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AXPONA 2018: The pre-amp that changed everything – Nagra

KEF R Series

The Preamplifier?

Nagra‘s rooms are always on, and dialled to 11. They sneak up on you, and deliver a different something special each time, always changing it up a little. I still have vivid memories of the Nagra room at CES 2017, my best of show. Nagra plus Wilson plus the maestro Peter McGrath’s breathtaking recording. It doesn’t get better.   Maybe it can….

René Laflamme, Sales and Marketing Manager for Nagra America, had a few new tricks at AXPONA to continue to impress.

We’ve been reading about the new Nagra HD Pre-Amplifier over the past months, and I was anxious to see it up close and give it a listen.

The Nagra HD Pre-amplifier is a two box system, with the power supply in a separate chassis. They can be placed on separate shelves  or can be stacked with ball bearings between the chassis to isolate them.  They had both configurations on display across the two Nagra rooms at AXPONA.

Speaking to LaFlamme, I wanted to know the secret sauce of the new design.  Three main things stood out to me.

LaFlamme, explained that the new pre-amplifier has a “SuperCapacitor power supply”, allowing it to achieve a noise floor of -160dB.  LaFlamme said he didn’t believe it himself, until he saw the measurement on a oscilloscope.

Nagra HD-Pre-amp THD-N taken from Nagra website

The second innovation is surrounding the patent-pending volume control.  From LaFlamme:

The volume control is a patent pending technology that allows perfect level matching with a much more transparent sound compared to potentiometers and switch-resistor technology, because there is no attenuation of the input signal, just an automatic selection of a tap on the Nagra custom output transformer.

To do that we have a second regular Preamplifier inside so that you can move the volume control without hearing any switching and after you find the right volume the HDPREAMP switch back to the right transformer step that match that volume.

Or simply stated, the volume-control design allows for a transparent sound, where the pre-amplifier doesn’t choke the signal, add any resistance, or reduce dynamics.

The 3rd innovation is in reference to isolation. Most of which is achieved through innovations that are occurring inside these feet in the picture below.  Nagra refers to this as a “vibration free stand” and LaFlamme detailed that this work is responsible for 40% of the performance that we are seeing. We have all experienced the same 10 LPs that get played over and over at shows. They don’t need to be discussed here, so I’m always excited to hear something new. Even better is when you can hear a spectacular lifelike recording and have it brought to you by the recording engineer. LaFlamme has a double life as a recording and mastering engineer and when he offered to play a tape for a recording he made six months ago, the answer was easy.

LaFlamme queued up a lovely Nagra IV-S reel-to-reel deck.  Wouldn’t you love to have that deck in your room?

The recording was a tribute to Chet Baker and Scott Lafaro played by the Federic Alarie trio.  The trio was made up of: Frédéric Alarie (bass), John Roney (piano) and Ron Di Lauro on trumpet.

The track title was “City,” composed by Scott Lafaro for Chet Baker.

Frederic Alarie Trio recorded by Rene LaFlamme (Photo Courtesy of LaFlamme)

It was a real treat and a reminder of why we love this hobby. Sitting back in the room, we were whisked away to that lovely chapel that was transformed into a small concert venue for the recording.  The instruments were reproduced with beautiful tonality. The piano and trumpet in particular exploded into the space with the dynamics we aspire to see in an engaging recording.   I looked at LaFlamme and he looked and me, and just an ear-to-ear smile was all that was needed to communicate our satisfactions with what we just heard.

LaFlamme tells me that he will be playing the master tape of the same recording in Munich at the High End Show 2018 on Wilson Audio Alexia Series-2s. I recommend you don’t miss that!

 

Reel-to-Reel was followed by some LPs, spun on a Dohmann Helix 1 Turntable with Phasemation pp-2000 phono cartridge & Schroeder tonearm.

I discovered a new Louis Armstrong re-issue from Quality Record Pressings that brought out the best in the room.

Two minutes after I exited, I added that lovely LP to my cart and purchased it. Boom!

Another interesting element in the room was the speakers. No big Wilsons this time? Instead LaFlamme opted for something different, something pretty sweet from Graham Audio that I was not familiar with.

LaFlamme explained that the Graham LS5/8 was one done by BBC engineers. They wanted to get the same sound that they heard in the studio in a larger speaker to play back for a big orchestra.

This speaker doesn’t look potent, and may even look a little DIY, but don’t let that fool you. You don’t want to mess with it. It’s performs at a level its looks could never indicate.  I was incredibly taken back. Much of this stems from its large 1.5 inch tweeter and extremely large woofer for below 1000Hz.  If you get a chance to hear one, you should.

The second Nagra Room was a similair setup, but showcased Kharma Elegance DB-11S loudspeakers.

 

Once again, a very successful pair of Nagra rooms.  If you are going to Munich, go and see Rene and visit the Nagra room. Send me your thoughts. I’m super sad I can’t be there.

-Mohammed

2 Comments on AXPONA 2018: The pre-amp that changed everything – Nagra

  1. FYI- If you click on the Nagra HD highlighted in Red in this article it takes you to Wilson

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