a little background:
After a harrowing experience of fleeing the Nazis in his homeland of Warsaw, Poland, Stefan Kudelski settled in Switzerland where he obtained a technical degree at the Swiss Federal Institute Of Technology. As a student, he showed an amazing aptitude for audio engineering. One of his student projects was a tape recorder so advanced it shamed the latest offerings from the giant electronics corporations of the day and landed him several key patents. Needless to say, the young man pursued this budding field of audio technology and started his namesake company in 1951.
Kudelski's first product was a self-contained portable audio recorder, with a quality of design and construction never before seen. He gave it the name "NAGRA", meaning "will record" in Polish. It quickly became the recorder of choice for professional applications, maintaining its dominance throughout the analog age and revolutionizing the synchronization of sound with film. While the Nagra has been rightfully recognized with numerous scientific and technical awards and several Oscars, its true claim to fame is its popularity with professional soundmen for location film shoots throughout the world for the past 50 years.
"Nagra, like no other."
What can one say about the most successful and long lived portable professional tape recorder ever made? Certainly the 'Nagra' was a legend in its own lifetime, and remains an object lesson in quality of engineering together with remarkably simple and unpretentious functionality. Beautifully made, and until just a few years ago, just about every film and television program produced had its sound recorded on one of these impeccable machines.
Nagra portable film sound recorders similar to the above machine became the de facto industry standard for a half-century, and were only gradually phased out of use in the last few years by compact R-DAT (Nagra D) and file-based devices (Nagra V, Nagra VI) as the industry moved from analog to digital.
It seems like only yesterday...
I was in Westwood Village attending a 70MM showing of The Wind And The Lion (with perhaps the most-exciting opening sequence of any film ever made) with 6 non-sampled, non-converted, non-Dolbyized tracks of pure ANALOG sound eminating from Altec A2/a4's (before being discarded in favor of "newer and better"). WOW! One of the two most-memorable audio experiences of my lifetime (the other was at a client's, Rodney Pantages, home in Hollywood built to the Nines listening to doubled KLH Nines driven by Marantz Nines in a humongous room with proverbial spiral-staircase and 30-foot ceiling). One only wonders what these modern digital recordings will sound like 50 years from now. "Perfect Sound Forever." (?) Certainly not perfect, and probably not forever. Long live analog!
The Nagra IV-S shown above is a Stereo machine with Time-Code, type NQS-TCC, a portable self-contained 6.35mm (1/4-inch) tape stereo recorder designed for high quality music recording, cinema and television applications with three speeds: 38, 19, 9.5 cm/s (15, 7.5, 3.75 ips) NAB or CCIR Record, NAB + CCIR Play, and NAGRAMASTER (38 cm/s only) equalizations.
The machine has two microphone inputs with three pin XLR connectors, switchable between dynamic, "T" or Phantom powering, with phase check, and left channel phase reverse switch, or two current line inputs. It also features a NAGRALIN antidistortion system, high-pass filters for recording or replay, a switchable automatic level-control and limiter, built-in loudspeaker, headphone output, and reference signal generator.
The machine can be fitted with a NAGRASYNC F.M. 50/60Hz pilot system or SMPTE/EBU centre-track time-code system, including a built-in time-code generator, for synchronizing. Other accessories are available for particular applications.
Above is the tape head area, and moving from left to right, we have the dual-gap ferrite Erase head, the Time-Code record/replay head, the audio Record head, and the audio Playback head.
In this photograph, the tape path has been opened for lacing, and the hinged audio-head screening-shields are folded down. One might like to appreciate the substantial tape guides and the massive stroboscopicaly marked flutter idler wheel. Every component looks simple, honest and beautifully engineered.
This version of the machine uses a later type of tape guide which has a slightly textured though very hard white ceramic face plate, together with unique ruby rod end-stones. The ceramic face plates replaced solid polished slices of synthetic ruby used in the previous version of these guides because it tended to cause a slight stiction or judder effect with the tape, which could increase scrape flutter.
Visible just in front of the central time-code record/replay head is the unique Nagra azimuth adjusting device. This consists of a pair of very slightly wedged disks sandwiched under each record and play head, one was fixed to the deck plate and the other had a geared circumference. To adjust the head azimuth one just turned a small socket headed gear wheel at the front of the head with an Allen key, and this rotates the two wedges against each other, thus rocking the head back and forth.
Left-side of the Nagra IV-S, containing the various noise-reduction and line inputs and outputs, together with the XLR microphone inputs and their powering mode and attenuator switches. One of the many nice touches are the slotted carry-strap 'keepers' (extreme left).
Right-side of the Nagra IV-S showing the loudspeaker grille together with the various power and time-code connections.
Bottom-side of the Nagra IV-S showing the cover-plate for the battery-compartment containing twelve commonly-available D-cells.
for INTERIOR pics
* grazie to Gino Mancini for pics and basic text *
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