The history of Nagra begins, as is often the case in audio, with the tinkerings of one man. Stefan Kudelski was a Polish emigre’ whose family fled the Nazis and eventually landed in Switzerland after stops in Romania, Hungary, and France. According to a Nagra biography, Kudelski was a 20-year-old physics student when he developed the first Nagra recorder, believed to be the first self-contained portable tape recorder. Studer in Switzerland had developed a portable recorder a few years early, but it still required connection to the AC mains.
The Nagra 1 —the name was derived from the Polish word for “(it) will record”—was spring-driven, like an old portable gramophone, with a hand-crank on the end . The pictures below were taken recently at the Nagra display at the Munich High End show.
While the model 1 was a mono unit, a stereo model quickly followed. A big jump forward in performance occurred with the Nagra III, a transistorized mono unit with electronic speed control. It quickly became a favorite of motion picture sound recordists, and in 1965, Kudelski won the first of three Oscars from the MPAA for its development.
At some point we’ll revisit Nagra in more detail. I just wanted to riff off the beautiful gear they showed at Munich….
If you care to read more about the brand before then, this page is fascinating. BTW: high-end audio is a tiny spin-off of the Kudelski Group these days, a company focused on data security and satellite transmission—to the tune of 3800 employees and over a billion dollars in annual revenue. Audio is the realm of the Audio Technology Switzerland SA division, founded in 2012.