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Nagra Tape recorders How many here actually have used them before digital.


JBond
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I did quite a lot of recording at 15 ips on movies, commercials and anything I could get away with it on.  It was my default speed unless someone in production objected.  Yes, I burned up a lot of tape, but Nagra Master was worth it.

 

I never went for the Nagra IS because I could only afford to have one Nagra at a time until I'd been in the biz for a few years, and the IS would not take 7 inch reels, which at 15 ips is kind of important.  It also had only 2 inputs and didn't have all the cool ins and outs avail on the 4.2.  I didn't have all that on my Nagra III and wasn't about to go back to not having them.   

 

The Nagra E was also too stripped down to interest me.  When I finally could afford a 2nd Nagra (to back up my 4.2 and then my IV-SL) a used Nagra III seemed like better bang for the buck, esp. once I found the resolver for it.  Dan Dugan made my 2nd III sound wonderful!

 

Somewhere on the web you can find Bernie Krause's story of finding a Nagra III frozen in a block of ice at an abandoned research station in Antarctica.  He thawed it, lubed it, warmed it up and it worked.

 

philp

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An owner of MPS Studios in Dallas tells the same story of witnessing a Nagra III demonstration. The machine was set to record, and dropped from a short distance to a conference table... playback, etc. I'll have to ask him for details when I get home in a few days.  

 

I collect Nagras, and have an interesting iteration of the Nagra E, labelled the "Nagra BBC." It is an E with with pilot circuitry/flag indicator, produced enough en-masse during the heyday of 16mm news gathering/exterior film production at the BBC to deserve a special front panel. I've always been attracted to the red anodizing of the E, and the extensive documentation printed on the circuit board & case, much like military-issue electronics.  

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>>>I can tell you that from the post point of view, we really hated it when the client used 15ips, because that meant sound roll changes
about every 20-25 minutes. This was cumbersome and time-consuming for dailies. Most of our colorists much preferred 7.5ips jobs, and I think the vast majority of feature films, TV shows, and commercials were
recorded at this speed. (You 1980s and 1990s guys correct me if I have this wrong.)<<<

 

 

Mark the UK standard was to use 900 foot LP tape on a 5 inch reel. At 7.5 ips this lasted for 26 minutes which was handy as that was 2-400ft rolls of 16mm film or 2000 of 35mm.

15ips this lasted about 12minutes which conveniently lined up with 1000 ft of 35mm film but this was rarely used on British features.

(I personally never used 7inch reels which held 1200 ft.standard play or 1800 ft LP).

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I was trained up on the IV, and as earlier posters have said we thought we were dashing young men. Though how we could dash with one of these units over our shoulders (there was nothing remotely ergonomic like a harness available). I clearly remember doing my first art-house drama piece. It was a continuous-shot two-camera tracking piece with five actors running improv dialogue. The cameras were shooting 16mm mounted on a tracking vehicle and we were on the beach. Because the director and DOP wanted to maximize coverage (framing) I had to think outside the box. I ended up running five Nagras and a mix of Audio Ltd and Sennheiser radio mics with myself and the recording and receivers mounted on the tracking vehicle. I don't think anyone owned that much gear privately at that time so it all came from Panavision. Trying to monitor what was being recorded was a difficult process of swapping cans between each nagra hoping to keep up with the unscripted dialogue. Then there was the intermod between the radio receivers...... I was later amazed at how beautifully it all cut together when I saw the completed scene.

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I used 7" reels on 1 mil tape, not 1.5, which gave me a much longer running time--great for docs @ 7.5 ips, less sudden-death overtime @ 15 ips.  On traveling jobs the long reels were very handy--fewer reels to bring.   Dugan or Ruck set up my machines for these tapes, and I rarely had any print-thru issues.  

 

I was trained up on the IV, and as earlier posters have said we thought we were dashing young men. Though how we could dash with one of these units over our shoulders (there was nothing remotely ergonomic like a harness available). I clearly remember doing my first art-house drama piece. It was a continuous-shot two-camera tracking piece with five actors running improv dialogue. The cameras were shooting 16mm mounted on a tracking vehicle and we were on the beach. Because the director and DOP wanted to maximize coverage (framing) I had to think outside the box. I ended up running five Nagras and a mix of Audio Ltd and Sennheiser radio mics with myself and the recording and receivers mounted on the tracking vehicle. I don't think anyone owned that much gear privately at that time so it all came from Panavision. Trying to monitor what was being recorded was a difficult process of swapping cans between each nagra hoping to keep up with the unscripted dialogue. Then there was the intermod between the radio receivers...... I was later amazed at how beautifully it all cut together when I saw the completed scene.

Good for you--that was WAY high tech for those times.  I got up to 3 Nagras at once a few times but never 5!

 

philp

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I was trained up on the IV, and as earlier posters have said we thought we were dashing young men. Though how we could dash with one of these units over our shoulders (there was nothing remotely ergonomic like a harness available). I clearly remember doing my first art-house drama piece. It was a continuous-shot two-camera tracking piece with five actors running improv dialogue. The cameras were shooting 16mm mounted on a tracking vehicle and we were on the beach. Because the director and DOP wanted to maximize coverage (framing) I had to think outside the box. I ended up running five Nagras and a mix of Audio Ltd and Sennheiser radio mics with myself and the recording and receivers mounted on the tracking vehicle. I don't think anyone owned that much gear privately at that time so it all came from Panavision. Trying to monitor what was being recorded was a difficult process of swapping cans between each nagra hoping to keep up with the unscripted dialogue. Then there was the intermod between the radio receivers...... I was later amazed at how beautifully it all cut together when I saw the completed scene.

 

Wow. Intense. 

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...

Somewhere on the web you can find Bernie Krause's story of finding a Nagra III frozen in a block of ice at an abandoned research station in Antarctica.  He thawed it, lubed it, warmed it up and it worked.

Wow, haven't found that story (yet) but this one in an interview with Krause:

 

SRISKANDARAJAH: It’s unwieldy, but this old Nagra recorder is a trusted friend.

KRAUSE: I’m reminded of the time that I was recording with it and dropped it out of a helicopter…

trans%20apocalypsenow.jpg

Krause contributed synthesized helicopter effects and other sound work for Apocalypse Now. (1979 Electra)

   

KRAUSE: I had my feet dangling over the side and the Nagra recorder

in my lap and the chopper lurched and the Nagra fell off my knees and

fell onto the beach 40 feet.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Five stories.

KRAUSE: And it was still working.

KRAUSE: It’s the only machine that’s atomic bomb proof - that’s the machine you want to have.

SRISKANDARAJAH: When you want to record the apocalypse?

KRAUSE: When you want to record the apocalypse.

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...

As to Nagra Disaster stories, I can recall an anguished early morning phone call in the 1990s from a documentary mixer asking me to let him know if I heard any flaws with the track. Apparently, the take-up reel had failed to take up at some point, so about 500 feet of tape just spun loose inside the plastic cover without his noticing it. Immediately following the take (last one of the day), he spent hours meticulously hand-winding the spaghetti back on the reel, but was concerned about the possibility of drop-outs or garbled sound. All the sound I heard was flawless, much to everyone's relief. 

Thanks for the perspective on 15ips vs 7.5ips.  Sounds like others got away (and actually liked) recording at 15.

 

That's a neat story about the loose tape!  Yeah, I think I've read similar stories about guys dropping large reels of master tape in the studio and having to spend hours winding it back by hand onto the reel, praying all along that it would sound well afterwards!  Ah, the lovely world of tape recording, that kids today have no idea about whatsoever...

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Mark the UK standard was to use 900 foot LP tape on a 5 inch reel. At 7.5 ips this lasted for 26 minutes which was handy as that was 2-400ft rolls of 16mm film or 2000 of 35mm. 15ips this lasted about 12minutes which conveniently lined up with 1000 ft of 35mm film but this was rarely used on British features. (I personally never used 7inch reels which held 1200 ft.standard play or 1800 ft LP).

 

Doh, we really hated 5" reels, unless it was a short job or something like a music video playback (which I did do a lot of for a period of time).  

 

I don't dispute that 15ips did technically sound better than 7.5ips and had a better S/N ratio. Ah, that just reminded me of a few sessions we did with Dolby A or SR in the field... those were sometimes problematic as well. I can recall one where I had dutifully decoded everything and it sounded fine, but was unavailable to continue the next day, and another colorist came in and transferred everything flat (and undecoded). That caused a mess. 

 

From a facility point of view, I'm sure the bean-counters loved clients who shot on film and 5" reels of tape, because it would typically add a couple of thousand dollars in post costs per session (at $500/hour). Me, I'd rather just move on and be more efficient. I was very happy when the 7" reel covers for the Nagras came out, and more and more people started using 7" reels, especially with 7.5ips.

 

I just had a little nostalgic moment, remembering how cool the Nagra T was to use as a playback source. Damn, that was a great machine: the Rolls Royce of audio playback. I think you could drop it out a 2-story window, and it would still work. 

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I'm always a bit startled, when in confabs with younger sound guys, how most have never had their hands on a Nagra, nor have any experience at all with any reel-to-reel tape recorder. 

 

The Late boom operator David Allen Smith , told of an incident while filming Vertical Limit, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. The production was employing a helicopter to lift palettes of production gear to the top of a mountain peak, when a Pelican case containing a new stereo Nagra dislodged, falling into the unreachable snowy forest below. It was impractical to recover it, and probably remains there to this day. 

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The company I worked for looked at the VPR5 briefly, and decided it was too problematic, too expensive and too specialized (short reels) for what we did.  I don't think anyone in our area bought one.    I knew one guy around here who had an IS (it was his last machine before he retired, he liked the lighter weight), no one had an E (there were too many used mono Nagras around for good prices by then, and at that time we had great local Nagra service here).

 

philp

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@ ZippoReel-  That's an amazing story.  And it's also great news to hear that Schlup is a nice guy. I'm going to pass your story on to sound man Omar Milano, who conducted the last (that we know of) video interview with Kudelski before he died. Omar plans on returning to Lausanne to do more interviews with Kudelski's family. Perhaps he can interview Schlup as well. 

 

The difficulty with encountering a brand-new machine is that it's difficult to enjoy it without putting hours on it. For example, I have a brand-new, 1st generation Texas Instruments calculator, still in its original packaging. I'd like to open it, but something stops me! 

I originally acquired it simply to have a neat calculator for my desk, but it remains unopened and unused. 

 

I do, however, appreciate much of the wear and tear found on old, used Nagras I am most familiar with, the ones I've used on sound jobs. These would be the III, the 4L, 4.2, 4S, 4STC, and the X4S. I also used the Sela "under-bridge" mixers in the late 80's, and still have a couple of those. I have an IS, but never used one on the job. It's a very cool machine!

 

 The "Harvey Board" X4S time code modification, was a nearly surgical procedure performed by the usual suspects in the early 90's-  ASC, Vark, etc. It cost about $4000. The mod often included a large printed label on the interior circuit board, indicating the date of modification, and the sound mixer who ordered it. It reads like a greeting card.  The X4S was my primary machine before the advent of DAT, & I have a special affinity for them. For better or worse, I currently have 3 X4S's, with the "greeting card" labels inside. 

 

pverrando

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The "Harvey Board" X4S time code modification, was a nearly surgical procedure performed by the usual suspects in the early 90's-  ASC, Vark, etc. It cost about $4000. The mod often included a large printed label on the interior circuit board, indicating the date of modification, and the sound mixer who ordered it. It reads like a greeting card.

 

Ah, my mistake -- I had said "Cooper Mod" before. "Harvey Mod" it is. At the time, that definitely was a better way to go, at least initially.

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@ ZippoReel-  That's an amazing story.  And it's also great news to hear that Schlup is a nice guy. I'm going to pass your story on to sound man Omar Milano, who conducted the last (that we know of) video interview with Kudelski before he died. Omar plans on returning to Lausanne to do more interviews with Kudelski's family. Perhaps he can interview Schlup as well. 

pverrando

Pete,

Do you happen to know if Omar intends on publishing his interviews with Stefan, or making them available for recording aficionados such as some people on this forum?  I'd love to hear the "old master" talk about his origins, how he came to develop the Nagra and how the company grew with the different models over the years.

Cheers.

   --Robert

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I started putting things together? the auction said it was never used?  From Switzerland ?  I called the number listed in the email.  Guess who answered the phone?  It was Jean-Claude Schlup himself from Nagra in Switzerland. In our conversation he told me he was the man who developed the Nagra IS.

Very interesting story.  Did Jean-Claude discuss the impetus for designing the IS?  Demands of (female?) journalists for lighter-weight recorder?  Competition with Stellavox?  Evolving the original Nagra design with 3 motors?  The user interface on the IS is so different from its predecessors, that there must have been some very interesting design discussions and decisions in the Kudelski offices (with Stefan involved I'm sure).

 

On a related note, I recall seeing a post somewhere from a couple of years ago, about a bunch of brand new Nagra E's being sold at $2000 apiece, somewhere in Europe.  You got a great deal on one for $400, too bad indeed that you didn't hang onto it.

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The Nagra IS is pretty quick going from forward to rewind stops on a dime. It's like a jog dial, except with push buttons.

Also when rewinding the tape it slows down when it gets near the end of the reel. Then once the tape is out of the reel it stops.

That's all cool but when we were recording w/ Nagras (and still today) we don't do much rewinding or cueing of tape--that only happened on playback jobs.  With Nagras on location we mainly recorded, pretty much period, so we could live with the slow wind speeds of the other models (esp when on battery).

 

philp

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@ ZippoReel-  That's an amazing story.  And it's also great news to hear that Schlup is a nice guy. I'm going to pass your story on to sound man Omar Milano, who conducted the last (that we know of) video interview with Kudelski before he died. Omar plans on returning to Lausanne to do more interviews with Kudelski's family. Perhaps he can interview Schlup as well. 

 

The difficulty with encountering a brand-new machine is that it's difficult to enjoy it without putting hours on it. For example, I have a brand-new, 1st generation Texas Instruments calculator, still in its original packaging. I'd like to open it, but something stops me! 

I originally acquired it simply to have a neat calculator for my desk, but it remains unopened and unused. 

 

I do, however, appreciate much of the wear and tear found on old, used Nagras I am most familiar with, the ones I've used on sound jobs. These would be the III, the 4L, 4.2, 4S, 4STC, and the X4S. I also used the Sela "under-bridge" mixers in the late 80's, and still have a couple of those. I have an IS, but never used one on the job. It's a very cool machine!

 

 The "Harvey Board" X4S time code modification, was a nearly surgical procedure performed by the usual suspects in the early 90's-  ASC, Vark, etc. It cost about $4000. The mod often included a large printed label on the interior circuit board, indicating the date of modification, and the sound mixer who ordered it. It reads like a greeting card.  The X4S was my primary machine before the advent of DAT, & I have a special affinity for them. For better or worse, I currently have 3 X4S's, with the "greeting card" labels inside. 

 

pverrando

Actually most of the Harvey Mods were performed by Harvey himself, in San Mateo CA.  Harvey was a friend of mine and he continued to do work on my gear right up to the time of his death.  He got trusted people like Vark and Dan Dugan set up to do the mods, but by that time DAT was starting and Harvey wasn't interested in the problems of that format.  For years Dan Dugan had what was left of Harvey's parts and would do service on the TCS machines--that's who I'd call if I wanted to fix mine.

 

philp

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Interesting...

I hadn't thought that one could/would use a 1/4" tape machine (IS) to playback/edit 1/8" tape (SN). 

 

I certainly appreciate and understand that the usual Nagra 1/4" tape machine (III, 4.2, IV-S) was used in film and tv work as a "once-through", record-only mode, and send the recorded tape, tail-out, to the people who would do the editing and mixing.

 

A bit different from the roving reporter with 4.2 or Nagra E, who would, from what I have been told, regularly do some editing right out there in the field, cutting snippets of interviews, applying different colour leader tapes at start and end, sometimes do this editing in the car or van, have the bits of spliced tape hanging from the windshield with scotch tape, marked on the back of the tape as to what was what, then spooled together to send back to the shop for editing into the radio news feed or whatever.  I could see that in THAT kind of quick and dynamic radio news work, being able to rewind and fast forward quickly would be an asset to getting the job done more quickly, so those journalists would have appreciated the nimbleness of the IS recorder for such tasks (as opposed to the E which seemed to be the main recorder in Europe anyway).

 

It's fascinating to see that some of Nagra's machines ended up being used by different categories of users for other purposes than were originally intended.  It's a testament to the versatility of the machines that they allowed this.

 

About the IS, read what Kudelski himself said in an article published in June 1966 !! (the IS almost seems to predate the 4 series)

 

On a still longer range basis. Mr. Kudelski described the new IS Recorder, which is even now in the start
of manufacture. The IS Recorder will incorporate all of the long life and reliability factors which are being incorporated in the Nagra 3D and Nagra 3L, plus a new motor and a simplified control system. The new motor is driven by a closed loop servo system, somewhat similar to the earlier recorders. However, its new mechanical construction, greater power, and lower starting inertia, should provide a better tape transport than any other equipment that has ever been manufactured. The
new IS will also have a modernized version of automatic gain control. Instruments of this type will also include all the features that are necessary for complete automation. Models will include 1/4" stereo or multitrack 1/2" tape handling.

 

Source: http://www.filmsoundsweden.se/backspegel/kudelski.html

 

The devolvement of the IS was for the Surveillance market that needed a playback unit for the sn tapes. The ISS and the ISN were used as a playback unit. The IS was a byproduct of the ISN development. I think the stories of girlfriends and lady recorders are just stories. You wouldn't need a special three motor recorder for just that purpose like you said, useless. The three motors were for super fast stop and go playback but with special features built in so the tape would not snap.  The Sn was a good recorder but for playback it wasn't. If you had hours and hours of small sn tapes to listen to you had a problem.

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That information is wrong, The IS was started in 1972 and made public in 1974

 

I have credible information that it started in 1972 but I can't post it here.  So this is a puzzle?

 

http://www.nagraaudio.com/pro/pages/informationHistory.php

You're probably right.  I also found it difficult to believe that the IS development could have started way back in 1966 (when the III still ruled the day).  I have a feeling the article probably misquoted Kudelski, and may have referred to the I(V)S, not the IS.  That would make more sense (especially the reference to stereo).  As I wrote earlier, it would be so interesting and useful to one day have access to Omar's transcriptions of his interviews with Stefan.

Anyway, as fascinating as it is, this Nagra history discussion is possibly off-topic, and I hope we haven't taken this thread into a bit of a tangent.

Cheers.

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I always thought it was interesting that Nagra never made a DAT machine, and instead made the Nagra D (which was a beautiful machine, but heavy and expensive):

 

nagra-nagra-d-360431.jpg

 

and then when they followed Zaxcom's original non-linear Deva with the Nagra V, they initially based it around the Orb removable hard drive (can't find a picture of a V with an Orb drive on the net at the moment). I remember seeing those on display at past AES shows and telling the Nagra rep, "oh, I think this is a big mistake -- I don't trust this format at all." It was sad to see the company make those missteps, and I know their intentions were good.

 

They were still using the Nagra V at Technicolor Rome back in 2004, last time I visited. They used it on the feature film Casanova, and I was told by the dailies people and post sound people that the machine worked flawlessly. Tape was very expensive, as I recall. 

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I know that M. Night Shyamalan's 2007 film Lady in the Water was recorded on a Nagra (by mixer Chris Munro). The director boasted about this on the "making of" documentary, saying that it had been shot on film, recorded on analog tape, workprinted on film, cut on film, assembled on film, color-timed in film, and mixed on mag tracks (unless I'm mistaken about the latter). 

 

Thanks for the info, Marc, as usual. I checked out Lady in the Water and it does indeed sound like films from the 80s, though not exactly. There seems to be a lot less hiss and I think it sounds just a little bit thin in the bass maybe. I wonder if they were using lavaliers instead of full-sized boom microphones (I only say so because occasionally I did hear something a bit more full here and there). There is a distinct lack of echo/reverbation, too, which is a little eerie. I don't know if that has to do with the analog recording style or if they chose not to add any AR to give the film a more isolated feel. Another thing is that I don't think the ambiences and music were recorded vintage-style even if it was all delivered on mag tracks. This makes the dialog stand out a bit too much. 

 

Sounds cool though. Could one get a similar effect by rerecording everything through a Nagra instead of actually using it on set? It'd be an interesting post-production thing, I think...for certain films. I've read that this is sometimes done for picture. Shoot digital. Print the whole movie onto film with the lasers. Develop. Scan back into the computer. Of course, how much does 1/4" tape cost nowadays? I'm not sure exactly what term to search for in the google to find out. 

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