There’s still a buzz about Nagra. Even those who have racked up a lot of miles on their audio clock get a little worked up over a Nagra product, and when that product is the first of the company’s new cost-no-object range, the long-awaited HD DAC, it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground.
Let’s get the aesthetics bit out of the way first: you have to be some kind of cold-hearted anti-geek not to love Nagra’s industrial styling. With the large recessed dials, switches, and that famous ‘modulometer’ on the front of both DAC and MPS power supply, the HD DAC has the classic look of a product made back when ‘built to last’ meant something. And yet, it’s not simply retro styling for its own sake; everything is there for a purpose. But regardless, it’s hard not to be impressed by the look and feel of these solid pieces of audio architecture.
However, it’s also important not to let the whole ‘it’s a Nagra’ element swamp the sophistication of what’s going on beneath that solid alloy case. This is a ‘back to the source’ digital project, leveraging years of professional digital audio engineering to basically start again with digital to analogue conversion. The professional audio side becomes apparent at the point of contact for a datastream; all the HD DAC’s digital inputs are filtered before being passed to a multiplexer circuit. This means the AES/EBU input on XLR and the S / PDIF inputs on BNC and RCA connectors each has its own individual transformer. This might seem like overkill to most digital companies because a digital datastream is not influenced by the impedance and level of the signal. However, the same does not apply to the electronics that process the datastream, and using the kind of best-in-the-business grade of transformers that Nagra can get for the task means the datastreams from each input are ‘presented’ to the digital processing section in the best possible condition.