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Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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I was lucky enough to start collecting before the prices started skyrocketing... And, not least, have the luck to know a lot of people who has used Nagras, and who more or less have donated Nagras to me. So now I have 26 machines, each with a history from different corners of the (mostly) danish film and broadcast world, all maintained but not so polished, that they hide their original use. But it is getting harder and harder to get new machines for a non-ridiculous price, as most potential sellers follow the eBay "Buy Now" price...

 

It is typical that whenever an expensive Nagra is sold on eBay, more sellers follow tgrying to sell the same type recorder for that same high price. Which seldomly works out, indicating clearly that the market for Nagras is quite limited and easily saturated. A year ago Nagra IS machines hit a peak, with decent condition machines were sold for up to 1200-1400 USD. Now I could buy one locally for app. 300-500 USD, also in fine condition.

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15 hours ago, Lermontov said:

Another Nagra II on ebay. This time tested, working with anode battery and carrying case included.  

 

Seems to have already sold for the US$6k asking price. Wow!

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7 hours ago, MarceauFilm said:

It seemed to me that the prototype dates back to 1965. This is due to the development of tape and compact cassette Philips ...

 

The prototype dates back to 1960   The Nagra SN dates back to 1970

 

Repost your clapper boxes alone so we can learn more about them. 

 

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Did Philips make a cassette in 1963? This tape is 1/8 inch. I suggested that S. Kudelski decided to make a recorder SN on this format after the appearance of the 1/8 tape.

On 08.02.2018 at 11:36 PM, JBond said:

Stated in the description of their discontinued 1999 Nagra SNST-T (the last SN model made)

This is SNST-R.

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Thank you,  yes, of course, the SNST-R  (typo)

 

On 2/22/2018 at 11:07 AM, MarceauFilm said:

Did Philips make a cassette in 1963? This tape is 1/8 inch. I suggested that S. Kudelski decided to make a recorder SN on this format after the appearance of the 1/8 tape.

 

It also could be,  Philips, a maker of "recording tape" was asked by Kudelski (maker of "tape recorders") to develop a smaller size tape, which might have led Phillips to develop the first cassette in 1963, who knows? I did not research or look into Phillips.
 I understand what you are saying,  that maybe the Prototype was made in 1965 instead of 1960 because the 1/8 cassette tape was developed in 1963. 

I don't believe that to be the case. 

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This updated story of the Nagra JBR has some new information that only a handful of people have known about.
 
The Nagra JBR, 1984
by RJW
 
The Nagra JBR (Junior Body Recorder) was perhaps the most needed covert recorder advancement of the time when it was introduced secretly to the FBI in 1984. It was a joint venture between Nagra and the FBI and 2 other three-letter agencies of the U.S. The aging SNST was still in use at the time and still very popular, but everyone "in the know” knew how to detect someone using the SNST. The SNST was large and cumbersome for one to wear secretly on their person. Not to mention the person on the other end of the conversation most likely was using an advanced tape recorder detector of that time. A smaller-sized harder to detect recorder was needed so Nagra, with the help of James B. Reames* of the FBI, developed this smaller, harder to detect covert recorder, possibly the most secret recorder ever contracted. 
 
* James B. Reames 1958-1990 Federal Bureau of Investigation Washington, D.C. Responsible for the analyses of audio tapes to improve intelligibility, to identify non-voice signals, and to determine authenticity of magnetic tape recordings submitted by Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies. Also involved with the FBI’s Tape Enhancement Laboratory, Tape Recording Capability, Research and Development Activities, Technical Security Counter measures programs and Tempest Programs.
 
The project was kept highly secret, even to the people who would eventually be the ones using the new JBR, for reasons to also weed out any bad characters even within the government agencies themselves. The recorder could now be used to expose people who knew how to detect the SNST and other recorders of the time. They certainly would not be suspecting the new hard to detect JBR. 
 
“The design and manufacture of the recorder has been so secret and important to the FBI (and two other unnamed government agencies who are supposedly the sole users of the recorder) that any public availability of information on the recorder would ‘make the machine extinct,'according to an employee of Nagra who refused to provide any details on the recorder in a telephone interview." (1)
 
ILTeJUM.jpg
 
.
SYDHSTR.jpg
 
 
RhpximM.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
The complete project was spelled out from the beginning, the JBR recorder along with the advanced universal playback unit called the PU-1. The proposed PU-1 was designated to be a “Playback Universal Unit” to be able to play back the SNST reel tapes and a JBR cassette (a multipurpose unit). The JBR and Playback unit was very advanced technology at the time that was never realized before in a recorder of this size. Since the JBR recorder was easier to develop, the JBR and the playback unit were not ready at the same time. Due to time restraints, the JBR was delivered to the FBI without any means to play back the recording. As the JBR recorder started to be used in the field, the playback unit was still in development. There were many delays as this “new” technology was being developed. 
 
The center control track on the JBR was to speed correct the tape since it didn’t have a pinch wheel. The speed of the tape and motion while worn were not going to be an issue because of the control track. Everything was thoroughly thought out in advance, except for the delays. The customer now had “ evidence tapes” and no way to reproduce them, due to the lack of any available playback device. 
 
A mechanical adapter was developed:
Called the CST to work in conjunction with a common SNST to play back the recorded JBR cassette. This adapter was one thing that was not in the original plans, but it was the best way at the time to play back the recorded JBR tapes while the advanced playback unit was being developed. This was not a cheaply put together adapter.  It was made in the same fine quality like any other Nagra product.  It's almost as if Nagra knew it was going to be awhile before the “PU1” would be ready.  
 
A couple of issues emerged:
The tapes did not have any speed correction since the SNST host machine didn't have the capabilities to read the control track. Because of the speed issues and Wow & Flutter, the customers started questioning the quality of JBR recordings. Of course, it wasn't fair since the whole concept hadn't been realized yet. No PU-1 or PS-1.  
 
A control track filter SCTF was developed to remove the control track tone from the audio during playback. No one wanted to hear the high-frequency tone mixed in with the audio evidence. If not for that filter, the SNST would otherwise reproduce the constant control track tone. All of these things were stop-gap measures to calm the customer (FBI).  The other main flaw in the mechanical adapter was its hold-back tension. It was so high, it damaged the tapes when used. With a few gear changes, they got it to work, sort of. (2) 
 
The CST adapter was made utilizing a Nagra SN housing:
The SNST would slide on top of the SN housing and lock securely in place, and the folding arm would swing out and hold the JBR cassette also locked securely. Underneath the cassette was a fold-out rewind crank like on the Nagra SN for manually rewinding the JBR cassette. It was very well built. Nothing speaks vintage Miniature Covert Recorder like this setup in playing back the recorded evidence tape. It just goes to show in this clandestine world, you gotta do what you gotta do.
 
The folded CST unit
UYugkV8.jpg
 
 
 
paTxPl8.jpg
 
 
xgQWWMQ.jpg
 
Bottom side with the manual SN rewind crank, this is also used to remove any slack in the tape.
 
O8buYxQ.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
The JBR cassette mounting plate swings open and locks, the SNST slides and locks into place.
 
LRHVAP6.jpg
 
 
iqHnlQo.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
Add the DSP playback amp and this was the first playback setup before the Control Track Filter was developed.  You can see it was a continuous work in progress to satisfy a growing impatient customer. 
 
UK2JBh8.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
 I was going to post a scan of the instructions for the Control Track Filter, but because of a schematic on the back side stamped “do not reproduce” I am not going to post any parts of the original document at all. The drawing is dated Oct 1985 
 
The Control Track Filter is just a small box that fits between the SNST and the DSP playback amp and the ASN power pack.
So the CST adapter was used without the Control Track Filter for almost a year before the filter was developed.
 
The “make-do” playback required these five items from the original Nagra document:
ASN Power pack, SNST recorder, DSP playback amp, CST mechanical adapter and the SCTF Control Track Filter. (3)
Together they completed the setup required to play back JBR tapes in its early years. This was the only means available to play back a recorded JBR tape for two years.  The PU-1 dual use playback unit that plans called for an SNST and JBR combination unit was scrapped and never realized. Either Nagra or the FBI dropped the  PU-1 for whatever unknown reason.
 
In 1986, the PS-1 playback unit as we know today was finally delivered to the FBI for the first time since the 1984 delivery of the Junior Body Recorder - the full potential of the JBR system was finally realized. The harder to detect recorder was only one part, but the advancements made in the PS-1’s capability in enhancing the reproduced playback sound was just amazing. 
The JBR - measuring only 4½” by 2½ - with the PS-1 playback system was the smallest, most advanced analog recorder system ever produced.
 
One of the hardest stumbling blocks of using past covert analog recorders, including the SNST, was the ability to capture clear quality evidence recordings consistently. This was now made easier thanks to the highly adjustable JBR playback system of the mid-eighties. 
It was all so secret and no one could ever speak about this advancement in reproducing analog recordings. 
Of course, digital soon took over, and another Covert Recorder quietly and without fanfare  goes down in history.  
 
BJ96jgS.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
Original Nagra JBR advertising poster showing a JBR beauty shot, with the cassette cover removed to show off Nagra’s reel to reel covert recorder roots
This extremely rare poster from 1990 was meant to be used for advertising the JBR at Intelligence trade shows, but its use was short lived as Nagra was informed not  to advertise the JBR. 
The reason was stated to me below.
As I advised, xxxxx xxxxxx  told me that Nagra New York received a letter from the FBI advising that these recorders were an Interception of Communication (IOC) device and if Nagra continued to advertise these units, there could be legal percussions.  I don’t think Nagra advertised the recorders in the USA again. (4)
 
 
"The Nagra JBR along with the SNST miniature recorders were categorized by the U.S. Department of Justice to be Interception of Communication Devices  (IOC).
The IOC statutes make it illegal to own, use, train and/ or educate non-law enforcement personnel to use this equipment.”  (4)
 

ThjrwN7.jpg
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.

 

Sources for the Nagra JBR 
1)  From - Full Disclosure Newspaper, Libertyville, Illinois (USA) 1991
2)  Anonymous former Nagra employee
3)  SCTF instruction manual.
4)  Anonymous intelligence source.
 

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Great post! Always interesting to better understand what led to the development of these amazing machines.

Love the photos. 

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Thanks Tunes, 
 
I recently found this out and purchased a copy of the 1970  American Cinematographer Magazine which has the first write-up of the 1970 Nagra SN. The article seems to suggest the first 1970 SN was specially developed for the movie industry.  
Shown below is my picture of the 1970 style SN with the Dec 1970 American Cinematographer Magazine article in the background.
Full credit for the magazine in my picture goes to American Cinematographer Magazine.
 
 
7eGqPur.jpg
 
 
 
It’s an excellent and complete first write up of the NEW Nagra SN and written in great detail.  Most all of the necessary accessories were available at the time the recorder was released for the movie industry in 1970/71.  That makes a lot of sense since Nagra / Kudelski by 1970 was heavily invested in the movie industry and apparently not so much in the secret spy recorder business. 
There has never been a scrap of evidence that any Nagra SN was utilized for any reason before 1970. 
Was the first actual SN developed in 1970 for the movie industry and not the spy industry?  
It's hard to say for sure; the first SN seemed to fit the movie industry more at the time according to this article.
 
The 1970 SN movie recorder was full track 1 7/8 and 3 3/4 for sound quality. It is possible,  Nagra thought at the time 1 7/8 would also be good for covert use, 1 7/8 speed certainly would be useless for actors voices.  So one dual-use recorder with two-speed choices depending on the application was developed in 1970 and first sold in 1971.
Its possible the SN after being used in the field as a covert recorder worldwide, (It was never meant to be a U. S. use only recorder) suggestions were made that a longer running recorder was needed.  In September of 1971 the first  SN- Slow speed recorder was manufactured with the serial number 83. (per Nagra email)
The September 1971 SNS was 1 7/8 and 15/16 tape speed and 1/2 track so both sides of the tape could be used. 
  
The first SN used in the movie industry looked precisely like this 1972 Slow speed model below serial number 811, No silkscreen just a plain gray recorder.
Does anyone remember using this recorder in 1971 or later recording movie sound?
 
K8qHkRt.jpg
 
 
 
 

The first SN developed in 1970 was for both the movie industry and to be used covertly worldwide.  The SNS was developed a year later more specifically for covert use only.  The SNS in September 1971 was truly the first "meant for covert use" recorder Nagra made.  From there, they started their line of covert use only recorders with the SNST, JBR, etc.

 

Can anyone share any known information about using the Nagra SN as a body microphone recorder for the movie industry? 
Was it extensively used and popular? Or hardly used? I know we talked about this briefly before, but I don't know where.  I do not know anything about how it was used or how long in the movie industry.  Frankly, I always thought the SN was used much later in the movie business and not released right from the start for movie use.  I also thought it was released just a little too late and wireless microphones soon filled the sound problem with the actor's voices. 
Can anyone say for sure if they know of an actor/ actress that first used the Nagra SN on their person? Or the first movie to use the SN  that would have been in 1971?

 
 

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No one on Jwsound remembers using a Nagra SN in their career of recording movie sound? Not even one experience using the Nagra SN as a movie sound recorder?  How can this be?

 

 

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Patience Joseph! My mate Dan used one, and he's a relative youngster like myself. They were used extensively early on I believe in the UK paired with a brilliant SQN 3M preamp combo for news and reportage, especially in the difficult (warzone etc) field.

 

Good details probably available on the SQN website.

 

Jez

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I know that Aggie used one (and still has it), not sure if he chimes in on this forum tho. 

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I worked on a film (Dear Wendy, 2004) where a SN was used in an abandoned coal mine in Germany. It (and a 16 mm camera) was the only recording equipment allowed to be used in the mine. Unfortunately I never had the SN "in real life", as the recordings were transferred to DAT in Germany. So the first Nagra I ever encountered, I never actually saw...

 

Regarding the SQN3 + SN combo, the SQN3 was actually designed to be used in conjunction with the SN (as an early mixer/recorder unit). SQN then found out that the mixer on its own was a winner, and the rest is history.

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Some early Covert Recorder beauty shots, 
 
Prototype reel over reel developed in 1955, finally completed and first sold in 1959 only to become obsolete. 
bIw7gtt.jpg
 
xfNJ2xj.jpg
 
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.
 
The CIA Type 1, "Resin Recorder", circa 1956-57, group pose. First known 2 channel unit lower left. First auto reverse record upper right. First instant erase (self magnetic destruct) tape.
9ILDPzh.jpg
 
 
The CIA TYPE 2, "Edwards Model 30 Recorder", circa 1960-62.  White Nylon reels thought to keep the heat build up to a minimum. 
VSiVwZv.jpg
 
 
The CIA Type 3, UMY-25 recorder, circa 1965-66 - the first to use IC chips, the two chips equivalent to 26 transistors. 
2iZ6zKa.jpg
 
 
Type 4, EDI Recorder, Circa 1967-68 first to become public in 1967 and the reason for the name on the recorder.
ALIPgyI.jpg
 
 
TYPE 5, Alpha One, circa 1970-71.  The most advanced recorder of this type, after a 15-year span. 
GpcycNr.jpg
 
76V5HBF.jpg
 
 
MC-2 Miniature Recorder, ("Cigarette Pack Recorder"), circa 1971, known to be used by the FBI.
aYGBXcK.jpg
 
Evershed T704 ("Yellow Recorder"), circa 1973 
9nWMfUA.jpg
 
 
The Nagra SN Series cosmetic differences - 1970 to 1999.  Yes, I know I'm missing a head cover. These are expensive I'm lucky to have it . The Nagra SN recorder will become the most desirable and sought after reel to reel recorders ever made… mark my words. 
rpryR4j.jpg
 
 
Right to left,  1st, from 1970 Flat gray paint no silkscreen. 2nd, 1973 low gloss gray paint with red silkscreen. 3rd,1974 to 77 dark anodized aluminum in black and some in red silkscreen. 
4th In bright anodized aluminum with black silkscreen.  
TVJffzP.jpg
 
The Nagra JBR, 1984.  The most advanced analog recording system ever produced at this size.
SYDHSTR.jpg
 
 
Swiss made Stereo Microcassette covert recorder system used after the JBR and SNST "No controls"; special pen to operate. Not for public use.
pncIlS1.jpg
Ok5TAA7.jpg
 
 
The Pearlcorder  ZUIKO, first Microcassette recorder 1969, Apollo age modular system. 
TMi5phK.jpg
FQnM1DV.jpg
EYXWDLS.jpg
 
 All photos marked 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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Thanks JonG,  I appreciate it.
 
Its almost hard to believe that Nagra would take all the time and money to come up with this CES 2018 advertisement  / web page below in the link,  showing 65 years of awards, listing all their achievements of the past 65 years and get the early history so wrong. 
2018 CES Nagra 
 
1st.  They show a Nagra II and call it the 1951 Nagra I (even though they have a real Nagra I ).  Stefan Kudelski is holding the Nagra I in the picture before, remember the off set reel nuts.
2nd.  Look at the picture of the so-called 1970 Nagra “SNST”. They show a picture of a late model black silkscreen Nagra SN, not a 1970 plain no name Nagra SN (even though they have one) but a black silkscreened late model SN and mistakenly call it a 1970 SNST.  The SNST did not get developed until seven years later in 1977.  
3rd The1957 Nagra III which should say “1958”. (there is no 1957 Nagra III) They show a later pilot model Nagra III and call it a 1957.  The pilot model was not developed until 1962.  
 
 I guess that’s what happens when there was so much miss information over the years, over and over again. 
The current people at Nagra may not know what’s real or what’s not. 
Now its clear to see how the Nagra SN story got so messed up over the years. 
Nagra Stories  #373
 
 

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Another example of what happens when marketing takes precedence over engineering. This never would have happened when Kudelski was at the helm.

 

Too bad they didn’t include some of the accessories like the BM-II mixer, SLO synchronizer, etc.

 

-Scott

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On 07/03/2018 at 1:32 AM, The Immoral Mr Teas said:

Patience Joseph! My mate Dan used one, and he's a relative youngster like myself. They were used extensively early on I believe in the UK paired with a brilliant SQN 3M preamp combo for news and reportage, especially in the difficult (warzone etc) field.

 

Good details probably available on the SQN website.

 

Jez

Yep, I think I said as much many pages ago on this thread. DOP-Director had an Aaton XTR and 2 SNs, 1 piggybacked onto the SQN3m and the other with a lot of velcro he used to attach it to the camera mags (for OMBing). IIRC we had a blooper box for sync. He'd been using this set up since the since the 80's when he filmed the Afghan-Russian war (from both sides!). I actually got in contact with him last year to see if he'd sell me 1 of the recorders :-(. We were filming a salvage operation in the Med, early noughties, in quite a challenging environment. Although I was quite excited to be using such a piece of kit, coming from DAT, changing reels in some quite horrendous conditions was not so much fun (it took me 2 hands to do the procedure and something for me to wedge myself against). Fortunately he was still using his XTR (instead of video), so I was usually ready before he was (as i didn't need to faff around with a daylight changing bag, lol, remember those?). My favourite things about it were the size (considering it was 3 I/P) and the hand crank. Least favourite thing about it was the thought of dropping a spool onto the open deck of a ship pitching and rolling (yes, I did have the lid on but you never know). I also made sure i carried it such a way as to be able to get it all off me quickly in case I ended up going over board, it was a scary gig TBH - the director nearly died when a piece of marine equipment landed on him, we had a fire on board, heavy gear loose in stowage, floods, backfiring MSD and a nightly roach cull in the 'mess'. Needless to say, I got the gig when a more experienced colleague declined the offer. The ships engine rooms guys were great and I had some fun evenings with the PlayStation and their Filipino food, the rest of the ships crew were repulsive and to have 1s safety dependent on them was a bit uncomfortable, especially after the accident to the director who was 5 days from getting the medical treatment he needed. The SN was probably the best thing about the whole month.

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Thank you, daniel 
That's a great story and is just the kind of story I was looking for to be told when I started this thread back in January 2015.
I wanted it to be about untold stories using Nagra tape recorders in your profession that only soundmen knew about.
 The original title of this thread was Nagra Stories only soundmen can tell.

There were others on here that told stories over the last three years and I appreciated their stories also. 


Wow, so you were on the ship for a month? God, it seems so primitive using tape reels in your profession today. I can see you now hanging on and trying to change the reels on an SN. The locking reel hubs unlike a Nagra  III or IVS really need two hands as the reel lock would make it impossible to do one-handed so I can see you now trying to do that and keep yourself upright on a rolling ship.  I can also imagine how you must have felt not wanting to drop a reel to watch it roll down along the deck leaving a 50 ft tape trail behind,  especially with a crew as you explained that did not make you feel at all comfortable. 
You got the gig over a more experienced soundman, so I guess the pressure was on you to show your best.  I appreciate your taking the time to tell your story and hope it'll inspire others to tell theirs.  After all, when I started this thread I wanted it to be about Nagra stories that only a soundmen could tell.

It would've been nice if the guy had sold you the SN.  If I were you, I would look for an SN as you have a great memory to go with it.

 

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And thanks also for the great detail! And for making my night with a smile! Great stuff!

 

My only Nagra story is convincing Chinese customs that, whilst it was a (functioning and looked after) thing of beauty, it was a transit item and not an import. That was a few days after my mate in Hong Kong couldn't get rid of his washing machine fitter for questioning about the thing of beauty left at the table at the front door. Again, though, Dan - terrific story, cheers!

 

Jez

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This listed on eBay , reminds me of Dela's collection,  I see why he collects  them, look at that custom  DR radio silkscreen.  You have to admit the Nagra IS is a sweet recorder. 

 

You will find Dela's IS collection on post 576 page 24  Or just go to the post index on page 1 and click on Dela 576

 

s-l1600-2.jpg

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It seems that the IS is quite popular at the moment; there are two up for sale on eBay and another one locally in Denmark. And interestingly enough they are all ex-DR... DR had a large number of them in use, and I think that a lot of them "disappeared" when they were phased out. I have heard numbers of app. 400 recorders (half on TV, half on radio), and in the Radio Denmark collection they only have 5-10 left. So it is not impossible, that I have more IS recorders than Radio Denmark itself...

 

I have checked the two Nagra IS on eBay, and they are both quite nice. The one in JBonds post is a IS-TLSP, ie. it is prepared for pilot use. The other one is a bit newer, but without the possibility of upgrading to pilot use. The bag for the one in the picture is actually not an original bag (as stated in the eBay posting), but it is on the other hand a much nicer and better bag. After what I have heard, this bag was supplied to DR by the father of one of my former collegues; he had a quite well assorted company at that time. The real original bag is a rather boring beige thing, while this one is of much better quality. I have one of them, and it is clearly more attractive than the others.

 

An interesting thing about the other IS on eBay is that the pictures in the posting shows a bottom view of the recorder. On the bottom side it has a label saying that this recorder is a replacement for another one, borrowed to DRU (probably Radio Denmark youth radio dept.) in 1994. This means that the IS, which was released in 1974, was still in active use 20 years later. Not too bad, I think.

 

I was just about to write that they are both a bit overpriced, but when checking up on them a minute ago, I found that they were actually both sold. If the prices stay this high, I might not have to worry about my life in retirement (which is, admittedly, still quite some years out in the future).

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Damn, a Nagra IV-S is for sale locally here in Australia for a very good price. Wish I had the money right now for it, cheapest one I have seen so far.....

Bad timing for me, would have enough money in a few months time, but will be long gone by then of course, damn....

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