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Posted by STEVE M on


Stefan Kudelski was born on Feb. 27, 1929, in Warsaw. He escaped Poland with his family at the start of World War II and settled in Switzerland.   After being awarded a degree in physics and engineering, he started his company in 1951 as an engineering design firm. which has since become a major Swiss manufacturer of media and security equipment.   

Kudelski was an engineering undergraduate  in 1951 when he patented his first portable recording device, the Nagra I, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, about the size of a shoe box that weighed approximately  6kg whilst producing sound as good as that of most phone booth sized studio recorders,   Radio Lausanne and Radio Geneva,  in Switzerland were his early customers.  Incidentally “Nagra” means “will record” in Polish.

This original product was further developed and  in 1958 a  design for a Nagra which could synchronise sound with the frames on a reel of film was completed   This variant, the Nagra III , weighed approximately 9 kg and allowed  a new generation of filmmakers to escape the conventions and high cost of studio production and the shackles of bulky clunky and heavy equipment as they took their Nagras - and their craft "out and about."..

Partnered with a  16mm cine camera, the Nagra  III recorder became an essential tool for  the newly minted on-location,  improvisational techniques pioneered by New Wave directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

In various interviews, Mr. Godard and Mr. Truffaut have both paid homage to  Mr. Kudelski and his Nagra 111 for  its unobtrusive presence which was a boon to their photo reportage style giving rise to a  signature rawness and natural feel that was hard to beat.

During the 1960s, Kudelski manufactured a series of even smaller recorders, the SN or "Serie Noire" which were ordered by the CIA in great numbers.

A collection of bugging devices on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington which is a privately financed archive run by former C.I.A. employees, includes a Nagra recorder obtained in the 1980s from Stasi, the East German internal security agency.

“There was virtually no film made from 1961 until the early ’90s that did not use the Nagra,” stated Chris Newman, an Academy Award-winning sound engineer, who used a Nagra 111  in the production of “The French Connection” (1971), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Amadeus” (1984) , “The English Patient” (1996).  These must have been good films as they all went on to win Oscars!

Stefan Kudelski sadly passed away aged 83 in January 2013 and left a legacy of superlative tape equipment that dominated the spy, film and television sectors  but also these efficient and beautifully crafted devices were carried on several expeditions to Mount Everest.   Boldly going further, during 1960, the Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard took a Nagra aboard his deep-sea research submarine, Trieste, to record his impressions as he descended to 37,800 feet below the surface of the Pacific off Guam. 

I also reckon Jean Luc Picard took a Nagra into space on the Enterprise but that is another (fanciful) story for yet another day......  Make it so!


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