Written by Bill Leebens

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.


The Nagra 1, complete with crank.

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.

The pocket-sized Nagra SN is familiar to any follower of spy movies. Its pocketable size required 1/8" inch tape like a cassette, and was a favorite for law-enforcement surveillance. Low-speed variants were made for the longer recording capabilities required by lengthy stake-outs and security monitoring.
Ho-hum, another Oscar. The IV-S ( sometimes 4S) was a stereo unit which became popular for stereo recording of movie dialogue and sound.
Nagra surprised the audio world when it brought out two high-end audio components in 1997. The PL-P was a smallish preamp which echoed the styling of Nagra portable decks, complete with a meter which resembled the famed Nagra "modulometer" level meter. Even more of a surprise was the VPA tube amplifier, with 845 output tubes. Its most memorable feature? A combination heat-sink/tube protector that resembled Joan of Arc being burned at the stake.
Or maybe that's just how it appeared to my over-active imagination....

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.

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