Improving a classic? When Dacre Stoker (Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew) and Ian Holt set out to cowrite Dracula the Un-Dead, they didn't want to improve upon a legendary classic. They meant to create the definitive sequel. A predatory glut of unauthorized movies and books in the early wake of a US court's denial to honour Bram Stoker's copyright had left Stoker's widow then the family estate in financial straits and emotional disgust. To right those wrongs, their book would work with the actual source: Bram's collected hand-written notes. They'd tie up loose ends, answer remaining questions, then advance the narrative honouring Stoker's legacy. If we apply the same method to the Classic Preamp, going back to the source means Nagra's PL-P, 1997's original very first consumer product "designed initially as a high-quality battery-powered vacuum tube preamplifier for vinyl records". Of its eight tubes, one 12AT7 and 12AX7 were assigned to the phono stage, two 12AT7 and four 12AX7 handled the line stage. A-weighted SN/R was 100dB, bandwidth 22Hz-60kHz +0/-1dB and output impedance 60Ω. By 2001, the simplified PL-L omitted the phono stage and battery supply, was down to today's 2 x 12AX7 and 1 x 12AT7 and already offered 4:1 RCA/XLR inputs. The Jazz superceded it in 2012 with 10Hz-50kHz (+0/-0.5dB) bandwidth, >112dB of dynamic range and output impedance of 50Ω based on the same tube complement. The Jazz also became the first consumer Nagra to abandon the pro-derived convention of locating its i/o on the left/right cheeks. Instead it relocated the lot to the rear where all hifi competitors have theirs. Honouring legacy whilst modernizing for continued relevance is very tricky business indeed.


From our mini survey, we learnt how Nagra's core tube linestage circuit bowed in 2001 with the PL-L; how through the Jazz and Classic successors, its complement of three dual triodes remained unchanged whilst specifications continued to push the envelope; how the headphone output skipped two models after the PL-P only to reappear in the Classic. We also noted the lengthy 11-year run of the PL-L as though example perhaps of arch-conservative possibly glacial Swiss management, plus getting it right the first time; and the comparatively short 4-year rein of the Jazz introduced in the same year as Nagra Audio reorganized under new ownership.


This warranted a few questions. Getting correct answers mandated going back to my source: Nagra's manager of global sales, Matthieu Latour, himself a descendant of not a famous Irish but French family; and not of authors but winemakers. After all, tying up loose ends with a sprawling narrative is tricky business as well.


To be continued...

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