Jump to content
JBond

Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

Recommended Posts

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”.😎

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

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. 😎

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
 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
 
 
 
 
 
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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....   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
   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?
 
 
 
 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>>>

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....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I was asking the question again, Yes, 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 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

IMG_1540.JPG

IMG_1541.JPG

IMG_1542.JPG

IMG_1543.JPG

IMG_1539.JPG

IMG_1538.JPG

IMG_1537.JPG

IMG_1544.JPG

IMG_1552.JPG

IMG_1551.JPG

IMG_1550.JPG

IMG_1553.JPG

IMG_1554.JPG

IMG_1555.JPG

IMG_1556.JPG

IMG_1557.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

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

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nagra posted a series of “NEW” YouTube videos about their recorders in its museum on their Facebook page back on May 12th, 2018. 

This video below seems to clear up some long unanswered questions that never were talked about before from Nagra in this detail.  Also, make note this video was made after my story was posted, The Mystery of the Nagra “Serie Noire.”  My story was posted on Jwsound back in February 2018.  

 

This Nagra video on the famous Nagra SN strongly states a project “started” by JFK “for the US Services” but was not released until the end of the 60’s.  Previous stories and statements implied it was used as a secret recorder from 1960.  That story is now debunked.  My story below tells the details of what I thought happened and with this release of Nagras "NEW" video it now backs up what I wrote.

 

You will read that past magazine articles, many statements and stories over years in print and on the internet were not telling the real story of the Nagra SN but what everyone wanted it to be.  It was always a mystery until now. 

 

I’ll say it again - the Nagra SN will go down as one of the most famous precision reel-to-reel recorders in history, highly sought out by collectors thanks to the efforts of a young experimental Stefan Kudelski and his attention to detail which to this day that attention still carries on in Nagra products.  Nagra products are timeless.  

 

My only regret of starting this thread on Jwsound three years ago is it has brought such attention to Stefan Kudelski’s jewels that many never knew about before, making them highly desirable by some.  That and the fact I didn’t buy more Nagra’s when I could.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
The Mystery of the Nagra “Serie Noire"
by RJW
 
 
The question always asked - What year was the first Nagra SN, the famous Nagra SN we always heard about, actually released? That’s easy; 1960; it’s all over the internet. You can find many sites, articles and tributes to Stefan Kudelski, all repeating these statements:
 
"The Nagra SN Serie Noire was originally ordered by President Kennedy for the American Secret Services" or "commissioned by the Kennedy administration" or "the American Secret Service."
 
The latest 2016 story was written with a few changes:
 
“Kudelski, the high-end Swiss manufacturer of portable audio tape recorders, was approached by the American secret services towards the end of the 1950s to develop an ultra-small recording device. From 1960, unbeknownst to the man in the street, the Nagra SN (for ‘série noire,' or ‘black series,' make of that what you will!) went on sale to selected customers. It would be another eleven years before the device became available to the general public.” (1)
 
Notice the line "make of that what you will". Never have you seen written the Nagra SN was developed, put into production and sold in "1960" other than that latest March 2016 article. Nagra always listed 1960 as the year of the Prototype SN and always without any other information. So many writers over the years just used their imagination and left the reader to "make of that what you will."
 
Nagra SN stories seem to grow on their own over the years, with every writer at the time either copying what others have written or added more to the story. It's easy to do with a secret recorder. Anything you write does not have to be backed up with fact since it was secret. You were not supposed to know the facts or ask any questions. How can anyone challenge if it's secret? Nagra has let the story write itself over the years, and the story just goes on uncorrected. It seems like "make of that what you will" is just what Nagra wanted, just use your imagination, that's the story.
Originally, Nagra did start all this by adding the President John F Kennedy connection with their Nagra SN descriptions, always mentioning but never releasing any photos of the actual SN Prototype.
Not ever seeing the prototype led everyone to believe this super-secret unknown covert recorder was used by the Kennedy administration. Today such JFK acknowledgments are not found anywhere from Nagra except in an obscure Discontinued Pro products category on Nagra's website. Stated in the description of their discontinued 1999 Nagra SNST-R (the last SN model made), Nagra states
 
"It’s a special version of the historical SN “Série Noire” originally ordered by President JF Kennedy for the American secret services and was even taken to the moon on one of the Apollo missions." (2)
 
Today, that is the only place where you will find Nagra using that JFK statement. Unless you search for it directly, you will never find it. The Kennedy Administration began January 20, 1961, when he was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a span of 1,036 days. (3)
Either Kennedy didn’t ask for it or Kudelski never had a prototype made in 1960. If they did have the prototype in 1960, Kennedy certainly didn’t ask for it to be developed. Could both statements be true if the word "circa" is combined with the date 1960? In the 2001 Nagra brochure, "Half a Century of Experience", the paragraph describing the Nagra SN states:
 
"The Nagra SN (Serie Noire) prototype was developed in 1960 but not put into production until 1970, as the miniature components available at the time were too fragile. It used silicon transistors, dry tantalum capacitors and later, surface mounted device (SMD) technology, many years before this SMD technology was adopted by others. This pocket-sized miniature recorder was destined for army and police forces (developed especially for the United States government or, more precisely, the United States Army)." (4)
 
No longer any reference to Kennedy or the Secret Service, it looks like a corrected version of all previous statements. That United States Army statement at the end of the SN description above is new for 2001. It always read before as Secret Service or Kennedy Administration. Now, for the first time, it says the U.S. Army. In my researching about this JFK connection, I did find the use of U.S. Army that may corroborate with the 2001 Nagra statement, but does not prove Kennedy asked for it. That 2001 description is probably the most truthful up-to-date statement Nagra has ever released about the SN.
 
It is documented that Kennedy was known to use tape recorders before and after becoming President. It's also well documented that Robert Bouck, at the time one of JFK's Secret Service agents, was ordered in 1962 to wire the White House with a recording system. He was also told to purchase recorders through the U.S. Army Corps and buy them on the open market so there would be no record from where the recorders came from. Kennedy recorded approximately 260 hours of recordings beginning on July 30, 1962 and ending November 8, 1963. There is no mention of any Nagra brand recorders even though other brands were mentioned. (5) 
 
 
 
 
To add to this mystery, Nagra has also stated on one of their website's History section:
 
"…in 1965 the US Agencies start using the Nagra SN secretly." (6)
 
If this statement is accurate, then where are these early 1965 SN recorders today? Doubtful and unsure of this time frame, I contacted Nagra in Switzerland with my questions. In an email dated Aug 4th, 2016, Nagra informs me the 1965 date is wrong:
 
"… the correct date is 1971. The information you have found Nagra Kudelski Group historical milestones) is inaccurate! (We will ask NAGRAVISION to correct it.) Please refer to OUR website for the accurate dates and information.
The prototype we have was the original unit designed in 1960 yet never produced. The first “official” SN was not developed until 10 years later circa 1970, and the first units we actually sold in 1971." (7)
 
Nagra has been acknowledging that 1965 date since the year 2000. It was used in their Annual Reports for multiple years on and off as the first year the Nagra SN was used by the U.S. agencies secretly. That statement has now been debunked by Nagra as inaccurate and has been corrected. Nagra no longer makes that statement on any of their latest publications. No evidence to date has been found to confirm Nagra’s original 1965 U.S. statement to be accurate. 
 
To the contrary, the first public showing of the Nagra SN occurred when Stefan Kudelski introduced the SN at the London Professional Audio Exhibition in June of 1970. (8)
 
 
7Rf0cR9.jpg
 
 
 
Another document below is the first known Nagra SN price list, dated October 1970, from Hayden Laboratories Ltd. It shows the very first prices of Nagra SN and accessories in its infancy. (9)
As further evidence against the earlier 1965 date, the second page of that price list shows that major necessary accessories were still being developed as of the October 1970 printing, such as the carrying case and the remote control, both of which would be essential in covert recording use (i.e., if the recorders were used secretly since 1965 (for five years), the remote and carrying case would already have been successfully developed.
 
 
1r4LuVu.jpg
 
 
Nagra now considers the prototype date “Circa” 1960. (15) By using the word circa, one can now believe the prototype SN was developed after 1960 and during the JFK Administration, making the Nagra JFK connection more authentic. Now it’s possible JFK’s Secret Service agent Robert Bouck did ask Mr. Kudelski to make a secret recorder for the U.S. Army Corps. If correct, this is where the "Secret Service," "JFK," and the "U.S. Army Corps" fits into all of Nagra's past statements.  Since JFK’s sudden death, with the fact it was an assassination, it moved the world. With the secrecy involved in Robert Bouck asking for it on the open market and avoiding the standard U.S. government purchasing and documenting channels, it was now best-left alone, so the deal died when Kennedy did. The SN at that time, not yet a functional unit, was put on hold and never fully realized until 1970, just as Nagra states. Kudelski, being somewhat impressed with the outcome of the completed SN and the fact Kennedy did ask for it, never dropped the Kennedy storyline once production began in late 1970 and also never elaborated it either.
 
 
Nagra used the one part of this SN story that may have been true - that Kennedy did ask for it to be developed - and kept the storyline to their sales advantage throughout the early SN years. The more secret and intriguing it sounded, the more appealing it was for sales.  Saying John F Kennedy asked for it didn’t hurt either. That statement was the truth, Nagra had every right to use that statement in their advertising.  It became the perfect scenario; it’s secret… there is no need to say anymore, and because it was secret, no one could expect any answers. The idea that one assumed it was “used” by the Kennedy administration complicated things because dates, times and facts were not clear if someone truly thought about it. So for many years, Nagra tiptoed around the whole subject, and sadly the JFK connection is rarely mentioned anymore. The 1965 date that was used many times since the year 2000 is now dropped from their latest publications
 
There has never been any credible evidence JFK asked for one or that a usable pre-1970 Nagra SN ever existed.  The fact is no one may have known JFK asked for it, except for Robert Bouck and Stefan Kudelski. Since Robert Bouck died on April 27, 2004 at the age of 89, and Stefan Kudelski on January 26, 2013, at the age of 83, maybe no one will. 
 
Perhaps the mystery of the Nagra SN is even more mysterious than one may have thought. It is possible, but not confirmed, that Nagra was just enjoying the publicity of the JFK story along with the marketing enjoyment of the intriguing possibilities that others have written into the story. Going forward, we may never see Nagra use that 1965 date or the Kennedy connection again, but they also didn't remove the old versions for reasons that are unknown. One thing is clear - there has been no evidence of a usable, secret Nagra "Serie Noire" (black series) SN recorder, before, on, or after 1970.
There was only the one Circa 1960 prototype, nicknamed Serie Noire. Anything else was just a myth that has been kept alive all these years with bits and pieces of JFK and tantalizing dark spy statements like in the 2016 Elektor magazine’s story where we started. 
Nagra never released any written precise information for reasons as if to say “make of that what you will” which everybody has done over the years. 
 
The secret that Nagra kept all these years was not, there was a secret Nagra SN during the 60’s, the secret was, there wasn’t one.
 
This could be just another version to the Nagra Serie Noire Mystery, but to believe the opposite, one would have to believe there was a production of 1960 Nagra SNs that were in use for ten years without anyone knowing about it, even the people who supposedly would have used them. Ten years worth of one brand of recorder does not disappear off the face of the earth without a trace or even a scrap of evidence they ever existed.  One would think you could find people today who would have used them, but when people in the “ know" were asked, they don't remember using, seeing or hearing about a Nagra SN before 1970.
 
"I met with some FBI and State Department retirees yesterday, and they could not provide any definitive Nagra details. They all used the recording gear, but they could not recall when their use started or ended. Two of them specifically mentioned the Mohawks! They confirmed that nothing about any Nagra gear itself is (or has been) secret or classified. Its commercial gear, period. Commercial gear by its very definition cannot be “classified”. (10)
 
“Nagra Recorder” and “classified” should never appear in the same sentence unless “ classified ”  refers to the contents of the recording or the sources and methods of collection.  Commercial Nagra recorders would not be “classified “ even if the manufacturer or certain customers did not want their existence or use to be widely known. (11)
 
“I have not used a Nagra SN before 1970” (12)
 
Legend has it that the SN or Serie Noire (Black Series) was commissioned by President Kennedy for use by the American Intelligence services and the CIA.
 
"I know of no independent factual support for the first underlined part of this statement other than the company's own press and repeated rumors, but I can confirm that Nagras were used extensively by the British, Stasi and other European services. They were also used by the CIA, FBI and other US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” (13)
 
That said, you would also have to believe this is the world's best-kept secret of all time. No evidence has been found as of this printing that a Nagra SN was used before 1970, just as Nagra now states today.  So in the future when you see another mysterious Nagra Serie Noire story,  ask, what proof do they have.
 
make of that what you will...
 
 
 
 
 
The Circa 1960 Nagra SN Prototype
 
by RJW
 
 
In Switzerland there sits the "one" Nagra SN Prototype proudly on display in Nagra's private collection, as it should. Two things come to mind when viewing the first picture. 
 
1)  Nagra no longer considers the 1960 date, now “Circa” 1960, according to the name tag.
2)  The name Serie Noire is not on the name tag, only SN,    
 
fYw8TgD.jpg
 
 
When asked about the name SN and Serie Noire, a former employee of Nagra said:
 
It's not "Serie Noire” That expression I only heard from you for the first time. Even at the factory I never heard "Serie Noire." The employees at the time referred to the SN line as 
 SN means "Small Nagra," SNS means "Small Nagra Slow," SNN "Small Nagra Nab," etc. and the IS meant "Intermediate Size." (14)
 
In all fairness, this employee worked on SNs and JBRs from 1977 to 1988, so one would not suspect it would be the same atmosphere as in 1970, but it goes to show it was not a common name to use other than in print.
 
XAtHfxN.jpg
 
In this second picture above , the Prototype Nagra SN is entirely different from the 1970 production model SN. What stands out the most are the hinged top, no meter, tape heads and the tape path. The only similarity is the reel hubs. Particularly interesting is the pencil drawing on the deck which shows what Mr. Kudelski was thinking at some point in that 10-year development span, drawing in pencil where a meter should go, and other marks only leave us to ponder his thoughts.
 
 
r6Zb8s8.jpg
 
 
In this last picture above, the bottom shows a fold out SN type rewind crank but on the bottom instead of on the top like on the production SN. Notice the components used in the making of this very iconic one of a kind recorder. These pictures show the engineering design of the original SN that morphed into the production model SN we know today. You wonder at that time if Stefan Kudelski ever thought the SN would go on to be the most famous covert recorder of all times and become one of his greatest achievements.
 
 
 
Stefan Kudelski and family are owed a great deal of thanks and appreciation for their advancements in miniature covert tape recorders. Nagra's highly skilled background in this field with full attention to detail, combined with the ability to produce an ultra-fine quality product, is the reason they are still successful in many different fields. Even today, a part of Nagra is still making the latest in security technology for Government agencies and law enforcement in one of those secret workshops behind the scenes. 

 

Sources: The Mystery of the Nagra “Serie Noire”
1 Elektor magazine, March & April 2016, http://www.nagraaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/EN2016031251.pdf

2 Nagra discontinued Products https://www.nagra.com/group/history Retrieved Feb.2018
3 Wikipedia   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Timeline of the presidency of John F. Kennedy Retrieved Feb..2018
4 HALF A CENTURY OF EXPERIENCE, Nagra Booklet, 2001
5 Reprinted from The Presidential Recording: John F. Kennedy. The Great Crises, Vol. (New York: W.W. Norton),xvii-xx
6 Nagra Historical Milestones  https://www.nagra,com/group/history Retrieved Feb. 2018
7 private email to the author from Nagra
8 DB magazine, London Professional Audio Exhibition, October 1970, p41
9 Price list, Hayden Laboratories Ltd, London, October 1970
10 Anonymous intelligence source
11 Anonymous intelligence source
12 Anonymous intelligence source
13 Anonymous intelligence source
14 Anonymous former Nagra employee.

 

    Share this post


    Link to post
    Share on other sites

    I want to apologize for not including the pictures of the prototype in the last section of my story in the last post.
      
    The pictures of the prototype were given to me by Marguerite Kudelski, Stephen Kudelski's daughter, for my collection as I asked her for them "for my collection."   I did not ask to post them all over the internet.  For a brief time, I did post them, but I took them down after thinking about it.  To this day, Nagra has not released any pictures of the prototype publicly, on the internet, in their videos or on their websites.  At this time, I don't believe I should be the one to do that if Nagra has not for whatever reason.  They may have their reasons.  The pictures can be seen below in the correct context in which they were asked for "as part of my collection."

     

    ehnQnEe.jpg

    Share this post


    Link to post
    Share on other sites

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

    ×