Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Wyred4Sound STP-SE MkII, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Bakoon AMP-12R; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE Up NC500MB monos; LinnenberG Audio Allegro monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, Titan Audio Eros cords between wall and conditioners and on the amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: €15'500; add €2'000 for optional VFS L vibration-control platform; add €2'495/pr for optional balancing input transformers; add €1'850/pr for optional balancing output transformers

"Is that classical music?" "Yes, I believe it is." In Startrek: Beyond, that's what the real McCoy asks the Vulcan Spock and what he in turn is told upon hearing Rock blast through space. It's broadcast by Kirk to disrupt a lethal swarm of self-guided weaponry attacking their ship. The crew's 23rd century is our future. From there, The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" demolishing their hi-tech threat is classical. Now Beethoven becomes proper antediluvian, Bach faintest fossilian. But in Nagra time, classic is now! In what for hifi is an enviably long time line started back in 1951 with professional gear makes the split, of their consumer gear into two discrete ranges, very recent. The super Swiss stuff now goes by HD; short for high definition, a perfect slogan to signify 21st century expectations for ultrafi. It's Nagra's most advanced take-no-prisoner kit. The only slightly less intense range is called Classic. That's because those models are styled in the company's trademark ¾ width laboratory livery. It looks... well, classic Nagra. As the famous man with the bad haircut but pointy ears would say: "Perfectly logical!"

That said, framing today's tale in such terms could suggest business as usual where classic is mistaken for vintage to mean passé to a modern audience. Actually, in those terms business as usual would have meant Jean-Claude Schlup, Nagra Audio's team leader from the era before 2012's formation of Audio Technology Switzerland. This spin-off doing business as today's Nagra Audio remains owned and operated by Kudelski family members. That secures an unbroken lineage with founder Stefan Kudelski [below] whose accomplishments include four Oscars and two Emmys. New ownership now simply operates independent from the Kudelski Group umbrella.

It also means a new set of critical ears attached to Philippe Chambon. His first Nagra job was as architect on the HD DAC project. His background is teenage ham-radio operator. He'd launched a popular underground radio station in central France; and did so on his very own home-built kit. At radio transmission engineering school, he met Nagra's present marketing director Matthieu Latour, a connection which years later would pull him to Lausanne. Back then he was instead contacted on behalf of a very recently ex president Giscard D'Estaing who proposed that Philippe become technical director of his new radio station. A young ambitious student couldn't resist such a lucrative opportunity with promise of unlimited technical resources. He thus went to work and garnered field credentials in various endeavours including a few years in a hurricane-prone Caribbean location where he was in charge of a life-line broadcast station. In his spare time at Nagra today, Chambon is working up a personal music computer to multi-track a full symphony orchestra in 10.2 surround at 24/192 or higher resolution. He's also a true aficionado of the organ to conjure up a bit of a Captain Nemo character in his very private submarine. This includes digitally sampling famous church organs on location to recreate their majesty in his own digs. Creative brains thrive on self-imposed challenges. And team Nagra has many such multi-talented members as I learnt during an earlier factory tour.

The Nagra Jazz valve preamp in our personal system is from before Chambon's arrival at Nagra. Today's Classic benefits from lessons learnt since; and Chambon's extra set of ears and input. In addition to the headfi circuit inherited from the HD DAC, the main cosmetic evolution within the classic Nagra styling is the display first seen on the flagship converter; and the attendant menu controller. A sideways look would next notice the longer chassis. Without changing le visage for perfect integration with pre-Classic classics like Nagra's iconic CD player, engineering hid the need for more internal space by going deeper. This internalized the power supply, thus obviated the Jazz's external box with umbilical. Just so, the Classic's 12VDC Lemo connector can alternately connect to Nagra's dedicated MPS*. This can power up to four Nagra components, one with batteries, whilst providing "additional performance gains". Optional i/o transformers wound in-house can again create a symmetrical floating signal path for those with corresponding balanced gear. Once again voltage gain is selectable between 0/12dB to adapt to varying system gain and speaker sensitivity by applying different amounts of negative feedback (more for no gain). The main inputs of the Jazz (4:1 RCA/XLR) stay but its 2:1 RCA/XLR outputs invert to become 1 x RCA and 2 x XLR. One of the latter works as a true home-theatre bypass when the Nagra is powered down. Key specs are +0/-0.5dB bandwidth of 10Hz-50kHz with >125dB of dynamic range in high-gain mode; and with two 12AX7/ECC83 and one 12AT7/ECC81, a low output impedance of 60Ω. These figures alleviate any concerns over vintage tube gear. With wide bandwidth, low noise and low Z-out, Nagra's Classic Preamp is ultra modern. In short, classic can have multiple meanings and layers. Despite sharing origins with the haute horlogerie of Swiss watches, not all of them coincide with conventional timekeeping.

Faintly in the background, the Nagra Jazz precursor: the Classic Preamp and DAC premiere at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.

* Trickling down from the HD Preamp's ultra-cap power supply concept will be an eventual MPS revision. This is expected to embrace the same tech for virtual battery performance à la Vinnie Rossi Lio. That should transfer some HD Preamp advances onto the Classic Preamp and, over the original MPS, broaden the performance gap over running it off its internal power supply.