During my Thanksgiving day visit, a sizable section of the K2 building which is home to NagraVision SA was under construction. They were adding a much-needed second floor to increase work space.
This had temporarily displaced audio assembly and testing to an offsite location. Aside from surrounding messiness—said commercial building was also under renovation —and the obvious inconvenience of having to shuttle QC'd product from one part of town to another, you'd have never know that this wasn't business as usual. Ever resourceful—Matthieu Latour quipped that when he began at Nagra, he worked on a Nagra-built PC, then pointed at certain old air-con and other industrial machines which the company had also fabricated in-house—I spotted this custom security crate. It had been fashioned to safely transport signed-off MSA amplifiers back to the K2 building.
To familiarize ourselves with the new MSA, first some of Nagra's own professional shots.
As a fully dual-differential design, the MSA offers balanced inputs only but popular XLR-to-RCA adapters from Cardas or Purist will certainly accommodate single-ended feeds. Output power into 8 ohms is 60 watts stereo, 120 watts in bridged parallel for twice the current.
As this MSA pre-production version in an on-site listening room shows, CES 2009 dealer/distributor response had insisted that sans trademark modulometer, a Nagra is no proper Nagra. To avoid a rerun of the pyramidal PSA whose styling hadn't exactly gone over, the production MSA won its very own modulometer. Additionally, the two large protruding black capacitors still visible on the proto were relocated inside the enclosure to further streamline aesthetics.
The following images show a test-bench setup for the MSA. A special 'spider' jig made in Nagra's own machine shop —which is incidentally operated by a young woman to demonstrate the firm's equal-opportunity policy—applies the requisite downward force on key points of the circuit board which later chassis mounting would otherwise provide. Edge clamps serve a similar purpose.
This absolutely massive load-resistor bank hints at the prodigious power reserves and current output of the MSA amplifier.
To Nagra, tests and more tests are of utmost importance. Whatever equipment is necessary to conduct such tests is most readily requisitioned. Meanwhile Matthieu Latour confessed that marketing has to struggle far harder to secure its tools of the trade. To engineering, they clearly seem vaporous at best. Concomitantly, Nagra's website is wholly sub-standard once it's compared to the actual products and their fascinating production process. Worse, the web presence rather fails at properly telling the story which even the most casual visit to the facilities would read effectively without any explanations. That's the old pictures worth a thousand words aspect. In short, blowing its own horn is clearly not one of Nagra's strengths. Call it civilized Swiss understatement then. That's admittedly far more charming than dealing with obnoxious braggarts. Yet in highly competitive modern environs, it occasionally turns counter-productive. Someone really ought to write a book on Nagra such as Thorens already has on its own illustrious history.
As a company with a strong corporate culture and identity imprinted by its visionary leader, NagraAudio isn't free of strong peculiarities either. Whenever new products are conceptualized, endless philosophical discussions revolve around what makes a Nagra a Nagra. Clearly times change. Adjustments must be made to maintain relevance. Yet overstep the line and your corporate identity evaporates. A Jaguar begins to look like a Ford Taurus. It's uniquely challenging then to sustain being iconic during fast-changing times. For its audio components, the most obvious idiosyncrasy—besides the non-standard sizing—is arguably the socketry location. Going sideways is Nagra's form of Naim DIN sockets. The present PL-P valve preamp still adopts this tradition whose practical roots date back to Nagra's legendary recording equipment.
The MSA finally relegates them to the back. Still, the somewhat older CD players were deliberately conceptualized such that their connector panel can be mounted on the rear or right side. Latour confessed that to his knowledge, only one customer ever requested the sideways mounting. Yet the very option chronicles Nagra's ongoing struggle between tradition and change. Incidentally, the NagraAudio clan's legendary captain was absent during my visit, hence an eventual Part II of this report shall bridge that gap.