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  Analog Recorder Feature - Nagra IV-S TC, Stellavox SP8, Uher Report Monitor

      Date posted: July 16, 2007

Nagra IV-S TC
Speeds: 3 3/4, 7 1/2, 15 IPS; Reel Size: 7″ or smaller; Format: 1/4″ analog tape. 1/2 track stereo, with centre channel time code (other IV series models for full track mono recording); Operation: Outboard multi-voltage power supply or 12 D batteries

Nagra IV-S and Stellavox SP8

Stellavox SP 8
Speeds: can vary from 1 7/8 to 15 IPS, depending on accessory modules; Reel Size: 5″ or smaller; Format: 1/4″ analog tape, 1/2 track stereo, with various configurations up to wider SM mastering heads (see text) or centre channel time code; Operation: Outboard multi-voltage power supply or 15 AA batteries; uses a system of plug-in potted electronic modules and head blocks for various configurations for different uses

Uher 4200 Report Monitor
Speeds: 15/16, 1 7/8, 3 3/4, 7 1/2 IPS; Reel Size: 5″ or smaller; Format: 1/4″ analog tape, 1/2 track stereo (4400 is 1/4 track stereo, 4000 full track mono); Operation: Outboard multi-voltage power supply, single dedicated internal 6-volt battery, or 5 D batteries

The Swiss-made Nagra III and IV, in their various iterations, ruled film sound, and were used for many great stereo music recordings, over a 25-year period, and now that digital has finally taken over, most are still in use, many now coming into the hands of avid recordists like me.

They never break, and rarely need parts replacements, built to a standard that car manufacturers have attempted, but never achieved. A IV-S, with its optional ruby tape guides, and arguably the best tape transport ever conceived, will meet its specs easily after 30 years of hard use. Unlike Studers and ReVoxes, with their notoriously soft heads, a Nagra rarely needs head replacements.
Uher Report Monitor
The Stellavox, conceived and built by ex-Nagra people, is a quirkier beast, with its own personality, while still a chip off the old block of precisely machined aluminum. Half the size of a IV, the SP 8 (now superseded by the SP 9), and its predecessor the SP 7, gained a reputation for sound quality, and the model array has seen various digital additions since the acquisition of Stellavox by high end audio maker Goldmund, also a Swiss company. Similarly priced to a Nagra IV, an SP 8 could be configured in numerous ways, its electronic plug-in modules epoxy potted to hide their proprietary circuitry, these including transport speed and accuracy controls, bias and preamp circuits, and other necessary electronic devices. The Stellavox audio pinnacle of the time, like Nagra’s IV-S, was the SM 8, with its wider heads (for better S/N ratio), optional 10 1/2″ reel adaptors, and record preamplifiers configured for such exotic microphones as the B&K/DPA high end series. There’s a recordist in Australia named Kostas Metaxis who swears by these, though he’s recently been selling off at least one of his SM 8s on eBay. I managed to acquire a more humble SP 8 from the same source (eBay, not Metaxis) for under $600, about which I’ll say more below, of course.

I’ve come to these open reel recorders after having lived with various professional portable cassette decks over a 30-year period from such names as JVC, Marantz, and Sony, followed by a few portable DAT recorders from, most notably, TEAC and Denon. Many of these were reviewed in these pages, and most are still in my possession, mainly, those that survived. The Marantz PMD 430 is remembered elsewhere on the site, and I also have two of the Denon DTR-80P DAT recorders. With no apologies to Nak lovers out there, either of these will burn the scales off any Dragon ever hatched, and these pro open reel decks then take us into another realm entirely, one never adequately occupied by the Revox, Tandberg or other European names, and not even approached by such Japanese makers as Akai, Sony or TEAC, to name just a few accepted by consumers and respected by professionals.

Ranking The Veterans

As with the car mags in their competitor shootouts, I’ll start with #3 in the running, the Uher 4200 Rport Monitor, which was the ultimate in a long line of portable machines dating back to the Report L model (and perhaps beyond in the mists of time) that I knew and sometimes cursed in my university radio days. The quintessential Uher is a quirky beast, with nail breaking piano style keys that are firm and slippery at the same time.

It evolved from an ugly, heavy thing that tended to bang into doorways and mar table tops into a no-more-svelte, but quite sexy looking machine, with large peak-reading meters that glowed in gold at the flick of a lever, and could be decked out with a fancy leather case, snappy looking microphones, D-cell replacing internal battery, and an AC “Charger & Power Supply”.

I bought the whole package, not all at once, but in stages, after the first purchase of the recorder itself, which did come with the very nice brown bag, which has a large pocket for tapes and accessories. Then I bought a power supply/charger, only to find that it, while it charged internal batteries (if they were rechargeables), it did not operate the recorder without charged batteries. In the meantime I had made up an external 6-volt power supply that worked fine by attaching it to the main internal in/out battery connections.

And then there are all the DIN adaptors you need (which I later realized were just preparation, as was much else to do with the Uher, for the recorders to come), and the figuring out of what goes in and what comes out, signal-wise, of the 4200. I won’t go into all that here, but one out carries the same signal as the headphone feed, which goes through the front-panel tone control, while the other, coupled with the line input in the front DIN on the right side puts out enough signal to drive a truck. I also acquired manuals, operating and service, on CD, printing out the former to help figure out its specific German sensibilities.

And let’s turn to the transport, with its silver keys, the biggest of which is Stop, flanked by Pause to the left, and Record on the right, with Rewind and Fast Forward at either end. It’s pretty logical, and the mechanical system works well, if rather clunkily. However, the whole electronic function is harnessed to these keys, the result being loud thumps when Play, in particular, is engaged. During testing for frequency response with levels set rather high, I managed to instantly fry 4 Energy Veritas 6 1/2″ woofers, a setback which cost me more than twice what I paid for the recorder originally to repair! However, the new ones, once broken in, were cleaner, tighter, and deeper than the originals, so, hey, it was just an upgrade! Thanks, Uher. I think…

But that was just the first of the travails with the 4200 to report. Next came the speed discovery: the BBC, from whom the deck came originally, had modifed the machine to operate at a single speed, and seeing the mechanism set to its highest adjustment, I assumed it was 7 1/2 IPS. But when I tried a tape at that speed from one of my other recorders, it ran slow. A tape made at 3 3/4s ran fast. What was going on? Tapes made at the recorder’s own speed sounded fine, with good frequency response, quite low noise, and generally clean sound.

With the help of a bit of deductive mathematics (and I mean a bit), I determined the 4200’s BBC-adjusted speed to be 5.7 IPS, a ratio of 1.28 over 7 1/2 in terms of recording time. This makes some sense, because it quite successfully combines longer recording and better frequency response fitting nicely (and almost equidistant) between the two speeds. Maybe because of mounting frustration with the quirks of this German (and ultimately, as well, British) piece of recording technology, I didn’t keep the response measurements (or at least, can’t find them in the chaos of my computer), but they were pretty decent, response to 13 or 14 kHz, and a nice affinity with both European BASF, AGFA, etc.) and Japanese (Maxell, TDK, etc.) tapes. And I knew that the Uher 4200 Report Monitor was not to be a permanent fixture in my recording and broadcast arsenal.

That became evident, notwithstanding the perseverence of technicians Boris and Klaus at All-In-One Electronics of Toronto, not to mention the patience of proprietor Rob Tracy, also North American Dual distributor, as well as the guardian for Denon warranty service across the continent. There were belts and motors to be replaced, reel tables to be fixed, and various other transplants from an earlier generation 4000 Report L, as partially admitted above.

Frankly, I was relieved when I finally had the Uher 4200 Report Monitor fully refurbished and back up for sale on eBay. I also made sure it was offered not only calibrated and operating well, but also with a matched stereo pair of dynamic Uher microphones, a rechargeable battery and multi-voltage recharger, the 4000 carcass for parts, and a generous supply of TDK and BASF 1 mil and 1/2 mil tapes, respectively. Thanks Rob, for all your understanding of analog tape dementia (which I think you share in a milder version). Klaus, of course, knows these “Cherman” machines, though when confronted with the Swiss Nagra, he commented, “Never seen von of zeez before…” I saw Boris at the TSO/Maxim Vengerov blockbuster concert (Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto in all its silvery glory), and when I later mentioned to him that I’d also been there, he told me a bit about his days as a sound engineer at the Kirov ballet. My, but aren’t we an eclectic country in our imported talent!

So the Uher 4200 was but a prelude to my reintroduction to the glories of analog tape at its highest realization. As with all technologies, analog recording reached its greatest flowering as it was being superseded by digital. The same overlap occurred with the LP, and happens regularly in the worlds of video and film. Stellavox SP9 Showing Conversion Process to SM 9 The Nagra IV-S, the 4th generation in the noble line of Swiss engineered-and-built professional recorders, has dominated the latter industry’s live sound capture sector since its introduction 20 years ago or more. But as digital has taken over in fits and starts: from PCM-F1, DAT, Hard Disc, and now, DVD, Flash Card and MicroDrive), the post-production houses have demanded WAV files instead of timecode tapes, and Nagras, in all their iterations still extant, have been coming into the consumer marketplace, along with a whole generation of portable DAT machines, most typically, the TASCAM DA-P1), which I reviewed a few years back.

The superb semi-pro TEAC DA-P20 was my main recorder for the Bellingham Sessions and other CD masters until I wore out its heads; it served me very well, indeed! So the next step for such duties (perhaps a step back, but what a step!) became a Nagra IV-S TC, the timecode version of the classic, which I bought from consignment through Trew Audio, now the major sound supplier to the film industry in Canada and the US. The purchase was made in Spring 06, and thereafter supplemented by acquisition of various accessories, including a super Porta-Brace carrying case. It’s a sound man classic, with all its extra pockets, Velcro-protected strain release openings for the various indigenous cables, and clear vinyl window flap over the front control panel, these amid all the cushioning and protection for the classic recorder.

But before detailing the glories of that technological wonder (the Nagra, not the Porta- Brace), I must maintain my automobile review sequence of ranking with another eBay purchase, the Stellavox SP 8 recorder, which also had a broadcast origin, its first owner being the CBC in Montreal.

Touted over the years by its cult of aficionados as a “better Nagra“, the Stellavox has a huge audiophile reputation which is well earned. One US cult member carries his SP 8 around audio shows, to use as demo source with the new high-end electronic gear and speakers being displayed.

Australian recordist and high end audiophile Kostas Metaxas swears by his SM 8 machines, and the matching AMI 48 mixers, both of which he has heavily customized. But he has also recently sold at least one of each on eBay; either he has to put his kids through college, or he’s moved on to something better. My SP 8 (and I won’t share with you the ridiculously low price I paid for it) was obviously used at CBC as some kind of high quality logger, its head block custom designed for 1 7/8 or 3 3/4 IPS optimum operation with a no-longer-available formulation of audiotape 1/4″ standard bias tape. Stellavox SP8 Closeup The mechanism was sound and operational, though with a clicking noise coming from the supply reel, and some intermittence in the Play/Record function. The electronics were in great shape.

One thing I’ll say for truly professional gear, is that good parts are used, especially capacitors (essential in the storing and generating of proper record bias and other current), so that they don’t become dysfunctional after a couple of decades or more. Both the Uher and the Stellavox electronics functioned at original specifications. Too bad the former’s transport isn’t better. And the Stellavox lost its clicking sound with continued use; I think it had been lying around too long at the Corpse without use. It’s a great tape mover. That’s one area where the Stella’ shines like starlight in its cool, silvery machined aluminum. As seen above, the supply reel feeds tape to a silkily friction-free strobe-topped roller, then to another opposing arm mounted roller before meeting tape guides and, in sequence, erase, record, and play heads, the latter very close to the also arm-mounted pinch roller that drives the tape at precise speed supplied by the servo-controlled direct-drive motor. It is a quite simple, but very precise mechanism, that Nagra engineers might deem too simple, but more on that below.

The two swing arms move up, mechanically driven by a gear mechanism that engages the capstan for play. When Rewind is switched in on the front panel, these arms lift the tape away from the heads, a clever alternative to the solenoids that suck juice in non-portable pro machines.

That’s the quick bits on the very Swiss Stellavox mechanism. The result is an amazingly low level of wow and flutter at 3 3/4 IPS, the intended nominal speed of this particular iteration of the SP 8, which begs for explanation. While the IV-S has a 6-position switch for bias setting on its top panel, Stellavox chief engineer Georges Quellet (once at Nagra) decided that bias adjustment should be decided by finely tuned head blocks that could be quickly switched in and out for various speeds and their exact record bias current needs. Inside these modular head blocks (see previous illustration) was a pair of bias trimmers accessed by removing the black top cover, that allowed precise adjustment to specific tapes at a given speed. Therefore, I can adjust bias precisely for various tape types, including the BASF and AGFA formulations that this machine is designed for. But to accommodate the same tapes at 7 1/2 IPS, or even 15, a new head block that reduces bias currents overall is required. Unfortunately, I am still searching, worldwide, for a used 7.5/15 IPS block, hopefully the SM 8 one with the wider 2.7mm tracks that improve S/N ratio substantially. Getting it will be the good news, but the bad news will be, I’m sure, that it costs quite a bit more than the whole machine did initially. Ca va…

But this shortcoming does not stop my Stella from being the best analog tape recorder ever made to operate at 3 3/4 (or 3.75) IPS. Without readjusting bias, I did some tests at roughly -10 below 0 VU (which on these machines is at a very high 540 nanowebers, several dB above NAB 0), and these are shown at right. It is nominally biased for the standard BASF LP formulation, which I have lots of, having scored a coup in a bulk purchase from Trent University of obsolete archive reels that had been transferred to more recent media.Figure One

Figure 1, at right, shows this tape, which can be seen to be dead flat to 10 kHz on the Audio- Control 1/3-octave analyzer, down a couple of dB at 12.5 kHz, with some energy seen at 16.5 kHz with program material, though not here. Now, I hasten to point out that we’re not talking cassette magnetic flux levels here, but much higher, and open reel tapes tend to saturate less as level increases than cassettes, with much lower distortion. And, of course, there is no noise reduction whatsoever here, and it’s not necessary, with a basic S/N ratio of over 65 dB before the additional near-10 dB of headroom analog tape offers.

My Philips LN tape, which I also acquired in bulk from Trent, provides identical results, the audible result just a slight softening of top end with music, but very clean sound with a very relaxing quality of great clarity and openness, like, if I may say so, nothing you’ve ever heard from a Nak. Figure 2 Moving up to BASF LH (figure 2, at right below, without any bias trim), we see higher output, as well as greater extension, with 16K just a few dB down, and I noticed occasional flashes of 20 kHz energy when playing jazz recordings (not off air, of course, with the 15K FM upper limit), such as the ride cymbal of Jimmy Cobb on Kind Of Blue. This recorder doesn’t just chop the upper harmonics like a cassette deck, but renders them without distortion at a lower level, making for a truly clean, sweet top end. BASF LH Super (Figure 3, below again) improves the higher frequencies, with a little extra 8-10 kHz energy, which can be tamed with a tiny turn of the bias trimmers for flatter response. I’ve experimented with newer BASF and AGFA tapes, like PER 368 (both tape brands identically numbered in this one case), which not only extend the upper octaves, but provide 3 or 4 dB higher output (hence S/N ratio) in the process.

What else can I offer about this little Swiss piece of jewellery? Well, it’s awful purty, nicely portable, and very easy on batteries, running about 20 hours on a set of 15 NiMH (Nickel- Metal Hydride) batteries. And with my recently acquired matching APS 9 power supply/charger (also from my friends at Trew Audio), I can run it in my studio off AC while keeping the AAs fully charged for field trips to rural railway crossings and Fall Fairs. And I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately. Look for upcoming recording releases and site downloads.Figure 3

Worth crediting in the refurbishing of the SP 8 is one Terry E. Witt, of Sparta, Michigan, whose side business is refurbishing rubber pinch rollers for all manner of tape machines. He redid my degenerated sticky brown Stella roller into a new perfect black drive device. Not surprisingly, his company is reachable at www.terrysrubberrollers.com or (616) 696-3625 by more quaint means, or t.e.witt@juno.com, or even tewitt1949@hotmail.com. He sure did the job for me, at a modest $40.00US including air mail postage, but prices can vary with the type of roller, from, say Akai to ZX-9. Just check with Terry to see if he can handle the specific brand and type before sending it off.

And the best [tape] handling machine is… The Nagra IV-S is arguably (and, frankly, I don’t see much real argument coming from any quarter!) the best 2-channel analog tape recorder ever made. There may be studio machines, notably the company’s own all-format T model, that surpass it, but few others can combine sheer virtuosic performance with such a combination of operational ruggedness, longterm durability, and utter precision that is otherwise unknown. Nagra IV-S Closeup To expand the analogy with automobiles, you will probably never see a car that combines this maintenance of performance over three decades with only nominal service and repair. You will probably spend damn near what you paid for a Mercedes over that period only to keep it running and, hopefully, distantly approach your original investment in its actual value after all that.

And, as a final thought on all this, I do appreciate my Omega and Seiko chronographs, too, with little personal regard for the gilded baubles made by such snob-satisfiers as Rolex and Philippe Patek. There, I said it, and I’m glad. If it glows in the dark or shines in the sun, I want it to do so for a purpose. In fact, I’ve just bought myself a Casio Atomic watch that checks in with the US time signal in Colorado twice a day, and runs off its own solar panel. Time is of the essence. Cost is not.
Nagra Heads and Guides
The IV-S doesn’t glow, nor does it even have more than a basic realtime counter, but like the Stellavox, it shines sonically, but I’ll get to that. The transport is a shining jewel, especially with ruby guides before and after the heads, along with very precise rollers, the one at left topped by a stroboscope to show speed in 50 or 60 Hz light. Another light from the Nagra is its meter, lit from the bottom corners in light amber.

The meter itself, called a Modulometer, is a brilliant piece of intuitive ergonomics engineering, with two needles, mounted front-to-back, for right and left channels, respectively. Being mildly dyslexic, I have a reminder, “LFT R” posted on mine to ensure that I get my channels right, or more correctly, correct, that is, LeFT (needle) Rear and right Front. Do I make myself somewhat clear?

The purpose of this orientation is to allow the simultaneous display of channel balance (the meters move as one) or stereo information (moving individually), and there is a front-panel selectable setting for the Modulometer to show channel difference information to aid in LP mastering to gauge potential groove depth. Figure 4Clever, these Swiss! So you always know where you’re at, level and balance-wise, with this recorder. Its scale is usefully broad, with the 0 point not at 12 o’clock, but over to the right, with 6 dB of headroom shown beyond; and, of course, it’s a peak reading device, with fast up and slow down ballistics, a little more useful than the wildly gyrating peak readers of the Stellavox.

But enough about that. The audio performance of the Nagra starts with a basic signal-to-noise ratio of 75 dB plus headroom of about 10 dB, with a little soft analog saturation on top of that, to easily put it into digital S/N territory without the terror of quantization noise, just a little hiss, well below the noise floor of any concert hall or outdoor location I’ll ever encounter.

Noise reduction? Well, that’s a story for another time, but I’ll sum up by saying that the choice between absolute quiet and absolute sonic transparency is always there, and one I’ve made in the direction of the latter. So the accompanying Dolby SR outboard device went to a deserving home other than mine. Besides, it didn’t fit into the Porta-Brace case. The Nagra did surprise me in frequency response measurements by having slightly less extended top end at 3 3/4 IPS than the Stellavox as a rule, the measurement shown with BASF LH (figure 4, at right) taken at what looked like the most suitable of the 6 bias positions. We see a little rise in the upper mids, which allows extension to 12.5 kHz, and a slight dip in the lower midrange, which can be heard. It does sound very nice at the slowest speed, with utterly inaudible wow or flutter from the superb transport, but there are these mildly audible colorations. Figure 5 At 7 1/2 IPS (figure 5, right), we see excellent linearity, the increasing bouncing balls, so to speak, a function of the faster variations with decreasing frequency of the display; to camera capture on an averaged basis blurred the pictures, so I had to shoot several shots and pick the best. You’ll have to trust me on this. With LH again (figure 5) the IV-S is pretty flat to almost 20 Hz, with the slightest hint of rolloff above 15, and with exceptional linearity in the overtone octaves that gives it such a natural timbral quality in listening to music. At 15 IPS (figure 6), this only improves, and the better bounce with descending octaves only underlines the increased transient response provided at the highest speed, which provides even greater acoustic transparency. This can be audibly improved by the use of the Nagra Master EQ position, which is designed to be used with the best tapes, such as BASF 468 or 911 mastering formulations. I could have shown this recorder with such tapes, as I have a good stock of the former, but I wanted to show its exceptional capabilities with average, everyday reels, since the true capabilities can’t really be seen on even a 1/3d octave display, but must be heard.
Figure 6
And a final note about the seeming disparities in the bass region of the measurements. These are largely a function of display speed, as noted, which increases with tape speed, so more variation up or down can be seen, especially in the 15 IPS graphs. I was more interested in capturing the accurate display of the higher frequencies, and can assure you that the low frequency performance of this legendary machine is totally consistent and similar, with lower harmonic and intermodulation distortion audible at every speed increase (even though when listening to the lower speeds it didn’t seem possible to improve in this regard).

Both the Nagra and Stellavox have exceptional transports, with unusual care taken in getting the tape from one reel to the other with minimal disturbance or vibration. Which is better? Well, by a slim margin it is the IV-S, whose more precisely detailed tape path exhibits notably less of a phenomenon which can only be seen on a scope that shows phase, like my vintage Panasonic 4-channel model. I use it for setting tape azimuth and for quadraphonic display. I call this phenomenon skew, because it represents the lateral movement of the tape as it passes the record and play heads, which can be seen and, to a lesser extent, heard as a slight wobbliness not of speed, but of image stability, and at worst, audible distortion. In a surround system, this is most pronounced in matrix derived rear channels. Scope #1:  A Stereo Scope pattern with 4-CH, your basic Below we see the off-tape signal, first as stereo, then as mono next pic down. Let me explain: a mono signal, either sine wave or pink noise, should ideally appear as a straight line, which is vertical on my scope. If there is skew in the tape path, movement laterally appears, a kind of spreading in a jittery fashion. We see more of this from record/ play in the Stella because of its fewer and slightly less precise guides in the tape path. There are so few guides in the tape path of the Uher that it is a constant phenomenon that causes quite audible modulation distortion and noise in theScope #2:  Mono Signal with accurate phase and head alignment. Balance disparities would tilt the trace left or right sound (worse, of course, with poorer or older tapes, like seen at bottom), a muddiness that I found cumulatively intolerable. This is also true of most of the consumer machines produced over the last 30 years. By comparison these machines look good, to say the least. The seemingly indigenous attention to tape skew by the Swiss has in just this one performance area put them ahead of most tape recorder designers, with the exception of those at Studer (originally Swiss) and a few other companies. I give TEAC/TASCAM honorable mention in this area, and should note that my recently acquired Fostex Model 20 has Teflon guide rollers on either side of the heads to reduce skew and the attendant scrape (read friction) flutter typical in most analog tape transports. Have I lost you yet? Don’t worry, I’m almost done.

Scope #3:  Mono Signal with just the beginnings of phase smear, typical 3/4 IPS skew performance with average tapes So the ‘champeen’ in the movement of tape handling, as it were, is the Nagra, and I’m sure the precision Ruby guides (an innovation in tape recorders borrowed from the Swiss watch tradition, of course) have a significant role. Other advantages of the Nagra tradition that carry through here are a 10 dB superiority in S/N ratio. And then there’s greater than 85 dB erasure capability, so you never have to worry about sticking to virgin tape again, because they just don’t get noisy the way they do with other decks when re-used.

And the transport is so gentle that the stretching and warping of the mylar tape backing (that cumulatively increases skew with use) is also minimized. Scope #4:  Same signal as above with serious skew which is audible as high frequency grain and midrange burble By this point I’ve probably told you more than you ever wanted to know about analog tape recording, but then I’ve been studying it for about 30 years, along with acoustics, and a few other things unrelated to audio at all. And maybe I’ve gotten wise enough to know when to shut up about something, so let’s conclude this analogical essay this way:

I do embrace also digital recording technology, though I think I’m a little ancient to get buried in the computer for it; I already know too much about computer magazine production graphics to want to extend it into my favoured recreational activities. I’ll leave the programmable Flash Card, MicroDrive and other pro digital recordo Aaron, who is already using them in his work, though I did have fun with the TASCAM HD-P2. And of late, I’ve acquired a ZOOM H4, recently reviewed here.

And I do enjoy working with my 96 kHz DAT recorder, the Pioneer D9601, which was sold only by pro supplier HHB in Europe and North America. But I must say, the Nagra and Stellavox machines are still a blast, the ultimate extension of a passion that started with that first experience of watching those big reels go round. In fact, I used to take Aaron into the “Tooey” (my home studio from my radio days) and sit him on my knee watching the big TEAC reels revolve until he’d go to sleep. Maybe soon I’ll sometimes do the same with little Jackson (the next analog generation?). Me, I could watch those reels go round forever.

Andrew Marshall

Hello Andrew,
I just came across your analog reel piece and since I have a Lyrec
Fred I’d be very interested in seeing the video involving it as a QGBNagra IV-S/Lyrec FRED Combo
substitute that you mentioned.
Still available to email?
Thanks,
Walter Clay

Hi Walter,

Here’s a static look (the video is in your email) at how they hook up together on a flat surface. I use the Nagra/Lyrec system to record off air all the time, and have also set it up on location when doing CD sessions, most recently for an organ CD at St. James Cathedral in Toronto last May (07). I originally used an additional tape guide, cadged from my TEAC box of goodies, but eliminated it because I needed to reduce extra tape-path friction as much as possible, especially for fast wind modes. The exceptional tape handling characteristics of the FRED definitely come into play here, and the addition of its dead-on-accurate realtime tape counter is an incredible bonus.

The trick is, of course, to use the variable speed options on FRED to set proper tape tensions for the system as a whole, that is, to balance feed with takeup, the FRED speed just a little faster than that of the IV-S to ensure that the tape does not develop a desire to wrap itself around the capstan, a definite concern as one uses thinner tapes. I have had good success with 1- and 3/4-mil tape thicknesses, but 1/2 mil is a definite no-go because of static electricity attraction concerns, the tendency of the tape to wrap around whatever it can.

There are big reels, and there are BIG reels, namely 12 1/2″ ones, of which I managed to score 11 on eBay. These allow another doubling of record/play time over 10 1/2″ reels (think of how much tape is going around at the circumference of the bigger reel!). This is another major asset of the FRED over the grossly overpriced Nagra QGB reel extender. My favourite recording reel is Maxell UDXL 1-mil, which gives me just over 5000′, good enough for over 2 hours of continuous recording, and for longer challenges, 3/4-mil BASF DP-26LH provides about 7200′ and over 3 hours of recording time. Going beyond that poses the already noted mechanical problems, as well as the meeting of the tape-head-cleaning vs recording time threshold; in other words, at about 3 hours, with most tapes, the heads will be sufficiently coated with oxide that you’ll have to stop for a cleaning, anyway. Otherwise, you’ll have a distinct (or not so distinct) mellowing of the last act of the opera.

It’s the threading that’s critical, since the capstan-free tape path of the Lyrec must not be interrupted. Therefore, any variation from that shown is a no-go. Also, you always have to start FRED first, and then put the IV-S into gear with the transport lever. This is a sacred sequence, which, if reversed, leads to excessive use of the provided editing block, and alteration of beloved masters…what’s the old B-film phrase, “half human, half heartache”?

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38 Responses to “Analog Recorder Feature - Nagra IV-S TC, Stellavox SP8, Uher Report Monitor”

  1. Barry Hutchinson c-us Says:

    An excellent review….and how could I criticise the result of the ’shootout’ for sitting on my desk in front of me is a Nagra 4.2 (Full track mono) and two IV-S TC’s. However I think Andrew Marshall was a little hasty in selling his Dolby SR unit for when I heard this combination it just took my breath away!

    Finally if you wish to marvel at Nagra tape transports buy a Nagra D. Now falling to affordable prices these wonderful machines rival the mighty Nagra T for the ultimate expression of swiss mechanical artistry!

  2. Eric G c-ca Says:

    Hi Andrew: IMO, a very well written article indeed, and now you’ve given me the “bug”. I always wanted a Nagra, but couldn’t afford it. Thanks for introducing me to the Uher, a little more in my price range. Any comment on the Uher 4000 Report Monitor (I know it’s mono).

    Thanks
    Eric G.

  3. Joe Elias c-ca Says:

    I will forever be an analogue diehard.
    I have gone through a multitude of reel to reel recorders since 1955 when my dad brought a VM (voice of music) recorder back with him from Detroit to New Brunswick , Canada, where our home was.
    My “prizes” wound up to be three Crown International (Elkhart, Indianna) reel to reel recorders of both 1/4 and 1/2 track format and 800 and 700 transports with CX electronics accompanying all the transports.
    My prize portable is a Nagra full track aquired some 15 to 20 years ago.
    From the very few times I have used it, I can understand all your praises about these recorders. Their construction is flawless(if such a thing exists) and their analogue reproduction exemplary and forever repetitive.
    Your article is extremely interesting.
    I also have long realized service techs(good ones) are not easy to find and as a result I have read extensively over the years in order to service my own machines.
    I have never had to touch the Nagra, of coarse, due to its pedigree, but also, I really haven’t used it very much at all……………….
    It would be nice to hear from you…
    Cheers and “long live analgue recording”……………………………….Joe

  4. Joe Elias c-ca Says:

    Where can I get a Nagra IV-S TC???????…Joe

  5. Andrew Marshall c-unknown Says:

    AM Replies:

    Thanks all of you for your comments. There are lots of Nagra IV-Ss out there, one currently up on eBay, and several on consignment at Trew Audio at various prices, some of these rather high. That’s where I found mine, and the price was reasonable and I managed to get the consignee to come down a couple of hundred bucks through negotiation. (www.trewaudio.com)

    It may be a better bet to try eBay, where they generally go for somewhere between $1000 and $2000. I also think non-TC ones are perhaps more attractive, especially if they have the slightly wider heads for higher S/N ratio. However, most of these do not have the 7″-reel wings and wider cover, though they do handle 7″ reels.

    Speaking of reels, the QGB 10.5″ reel adaptor tends to sell for far more than most IV-S recorders do, but I found my own solution in a Lyrec FRED editing machine, and will send interested readers a short video of it in action via email if so requested. The Lyrec actually handles 12″ reels, and its capstanless servo drive coordinates well with that of the Nagra. They are fairly rare, but I do have an extra FRED which I bought for the hard case if any Nagra owner is interested.

  6. Larry Racies c-us Says:

    Great piece, Andrew, If I had the way with words that you do, I would say them in exactly the same way.
    I’m getting a little long in the tooth now that I’ve retired and I have a well cared for Nagra IV-S and a IV-S TC that I’d like to dispose of to someone who would treasure them the way I did. The TC has lots of adaptors and extras and is a full production package, sans the mikes.
    I am in Manhattan, NY and would prefer to hand them over personally to the next lucky owners rather than subject them to the whims of shipping.
    Any advice you might have would be sorely appreciated.

  7. Jeff Horen c-us Says:

    Dear Mr. Racies:

    I live in the Bronx and would be interested in seeing (and hearing) your units and knowing the prices.

    My phone number is (718)882-9678.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Yours truly,

    Jeff Horen

  8. Kostas Metaxas c-au Says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You should try to get hold of a Stella SM8 [Bias 128kHz] - which is the real competitor to the NAGRA IV-S, not the SP8 [bias 48kHz].

    And Georges Quellet and his team NEVER worked for NAGRA. He and Kudelski started at the same time, but with different views on the same topic. Kudelski NEVER recorded a piece of music himself, whereas Quellet did.

    Here is an interview I did a few years ago:

    http://www.reel2reel.tv/ADC/BT_Stellavox.wmv

    Sadly, the company folded in the late 1980’s as most analogue tape companies did during the emergence of digital. Ironically NAGRA only survived due to Kudelski’s son’s digital set-top business [which is woth billions].

    rgds

    Kostas Metaxas

  9. Andrew Marshall c-unknown Says:

    AM Replies:

    Thanks for your comments, Kostas. Accounts I’ve read do indicate that Quellet was involved in Nagra at an early stage, but it’s not a subject I want to quibble about (that would be a Quellet Quibble, of course, and therefore disallowed). I have watched your SM 8 auctions with interest, but must confess to being well beyond doing any serious recording in analog anymore.

    But I have done parallel analog/digital on my last 2 recording projects, as well as on many before, and have always used the 96 kHz masters over the analog, though on my last organ CD employed both Nagra and Stellavox microphone preamplifiers, and my AMI-48 is also used for outdoor recording at my cottage in Northern Ontario. I’ve stopped using the SP 8 for this latter because it (and analog tape) can’t hold up to the high humidity when recording thunderstorms. So this year the recorders will be 2 ZOOM H2s, and a 4-channel Edirol R4, all of which have numerous digital recording options and SD card or Hard Disc recording formats.

    Another problem I have had continuously with the SP 8 is its variable reliability because of all the plug-in modules, and the connections they entail. Again, in the field it can be a troublesome beast. I believe the hard wiring approach of Kudelski from the beginning was a much better approach.

    Frankly, these days I consider the microphones the most important part of the process, and have some classic AKGs and a Stellar Sounds RM-6 ribbon MS/Blumlein mike that is close to a one-off, made by Peter Bloch in Portland OR. Its particular virtue, beyond utter transparency, is the 3-channel output that allows MS mixing and multichannel recording through the AMI-48.

    I think it’s fair to say from our perspective that what kept Nagra alive was the extraordinary longevity of the IV-S TC, many of which are still in use all around the world.

  10. Daniel Y. c-us Says:

    Very great article.

    one question…. where did you get your stellavox cables?!? I have a SP7 and cant find cables for the life of me.

    thanks,
    daniel

  11. Bill Uher c-us Says:

    Great article about the Uher 4200 Report Monitor. Yes, my last name is Uher and I was given a 4200 Report Monitor when I was producing for a public TV station. It is in need of service. Also, the operations manual that came with the machine is in German. I have adapters and a power supply and cables of all descriptions. I also have the brown (leather) case. The meter lights even work. It will fast forward and rewind but will not play (at any speed). Is Mineroff the only game in town or do I have a choice? I’d love your input.

  12. James Jones c-us Says:

    I was the prime mechanic on all things Stellavox for decades. I was a documentary soundman back when we
    used 16mm film and a cable between the camera and me
    for sync (60 hz) [I fixed a few cables on site] with
    the venerable, and much loved Nagra 3, the stalwart.
    Nagra, in Polish, means: ‘it works’. Stellavox often
    didn’t. ‘fix it, put it on the shelf and next time
    out something else will fail’. no pro would ever use
    one. but Stellavox still means ‘beautiful voice’.
    no more musical recorder exists. my SP7 needs a boost
    to start (every once in a while) ‘Frank Zappa’ who I
    met while playing in NY in ‘66 [swapping sets with the
    ‘Dead, gratefully] because of what appears to be a
    missing segment in the motor. I’d like to pass on
    several huge things. I have the schematics for the guts
    of all the modules which were encased in epoxy, which
    can be solved with a warm iron next to them for a few
    hours. I’ve been told that it takes a ‘nut-case’ to
    work on one because he was that. I met him in Toronto
    while he was trying to sell the later version with
    multiple head blocks for too many formats. he never did
    understand… there are several important things to share:
    first: in the recorders and the mixer don’t we find a
    double ‘pot’ which consists of a log and a linear with
    the first connected in the feedback of the first stage,
    the SPA which drives the SOA (a ‘power’ amp) which drives
    the record heads and the ‘phones’ simultaneously. I’m not
    kidding… the second does what we might expect. the
    result is a ‘musical’ result in use. this next one might
    not be generally known: in the ‘head block’ are two diodes
    one forward, one backward both in parallel with a resistor
    the value of which can be set to gain 16db off tape. I’m
    not kidding. free Dolby. I use Ampex 499, the best of a
    discontinued breed of 1/4″ tape. when adjusted with a
    ’scope the result is (my words) unbelievable. the ’scope
    shows a ’smoothed’ sine wave the result of which we can’t
    ‘hear’. something to do with the hysteresis of magnetic
    tape. I still can’t believe it, but I sucessfully use it.
    third: the mic preamps. all attempts in mic preamp design
    pale in noise and quality compared to a tiny transformer.
    gain without comensurate noise. listen to one in actual
    practise, not on ‘instruments of measurement’. ears before
    fears. hum? stay away from power stations… I’m using a
    couple of large diaphram clones in ‘mid-side’ which blow
    away any other stereo technique. wow: adjust the stereo
    image after the fact: in the mix. analog ain’t dead.
    llewellyn.j@netscape.ca

  13. Irek Janik c-pl Says:

    Dear James, “Nagra” in Polish means: “it will record”, not “it works”. Of course, these nachines were always in WORKING and state of art condition. :) In this momemt I’m looking at my Nagra IV-S with the affection almost the same as I feel for my beloved wife… :)
    Cheers and greetings from Poland,
    Irek

  14. Joe Elias c-ca Says:

    I can only dream of owning a Nagra such as yours……….Joe

  15. James c-us Says:

    thank you Irek !
    my Welsh name is llewellyn, pronounced ‘clue ellen’ !
    my great pleasure to respond.
    I always had the feeling that the ‘translation’ was
    incomplete and plain wrong…
    thanks. the Nagra ALWAYS worked (recorded). gosh
    what was (are) they for, after all? not Swiss ‘clock
    work’ but to recover a moment ‘recorded’. my Stella
    SP7 requires me to be a ‘mechanic’. as mentioned, the
    Nagra is ‘hard wired, so it doesn’t get intermittent
    due to the amphenol connectors hacked ‘literally’
    into chunks to fit the stupid epoxy-filled modules
    that only I can fix, with great difficulty. how dumb
    is it to build a lightweight recorder with modules
    clogged with ‘don’t steal my circuits’ when there is
    a weight penalty for it? the circuits are brilliant,
    but the overall build was plain idiotic.
    I maintained/tuned/repaired every flavour of Nagra
    from the ‘3′ on… your IV-S is an ongoing example
    of “it will record”. my bearings will give out before
    your ‘S’. please regard the following: a Strad violin
    must be played to keep ‘active’, my Stella is very
    prone to inactivity, any instrument made to do what
    it/she was designed for is designed to be exercised,
    not relegated to a ‘museum’. the sitka spruce growing
    when Strad was building violins had endured a mini
    ice-age, so the growth rings were close together:
    result = more ‘hinges’ in the wood. more vibration
    capable. the ability of the Swiss was the same then:
    more able to make recorders that continue to excel
    and speak audio. let us record and retain the results
    as long as we have regard for excellence,
    and can listen…
    jim

  16. Mark Descor c-au Says:

    Hello, great article.
    I dont know anything about analog recorders, but for the past 6 months i’ve wanted to own one. I like to record sounds, music, voices, and ambiences/field recordings in the field. I done some research for some time and repeatedly i end up hearing the best recorder is the Nagra IV-S. I like to experiment with how audio can be morphed and deformed. I have ideas about experimenting with sound and reflections and the like. For all my interests the Nagra IV-S seems to be the right recorder to get. I would like a recorder to be portable, rugged-so i can take it out in the wind, landscape, rain?(with protection) streets, countryside, rooms, cathedrals. Also for use with motion films cameras; 16mm, super16mm, super8mm etc
    the NagraIV-S seems to be suited for all these interests, i hope im right.
    Perhaps also i would get an effective digital field recorder at a later time. But iam focusing on the NagraIV-S.
    I was recently outbid on ebay for a NagraIV-S with a timecode device, and case and other things, i was winning at $1500, until someone cheated me; they used a malicious programm to outbid me in the final 5 seconds.-note that i manually bid at the final 10 seconds. So i now i have to wait and review my search for the right recorder. Now i am here, i am asking for advice, in what to look for, and what to look out for. I heard something about different nagras; CCIP and NAB what do these mean, and which model is better?
    the one i was bidding on in pics said NAB, while ive seen others say CCIP. i need more info on this.
    Also i’am from Australia, so we take 240V not 110V, but i see that the NagraIV-S can be easily switched by dial on the machine to 240v to 110v and others right?
    I would like more info about all these things that need to be confirmed to me, precise info, to help me make the right decision, in buying the right NagraIV-s, stereo.
    Also which is a good, affordable mic, or 2 different ones, one more for outside/wind protection/field/ and maybe one for more studio music.-i want to record sounds that are reflected off the size of rooms, and catherals- etc the reveberation.
    Thank you

  17. Barry Hutchinson c-us Says:

    On my desk, to one side of this computer is a Nagra 4.2 (Full track mono) two IV-S TC’s (one NAB the other CCIR) and the Nagra D (4 channel tape digital). All of them will work what ever the conditions, recording superb sound and are an absolute delight to operate. They are also something that give me a great pleasure jsut to own.

    However, all of the above does not make me blind to the fact that today I can purchase new digital recorders with equal sonic performance (oe even better?)for far less. In addition the new breed of recorders have significant advantages with respect to size and weight. Many times I go out just with my Nagra BB (small size digital recorder) as it is so convenient.

    So to Mark Descor who wrote the query above, I would say do not be blinded by the Nagra folklore (although in this case the folklore is all true) but to keep an open mind about the newer digital offerings.

  18. Mark Descor c-au Says:

    Mr. Hutchinson?
    Look, i’ am after a good Nagra IV-S, not ridiculously priced, but fair. I want to adopt it, give it a good home and a good carer/user. If you can help me, please help me out, ebay is disgusting. In the future, i will also aquire a great digital recorder. Not a sony, or a zoom etc, but…a Nagra. Your Nagra BB sounds good to me.
    I am ready to purchase a good Nagra IV-S.
    I repeat, am ready, finally, to own a warm Nagra.
    Please.
    Thank you

  19. Mark Descor c-au Says:

    Can someone with experience help me with an issue?
    I live in Australia, which Nagra should i be looking to buy, NAB or CCIR? If i live in Australia, which is the better nagra to buy? all tapes work on both right? new tapes made today. i heard the CCIR one sounds better? i really need to know which one to buy to operate perfectly/FULLY with.
    And what plugs/cords do i need to get, to be able to function this properly if the person i buy one off, does not provide the accesories? and where to get these besides ebay?

    Thank you

  20. James c-us Says:

    welcome to my experience… I’m 65 and holding…
    CCIR vs NAB: analogue vs analog: it’s just europe
    vs america. it doesn’t count if you set the machine
    up with a proper test tape. sonically: no diff.
    let’s go through the procedure…
    1 clean the tape path
    a q-tip and spit is recommended because
    anything else will wreck the roller
    ask Terry…
    2 de-mag the heads first. it’s a device that
    makes a noise while carefully erasing any
    latent magnetism on the quides and heads
    plug it in away from the machine and slowly
    bring it near the heads (erase head is not
    a problem because it self-erases) and (having
    put tape over the active bit) bring it up
    and over the record, time-code or pilot head
    and play head while ‘carefully’ removing it
    each time (overhead is good) without turning
    it on or off, or you will create more problems
    than you are removing! if you don’t, then you
    will ruin the test tape, which is next…
    3 rewind the test tape (you did store it tail-out
    didn’t you, (as played) because the other way
    leads to eventual disaster) and listen and
    measure each frequency, if you can’t don’t.
    then adjust the play equalization at your
    speed of choice (I like 15″sec less is more)
    stereo= twice, afirm or adjust.
    4 load your fave media (I prefer 499) rewind and
    input tone(s) and start record. measure the
    outputs and adjust bias and record eq to get
    equality. don’t we all want that? be aware
    that eq and bias are speed and tape type related
    please be aware that low speeds should be dealt
    with at -10 levels.
    I have all the connector data for them all so if there
    are questions about any of this pse contact me at
    www.llewellyn.j@netscape.ca. this is ‘esoteric stuff’ pse
    don’t be dismayed, I used to get 50$/hr 25yrs ago…
    jim

  21. Tascam HD-P2 Portable Stereo Recorder c-ca Says:

    […] To some of us, the appropriate replacement for the Nagra IV-S in the film sound and location recording world is still the Nagra IV-S, but that’s an opinion based on an appreciation of sound and build quality, not the winds of technological change. […]

  22. Brian Downey c-unknown Says:

    Hi Andrew:
    Do you still have the Lyrec FRED unit you offered in this thread in February? I’ve got a IV-S (non-pilotone with the wide track heads) and a 4.2L that could benefit from a larger reel capacity. Thanks for the good info you’ve posted here.
    Brian Downey

  23. Dan Schmalle c-us Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Very nice article obviously written from the heart! If I may quibble a bit - about the Nagra portable being the best tape recorder, period. Don’t get me wrong, I have a 4.2 and it’s a lovely little jewel of a machine that does a great job of recording (but I sure don’t like to rewind). I also have a Nagra T on the way soon, so I’m definitely not anti-Nagra. But if one wants to be all encompassing about the “greatest tape recorder” then you have to include machines like a Mike Spitz 1″ two track Ampex ATR (and if you really want to get picky you might even have to consider Keith Johnson’s awesome custom focused gap 1/4″ machine) Hey, a Nagra IV-S is a great professional 1/4″ two track portable recorder, but against 1″ two track? Fuggedaboudit.

    To Mark Descor, if you haven’t bought a machine yet I suggest you go for a CCIR machine. It will allow you to take full advantage of the modern low noise tape formulations available from RMGI and ATR Magnetics.

    Keep them Naggies rollin’,
    Rawhide

    Dan Schmalle
    Managing Director
    The Tape Project, LLC

  24. Robert c-ca Says:

    Like many who have posted before me, I discovered this article by chance and it was a joy to read (as was to read the interesting and informed comments!).

    I have fooled around with tape recorders since a teenager many a moon ago (from a user and not technical perspective). At some point I got a couple of Uhers and enjoyed those. A Uher Royal Deluxe at one point too. Some japanese reel to reels, a tandberg, etc.

    Then I decided that only a Nagra would do. Bought a mono 4.2 from a studio in NY and enjoyed it, but decided I wanted stereo, so acquired a IVS from a nature sound recordist who was moving to digital. Ended up buying another IVS on ebay which had less wear, and sold the other IVS and the 4.2.

    At some point, I also picked up a few Ampex 440’s that our CBC radio had disposed off some years before. Later picked up a 1/2″ 8 track Tascam 58. Spent a lot of time recording music in my house studio, using all this gear at one time or another, amassing tape.

    THen I tried digital and I’ve been on that path for a couple of years now, but this article and the posts have made me realize that my passion for analog tape has not gone away, but was just dormant for a while. So now I yearn to get the reels spinning again, and (hopefully) dealing with any issues that may have come up from having this gear sit unused for a few years (I try to power them up and spin the reels every 6 months or so, though).

    Nice to “meet” a bunch of fellow analog tape aficionados!! Cheers!!

  25. jonesy c-us Says:

    thanks to previous (analog) posters! this past (please come back..) spring, on my venerable Stella SP7, I recorded birds, crickets and ambient sounds in mid-side. for those not familiar: the technique allows you to set the stereo perspective after the fact. in the ‘mix’ not during the actual recording. Blumlein. three faders and a phase switch on one input routed to two. mid: mono, side, rout to two faders and switch one phase. in playback, bring up the mid, glorious mono. bring up the side pair (one flipped) and we get mono becoming small perspective stereo, then ‘natural’ and then ‘larger than life’. choice available to ‘taste’. the prime advantage of venerable recorders is in the clarity of the mic pre’s where it was primary rather than ‘oh, ya, we need them…’ mic choice and placement with good preamps count more than digi/analog format.

  26. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    It’s nice, as the original writer in what has become a true Forum on portable analog tape and beyond, to see how it has grown and ranged around our topic. I have received all kinds of interesting information about Nagras and Stellas, some of it very helpful in my own professional recording work.

    With respect to “Jonesy’s” most recent post, I have found the best way to deal with MS (Mid/Side) recording is to use a dedicated microphone designed for it, of which I have two. The first is a classic, the Shure VP-88, an American Army Knife if there ever was one, which allows control of soundstage in 3 positions of width on the mike barrel, and offers superb quality well beyond any electret designs, especially in terms of high resolution and low noise, but is rugged enough to survive severe thunderstorms (with the right Rycote protection, of course). It served me well yet once again last Summer, as I recorded many of the June and July thunderstorms rolling across Canada on my ZOOM H2 and Edirol R-4 recorders in 96/16 stereo and 4-channel respectively.

    For mostly indoor work (though I recorded an outdoor rock band performance in August with it) is the Stellar RM-6 ribbon MS/Blumlein microphone, designed and made by Peter Bloch in Portland, Oregon. This vertical mike array, with an adjustable top section like the classic AKG and Neumann stereo mikes provides a passive 3-channel output that allows superb MS, with Mid, Side+ and Side- right into my mixer. Its output is low, so it needs a quiet mixer with lots of gain, but it allows recording of music that can be fine-tuned for soundstage in post production, an invaluable asset for location recording.

    Speaking of which, the absolutely perfect match for both of these microphones is the classic, rare, and incredibly good Stellavox AMI 48 5-channel-in/2-or-5-channel out mixer/microphone preamp. With an S/N of 125 dB in the preamps, and oodles of gain, it works superbly with low-output microphones, and in terms of the 5-channel output, was way ahead of its time, being designed circa 1975. It is also easily (to my eyes) the most beautiful audio component, professional or consumer, ever made, the Swiss jewel in Georges Quellet’s crown. Just Google it for the visual proof.

    Andrew Marshall

  27. jared c-us Says:

    great article! i recently purchased an uher 4400. i’m having trouble finding adapters to be able to plug in 1/4 audio cables into the mic inputs. any ideas? thanks!

  28. Andrew Marshall c-unknown Says:

    Hi Jared,

    Aquiring these machines can tend to require one to make up their own cables and adaptors, something I certainly found out. My best advice is to search on eBay for “DIN to Phone plug adaptors”, or buy the respective connectors and a soldering kit, and go to it. You may have to get schematics, too, to determine which of the DIN pins are being used. Good Luck!

  29. jonesy c-us Says:

    hello Jared and Andrew. yes, that pesky soldering is required to make adaptors. for working on DIN/Preh connectors I recommend a 25W iron with the smallest tip you can find. 1/16 or 1/32 (not kidding!). old joke: ‘how do you get to Carnegie Hall? - practice, practice, practice’ those require a clean tinned tip and care not to heat the pin too much in case the plastic melts! I’ve learned to work on them plugged into a spare of the opposite gender (laughter encouraged!). keeps the pin straight… ya haffta prep the cable and the connector first. if the ‘tin’ don’t take, wait. the Preh is so ‘pro’ it’s a joke. too many parts. the ‘el cheepo’ Din will just disconnect if ya trip over the cable. the other will rip all the wires off, when ya least need it. they are usually configured with ground in the middle of the three. phase only counts if there are a pair. bal/unbal: pro mics are balanced for long cable runs. unbal, two vs three pins, is for only a few meters of length. unbal to bal requires a short between 3 and grnd - don’t try this on an output… Jared, what does the Uher input look like?

  30. Kyriacos Kolocassides c-unknown Says:

    Dear Andrew,

    Many thanks for a great article and follow up interest created.

    I wonder if you have any IV-S for sale with the 10 inch unit with CCIR at least. I would be most grateful.
    I have a collection of reel machines, Studer A807, B77, PR99 and fancy the socks off a nagra!!

    Kolocassides@pol.net

    Best wishes

    Dr K

  31. Michael Gamble c-unknown Says:

    Like delving into a past era! I have enjoyed reading the various posts and applying some to my life in sound (analog) I to worked with a Nagra recording a sync strip (60Hz) in the middle of the audio sound tape for a feature film in the 60’s in Vancouver. Film called ‘The Bitter and the Sweet’ one of Jimmy Clavell’s masterpieces. We fed the output of the sync strip into a power amplifier and used that to drive the sprocket drive to 35mm sound tape onto which the dialog was recorded. Now I have gone back to my Uher 4200 Report Monitor which I bought in 1982 only to find there’s no output from the Left channel. I have the Cct. Diags. but need someone to help diagnose the problem.

  32. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Hi Michael,

    I got rid of my Uher 4200 after just starting it (ie., depressing the Play key) blew out 4 woofers in my Energy Veritas loudspeakers. No electronic device, especially a tape recorder, should have its electronic start circuit linked to its mechanical start like the Uher does. Nor should it put out such a powerful low-frequency pulse. And it didn’t even clip my amplifier, a Bryston 3B SST.

    I also hated those pesky DIN connectors, which may be your problem. I’m not sure if you’re still in Vancouver, but if you are, there’s sure to be a good pro-audio/film-gear repair shop you can turn to. In fact, your first call should be to Trew Audio at 3823 Henning Drive, Suite 107, Burnaby, BC V5C 6P3, Canada +1 604-299-9122, or (877)333-9122, or try trewaudio.com

  33. Greg Burgmann c-au Says:

    Hello Group, I have owned, used, and serviced Uher Report, Nagra III, 4.2, IVSTc, and IV, and Stellavox SP7, and SP8. Nagras were certainly the most stable in term of alignment, but I didn’t have a problem with contacts and any recorder. May I correct a misconception about magnetic tape recording being “analogue” because it certainly is “digital”. The audio signal (2-10 volts, 10Hz to 20khz) is added to / modulated by a Bias signal (10 - 50 volts, and 60khz to 200khz) being applied to the record head. This is a necessary requirement in every magnetic tape recorder to overcome the hysteresis (ie non-linear “B-H curve”)in a metal recording head. The ONLY Analogue recording methods are Phonograph records and Optical film, as no bias is used in these techniques, just Analogue audio applied to the record cutting head (Phonograph - a heated pointy diamond cutting thru plasic) or to a Light-Valve (Optical film - light passing between two very thin metal membrains). Some manufacturers (Scully, Nagra) used a “pre-distortion” circuit to improve maximum signal levels to tape, and reduce head/tape peak-level distortion. This news may see me nailed to a stake, but remember that your “babies” are still the same “babies”, and you should love and care for them still. The Swiss machines are remarkable, still.

  34. Dr. B.A. Hutchinson c-unknown Says:

    Greg Burgmann writes;
    “May I correct a misconception about magnetic tape recording being “analogue” because it certainly is “digital”.

    Utter Nonesense!

  35. Michael c-unknown Says:

    Hear him! Hear him!! He’s got confused between ‘bias’ and ‘digital’ I think.

  36. Michael c-unknown Says:

    Andrew Marshall said he got rid of his Uher4200 &c.&c (see Sept 26 2011 posting) I used to frequent L.A.Varah in Vancouver where I first came across the wonderful ElectroVoice microphones - and I still use that original EV665 mic. Since then I have progressed through EV660’s,(I have four) a pair of RE20’s and a pair of RE55’s. All of which I still have and use. It was in Vancouver I purchased my first Uher 4000 Report No.149523 - which is still working and for which I have both the Cct Diag and User Manual. I also have the later 4200 Report Monitor (No.1932-05971) which currently needs setting up as the output levels are too high. Any ideas on this project would be very welcome! Michael

  37. Scott D. Smith CAS c-us Says:

    Hello Andrew: A little late to the party here…just now ran across your excellent post regarding the pros and cons of various portable recorders. Nice to see someone actually taking the time to do some real analysis (sadly lacking these days, IMHO).

    As someone who has used Nagra’s (as well as Stellavox’s)in my daily work for over 30+ years, I’m always happy to find others who appreciate the engineering efforts that went into these machines. Great work.

    Also, to correct another mis-perception in Greg Burgmann’s post from April 14th: snipsnip

    ALL optical recorders use a bias signal applied to the light-valve ribbons (or galvanometer), which controls the width of the soundtrack “bias line”. However, this is a separate side-chain to control the “ground noise reduction” (GNR), NOT to optimize the audio signal on the B/H curve as done for magnetic recording. Of course, none of this has anything to do whatsoever with digital recording.

  38. Andrew Marshall c-unknown Says:

    I’ve let this odd little forum take it own shape for a while, but I thought I might intrude to request that notions about bias (the tape kind) should be verboten, since there is so much misunderstanding of it among correspondents, and it’s largely irrelevant as far as discussion goes. We’ve got enough other kinds of biases to worry among the opinions presented here. Mr. Smith makes a very good point but brings up optical recording, which is way out of our discussion area.

    As a personal update, I still use my Nagra/FRED for recording jazz and classics “off air”, both through my computer via the wonderful Audioquest DragonFly, and my trusty Sanyo R227 internet radio (I’ve given up local and area FM for sonic and programming reasons noted elsewhere), and frequent BBC3’s excellent 384kbps feed, and the 192kbps signal from WGUC-FM in Cincinnati. There’s also all kinds of fabulous and great sounding jazz and other music on the NPR Radio site, especially in the Village Vanguard series of live performances.

    I also analog record on a TASCAM 32, and a near-mint 70s Sony TC-755, bought to play my large collection of 1/4-track tapes, some through a TEAC AN-300 double Dolby with fabulous VU meters (being a longtime broadcaster, I have an unnatural affection for VUs, and have an extra 4-channel meter bridge for my 34B as well).

    But my serious professional recording, such as it is, is pretty much limited to digital through a TASCAM DR-680 (6-channel 96/24) and in stereo, a ZOOM H2n (96/16), both handy in the field, or for battery-operated location gigs with the Stellavox AMI-48 mixer, newly cleaned up, and recently loaned to classical engineer friend Clive Allan for use in the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto in January.

    That’s my early 2013 update. Analog and digital can still happily coexist in my life.

    AM

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