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JBond

Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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Wondering did the final sound output improve with the DAT vs 4.2 Can you professionals hear the difference from one movie to the other?

There is no simple or brief answer to this question. One thing I can say with a fair degree of assurance is that even amongst professionals and even so called "golden ears" there is no way by listening to a completed movie to determine what sort of recorder was used during production. 

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Jeff can you post some of your in action Nagra pictures to this thread?

 

I will post a few but most people here on JWSOUND have already seen way too many on set pictures of me with the sound cart, the vintage equipment and so forth.

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"The joke with the Stelladat is that while the case was beautiful and the electronics Stella hi-fi, the tape transport came from the same 2 Japanese factories that made all the DAT transports, top-loader or other.  So in the end the critical parts, the tape transport, the heads and the cassettes themselves were no more reliable than Fostex or HHB or etc.   That's why Nagra decided to stay away from the madness I guess--there was no way they could afford to build out a factory to make those dinky helical-scan transports and head assemblies."

 

Philip is so right about this, and put into the mix also that Nagra was very much in the mode where if something was not invented here (N-I-H) they did not want to have anything to do with it. I will add that the Stelladat had other problems besides the reliance on the DAT transport, it had serious heat problems which they attempted to deal with by shutting down specific A to D converters, output amps, an attempt at a "sleep mode" all presided over by really buggy software. I loved the fact that I was pushing new technology but it was never a format that I could ever really trust. At a Union sponsored seminar on multitrack recording after much discussion about the then standard machine for multitrack, the Tascam DA-88, 98 DTRS format, I held up the Deva I and declared that this was the way we would all be recording sound in the not too distant future. I had only done one movie with the Deva but I was solidly convinced. I said that I was so pleased to be able to abandon the DAT machine, a recorder with a million moving parts it was a wonder that it ever worked properly, replaced with the Deva which had one moving part, the hard drive.

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I liked the DA88 format very well for what it was designed for: studio and post.  It was far better than it's main competitor, ADAT, in all respects, and most especially those aspects that have to do with sync, clock and working in complex systems.  I did a great deal of location recording with them, but it was almost entirely for nice dry indoor jobs--any time I used them outside I was very paranoid about how non-well built and un-Nagra-like they were re: the rigors of "real" location recording in dusty, wet, cold, hot, etc environments.  I felt that my DA88s and 78s were much better made than my many DATs and I can attest to them having many fewer problems than the DAT machines.  However. the DA-XX machines were not what I would call "cart-friendly"….too big, too fragile, AC powered, and then there was the small matter of pre-formatting all those tapes...

 

philp

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I liked the DA88 format very well for what it was designed for: studio and post.  It was far better than it's main competitor, ADAT, in all respects, and most especially those aspects that have to do with sync, clock and working in complex systems.

 

I was initially very suspicious of the DA88's (and later DA98's) for post, but I was amazed at how well they held up over the years. The engineers pointed out to me that these $5000 decks effectively replaced a $25,000 Magnatech 35mm mag dubber. And if they broke, they basically threw them out and bought another one. Only once in 12-13 years did I encounter a really massive DA88 crash, to the point where the tape was jammed up and jelly tight inside of the transport. Since this was a master tape, one of our staff engineers had to disassemble the machine, effectively destroying it in order to save the tape. They were very cavalier about it, and the tape was fine although the machine was an absolute shambles. 

 

I agree with Phillip that this was a far, far better format than ADAT. DAT itself was OK, but I disliked the cheap Panasonic machines. The Sony PCM 7000-series were tanks and would play damn near anything. But I think the format overall was too delicate for location use, especially in hot or sandy environments.

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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.

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JBond   

I always thought that Harvey mod was well done also. Much better than the factory one I agree Jeff.

They come up so few times for sale and the recorders usually are all beat up.

Just did a quick search one just sold on eBay. Looks pretty clean too.

So many Nagras I still don't have.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nagra-IV-S-with-Time-code-sys-Model-X4S-TC-FM-pilot-Gen-Resolver-/121554755397?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1c4d3a5f45&nma=true&si=El6xfvz%2Bf1WJjwa%2BENSSgKyxvf8%3D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

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the timecode conversion that was done by a guy in San Francisco

 

Yes, the Harvey Mod, as Al says.

 

His full name was Harvey Wernke and, regrettably, he is now deceased.

 

I still have my Harvey-Mod Nagra and it seems to be still working great. Richard Lightstone borrowed it recently to copy some old tapes and reported that it worked flawlessly.

 

Having it on-hand doesn't guarantee I could answer any questions about it, but it's a start.

 

David

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These pics from eBay are not so good (JBond's pics are marvelous!).

 

Menus be damned --- one of the things I liked so much about the analog days. This settings panel is brilliant:

post-1-0-66423900-1422807358_thumb.jpg

 

Nice shot of the timecode display:

post-1-0-67282300-1422807407_thumb.jpg

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JBond   

Nagra had two versions of the IVS TC early and late.

The one I have is the early Model that is shown in this Nagra brochure.

 

Old school Crew posted a picture of his in this thread.

He has the later model that has a neat little light at 4 o’clock on the side of the meter to shine onto the LCD time code meter. His also has the silk screen “TC” PILOT where mine just says PILOT over the pilot meter. Also, the time code instructions were in a different place either on the back of the slide out panel or on the bottom.

 

I had both units side by side, I could only afford to keep one.

I had a very hard time getting rid of one because I like the light on the side of the meter and the added TC over the pilot. It seems Nagra just retrofitted the early models. Then made the real IV-ST. But the earlier one had the known movie history. So I regretfully sold the later one.

 

I wish I kept both versions. A real Nagra collector would have all versions of every machine in their collection. I just have the basic bare bones Nagra collection.

 

The Harvey Mod was so well done it looked more factory than the Nagra add on.

The red meter looks like it fit the time period of the analog recorder than the slide out panel.

This brochure is dated 9-89

 

Remember you can click on any of my pictures for a more detailed look.

 

 

iAdJjlk.jpg

 

pZWDdAW.jpg

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Harvey Warnke (not Wernke), his company was Time Code Systems and his partner was veteran SF area soundie Andy Wiskes.  Harvey was an autodidact electronics genius who was working at Otari when I first met him.  After getting me very excited by talk of how he and his Otari buddies had figured out a scheme for hard-disk audio recording (back when computers were very slow and disks very expensive for tiny space, so what they'd done was impractical at that time), I was intro'ed to the Harvey-ized Nagra IV-S.  I was one of the original 6 soundies who paid in advance for his mods before they had even reached the prototype phase, in part because I was convinced his mod resulted in a better machine than the stock Nagra IV-S TC and partly because I would end up with a TC Nagra for far less $ than buying a new IVS-TC (which ended up costing well north of $10k--very expensive for the times).   After some teething problems (where my Nagra III saved the day) it worked very very well, this is the Nagra I still own (looks just like the pic above only much more battle-worn).   Everywhere and anywhere that machine worked and worked well.  Unlike the stock IV-STC Harvey's mod had an internal resolver for playback, could changeover from TC to pilotone at the flip of a switch (important in the early days, the IVS-TC required a circuit board swap to do this), had all its controls on the side (no silly drawer that was inaccessible in a bag), a better clock, that cool TC display on the deck, and the ability to clock its TC generator to external fieldrate pulse.  This last was VERY handy when reclocking the Nagra's TC to match the frame rate of a film camera using the "Barton Box" to sync its shutter to an old CRT monitor, to avoid flicker. For a guy doing work in Silicon Valley that was a Godsend--take a sync pulse feed from the Barton Box to the Nagra, and then send the film and tape to telecine.  There it acted just like a normal shoot, in sync, but w/o monitor flicker, without any extra faffing around….even though the actual frame rate of the film camera and the recorder TC was something very oddball in fact.

 

Anyhow, Harvey had his various troubles, including his health, and we lost him many years ago.  Dan Dugan kept many Harvey mods working until he retired from Nagra service a few years ago.

 

philp

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Always loved that Harvey TC mod-especially the TC display.

Nagra would have been well to have adopted a similar approach, but they had already gone down a very different road.

"I don't care what they're talking about, all I want is a nice fat recording".

Harry Caul "The Conversation"

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That was a strange period @ Nagra, maybe.   Was this when they were being so successful with cable TV boxes and lots of other non-pro-audio products?    I recall being very disappointed in the IVS TC, and then the D.  The T-Audio was an amazing machine but came with a steep learning curve and was mind-bogglingly expensive for a free-lance soundie.  None of these worked very well for the kind of recording I was doing then, hence the interest in the Time Code Systems mod, and then the Sony F1 (w/Betamax recorder), then lots of flavors of DAT, then file recorders, both hardware and especially computer based.   The Nagra V didn't make sense to me either (weird media choice, only 2 tracks), the Nagra VI showed that they can still deliver for portable use.  But….too late. I'm way down the Sound Devices road now, so no VI for me.

 

philp

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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.

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JBond   

Could it be? They must of known the 30 year run on analog recorders was coming to an end. Nagra needed to go into different directions with different products. That may be why the 4S was basically retrofitted as simple as possible rather then design a whole new machine at the time with analog tape and time code. A last ditch effort to keep the 4s in service. They took a 13 year old machine and resold it.

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There was a lot of technology and development for their other products (even some of the surveillance style recorders you have in your collection) that they planned to put into new production sound (sound for picture) recorders. They did develop several "tape-less" solid state recorders for other purposes (some are still in production today). They passed on ever making a machine for the DAT format and the Nagra V was the first totally new model designed specifically for our market.

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In the IVS-TC period Nagra seemed to own the cable-TV set-top-box biz in Europe, in addition to all its scientific and military devices. I think they tried various ideas for machines that would live up to the Nagra name (esp the D the T Audio and the V) but while the T-Audio became a pretty common playback machine in telecine bays I don't think they sold many Ds and Vs.  That all was a lot of R+D for a smallish company, at a time in which the demands of the audio industry were changing very fast.  We seem to have settled into various forms of file-recording now, and Nagra has a great contender in that space.

 

I did a LOT of work with my F1--even off batteries in the field.  The long loads (hours if necessary) were really great for music work, and it was our studio mixdown deck for several years.   The F1 could feed multiple Beta or VHS decks if you wanted--instant backup.  I read that Roger Nichols had done a music doc with John Denver where he recorded his live 2-mix to the digital channels and his audience pair or the output from sync bloop lights to the HIFi channels of a VHS deck--I tried this and it worked very well for lots of music shoots and concert recordings.  The F1, like DAT, was a system developed by the consumer side of Sony that was adopted by the pro side.

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I've never seen an all black Nagra III. The pictures show that there is no sync head and even the headstack looks significantly different than other Nagra IIIs --- quite odd.

 

I loved the video of the Nagra playing back --- thinking of the hours and hours of my life watching those reels. I know that I have 92,000 hours of Union work, 5 years before that of non-Union work, and a substantial portion of those hours were spent using the Nagra.

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