyone that knows about these recorders will be gone and this U.S. secret covert recorder history will never be told. I believe the retired agents know the story, it's just not told.
Hopefully, someone can add to the story.  Right now I don’t know of anyone that can.  Maybe that will change.
 

Here is what I call the second model spy recorder.  It’s the same model that is in the Washington DC International Spy museum and probably the most common early covert recorder to find or see in print. One just like it just sold on eBay March 6th for 898.88. I would say it sold for a good price. This is so much rarer than a  common Nagra SN 

Xp7v1On.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
Although some of the other early style resin recorders in this stack shown below could have been the second model, each one is a little different with improvements.
These first resin recorders were made from 1956 through 1959.  It’s hard to tell.  As I said before, it looks like they were experimenting, each one is a little different but maybe they were years apart - I just don’t know.  I do know the transistors date the recorders. These have 1956 and 1957 transistors in them. 
 
LChAnPP.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

That mysterious 2 channel model on the very bottom left of this stack, maybe there’s more to this story that we just don’t know about and may never will, unless a former CIA agent chimes in with the hands on truth, otherwise, it’s all speculation. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from someone who actually used these recorders and hear their stories? 

Where have we heard that statement before?
 
 
 
If these first recorders are about 59 years old or more and the agent back then was 25 at the time, the agents are well in their 80’s now. One thing I have to say about these first recorders - I think the mechanics were of much better quality; maybe not as pretty and simple but better made.
The pictures below are comparisons with the first resin recorder with what I think is the second covert recorder side by side. I would date this second one between 1960 and  1962.  Notice the primitive hand-drawn battery info on the inside of the rear lid on the first recorder.  Notice the bottom has a rubber gasket covering the edge of the cover. The top is also that way.  Extra cautious in protecting the recorder whereas the second and recorders to follow have no sealing gaskets. 
 
It’s clear these second recorders were not made in that same Upper NY State machine shop, since the plastic on the second one looks molded and not machined like the first series. I’m sure a totally different contractor made these second units with a totally different process. I have read Canada also used this 2nd model. 
 
YcNullf.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
In this next picture you clearly can tell from looking at the decks of these two units they are made through a different process, one shows all the machine marks,  the other smooth and shiny.  The motor is also larger on the later model.  You can clearly see how they are starting to evolve. As will be even clearer with the next model. 
On these first ones look at all the tape path guides, look at the side rollers like on a Nagra, with the little pad, for cleaning the tape?  Looks like some had two Caspian drives with adjustments.  The two adjustment screws behind the head possibly for speed?  It’s clear they put a lot more thought into making these first models.  It’s almost as if the next ones were cheaper made or maybe just made simpler. 
 
Also shown below the little erase lever is pulled and magnet pushed up to touch the reel. That infamous erase magnet no longer to be used and any other covert recorder that I know of.  Compare that to the second model’s little erase head off to the side. 
 
IPUNMwf.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

On the first recorders look at that tension arm and roller like on the Nagra - only this one has a felt pad to remove any tape residue. That guide roller was also dropped and never used again until the Nagra SN

 
h5iSk6S.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

The second one now has a hinged metal lid and hinged metal bottom cover. No parts to deal with. No need to unscrew the lid to get to the tape or change the batteries. 

 
gOs8ed4.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
6N75LFc.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
Notice the additional shielding on the cover for over the motor and head. 
Another big important difference is the addition of the wired remote on/off. From this point on, it’s been on all recorders to follow even today's covert recorders.  And of course the solid plastic solid reel. I don’t recall ever seeing reels like this on any other recorder unless the reels were clear when new and clouded over time.  Now with the cloudiness, it would be harder to see the remaining tape. 
 
 XeAM3n5.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
Shown here with the tape going around the erase head, not as quick as yanking on the string, that’s for sure.
 
 
Y01cOJI.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

You can also see that the circuitry on this second model is finer and less crude, the transistors (not shown) are very small I would have to disassemble the whole recorder to see them - at some point, I will, but if I haven’t done it already I guess I never will.  Someone added a couple wire leads for an external battery or power supply since the mercury battery is no longer available. 

 
You can also see the downfall to this type recorder as the main flywheel has damage from leaving it in the play position for decades. The flywheel diameter is critical as it has to touch a few of the drive wheels all at the same time depending on what function it’s in.  The switches are also a separate part on this second recorder. On the first recorder, they were part of the milling process. The second recorder was clearly more mass produced. 
I would’ve loved to tell who ever made these recorders to just mill a groove in the flywheel and put an O-ring around it.  Instead, they used what looked like white RTV silicone and trimmed it once dry?
 
The second recorder does have some improvements but I still think these first recorders were made better.
 
kPNRGpb.jpg
Photos marked with RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 

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On 3/22/2016 at 0:41 PM, phenix said:

Nagra SN paired with the Noriyuki 3x1 mixer ( Dutch reinvention of the first SQN-3 type C mixer) Noriyuki engineer/inventor Wim Van der Linden  named the Noriyuki to sound Japanese.  The mixer is nested into a Nagra 4.2 chassis case (note Nagra carry handle).   In addition, Nagra 4.2 case holds 2 hidden Cetec-Vega Diversity receivers (note the antenna right angle connector at top rear).    A green fiberglass "frogpole" emerges from the front.    CP-16R handgrip with on-off switch for the SN recorder and pushbutton to activate Audio Services incandescent 7-segment display bloop slate.  Nicad "D" cells powered the mixer/recorder/wireless assembly.  The lightweight rig was shoulder-mounted.  The attached photo may show a  Sennheiser 404 in use.  American Cinematographer Oct 1979, p.1040-1066.  Production sound was recorded double system 16mm film / SN mono at top speed of 3.75 ips (specs: 60-17k +-2),  for NBC prime time operating-room-based 13-part series "Lifeline".  Photos by Rich Lerner

SN Rig.jpg

noriyuki.jpg

I remember this article, and also remember thinking that this was the most radical approach to boom-mic-based verite audio I'd ever seen. We tried to build up a similar rig out of lesser gear and failed--too awkward.  Did you ever use this rig on another job?

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Sheesh, I recently tried to buy 1 of these but I was a bit too enthusiastic and my friend decided to keep it! I'll ask him again in a year when he's realised he'll probably never look at it again :-)

d r

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On February 1, 2015 at 6:36 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

Question for Philip: I had 2 stereo Nagras but rarely used them in production myself, purchased for Northstar Media Sound Services, a post production and sound transfer facility I co-owned with Don Coufal and Roger Daniell. One of them had the timecode conversion that was done by a guy in San Francisco --- I have forgotten his name. It was the one that had the really neat timecode display that sat on the top surface of the machine between the ff/rw toggle switch and the lid latch in front. It was a beautiful conversion, far superior in my mind to the Nagra implementation with the bottom slide out control panel.

I remember the Harvey mod.  Nice, but the display chewed batteries.

On February 2, 2015 at 10:05 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

I think the recorder products slipped to way down the list of priorities for Nagra. Nagra made a name for themselves, obviously, with the recorders dominating the sound for picture arena for over 30 years, but had gotten into several much more profitable products during that time.

 

I had a Sony F-1 setup also --- very intriguing but I never got to put it to any real good use for the jobs I was doing so I sold it to someone who could put it to better use.

I went to Antarctica with Captain Cousteau.  He presented me with an F1.  I told him that I didn't know the machine, couldn't trust it and that I would use my 4.2.  He was not amused.

On February 5, 2015 at 7:18 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

Around the time that commercial production in the US went over to mandatory timecode recording (previously, timecode was not necessary) someone did develop a method of doing timecode on a mono Nagra. There were actually a couple of methods and there may have been a few people involved in doing this, all in an effort to continue using the mono Nagra 4.2 (and not be forced to buy the Nagra IV-STC 2-track machine when we didn't need a 2 tracks or a new machine). I know there was one method which was a little bit like the pre-cursor to timecode "stamp" we have in today's world of file based recording. When you went in to record, a short burst of timecode (audio) would be recorded and the same code shown on a display that the camera could photograph --- you could say that this was sort of a "smart bloop light" that utilized timecode. Another system actually recorded continuous linear timecode on the tape utilizing a modified neopilot sync head and somehow providing a timecode track that did not disrupt the mono full track recording. The last method that I remember involved replacing the headstack with a 2-track record head and all the associated and necessary circuits to make the mono Nagra actually a 2-track machine with program on one track and timecode on the other.

 

I don't think any of these systems ever got any wide acceptance and most people just bit the bullet and purchased a new Nagra IV-STC for $14,000.  

John Glascock bought an early STC from ASC for $17K!

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28 minutes ago, traut said:

I remember the Harvey mod.  Nice, but the display chewed batteries.

I went to Antarctica with Captain Cousteau.  He presented me with an F1.  I told him that I didn't know the machine, couldn't trust it and that I would use my 4.2.  He was not amused.

John Glascock bought an early STC from ASC for $17K!

I did a lot of doco with my Harveyized Nagra, I don't recall battery issues at all....like days of work...   I also did a lot of work with an F1.  I made a bag for it with a VHS porto-deck and a big ext battery--it worked a few times but was way too clunky for movie sound.  I used it to make a lot of live-to-stereo albums in the field (as well as most of the NPR recordings for the New Music America festival in 1988), as well as serving as my mix-down deck in the studio.  (With a "hifi" type VCR you could record 2 chan in digital--picture channel--and 2 more to the hifi channels, or put bloop-light outputs there, for film sync.  Live performance parts of the doco feature "Troupers" were done this way.)  For Antarctica--uh, no way.  That price for the Nagra IV-STC was a major factor in why Harvey Warnke and Andy Wiskes came up with the TCS mod, the stock factory TC Nagra was WAY too expensive for us.

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On December 7, 2015 at 8:37 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

You know, I don't really quite remember how it all worked. I seem to remember that you had to have the Nagra rolling and then when the camera rolled the QRRT system did its thing. I vaguely recall that there might even have been a way to leave the Nagra engaged, mechanically, in record and the QRRT would roll the Nagra using the remote roll feature. I'm going to do some research because I would like to make it clear beyond my fuzzy memory of this system.

I worked on a NASA/JPL project at least 25 years ago (maybe 30).

The DP was using an ancient Arri that he tethered to me with a 15-20 cable which I plugged into the XTAL plug socket.

I was using either a IV-L or 4.2.

Pretty sure I would leave the Nagra in record and it would roll when he rolled the camera.

I think it also activated tone generator for a burst.

Kind of clumsy, but a lot easier than mixing 2 booms and 6 wires!

On March 22, 2016 at 5:40 AM, JBond said:

The picture is a Nagra SN attached on top a mixer inside a carrying case with some sort of time code. I guess only the poster knows for sure.

It's not TC, it is a bloop light.

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Yeah....WAY before TC.   The sync cable thing worked by the Nagra rolling w/o internal pilotone, which was supplied by the camera.  The Nagra resolver sensed the start of the pilotone signal and triggered an audible alarm which got mixed in with the audio from the tape on its way to the magfilm recorder, hence an audible bloop that corresponded (approximately...) to the fogged frames at the start of a camera roll (fogged by a lightbulb built into the gate as the camera came up to speed).  Crude, and sync was fuzzy, esp in 16mm (one set of perfs per frame).  This was what was used before "crystal sync" camera motors.  After we got those (so the pilotone no longer had to exactly follow the cam motor speed) we could then generate pilotone from a crystal-controlled 60hz generator attached to the Nagra (remember the external "Hershey-Bar" crystal gens?).  I think it was the Maysles or DA Pennebaker who figured out how to use the guts of an early crystal controlled wristwatch (Accutron?) to govern the speed of the camera motor, and suddenly we were free of cables!   Until....video!!!  This was also when the bloop lights were developed for slating, since there was no connection between cam and recorder anymore.

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The photos in this thread have blown me away! 

Does anyone have a source for Nagra III parts in the U.S.? Where would one find caps/covers for the heads?

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Feb. 2018
After much and thorough research I have updated my Nagra SN Story:
 
 
Part 5
The Mystery of the Nagra “Serie Noire"
by RJW
 
 
The question always asked - What year was the first Nagra SN, the famous Nagra SN we always heard about, actually released? That’s easy; 1960; it’s all over the internet. You can find many sites, articles and tributes to Stefan Kudelski, all repeating these statements:
 
"The Nagra SN Serie Noire was originally ordered by President Kennedy for the American Secret Services" or "commissioned by the Kennedy administration" or "the American Secret Service."
 
The latest 2016 story was written with a few changes:
 
“Kudelski, the high-end Swiss manufacturer of portable audio tape recorders, was approached by the American secret services towards the end of the 1950s to develop an ultra-small recording device. From 1960, unbeknownst to the man in the street, the Nagra SN (for ‘série noire,' or ‘black series,' make of that what you will!) went on sale to selected customers. It would be another eleven years before the device became available to the general public.” (1)
 
Notice the line "make of that what you will". Never have you seen written the Nagra SN was developed, put into production and sold in "1960" other than that latest March 2016 article. Nagra always listed 1960 as the year of the Prototype SN and always without any other information. So many writers over the years just used their imagination and left the reader to "make of that what you will."
 
Nagra SN stories seem to grow on their own over the years, with every writer at the time either copying what others have written or added more to the story. It's easy to do with a secret recorder. Anything you write does not have to be backed up with fact since it was secret. You were not supposed to know the facts or ask any questions. How can anyone challenge if it's secret? Nagra has let the story write itself over the years, and the story just goes on uncorrected. It seems like "make of that what you will" is just what Nagra wanted, just use your imagination, that's the story.
Originally, Nagra did start all this by adding the President John F Kennedy connection with their Nagra SN descriptions, always mentioning but never releasing any photos of the actual SN Prototype.
Not ever seeing the prototype led everyone to believe this super-secret unknown covert recorder was used by the Kennedy administration. Today such JFK acknowledgments are not found anywhere from Nagra except in an obscure Discontinued Pro products category on Nagra's website. Stated in the description of their discontinued 1999 Nagra SNST-R (the last SN model made), Nagra states
 
"It’s a special version of the historical SN “Série Noire” originally ordered by President JF Kennedy for the American secret services and was even taken to the moon on one of the Apollo missions." (2)
 
Today, that is the only place where you will find Nagra using that JFK statement. Unless you search for it directly, you will never find it. The Kennedy Administration began January 20, 1961, when he was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a span of 1,036 days. (3)
Either Kennedy didn’t ask for it or Kudelski never had a prototype made in 1960. If they did have the prototype in 1960, Kennedy certainly didn’t ask for it to be developed. Could both statements be true if the word "circa" is combined with the date 1960? In the 2001 Nagra brochure, "Half a Century of Experience", the paragraph describing the Nagra SN states:
 
"The Nagra SN (Serie Noire) prototype was developed in 1960 but not put into production until 1970, as the miniature components available at the time were too fragile. It used silicon transistors, dry tantalum capacitors and later, surface mounted device (SMD) technology, many years before this SMD technology was adopted by others. This pocket-sized miniature recorder was destined for army and police forces (developed especially for the United States government or, more precisely, the United States Army)." (4)
 
No longer any reference to Kennedy or the Secret Service, it looks like a corrected version of all previous statements. That United States Army statement at the end of the SN description above is new for 2001. It always read before as Secret Service or Kennedy Administration. Now, for the first time, it says the U.S. Army. In my researching about this JFK connection, I did find the use of U.S. Army that may corroborate with the 2001 Nagra statement, but does not prove Kennedy asked for it. That 2001 description is probably the most truthful up-to-date statement Nagra has ever released about the SN.
 
It is documented that Kennedy was known to use tape recorders before and after becoming President. It's also well documented that Robert Bouck, at the time one of JFK's Secret Service agents, was ordered in 1962 to wire the White House with a recording system. He was also told to purchase recorders through the U.S. Army Corps and buy them on the open market so there would be no record from where the recorders came from. Kennedy recorded approximately 260 hours of recordings beginning on July 30, 1962 and ending November 8, 1963. There is no mention of any Nagra brand recorders even though other brands were mentioned. (5) 
 
 
 
 
To add to this mystery, Nagra has also stated on one of their website's History section:
 
"…in 1965 the US Agencies start using the Nagra SN secretly." (6)
 
If this statement is accurate, then where are these early 1965 SN recorders today? Doubtful and unsure of this time frame, I contacted Nagra in Switzerland with my questions. In an email dated Aug 4th, 2016, Nagra informs me the 1965 date is wrong:
 
"… the correct date is 1971. The information you have found Nagra Kudelski Group historical milestones) is inaccurate! (We will ask NAGRAVISION to correct it.) Please refer to OUR website for the accurate dates and information.
The prototype we have was the original unit designed in 1960 yet never produced. The first “official” SN was not developed until 10 years later circa 1970, and the first units we actually sold in 1971." (7)
 
Nagra has been acknowledging that 1965 date since the year 2000. It was used in their Annual Reports for multiple years on and off as the first year the Nagra SN was used by the U.S. agencies secretly. That statement has now been debunked by Nagra as inaccurate and has been corrected. Nagra no longer makes that statement on any of their latest publications. No evidence to date has been found to confirm Nagra’s original 1965 U.S. statement to be accurate. 
 
To the contrary, the first public showing of the Nagra SN occurred when Stefan Kudelski introduced the SN at the London Professional Audio Exhibition in June of 1970. (8)
 
 
7Rf0cR9.jpg
 
 
 
Another document below is the first known Nagra SN price list, dated October 1970, from Hayden Laboratories Ltd. It shows the very first prices of Nagra SN and accessories in its infancy. (9)
As further evidence against the earlier 1965 date, the second page of that price list shows that major necessary accessories were still being developed as of the October 1970 printing, such as the carrying case and the remote control, both of which would be essential in covert recording use (i.e., if the recorders were used secretly since 1965 (for five years), the remote and carrying case would already have been successfully developed.
 
 
1r4LuVu.jpg
 
 
Nagra now considers the prototype date “Circa” 1960. (15) By using the word circa, one can now believe the prototype SN was developed after 1960 and during the JFK Administration, making the Nagra JFK connection more authentic. Now it’s possible JFK’s Secret Service agent Robert Bouck did ask Mr. Kudelski to make a secret recorder for the U.S. Army Corps. If correct, this is where the "Secret Service," "JFK," and the "U.S. Army Corps" fits into all of Nagra's past statements.  Since JFK’s sudden death, with the fact it was an assassination, it moved the world. With the secrecy involved in Robert Bouck asking for it on the open market and avoiding the standard U.S. government purchasing and documenting channels, it was now best-left alone, so the deal died when Kennedy did. The SN at that time, not yet a functional unit, was put on hold and never fully realized until 1970, just as Nagra states. Kudelski, being somewhat impressed with the outcome of the completed SN and the fact Kennedy did ask for it, never dropped the Kennedy storyline once production began in late 1970 and also never elaborated it either.
 
 
Nagra used the one part of this SN story that may have been true - that Kennedy did ask for it to be developed - and kept the storyline to their sales advantage throughout the early SN years. The more secret and intriguing it sounded, the more appealing it was for sales.  Saying John F Kennedy asked for it didn’t hurt either. That statement was the truth, Nagra had every right to use that statement in their advertising.  It became the perfect scenario; it’s secret… there is no need to say anymore, and because it was secret, no one could expect any answers. The idea that one assumed it was “used” by the Kennedy administration complicated things because dates, times and facts were not clear if someone truly thought about it. So for many years, Nagra tiptoed around the whole subject, and sadly the JFK connection is rarely mentioned anymore. The 1965 date that was used many times since the year 2000 is now dropped from their latest publications
 
There has never been any credible evidence JFK asked for one or that a usable pre-1970 Nagra SN ever existed.  The fact is no one may have known JFK asked for it, except for Robert Bouck and Stefan Kudelski. Since Robert Bouck died on April 27, 2004 at the age of 89, and Stefan Kudelski on January 26, 2013, at the age of 83, maybe no one will. 
 
Perhaps the mystery of the Nagra SN is even more mysterious than one may have thought. It is possible, but not confirmed, that Nagra was just enjoying the publicity of the JFK story along with the marketing enjoyment of the intriguing possibilities that others have written into the story. Going forward, we may never see Nagra use that 1965 date or the Kennedy connection again, but they also didn't remove the old versions for reasons that are unknown. One thing is clear - there has been no evidence of a usable, secret Nagra "Serie Noire" (black series) SN recorder, before, on, or after 1970.
There was only the one Circa 1960 prototype, nicknamed Serie Noire. Anything else was just a myth that has been kept alive all these years with bits and pieces of JFK and tantalizing dark spy statements like in the 2016 Elektor magazine’s story where we started. 
Nagra never released any written precise information for reasons as if to say “make of that what you will” which everybody has done over the years. 
 
The secret that Nagra kept all these years was not, there was a secret Nagra SN during the 60’s, the secret was, there wasn’t one.
 
This could be just another version to the Nagra Serie Noire Mystery, but to believe the opposite, one would have to believe there was a production of 1960 Nagra SNs that were in use for ten years without anyone knowing about it, even the people who supposedly would have used them. Ten years worth of one brand of recorder does not disappear off the face of the earth without a trace or even a scrap of evidence they ever existed.  One would think you could find people today who would have used them, but when people in the “ know" were asked, they don't remember using, seeing or hearing about a Nagra SN before 1970.
 
"I met with some FBI and State Department retirees yesterday, and they could not provide any definitive Nagra details. They all used the recording gear, but they could not recall when their use started or ended. Two of them specifically mentioned the Mohawks! They confirmed that nothing about any Nagra gear itself is (or has been) secret or classified. Its commercial gear, period. Commercial gear by its very definition cannot be “classified”. (10)
 
“Nagra Recorder” and “classified” should never appear in the same sentence unless “ classified ”  refers to the contents of the recording or the sources and methods of collection.  Commercial Nagra recorders would not be “classified “ even if the manufacturer or certain customers did not want their existence or use to be widely known. (11)
 
“I have not used a Nagra SN before 1970” (12)
 
Legend has it that the SN or Serie Noire (Black Series) was commissioned by President Kennedy for use by the American Intelligence services and the CIA.
 
"I know of no independent factual support for the first underlined part of this statement other than the company's own press and repeated rumors, but I can confirm that Nagras were used extensively by the British, Stasi and other European services. They were also used by the CIA, FBI and other US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” (13)
 
That said, you would also have to believe this is the world's best-kept secret of all time. No evidence has been found as of this printing that a Nagra SN was used before 1970, just as Nagra now states today.  So in the future when you see another mysterious Nagra Serie Noire story,  ask, what proof do they have.
 
make of that what you will...
 
 
 
 
Part 6
 
The Circa 1960 Nagra SN Prototype
 
by RJW
 
 
In Switzerland there sits the "one" Nagra SN Prototype proudly on display in Nagra's private collection, as it should. Two things come to mind when viewing the first picture. 
 
1)  Nagra no longer considers the 1960 date, now “Circa” 1960, according to the name tag.
2)  The name Serie Noire is not on the name tag, only SN,    
 
fYw8TgD.jpg
 
 
When asked about the name SN and Serie Noire, a former employee of Nagra said:
 
It's not "Serie Noire” That expression I only heard from you for the first time. Even at the factory I never heard "Serie Noire." The employees at the time referred to the SN line as 
 SN means "Small Nagra," SNS means "Small Nagra Slow," SNN "Small Nagra Nab," etc. and the IS meant "Intermediate Size." (14)
 
In all fairness, this employee worked on SNs and JBRs from 1977 to 1988, so one would not suspect it would be the same atmosphere as in 1970, but it goes to show it was not a common name to use other than in print.
 
XAtHfxN.jpg
 
In this second picture above , the Prototype Nagra SN is entirely different from the 1970 production model SN. What stands out the most are the hinged top, no meter, tape heads and the tape path. The only similarity is the reel hubs. Particularly interesting is the pencil drawing on the deck which shows what Mr. Kudelski was thinking at some point in that 10-year development span, drawing in pencil where a meter should go, and other marks only leave us to ponder his thoughts.
 
 
r6Zb8s8.jpg
 
 
In this last picture above, the bottom shows a fold out SN type rewind crank but on the bottom instead of on the top like on the production SN. Notice the components used in the making of this very iconic one of a kind recorder. These pictures show the engineering design of the original SN that morphed into the production model SN we know today. You wonder at that time if Stefan Kudelski ever thought the SN would go on to be the most famous covert recorder of all times and become one of his greatest achievements.
 
 
 
Stefan Kudelski and family are owed a great deal of thanks and appreciation for their advancements in miniature covert tape recorders. Nagra's highly skilled background in this field with full attention to detail, combined with the ability to produce an ultra-fine quality product, is the reason they are still successful in many different fields. Even today, a part of Nagra is still making the latest in security technology for Government agencies and law enforcement in one of those secret workshops behind the scenes. 
 
 
 

 

Sources: The Mystery of the Nagra “Serie Noire”
1 Elektor magazine, March & April 2016, p.1272 Nagra discontinued Products https://www.nagra.com/group/history Retrieved Feb.2018
3 Wikipedia   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Timeline of the presidency of John F. Kennedy Retrieved Feb..2018
4 HALF A CENTURY OF EXPERIENCE, Nagra Booklet, 2001
5 Reprinted from The Presidential Recording: John F. Kennedy. The Great Crises, Vol. (New York: W.W. Norton),xvii-xx
6 Nagra Historical Milestones  https://www.nagra,com/group/history Retrieved Feb. 2018
7 private email to the author from Nagra
8 DB magazine, London Professional Audio Exhibition, October 1970, p41
9 Price list, Hayden Laboratories Ltd, London, October 1970
10 Anonymous intelligence source
11 Anonymous intelligence source
12 Anonymous intelligence source
13 Anonymous intelligence source
14 Anonymous former Nagra employee.

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I think that the 6Moons writer isn´t too familiar with Nagras professional product line... He also states that the pictured TRVR is a clandestine machine, and that it is not listed. Which it is (in his own list), and it is not really a secret recorder, just not widely known (being used for voice logging in f.eks. airports/flight control). So I wouldn´t read too much into that source...

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