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Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell


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My VPR-5 came yesterday, from Nagra, a left over never sold before, it never went through the final testing stage, so non-working, It's fully complete with all circuits just won't be able to record and playback video.
In the correspondence over the VPR-5, I sent Nagra the pictures of my collection.

Also came yesterday from the daughter of Stefan Kudelski, a picture of her Father standing over the same model machine signed by Marguerite Kudelski herself. I’m sure it's not the same machine, it's the same model in the picture though. Different from the first and second series VPR-5.

But let's just say it’s the same one in the picture: :)

(Nagra) also asked if they could post my collection pictures on their Facebook page.

I like the watermark  JBond better but, someone could challenge me years from now when there would be no way to take the pictures down. Or say I'm using a trademark name. It would be different if my name was Joseph Bond. That may never happen, but why look for trouble.

 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.qk0CQjE.jpg

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Marguerite Kudelski emailed me a link today that she thought I'd like, so I'm sharing it with you guys.

At first, I'm saying,  what the, then, in the end, it becomes clear what she was sending me.
Reminded me what you guys miss about the Reel Nagra's.


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Just a question,

I'm not sure if I'm coming across to most as bragging throwing my pictures around  Look what I got etc. rubbing people the wrong way etc.

That is not my intent.  I am just sharing what I think some of you are interested in also.  But I could be wrong, I can't tell. If people are enjoying my pictures I will keep doing it, If not I will leave you guys alone. Last month I wrote a big long thing about the differences of the Nagra III  with about 22 pictures etc. Took me almost a day to do, after posted for a week I chalked it up as it was too hard to follow and took it down.


This is the only site I post to.  One main reason is Jeff lets you go back to correct mistakes delete or repost something or change a  picture etc. One site I tried, you have a few minutes to change something and that's it.  Forget that. I'm not a good enough writer to do that.


I just don't want to be going on and on if no one is interested or could care less.  

If that is the case please let me know and I'll stop. I don't expect everyone to comment after every time I post something. That is just how it is, I read many, many posts and never ever comment. I don't care if people don't comment as long as I know at least some are interested. 

Someone should have the balls to tell me if thats the case.  I will understand if you had enough or a little criticism won't hurt me. 

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Just a question,

I'm not sure if I'm coming across to most as bragging throwing my pictures around  Look what I got etc. rubbing people the wrong way etc.

That is not my intent.  I am just sharing what I think some of you are interested in also.  But I could be wrong, I can't tell. If people are enjoying my pictures I will keep doing it, If not I will leave you guys alone.

I think most everyone has been enjoying your posts and your participation here. I don't think anyone characterizes you in any bad way, just that you are a passionate, possibly somewhat fanatical and obsessed collector, and this is a good thing. As long as you don't need any more feedback than you are already getting from us, it's all good. You should continue to do what makes you happy. Personally, I am immensely pleased with all the pictures you have posted and the lively discussions that have followed.

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JBond, what is the machine on the bottom shelf, in the center, below the Uhers? Don't recognize that one. 

2nd question: Why is the VPR-5 non-functional, did it not complete the manufacturing process, or does it just lack inspection? Do you have tape to test it? Power supply? Manual? 

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The recorder between the two Nagra III’s is a 1963 FiCord 202 a byproduct of Stellavox.

Gold anodized aluminum case very well built but clunky, up to 4-inch reels 7.5 speed.

I have the whole line of Fi cord's. This one comes in very handy because it's the only recorder that fits between two Nagra III’s ::) 
Here is an ad from a 1965 Tape Recording magazine the second version 202A. The Uher killed it.
It has its place in History.
Not sure it was the First Choice of broadcasters and film industry like the ad says
 All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner.09gMUBQ.jpg
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Here's a Nagra story you may find interesting. The 1988 Winter Olympics were held in Calgary and the year before them we were shooting a lot of commercials at the Olympic venues. Working on the Bobsled/Luge track I hopped in a 4 man sled with the Canadian Mens Bobsled team. We did a couple of runs from the junior start without incident and then decided to make some runs from the top. I had been using a 4.2 Nagra for the Junior start runs with no problem but when we went from the top...a very different story. The big circular section of the run called the "Krizal" if memory serves correctly...pulls about 6 G's of force. After we got to the bottom I played back the take and there were spots on the tape that we really wonky to say the least. Turns out that the G force was so great that it was actually pulling the tape off the heads of the recorder in a sporadic way. Same thing with a nose mounted Arri 3 Camera. The 1st AC opened the door of the camera to check the gate and when he did so the film was just jammed into the threading mechanism and spilled out like a Jack in the Box...totally unusable. If I remember correctly the Camera was overcranked...adding to the problem. The next take Camera ran at sync speed..24FPS and I switched to my IV-S Nagra and everything worked. I think the IV-S with the head protector made the difference by keeping the tape in contact with the head stack. On the third run from the top a stills camera was mounted to the sled...the photograper was 2nd man in the sled and I was 3rd man. When we hit the Krizal section the still camera snapped off of its mount...the threaded piece simply broke because of the G force...and the brakeman ( 4th guy in the sled ) reached out and grabbed the camera with one hand, managing to save it! 

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To answer your second question pverrando, I’ll begin with a short, story: :)
If you make it to the end your question will be answered. 

Way back in Oct of 2006 I was on eBay one night, I came across a Nagra E  listed at 400.00 no one was bidding. Person selling it, feedback (1)
The description just said it was a Nagra E in good condition etc and showed the specs.  Only one picture. It was going off late at night or early in the Am like 2 3 in the morning.
So I put an E snipe bid in for 423.88 went to bed. Got up the next day to an email from eBay saying I won the auction. I also got another strange email.

Bonjour !
Can you phone me (+4121*** ****) to organize the shipment of the Nagra E?
Best regards.

What !….seller in ….. Switzerland?…could it be …..Nagra?….No…I called the number the man answered in swiss? Dutch? I guess,  as soon as I spoke he changed to English. I knew I won the Nagra E but could this be, Sure enough, it Was Nagra’s XXXXXX (I'll leave the name out )  a long time top engineer at Nagra. If I remember right someone was going to start on eBay or something like that. Not sure but as far as I know I never saw them on eBay again. 

 We talked for about 30 minutes, very nice man. The Nagra E was never sold in other words brand spanking new. We talked about different Nagras, I said I had a large collection. He asked if I knew about the VPR-5 he said he helped develop it. He asked if I was interested in one. Oh yeah, I was. He said it wasn’t finished it was complete but did not go thru the final check. He said It’s about 40 man hrs to set up and adjust before it could be sold. They stopped selling them and was not worth setting it up. Don’t forget this was 2006, not 1985.
He also said he developed the Nagra IS - that was his baby.  I’ll tell you the IS story some other day. Because I like to keep my stories short. ::) 
So three days later FedEx brought the brand new Nagra E, with a test tape installed and to my surprise a New kangaroo case.
  All photos marked RJW are copyrighted.  Any use other than private with or without the RJW watermark is strictly forbidden, without written permission from the owner. 
What happen to it?  Sold it, about 3 years later as new.  (I swear, I must go in and out of consciousness with my collection) Why did I sell that? Should have kept that too.   Then I sold the new kangaroo case separately also as new. With the money I bought 2 other recorders and Mint 2 head Nagra E, the black one without the blank spot for the missing pilot head and the black plug where the pilot meter goes. I hate missing options. If it had the meter and the head it would be different.
But seeing that picture above again, I realize I should have kept it. 
The new Nagra was a late model set up for the pilot option. The Nagra E I have now just had the two heads with no option for a third head.  
That is how my collection grows, buy, sell, trade.  It’s the only way I can do it. You just can’t dump new money into it all the time, you have to use the money already spent. 
A week later the brand new VPR-5 arrived. This was Oct 2006.  The VPR-5 was complete with a new unused battery, I charged the battery with just a regular 12-volt power pack I had.  The VPR turned on, the scanner revved up like a jet engine, press play, the reels turned, all the meters worked, rewind etc.
 The machine had an unused Nagra test tape. It also had two side optional modules installed, they just plug in and out.  It was perfect except missing the top Ampex/ Nagra name plate. That bugged me a little the missing name plate. I contacted Nagra no name plates available and the VPR-5 they said was the last one they had.

After a few years of owning it, I traded it, it didn’t fit in the case like the others and it was a fast way to get some spending money. Similar to what I had to do to get the Nagra IIc.
I was ok with it for a year or two. Then I realized I made a big mistake. I know why I got rid of it, it served a purpose at the time but I wanted it back. I didn’t want a used beat up one - I wanted the one I bought new from Nagra with the New battery, the new reels and unused test tape for 850.00.
Oh what a fool, 
 I don’t have a picture of the first Nagra VPR-5 because I could not stand to look at it after I got rid of it. I must have deleted all the pictures of it because I can't find one.
A few years ago I sent an email to Nagra asking if they had another one, no Reply. So now after 9 years since I bought the first VPR-5,   I  was viewing Nagra's collection online, they had a VPR-5 without a name plate. Damm even Nagra’s unit does not have a name plate in their collection. I  had the same thing but mine was complete and I got rid of it. Oh, what a fool. I emailed the person I sold it to hoping to buy it back, It's in a museum in Holland, so that’s not going to happen. 

What the hell one more last attempt I sent another email last month No reply.
3 weeks later I get an email reply about the Nagra VPR-5 saying my email was just given to him. This was a different person this time.

To shorten the story, they had one more, but without reels, without test tape, without battery, without the side plug in modules and without (sticker they call it) the nameplate. Still completely manufactured New but never went through the final 40 hrs final check as they call it. 

I sent my pictures hoping being a Nagra collector would help push them a little in finding the missing parts it needed knowing that it would be in a  Nagra collection. I asked them to look in cabinets, draws and under tables etc.    After a week of back and forth, that's it,  that is all they had. Well, I asked since it’s missing the reels and battery stick etc. could we get the price closer to the last time, No I’m sorry we can’t go any lower. You made a good deal last time. Yes, they did do me a good deal last time, I felt like a heel asking for another one. 

Ok, I'll buy the last one you have.
So now  I’m back where I started, except missing the reels and battery and test tape and the side modules. They found one side module in the end and was shipped installed.  I hope to find the small 5.5 reels and battery stick someday. But for now, I got my new VPR-5 from Nagra back and it will light up and spin when I get a battery or a/c adaptor. I don’t need it to watch videos.
It is another recorder in Nagra’s history and being Nagra’s last one and the story that it was never finished.  And I bought it from Nagra.  The signed picture is nice to have also- it was all worth it.

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I was THIS close to buying a Nagra E when they were current--a screamin' deal on a used 4.2 saved me.  I loved the idea that it included spares and a probe that allowed one to use the modulometer as VOM etc..  


The IV-S "head protector" isn't really to protect the heads, it's there to prevent crosstalk and interference onto and between the heads..



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That Ficord 202 is gorgeous. I have a couple of FiCords, and a Stellavox SM5, with an original service manual. The FiCords and the SM5 use the same motor. One of these days I'm going to cannabalize one of my FiCords, which is a parts deck, for its motor, and put it in the SM5. 


Also that's an incredible story about the VPR-5 and the Nagra E. Two new factory-fresh Nagra items that you sold. All's well that ends well.  I have a very interesting variant of the E labeled as a Nagra BBC, which is basically an E with a pilot circuit for film sync, which I presume Nagra produced in quantities for the BBC.


Many professional 3-head tape recorders had a head shield like the IV-S. When in record on a time code Nagra, you will hear timecode bleed while listening to the playback head -unless you have the head shield engaged.  Playback heads are obviously also very sensitive to AC magnetic fields- hence the head shield. 


pete verrando

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The irony of it all, One reason I sold the new Nagra E is because I like the older two head model. It’s not missing anything whereas the later model  E’s have the option for the third head and pilot indicator hole from the factory. The blank where the third head sits and the plastic plug in the front panel just reminds me I got the cheaper model. I would rather have the third head installed and the meter on the panel. So I sell the new one and end up with this red one. Not trying to make it a movie machine, just your basic tape recorder. Like it was designed to be in the first place.








Then last month I find a Blue Nagra E on eBay in France. Nagra only made 50 of them I believe for France Radio.  The one in the France auction showed a mint two head Blue Nagra E without the black plug on the front. Great, it will match the red one I have. I email the seller can you ship to the USA He changes the auction to ship to the USA I buy it. Shown below. 





When it came in from France I opened it up, wtf… it has the plug and spot for the third head. Just like the new Nagra I sold. The seller says the picture was just an example and because I don’t speak french it's my fault. So I ask the seller if he has another one like his picture and instead of sending this one back at my expense and lose 200.00 I’ll  buy them both and sell the blue one I just received. The seller says he can send me this one, I said no so he put it on eBay   http://tinyurl.com/pswbu4k no thanks not putting that in my collection. So I keep the different blue one. The lids are thinner and cheaper quality on the later ones, besides I used the money to further my collection. Like I've done so many times before and still do.








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

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...Wondering did the final sound output improve with the DAT vs 4.2 Can you professionals hear the difference from one movie to the other?

The main difference in sound quality between the Nagra analog 1/4" tape recorders and DAT recorders is in favor of the DAT, in that the analog recorders had significant tape hiss and the DAT had none. This noise was not something that you needed a laboratory to document, either. It was so obvious, many of us found comfort in because it verified that we were monitoring off of the record head (if we were far enough away from the set to not notice the delay). Whether or not this had a noticeable effect on the audience experience in the theater depends entirely on how the tracks were handled in postproduction, but it's non-debatable that proper DAT dialog recordings sounded more like the original signal than analog Nagras.


Another significant difference between the Nagra analog recorders and DAT recorders could favor the analog recorders, but has more to do with the operator. When analog Nagras (or pretty much any analog tape recorder, for that matter) recorded levels in excess of its maximum, the result was similar to a gentle limiter with a subtle increase in harmonic distortion (not harsh clipping) This was very advantageous with dialog scenes during door slams and gunfire. The sudden loud noises would be absorbed by the tape, leaving the dialog unaffected -- no "pumping". Sound Mixers who were used to being able to record beyond the analog tape recorder's maximum tended to record the same way with the DAT, leading to harsh digital overload clipping, so they often blamed the DAT format. But, actually, this problem was due to lack of understanding about digital recording.


Another difference that's not often talked about is the general specs of the analog Nagra vs. DAT (WARNING: Bubble-popping info ahead)...


On it's best day, a Nagra analog stereo recorder (IV-S, IV-STC) would have a signal-noise ratio of 70dB (and this is just for the newer machines that could be tweaked to 510nW/m), with a third harmonic distortion spec of 1%, and a freq response allowing a 3dB swing up to 15kHz. These are specs that we would never accept now, and, as someone who serviced hundreds of these recorders over the years, I can tell you that very few met these specs after being around a few years. This is mainly due to tape stock changes, untrained tweaking, headwear, etc, and not a limitation of the design, but, still, it's safe to say that most productions using Nagra analog recorders were using machines that were out of spec. DAT recorders were pretty much always spot-on with regards to signal-to-noise with very low distortion (which computes to much better dynamic range).



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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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