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Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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Enthralling history for anybody interested in sound recording, I heard that Kudelski got into making custom spy and satellite communications equipment. He made so much more money than with manufacturing Nagras, so he moved on. Wasn't there a rumor out there that Nagra had an updated stereo analog machine about the size and weight of the IS that they had prototyped and were thinking of making. We all know that the analog recording will always have its special place in history. Too bad it can't be carried on. Look at what Kodak is doing to keep Film alive.  

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On 4/2/2015 at 10:43 PM, 480sound said:

Enthralling history for anybody interested in sound recording, I heard that Kudelski got into making custom spy and satellite communications equipment. He made so much more money than with manufacturing Nagras, so he moved on. Wasn't there a rumor out there that Nagra had an updated stereo analog machine about the size and weight of the IS that they had prototyped and were thinking of making. We all know that the analog recording will always have its special place in history. Too bad it can't be carried on. Look at what Kodak is doing to keep Film alive.  

Pretty good info there 480 sound

Though not a prototype. Some people think the IS was made lightweight for ladies, Ladies don’t need a three motor recorder with an advanced braking system. The IS was a by product of the ISS.

The ISS shown below is a 3 motor with shuttle dial for finding a spot on an SN tape. Sn tape is spliced together on a 5-inch special reel. Notice the SN hubs on the reels.
Can you imagine listing to hours and hours of recorded spy info with a hand crank rewind? They needed a small light weight recorder to play back the tape. One you can say what was that? and shuttle the tape back and forth to find the spot. 
Yes, they do exist.  A ladies recorder? right. That's a good one.  These are the stories sound-men won’t ever tell. 
This is also just my opinion and not fact that I can back up. You be the judge. 
Notice I have no watermark on these photos, I wish it was mine. This is my missing link.
The holy grail of recorders.
 
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File recording on pro machines with good pres and ADC is the best thing we've had yet for general recording, incl Nagra 1/4", esp. Nagra 1/4" @ 7.5 ips, which was how most film sound was recorded.

 

p

As much as I love to look at Nagras, I'd hate to go "Back In The Day" and record with them now. Our new options for recording gear are outstanding and getting better all the time. Love the history, Love the future more...

CrewC

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More spy,

 
 

 

 

 

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Stereo recorders from the late 50's hand wired. Milled out of block of marbled plastic. 6 different recorders shown in this picture.
 
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Apart from the Nagra & Alpha One, what are the others?

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Well, the ISS is new to me, never heard of that model. Makes sense that something was needed to deal with the SN tapes. I did have an IS which I loved because of the 3-motor transport, lighter weight and smaller size. I never thought it was made "for the ladies" but rather it was a response to the Stellavox --- Nagra wanted to have a somewhat smaller machine to compete, at least on size, with the Stellavox recorders. 

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On 4/3/2015 at 9:58 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

Well, the ISS is new to me, never heard of that model. Makes sense that something was needed to deal with the SN tapes. I did have an IS which I loved because of the 3-motor transport, lighter weight and smaller size. I never thought it was made "for the ladies" but rather it was a response to the Stellavox --- Nagra wanted to have a somewhat smaller machine to compete, at least on size, with the Stellavox recorders.

I don’t think Nagra ever thought they had to compete with Stellavox.

Did you know that Nagra owned Stellavox? In 1965 Stefan Kudelski bought all the machines, documents, patents, brands, land and building from Georges Quellet due to his ill health.

That put an end to the production of Stellavox SM-5. From 1965 to 1969 not a single Stellavox was produced. After Quellet recovered Kudelski let him have some of the documents which allowed Oqellet to develop the SP7 The SP7 was in development while Nagra owned it. In 1970 Kudelski sold the rest back to him. So Kudelski was pretty comfortable with his products to let Stellavox continue on and develop the sm-7 while under his control. One has to wonder what could have been if Nagra never owned Stellavox in those years. For both companies. This was about the same time the IS was being developed. The IS came out in 1972 for public use So Nagra was well aware of the SP7. Not any IS information but all the rest of this information is from a book I own, an autograph copy of, Stellavox Voice of the Stars by Roland Schellin

Nagra also made an ISN, the person who developed the IS is the one who told me on the phone back in 2006, he developed the IS for a lighter recorder for lady reporters. Stellavox may have been a factor in what the IS model that you know and used was sold for. But I believe it was originally developed as a playback unit for the SN, since the braking system makes more sense in SN playback use. I could be wrong. But Nagra was really big in surveillance and the complaints and pressure for an easier way to play back the Sn took precedence must have led them to the three motor and braking system.

Nagra then changed it to be able to sell it to the public and maybe? compete with the smaller SM-7 Stellavox? But they were really different machines. Stellavox being a stereo machine.

The developer of the IS did not tell me about the ISS or ISN and I did not ask about them because I didn’t know they existed back then. I know if I ever talk to him again I will ask that question since it’s no longer a secret and he would know the answer. I do have his email and phone #

I am pretty sure Nagra has a few more things we don't know about.

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Glen Trew is a very technically savvy mixer to begin with. Moreover, his experience as a vendor has expanded his knowledge base by bringing him into contact with the issues brought into the shop by his many clients. Mindful of that, I don’t want to contradict him head-on but I think some of his perspectives on the quality of Nagra tracks compared with DAT may be a bit overstated.

 

First, the quoted limit of S/N with a Nagra, while it may be accurate with machines rented or supplied by the studio, doesn’t represent the full potential of the machine. I’ve had my own Nagras adjusted to yield as much as 74 dB and I’ve heard of others achieving 75 dB or even a scosh* better. Admittedly, I relied upon better than average tweaking talent to accomplish these numbers, first Neal Stone and then Bruce Bisenz. And, I have to acknowledge that a 4 or 5 dB improvement is still dwarfed by the 20 dB advantage of DAT recording.

 

But we should take a closer look at that 20 dB digital advantage. Most DAT recorders were quoted as having a S/N ratio of 95 dB. I suspect that, because of limits in pre-amp design and implementation, few DAT recorders actually achieved that specification although it is potentially possible.

 

As Glen himself says, many mixers recorded peaks on the Nagra around -8 dB because the machine handled overloads so smoothly that extensive headroom wasn’t necessary. But, if you hit the DAT recorder too hard, you either had an ugly digital break-up or a conspicuous limiter effect. So, we all worked with a peak setting around -20 dB to avoid nasty overload effects. This means that the actual, effective S/N advantage of the DAT recorder is, at most, 8 dB. That’s still something but it’s not the huge advantage that one might conclude just from looking at published specifications.

 

There was tape hiss with the Nagra and it was readily apparent when listening to playback. But post-production crews became adept at reducing that hiss through filtration without any significant effect (mostly) on the recordings.

 

I think DAT recordings did exhibit a quality advantage over the analog Nagra but it was not so large as one might think. Now, the current digital recorders from Zaxcom, Sound Devices, Aaton and, for that matter, Nagra are another matter. The advantages of (nominal) 24-bit recording cannot be denied.

 

David

 

(*Technically, a scosh is a hair less than a smidgeon.)

 

Hi David. Enjoying this discussion. As you imply, comparing DAT to analog Nagra, as to which is best, is impossible to do because both have different strong and weak points. Here are a few additional not-insignificant points to consider:

 

First, the specs I mentioned are not only the specs I observed when aligning these machines, they are also the ones published in the Nagra manuals, and the way the machines arrived new from Nagra. These specs are the result of what was the excepted as being the best balance of signal-to-noise ratio, freq response, and harmonic distortion with low-print tape. It's easy to increase the signal to noise by recording hotter to the tape, but at the price of increase harmonic distortion. To get better than 70dB dynamic range, there must be compromises in one or more of these specs. Of course, the proprietary Nagra Master system of recording at 15ips with the same pre-emphasis standard of 7-1/2ips, increases the spec by a few dB, but, being non-standard, NM requires recording and playing back on another stereo Nagra that is, hopefully, properly calibrated. Another trick (but a good trick) was to use  the Dolby SR noise reduction scheme made possible on the Nagra 4 series with the Bryston module. However, this also required using properly calibrated Dolby SR hardware on both the recorder and playback device.

 

The -8dB reference you mentioned was the accepted equivalent for 0VU meters, and only gave 12dB of headroom (The Nagra maximum level to achieve published spec was "+4" on it's modulometer, which is 12dB above the -8 reference level. This spec was not decided because of the ability to saturate the tape, but done to counter the affects of tape hiss. Most Nagra operators never saturated the tape anyway, choosing instead to use the onboard limiter (not the best choice in my opinion). The 0VU reference level of -20dBfs on modern digital recorders came about not because it was necessary to avoid clipping, but because digital's low noise specs made it possible to have this much headroom, which also matched the headroom spec of most professional mixers. For example, if feeding a modern digital recorder with a Cooper mixer (pick one), aligning a -8 tone on the Cooper's peak meter at -20dBfs on the recorder, both the recorder and the mixer will reach maximum at about the same time (the mixer might have an additional dB or two).

 

The mention of DAT recorders not achieving their published spec due to preamps isn't valid, because the Nagra's specs were measured without the mic preamps.

 

I think the fact remains that if a modern 24bit digital recorder sounded like an analog Nagra, it would not be praised, but would be scoffed.

 

Now, if the digital recorder manufactures would follow the lead of nearly every Nagra since the early 60s by installing a speaker in the machine (Nagra still does this even with the tiny Nagra 7), it would be a great thing. Except for design considerations of the Nagra SN spy recorders, it doesn't make sense to have an audio recorder that requires another piece of equipment to hear what was recorded.

 

gt

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Using two Nagra V's ganged together to provide 4 tracks on "Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason" in the Austrian alps.

Completely reliable in temperatures as low as -15 for 12hrs per day.

 

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My fathers Nagra IV-S given to me when i was 21 in 1991.Converted by David Lane RIP to timecode in 1993.Now takes pride of place in my home cinema set up so i can see it whenever i watch a movie.

 

NagraIVS-TC_zps154111yb.jpg

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Using two Nagra V's ganged together to provide 4 tracks on "Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason" in the Austrian alps.

Completely reliable in temperatures as low as -15 for 12hrs per day.

 

Simon, I hope the Nagra Vs pictured were late enough that Nagra had already abandoned the Castlewood Systems ORB drive. I consulted with Nagra when they were developing the Nagra V and when they told me they were going with the Orb drive I told them it was a huge mistake that could actually potentially kill the product before it could even take hold. Fortunately they were smart enough to design the machine with a sort of "transport"/drive bay that was modular. When they did discover the things that were so wrong about the original choice, the Orb drive, it was fairly easy to install a traditional hard drive in its place.

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Jeff i was an early Nagra V user and struggled with the orb drive considerably.Luckily i was using a DAT back up at that point but getting dailies into the cutting room without an issue was actually pretty much a 50% chance with the Orb.......

Just as i was about to give up on the machine Nagra responded with the traditional hard drive and the machine actually became rock solid and reliable.What a shame they didn't go for that media system and 4 tracks from the get go,because the world we inhabit might be a little different now.

However,much as i love my Nagra's i am still extremely happy everyday i use my Deva touch screen,so fast and intuitive.

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Thanks, simon, for following up on that. When I spoke with the people at Nagra I was really just trying to help, sharing with them my experience as we were trying to settle on a deliverable media for the Deva. I really wanted Nagra to get it right but ultimately even after solving the Orb disk problem, the machine was a little too little a little too late. I am pleased to hear that you did get a few good years out of those machines and that you continue to use one today.

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You're right on that Philip
Nagra lives on, while others fade away broken and discarded. 

 

In reference to my collection, Marguerite ended her email.

We see that the Nagra Legend is still alive.

Best regards

Marguerite Kudelski

 

I believe she's right too.

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The final update with the VPR-5 and the Nagra IIc

Gone from this case are the little rare Japan recorders, Cabinet looks a little bare now.

That Nagra II and VPR-5 shelf is one expensive shelf, I'm all done now for a while.

 

The last picture I can't forget to include my sound man picture next to his IV-STC, One of my most respected recorders.

 

 

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qSFwdKg.jpgAll 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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It has been great to follow this thread; I am myself quite addicted to Nagra equipment. My only working experience with Nagras are working with material from Nagra D, but handling that made me appreciate the remarkable build quality and no nonsense form-follow-function approach. In the last couple of years I started actually collecting Nagras, and I can easily understand JBONDS addiction...

 

 

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Above are some pictures of (most of) my collection. It is a few months old, in the mean time another Nagra 4.2 and a Nagra T-Audio has been added. As well as a bunch of auxillary equipment (synchronizers, power supplies etc.). Earlier in the thread the Stelladat was mentioned, and one of these has also found its way into the flock. But, as it seems to often be the case, it is defectice and does a really good job just looking nice...

 

It is no coincidence that there are four Nagra IS recorders. They were standard issue for Radio Denmark (they had several hundreds of them), and many journalists had their personal IS, so in Denmark the IS is probably the most encountered model. Personally I love the IV-S, but the IS is a really cute piece of equipment. And thus you suddenly have 4 of them...

 

As a side remark one of the IS recorders is being used and shown extensively in a new Danish feature film. The film is about a 70´ies TV reporter, and the interviews in the film are actually recorded on the IS and transferred til digital for post.

 

So analog is (partly) alive...

 

 

 

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I never saw that Ares next to an SN before. I’m very surprised how big it is. I always thought that was a small recorder. 

 

dela you have a very nice assortment of Nagras there. I like the IS very much also.  I like the small size, push button controls and the silk screen labeling all over the deck top.   I wish the mic jacks didn’t stick out the sides like ears. It would be so very compact if they didn’t. Clearly one of my favorites though.

 

That is the problem with Nagra recorders, like potato chips, Nobody can like just one. Thank you dela for sharing your collection, it was nice to see. 

 

 

Guys, I showed you mine, now show me yours. I have heard from a number of people saying they have a Nagra Collection also.

Let's see some more pictures,  You can have only one or many, if you like them, we like them. We all like Nagras or we wouldn’t even click on the thread. So let's see them.  

Whats your favorite?  SN, E, IV-S, IS its hard to pick only one. 

I hope I have inspired some to dig them out, dust them off and put them on a shelf as Industrial Art.

 

1tah1yF.jpgAll 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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JBOND:

 

 I am sorry to be late to the party but I have been out of town shooting for the last month. I have ment to post sooner. Let me say how impressed I am with your collection. I still have 1 III, I sold my other one. I kept my 4STC and my XIVS. I haven not seen the Harvey mod in your collection. The IVS with a digital read out on the deck. I will also try and drag up some pictures of me using the VPR 5 during the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. It was an amazing machine but not designed for tape changes during a snow storm. The 1" tape would always stick to the head when wet. Not to mention the tiny little buttons while wearing gloves. It really reminded me of miniature version of the old Sony BVH 1" machines. (it sucks getting old)

 

Bill

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Philip, That sure would look good on top my IV-STC with those red time code numbers,

I'm just saying,

 

DU1fs1w.jpgAll 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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The Harvey mod was so much better in many ways vs. the Nagra IV-STC. Always loved the big numeric display --- it just looked like it belonged there.

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The Harvey mod was so much better in many ways vs. the Nagra IV-STC. Always loved the big numeric display --- it just looked like it belonged there.

 

Agreed, Jeff. As I'm sure you know, the Harvey Mod IV-S had a built-in resolver and had the ability to use FM Pilot or Timecode.

 

gt

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Glen, I wish I had your life experience with Nagras. Also, the video of the new store in Atlanta that was shown here on JWsound is really good. I especially like that consignment rack. I like the way everything in the store was set up. Very well done video. Your part of this I take it?

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