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Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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Nagra posted a series of YouTube videos about their recorders in its museum on their Facebook page. 

These videos seem to clear up some long unanswered questions.  

 

Here is the one on the famous Nagra SN stating Kennedy asked for it “for the US Army” but not released until the end of the 60’s

 

So - the end of the sixties means not in the sixties and certainly not in 1965...

In other words Dec1970 or 1971

 

Sounds like something you may have read before on

“Jwsound Nagra stories”.😎

 

 

 

 

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On 1/29/2015 at 2:22 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

I will be happy to get some stories together for you. In terms of what was used on any given movie, I can give you some guidelines: the first model of Nagra that was used on a motion picture would be the Nagra III (the Nagra I and II never made it to the movie world). The Nagra did come into general usage on feature films until around 1964. It is safe to say that any movie done from 1965 to 1989 would have used some model of Nagra. The year 1989 is significant because that was the year that I used a DAT machine to record production sound on a motion picture --- no one else had tried this relatively new format but I gave it a go on "The War of the Roses." Many, many movies were recorded using the Nagra well into the 1990s even as DAT became a very common format.

 

I owned and used just about every model of Nagra except for the Nagra I, II, and the Nagra-D. I owned a Nagra III, Nagra 4L, Nagra 4.2, Nagra SN, Nagra-IS, Nagra 4S, Nagra 4STC. Also used a Stellavox on 2 documentaries (but never owned one).

 

Hi Jeff!

 

I read this article of you because I also worked with a Nagra 4.2L when I started and I loved it.

So I started reading these posts here and found this info that, If I got it well, you were the first guy here to use a DAT recorder on a feature film back in 1989.

The interesting thing is that here in Brazil we started using DATs to record in the second semester of 1984!

There were six soundman - me included - from Rio de Janeiro that came to US in 1984 to shoot FIFA's Official Film of 1994 Soccer World Cup.

Before I came I sold my Nagra 4.2 to my assistant in Rio, and arranged with producers to arrive in LA a few days earlier to buy new equipment for this shoot. 

I went to Location Sound and bought with Jose Gonzales a PSC M4 mixer and a Sony TCD-D10 DAT recorder.

My colleagues also bought Sony's DATs, a bigger model, not the TCD-D10 one. 

I recorded the whole 1994 World Cup with this set up, and when we came back to Rio all of us kept using our super new DATs in docs and features!

But I never realized we did this some 4 or 5 years before you did it here! 

Interesting!

 

Tony Muricy

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Your recollection of the year 1984 and your use of DAT reorders must be in error. Quoting from Wikipedia: "Digital Audio Tape (DAT or R-DAT) is a signal recording and playback medium developed by Sony and introduced in 1987." I purchased my first DAT machine in late 1988. Every reference I have found states that DAT (actually, properly referred to as R-DAT) was first released by SONY in 1987. I suppose it is possible that a DAT machine was available in some other country outside the United States but I would be very surprised if it were back in 1984. My first DAT machine was a grey market SONY TCD-10 that had only just become available in Japan ---- the Owner's Manual was in Japanese.

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If not for his last sentence I would say Mr Muricy just made a mistake between using 1984 and 1994 as this first quote implies. 

Quote

There were six soundman - me included - from Rio de Janeiro that came to US in 1984 to shoot FIFA's Official Film of 1994 Soccer World Cup.

 

 

 so Mr Muricy  came to the US in 1984 to shoot … in 1994   Ok,  a clear mistake, but then he adds this last statement.

 

 

Quote

But I never realized we did this some 4 or 5 years before you did it here! 

 

I solved the great Nagra SN mystery, but this I have been stumped. 😎

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I hate to bring this up but Nagra showed a Nagra SNST-R in their latest video about their Nagra SN,  shown at the top of this page, the SNST-R was the last and most advanced Nagra SN that was released in 1999, 29 years after the first Nagra SN. 
If they are talking about the first Nagra SN released in 1970 why not show a 1970 Nagra SN. ( No Name, No silkscreening )  
Sorry,  I want to keep the Nagra SN story correct.  

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 Maybe this will help explain the Nagra SN over the years.
 
 
The Nagra SN Series - from Prototype to Production, 1960 - 1970 to 1999
by
RJW
Size including controls - (WHL)  4 X 1 x 5 3/4 inches
Weight - 1.3 lbs 
Diameter reels - 2 5/8 inch
Tape width - 1/8 inch
Tape speed SNN 3 3/4 ips , SNS 15/16 , SNST 15/16 SNST-R 3 3/4 stereo
Battery life - 5.5 hours
 
 
The Nagra SN is one of the most well-known miniature covert recorders in history. Circa 1960, the first prototype SN was constructed by Stefan Kudelski, his company, Nagra Kudelski. Nagra started making tape recorders back in the early 50s. This miniature recorder was a very different project from his other larger portable recorders already in production. The SN prototype was one of a kind; no other units were ever produced. At the time, components for such a small, high-quality recorder were not reliable for what Kudelski had in mind. Further development of the prototype SN was put on hold for ten years. The actual production began in 1970, and the first units sold were in 1971. (15)
The SN was an enormous success throughout the world and used mostly by government agencies on both sides. Since the recorders were such expensive items, governments were just about the only ones who could afford them in any quantity. The small private investigator and others usually could not afford this type of recorder. Later sales expanded to law enforcement.
 
The SN became known as somewhat of a famous secret spy recorder with a mysterious past, never told in any detail. Stories were told throughout the years of a secret unknown spy recorder with early use by the U.S. Government throughout the 1960s. This has never been substantiated with any fact. The SN is a beautifully built machine, a small, thin, reliable, one channel miniature tape recorder. The rugged recorder chassis was milled out of a solid block of aluminum alloy and assembled with 7 miniature modular plug-in circuit boards and powered by just two penlight batteries for 5 1/2 hours of use. The Nagra SN miniature recorder was created to satisfy the requirements of covert recording during the 1970s. The SN became the machine of choice for many security agencies around the world. It was like no other miniature recorder the world has ever seen. The first units were painted with a flat gray paint with no Nagra name or any other markings on the recorder as most early covert spy recorders were nameless. When asked why the first SN did not carry the Nagra name, a spokesman for Nagra said it was due to the factory understanding of silk-screening.
 
Dbl1GXh.jpg
 
4IVvVkU.jpg
 
 
9hqBxh6.jpg
 
It wasn't until two years later in 1973 that the finish on the recorder started to change. That flat gray finish was now a smoother semi-gloss gray paint. The Nagra SN name was now beautifully silk screened in red lettering on the tape deck’s upper right-hand corner, with the operation and tape path instructions on the reel deck and lid.
 
78pZVYT.jpg
 
This new finish only lasted a short time before the finish changed again. No longer was the housing of the SN painted. Instead, Nagra utilized an anodized aluminum finish, topped with a thin undetectable hard protective transparent coating. These early finishes varied slightly in the aluminum color. Each SN was presented with the utmost attention to detail, from the highly mirror polished tape deck screws to a jeweled VU meter, the SN just screamed high quality.
 
6tjwVgs.jpg
 
Kudelski, the leading manufacturer of sound recorders for the movie industry during this time, also made it so the small SN, a capable body worn recorder, would be able to pick up the actor's voices more clearly and sync with the movie equipment, using the higher speed SNN. The SN was featured in numerous motion pictures both on-camera and as a production tool. The use of the cinema body recorder did not last too long, as wireless microphones became less expensive and better sounding and they replaced the need for the body recorder in motion pictures. The Nagra SN's primary use was always a covert tape recorder. In 1977, another significant SN development designed principally for covert operations was a slow speed, two-channel stereo model developed for the FBI called the SNST. This model was used for quite some time without any information about it released to the public. Only government agencies, not even law enforcement, knew of them at first.  The Nagra 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.
 
Through the early 70s to 1999, there were four different models of the SNs. There may have been some insignificant custom versions since Kudelski worked with the individual customer's needs.
 
The four primary models are:
1970: Nagra SNN - Mono full-track recording (3.3/4 - 1 7/8 ips) 
1972: Nagra SNS - Mono half-track recording (1 7/8 ips - 15/16 ips) 
1977: Nagra SNST - Stereo version (1 7/8 ips - 15/16 ips)
1999: Nagra SNST-R - HiFi version of the SNST (3.3/4 ips)
 
All built with the same size/weight dimensions, etc., the only differences were in the circuitry of the different models. The Nagra SN series was extensively used by many countries all over the world since 1971. Today, accurate total production numbers are not known.
 
As1MwNU.jpg
 
3DzY89D.jpg
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Pretty stuff.  It's odd to be discussing DAT in this thread, as I don't believe there will ever be a "J Bond" for DAT recorders--if there was he or she would have a collection of ugly non-functional junk!   Collecting old kitchen blenders would be a more rewarding hobby!    If there were DATs around in 1984 I would have been all over them, but I'm pretty sure they weren't available anywhere then.  Portable digital audio recording at that time meant Sony F1-type interfaces recording onto VHS or Betamax decks.  Like Jeff I began see grey-market DATs in '88 or so.  At the 1988 New Music America Festival the house recordist for the New World Symphony was using a VERY expensive non-standard Sony portable DAT machine that I can't recall the name of--that was avail about a year or so before the D10 and the Aiwa "Strasser".  After that time DAT was adopted pretty quickly in the non-movie sound world, it took some time to convince motion picture post to change (as Jeff will attest).  And whether or not that all was really a good idea is a topic for another thread....   

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Well said, Philip! Although I am still proud of my history and being one of the first to use DAT in movie production, it's not a format I ever really liked. I was actually happier in the earliest days of DAT before the so-called "Pro" machines came along ---- even my HHB machine which I used for more movies than any of the others wasn't great compared to any of the Nagras. Don't get me started on Fostex, could get really ugly really fast. When the possibility of file-based recording arrived with the original Zaxcom Deva I, I was totally ready to abandon DAT!

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19 hours ago, Jeff Wexler said:

Well said, Philip! Although I am still proud of my history and being one of the first to use DAT in movie production, it's not a format I ever really liked. I was actually happier in the earliest days of DAT before the so-called "Pro" machines came along ---- even my HHB machine which I used for more movies than any of the others wasn't great compared to any of the Nagras. Don't get me started on Fostex, could get really ugly really fast. When the possibility of file-based recording arrived with the original Zaxcom Deva I, I was totally ready to abandon DAT!

Sorry for the thread diverge, but I agree, JW.  I had much better "luck" with the cheaper non-TC DATs as sort of "combat" recorders than I did with the pricey TC decks on dialog jobs.  For a few years I stuck with using a Nagra (Harveymod) for all the sync "talking" shots and a non-TC DAT (mostly Casio DA7s) for everything else.  The portability of the non-TC DATs really helped with the sort of culture-nature-10-mile-hike-uphill-with-gear docs I was doing then, and somehow those little machines more or less never failed in rain and heat and snow and desert and out on the water etc etc.  The tears were all around the easy stuff somehow: recorder on a cart recording actors!  Odd, weird, glad that's all way in the past.

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On 5/20/2018 at 1:19 PM, Jeff Wexler said:

Well said, Philip! Although I am still proud of my history and being one of the first to use DAT in movie production, it's not a format I ever really liked. I was actually happier in the earliest days of DAT before the so-called "Pro" machines came along ---- even my HHB machine which I used for more movies than any of the others wasn't great compared to any of the Nagras. Don't get me started on Fostex, could get really ugly really fast. When the possibility of file-based recording arrived with the original Zaxcom Deva I, I was totally ready to abandon DAT!

Hi Jeff,

When I made the switch to DAT, I went with the HHB.

Heard too many Stella and Fostex horror stories.

Gary used to boom for me and he told me about a horror day with you on top of a process trailer when you finally figured out the reason the Stella kept popping out of record was because the sun would hit a sensor inside the machine!

I chose Cantar when I went HD and was very happy.

Do you remember the Sony WM-D6 Pro with 60Hz sync?

I rigged 3 for John Glascock to be strapped on Arri SR's that would auto roll when the camera did for a doc he did on the Yangtze River in the 80's.

Cheers and thanks for your site.

Traut

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On 3/12/2018 at 5:04 PM, JBond said:

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.

 

I climbed up a rope ladder onto a ship underway with a 4.2 over my shoulder and a boom in my left hand.

It was even scarier descending!

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I went with HHB too, but the bitter truth about all those "pro" TC DAT machines was that the transports all came from the same two factories in Japan no matter what the nameplate on the outside said, and it was finally those transports that were "the problem".    I had a TCD5 with the 60 Hz mod (and its resolver) from Super 8 Sound.   It worked, as a plant recorder, a backup etc etc.  Those early non-TC DATs made them suddenly not worth the trouble...   Like I said--I will never understand how we were able to get away with doing so many horrible things to those early consumer non-TC DAT machines and they kept working, while their high-priced TC-capable cousins gave me so much trouble....

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   On 4/19/2018 at 7:11 AM,  MarkC said: 

Were SN recorders as robust at their larger family members such as the 4.2 and IV-S? They are such an exquisite masterpiece. 

 

Regarding the photo's above are the jacks standard banana plug, not ever seen or touched one is impossible to tell.

 

Were these ever used by sound men for film recording? 

 

Did Nagra ever create a Nagramaster stereo SNST or SNST-R?

 

 

On 4/19/2018 at 9:18 AM, Philip Perkins said:

--they sure seem to be

--This sound man used them a good deal back in the day.  Life-savers, esp in the days of wonky wireless mics, and also for impossible plant-mic situations.

--DK

 

Hi Philip, 

 Since you are the only one that I have found that used the Nagra SN in film could you share with us what you know and think about this prior post of mine. 
What was the first year you remember using the SN in your career? 

 

 
 
 
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 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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>>>

Hi Philip, 

 Since you are the only one that I have found that used the Nagra SN in film could you share with us what you know and think about this prior post of mine. 
What was the first year you remember using the SN in your career? <<<<
 

I'm not sure if you are asking this old (4/18) question again...?     I would think there are lots of oldster soundies around here who might have used an SN on a job back in the day.    In the mid 70s we used an SN exactly as you say, as a method for doing a shot that would not have been possible with the sort of wireless gear we could get a hold of then (big time sound people could have made it work, but we were newbs off in a tiny market).  The actor wore a lav and the SN.  I did this a few more times, including in a race-car driver's outfit, getting in and out of his car and so on, as well as as a plant recorder (in cars etc).   It was a great solution, limited only by us not being able to afford to buy an SN and thus having to rent it in from LA each time at great expense.  The idea of using it came up many times but would usually wither once the costs were presented....  Once we had cassette recorders of decent quality (even w/o XTAL) the SN was kind of forgotten....

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Yes, I was asking the question again, I would have thought there would be a few soundmen here on JWsound that used them.
But I never got a reply to a very appropriate question to ask on a form full of professional sound-men who may have used the Nagra SN.
Thank you for your reply Philip 

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JBOND #788

Regarding Serial numbers.

Just had a quick look to my Nagra III regarding SN.

You can add to your database, that Nagra had also build a unit with SN: BH 66 8865.

It seems that Nagra build for the german "TELEFUNKEN" company Nagra IIIs.

This Nagras are branded as "TELEFUNKEN" and all writings are done in german language.

In the added pictures you can see the german letters for everthing.

If you have a close look to the DIN connector on the right side you can also recognize that

they used not the metal version but the plastic version.

The selctor for the speed switch show the speed in "cm" , and not in "inch" too.

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I had some spare time today, so I thought I would also add some serial numbers for the Nagra III SN. collection...

 

I have 5 fairly garden variety Nagra III recorders; if it is accurate that the first two digits show the production year, they are manufactured in 1962-1968. On the photos it can be seen how there are slight but noticeable differences. 

 

To sum up, the serial numbers for the recorders are:

 

BH 62 1599

PHO 6813072

PHO 6710710

PHO 6710740

PHO 6711121

 

The main difference between the 1962 unit and the later versions is, that the pertinax (baked paper) boards are replaced by the much more stable fibreglass boards. A tiny difference is that the modulometer is a bit more robustly mounted than in the later units, where a more traditional meter is used. Could be caused by a change of supplier; the "new" type seems a bit simpler and thus cheaper.

 

On all the Nagra III recorders (and actually all Nagra III recorders) Philips electrolytic capacitors are used. They tend to dry out over time, making it a good idea to replace them if the Nagra is to be actually used. But strangely enough I have never encountered a Nagra III that needed capacitors changed...

 

The 1962 Nagra III is a bit special to me, because that was my first Nagra. A year after the next III came, then a Nagra IS, and from then on they just kept coming to me.

 

I am sorry about the dirt on the 1962 unit; I hadn´t noticed that the semi-rotting bag had left such a mess...

 

 

 

 

 

PHO6813072.jpgPHO6813072 int..jpgPHO6711121.jpgPHO6711121 int..jpgBH62.jpgBH62 int..jpg

 

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Once in a while you come across a recorder that you just have to love. The Nagra ISS is one of them, and this week I have been lucky enough to have had one in for a brush up. It has been standing on a shelf for many years, and it had some serious problems, mostly due to corroded switches and connectors. And a rotted pinch roller...

The photos show it before cleanup, but even in this dusty state, it is still a fine little thing. As you can see, I got it with a SN tape threaded, complet with the same amount of dust as the rest of the recorder. After having had a bit of care (and an improvised pinch roller) it now runs smoothly, and the shuttle function is nothing short of brilliant; total control and smooth acceleration/deceleration. The capstan motor is a bit noisy, but apart from that, everything is OK. 

It was great finally to be able to hear the tape, and I was amazed by the sound quality of a 1/8" tape. It sounded like it was recorded yesterday, and the sound was clear and without noise. But it wasn´t recorded yesterday; judging after the content (an anti-nuclear power demonstartion) it was recorded app. 1978-1980! I wonder if any DAT recordings can be played back in 40 years...

 

 

 

 

ISS front.jpg

ISS interior.jpg

ISS shuttle.jpg

ISS top.jpg

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I don’t have a link but the recent episode of NCIS (16x05) used a couple of my Nagra IIIs as a prop. Two different ones playing the same machine, see if you can spot the differences!

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On 11/6/2018 at 9:45 PM, dela said:

Once in a while you come across a recorder that you just have to love. The Nagra ISS is one of them, and this week I have been lucky enough to have had one in for a brush up.

 

 

ISS front.jpg

 

 

Thanks, Dela
For posting this, The only Nagra recorder that has eluded my collection for many years, never even saw one for sale.  It was easier finding a Nagra II. Once I bought a pair of the ISS larger reels on eBay (one shown in your picture) I knew what they were used for,  no one else did. I got them at a good price, held on to them for many, many years then I gave up looking for the ISS.
With a good description of the reels and what they were used for I sold them. I figured I would never find the Nagra ISS anyway, well,  that and I needed money to buy another Nagra SNST at the time.


I'll bet that transport works very well, I'm thinking spring loaded stop with no lag between FF and Rew? Much better than using the SNST to hand crank rewind the tape to re-hear whatever was said. That must have been a pain to decipher the recorded tape. Until the ISN machine you show was designed.
Like the JBR was before its final playback unit was finished.  
Vintage Covert Operations with the classic Nagra SNST how cool the transformation of the playback machines of both the SNST and JBR.

 What a fantastic Nagra Covert Recorder History

 

UK2JBh8.jpg

 

BJ96jgS.jpg

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Wow, an incredible find! One of the few Nagra’s that I’ve never been able to lay my hands on.

 

dela: Athan might be able to make you a pinch roller to properly fit on the machine. It’s possible that it’s the same as a stock IS, but I don’t have an ISS manual or parts list, so don’t know for sure.

 

-Scott 

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Nice! Thank you for posting this link. The "Nagra Stories Sound-men won't ever tell" from JBond is probably the best long running thread on the site, always providing such a wealth of history and interest for all our members!

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I recently worked on a German documentary that sort of focused on the integration of analog and digital things in society, and the folks were big analog buffs, so I brought out a Nagra III for them to play with. They loved it, hopefully it made it into the doc!

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