Following on from the first edition of Beautiful Tech: Bolex H16 comes part 2: the Nagra SN.
The Nagra SN was first released in 1960, and was apparently commissioned by the CIA, accordingly they were unavailable and unknown to civilians for the first 10 years.
I borrowed this one from John Neill at Park Road Post (thanks John!) who have two mint condition Nagra SNs as well as a collection of pretty much every model of Nagra. (Park Road Post was launched when Peter Jackson bought the previously government owned National Film Unit and along with the film lab and mixing stages out in Lower Hutt came a fantastic collection of equipment dating back to the origins of film making in New Zealand) So who knows what has been recorded with this particular Nagra over the years…
The design is so throughly well developed, notice how the cover has three small viewing windows, which lets you see the record level, supply reel and take up reel.
Apart from winning Academy Awards for the Nagra III in 1965 and the Nagra IV in 1977, and for general excellence in 1978, Nagra also won the Film Producers of America: Alan B. Gordon Award for Technical Excellence in 1972 for the NAGRA SN! And to appreciate why that might be, consider that before radio mics were invented these were the only way to record dialogue for some scenes.
To access the battery compartment you turn three screws and the bottom cover comes off, also revealing the circuitry… And like all good hardware there is a block diagram in on the inside of the lid:
According to the Nagra site: “The SNST-R and its miniature jewel-like construction is a perfect reflection of the engineering and manufacturing expertise at Nagra. The SNST-R is milled from a solid block of metal, with top and bottom covers drawn from a light metal alloy. Its stunning look and superb engineering allow analog enthusiasts to maintain the values of Swiss crafting. Nagra-made heads, the meter, equipped with two scales, giving the recording level and indicating the status of the internal batteries, the manual rewind crank, offer the famous Swiss-watch precision. Measuring 146 x 101 x 26 mm and weighting just 590 g, the SNST-R becomes a discreet high-end miniature recorder.”
“The Nagra SN has a frequency response of 50 Hz to 15 kHz ±2 dB. The wow and flutter performance of 0.05% is also state-of-the-art. Its small size renders it an ideal candidate for all portable, location or discreet recording applications. The machine uses 0.15” (3.81 mm) tape on special open reel spools. Operating at a tape speed of 3.75 inches per second (9.5 cm / S), it yields duration of approximately 40 minutes per reel of tape. The Nagra SNST-R uses two “AA” size batteries or rechargeable cells. This enables more than 5 hours of operation.”
Check out this great virtual visit to the Nagra factory – particularly page 9 which has many photos from the Nagra museum room, with this great story: “Below shows the very first Nagra recorder which forever changed the arts of location recordings. The story goes that Kudelski participated in a French competition where he played back a tape of the Notre-Dame bells he had recorded in the actual cathedral tower. Being used to the minor tank contraptions of recorders of the day, the flustered jury demanded to know just how he had managed to transport the necessary equipment up said tower. When Kudelski presented his small and lightweight machine, history was written. Naturally, he also walked away with the award.”
Of interest to any johnny-come-latelys; this Guide to the Nagra 4.2 Production Sound Recording PDF is definitely worth a read. Apart from explaining how to use a Nagra 4.2 the author also works through the process of production sound for films, circa 2003 and there is a LOT of very valuable, honest advice!
I haven’t been able to find an owners manual for the Nagra SN – anyone got a link or a copy they could scan to a PDF?