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In Focus: Nagra Jazz and MSA

I probably should make a joke here about how the word 'Nagra' is defined as "high-end audio jewelry", but I suspect you've already heard that cliché. And if not, you're welcome to just pretend that it was a good joke and that I carried it off well. Insert hearty laugh here. As with most clichés, there's more than a bit of truth buried in there, which makes sense, but it'll be hard to capture with words -- that's why there are pictures! Anyway, here goes: the casework on the Nagra Audio Jazz and MSA amplifiers is absurdly fine. Look at the shots -- even the edges and corners have been finished. That's weird! In not a "good way" -- in a great way. Dunno why that's weird? Go get up close and personal with your Denon or Marantz receiver. That's some decent work, pretty good for mass-produced bent-metal. Now, go stick your face on an Accuphase. Nice face plate, right? But what about the sides? The bottom? The rear? Better than the Denon, but ... snore! With Nagra, it's as if they're expecting the gear to spin around on a spotlighted display platform. The units are a pleasure to see, touch, and taste (ahem). I'm impressed. No, really. As in, this is the nicest casework I can think of. More: the knobs feel like they're fitted together in the same way the elements in a Patek Philippe are fitted together. This is what they mean by "Swiss Made". The dials all turn with just the right blend of ease and resistance, like, say, a vault door. There's this reassuring and entirely satisfying solidity and precision of execution. And here I am, three paragraphs in, still talking about the build quality. Yeah.

For those of you following along, I took delivery of my TIDAL Audio Contriva Diacera loudspeakers shortly after New Years, and I’ve been struggling with finding an acoustic mate “worthy” of these rather expensive loudspeakers. I talked with Robert Harley and Jonathan Valin over at the Mothership The Absolute Sound, and they suggested I take my time and work through a couple of options, regardless of price, and use that as a way of exploring audio’s very high-end and maybe find something to match up my speakers. Oooh! Great idea! I promptly called a couple of high-end dealers to walk me through some of the options.

One of the first calls I made was to Gideon Schwartz of Audio Arts NY. Gideon brings in some pretty spectacular brands and has been unfailingly kind at audio shows, so I figured, this would be a great time to abuse him. Happily, but not surprisingly if you know him, Gideon was incredibly helpful in guiding me toward some gear he thought would be most relevant and on-point, but the gear I most wanted, the CH Precision gear I’d been so impressed with at past audio shows, was not available — TAS reviewer Alan Taffel (a real writer) was scheduled to get that gear first. Hello, Kathy Griffin! Anyway, while that gear might be a considerable wait — totally worth it, according to Gideon — there was something he thought might be interesting and relevant and, perhaps most importantly, available. Had I any interest in borrowing some Nagra gear?

Heh heh.

Now, this is where I say “Ohyesyesplease!”, which I very promptly did. But I didn’t get permission to do more than write-up some impressions — any kind of formal review will no doubt have to wait for the appropriate seals, sanctions, and legalese. And probably a real reviewer. Ahem. In the meantime, I do have permission to kiss and tell, so I’ll do that here, now, especially since the Nagra pieces really need to go back to Gideon. So, here’s the one liner:

Nagra is also short for “simply outstanding”.

See? Couldn’t resist the definition thing. I’m weak.

The amps I have here are the Nagra MSA. These are actually stereo amplifiers, offering a rather paltry-seeming 60wpc, but at Gideon’s suggestion for this speaker, I have two of them, running in bridged mode. If you’re wondering, 120wpc is more than enough to take the big TIDAL loudspeakers way past endurance on sheer SPL output. I should note that these amps feature a switch-mode power supply feeding a Class A/B Mosfet gain stage, which means that they’re not Class D, though to be fair, the very mention of the words “switch-mode power supply” is usually enough to drive any random audiophile into apoplectic fits. Whatever. I’m sure there are very good technical reasons why this approach was selected by Nagra (and Soulution, for that matter) — like instantaneous current delivery, for example — but that’s what a proper review would discuss and this is not a proper review. All I know is that my back absolutely loves this approach. Each MSA is about the size of a Stephen King hard back — you remember those, right? — and weighs a healthy 20lbs. Hee hee! Twenty. My Plinius SA Reference weighs 125 (and gives me a hernia just looking at it)! If I could juggle, I could juggle with a pair of MSA amps (sadly, this is not recommended by the manufacturer). By the way, you should note that the MSA is balanced-only, even though the matching Jazz is not.

Speaking of which, the Jazz is a similarly sized. There’s a tube in there somewhere, though I didn’t crack the case to see catch it all a-glow. The Jazz is a line stage, not a full-function pre, but it does have a host of inputs and outputs, an external PSU, and an ergonomic remote control. That latter is my least favorite feature, and the only nit I’ve been able to make with anything I’ve seen or heard from Nagra — it’s just a cheap plastic moulded Weeble of a remote that bears a striking similarity to the Soulution remote control (and yes, they’re interchangeable). While the “hand fit” and function is excellent, for this money, I’m expecting something a bit more upscale. Maybe something with lasers.

Functionally, the units are flawless. Meaty movements with simple, intuitive controls that are fun to fondle. Sonically, the bass was deep, controlled and punchy, the treble was extended and refined, and overall detail retrieval was excellent. The sound stage was precise, and the presentation was very linear; overall, I felt the tone fell on the warm side of neutral. I won’t speak for loudspeakers generally, but the Nagra pairing has been an excellent match for my TIDALs — and the ergonomics simply make me swoon. No, really. These things sound great are are so tidy. I keep joking about how light they are, but after schlepping heavy Class A mono amps around the listening room, the weight of this kind of gear is seriously unfunny. I’m sorely tempted in Nagra’s direction on that fact alone. And the fact that they sound great? Yeah. Done!

  • Nagra Jazz: $12,250
  • Nagra MSA amplifier: $9,450 (each)

Let me wrap here. For more information, let me refer you to 6moons, where they’ve explored both of these pieces with quite a bit more authority, permission, and detail. Check ’em out here:

In the mean time, cast your ocular orbitals on these bad boys and drool. You’re jealous.

Wish they were staying!

External power supply for the Nagra Jazz

Footers on the Nagra MSA amplifier

Separated at birth? Soulution and Nagra: now with interchangeable remote controls!

Get your Occasional now

1 Comment on In Focus: Nagra Jazz and MSA

  1. The remote looks cute, but it also looks like a regular remote (or an old phone handset-remember those?) cut in half. Truncated is the word that came to mind. The only blemish in the Nagra design is those sunken screw holes on the top cover. Industrial chic I guess.

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