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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, PureMusic 1.89b in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files, hog mode and 24/176.4 NOS-style upsampling; Audirvana 1.4 in direct/integer mode, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright LS-100 with Psvane tubes, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, TruLife Audio Athena, Bakoon AMP-11R, Octave HP300SE [on review], Thrax Dionysos [on review], Wyred4Sound mPRE [on review]
: First Watt SIT1, FirstWatt SIT2, ModWright KWA100SE
Speakers: Aries Cerat Gladius, Boenicke Aud
io B10, Zu Druid V, Zu Submission, AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, soundkaos Wave 40 [on review], Aries Cerat Stentor [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event,
KingRex uArt USB cable
Artesania Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with TT glass shelf, Rajasthani solid hardwood console for amps
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF2
on amps, 1 x GigaWatt PC-3 SE Evo on front-end components

Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: €10.750, add €1.450 for two XLR input transformers; VFS isolation platform €1.650, tube replacement kit €230 - all prices include VAT

Nagra have changed. In a reversal of Esoteric stripped of independence and reabsorbed by Teac, the Kudelski Group divested itself from the audio subsidiary in early 2012. Reborn as Audio Technology Switzerland, this new entity must now continue terra forming planet Nagra without the mothership's looming shadow and fiscal benevolence. But it's still firmly in the family. Marketing manager Matthieu Latour's bid to acquire Nagra was denied. Blood proved thicker than water and Kudelski members led by Marguerite Kudelski and brother-in-law Pascal Mauroux became the new owners.

Daughter of founder Stephan Kudelski who passed away on January 26th of this year, Marguerite is a full-fledged engineer in her own right albeit not of audio. She holds an EPFL doctorate in Microtechnology and now oversees R&D. Pascal is another Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne graduate engineer with an MBA from the city's Haute École de Commerce. He previously held international positions in industry and at Nestlé. He is Nagra's new manager. Marguerite practically grew up around the legendary Jean-Claude Schlup who had fronted Nagra Audio prior to the reorganization. Many Nagra products of that era—I'm thinking the pyramid monos and 300B integrated or details like ejecting complete transports for CD players—probably got their launch not because the market clamored or dealers begged. They launched because Schlup wanted them to. With continuity of tradition assured by family ties and great respect for the former head of engineering, exactly how much change will manifest and how far it might reach remain open questions. For now.

That numerous changes are afoot is signaled by the new Jazz* valve preamp and €6.500 solid-state Melody sibling. Both overhaul Nagra naming convention—no more 3-letter acronyms—and place all connectors on the rear panel where they belong. Design, trademark modulometer and non-standard footprints remain carryovers. But when dealers vetoed the RCA sockets at the HighEnd Munich 2012 launch, Nagra responded flexibly and refitted the requested WBT Next-Gen on 120 units already built. Drawings for future models drafted by an industrial designer formerly of Nestlé Nespresso indicate more significant exterior changes to come. Those struck me as a very successful tightrope walk between looking recognizably Nagra (what's a Merc without three-pointed star after all?) whilst growing more contemporary, normal sized and—vital for the firm's future as a competitive Swiss vendor—becoming far easier to assemble.

* The Jazz is obviously named for the Montreux Jazz Festival which Nagra has sponsored for many years and which annually brings about 200.000 visitors to this small lake-side resort. The event was founded by Claude Nobs who at 76 died this year in a Lausanne hospital.

Nagra Jazz and Melody above. Open Nagra Melody below with the optional phono stage installed.

The Melody is based directly on the Jazz circuit but executed with the same professional bipolar transistors which already featured in the firm's legendary analog recorders. The Melody can be upgraded with the external power supply of the Jazz or like the latter run off the newly developed MPS multiple power supply below.

The MPS is designed to power up to four line-level Nagra components simultaneously. This includes the forthcoming DSD-ready valve-powered D/A converter. Connection to the MPS is via fully shielded short umbilicals to minimize RF pickup. The four power feeds run off discrete secondaries from a central power transformer. One of those outputs is in fact battery operated, giving an average playtime of 5-7 hours depending on component. The MPS modulometer shows input voltage and battery charge. The four power feeds are time-sequenced to start up and power down a connected Nagra system in the proper order.

Matthieu Latour opined that the stock Jazz supply is of such high order as to make the 'upgrade' to the MPS nearly academic and of interest probably only to the most seriously committed unless one powered more than just the Jazz with it. For the older PL-L meanwhile the MPS difference is said to be dramatic and the Melody's shielded SMPS is likewise claimed to be quite transformed.

. Today's Jazz might be regarded as a legacy bridge product. It's already produced on the new assembly line in the new building in Romanel-sur-Lausanne which shares space with a thriving repair factory for all of Switzerland's capsule-based coffee machines (König, Krups, DeLonghi et al). It's made to the same high standards as it always has. True, the staff has shrunk after layoffs. And demands for sufficient turnover and self-sustaining profitability must be starker now that the umbilical with the mothership is cut.

Thus future models must ask the tough questions. They no longer can be about what Nagra wants to build because they can. They must be about what the market wants. One thus expects a comprehensively featured top-class DAC, an integrated amp, true high-power amps of the 200wpc+ variety and perhaps even upscale class D. One would not anticipate a turntable of any sort. Or yet another low-power valve amp with transistor drivers just because an insufficient but fixed footprint left no room for small bottles, never mind that it enforced stacking two toroids so tall that safe shipping demanded they be physically removed. It's overcoming such costly self-inflicted engineering challenges that with Swiss Audio Technology probably shouldn't continue

Breaking with tradition to renew tradition is of course one bloody hard endeavor particularly when a brand enjoys the nearly iconic stature Nagra does. Those queasy over any pending strategic brand renovations will embrace this Jazz with fondness. Aside from the name, it's a prototypical laboratory-look Nagra replete with motorized volume pointer, motorized balance control, motorized rotary block selector aka power mains with its trademark red bar concealed at off should you have extinguished the modulometer backlight to be unsure whether the machine is actually on or not.

There's the usual outboard power supply, an unusual but useful stereo/mono toggle, a mute toggle, a 0/12dB gain toggle, selectable XLR/RCA outputs (the latter as two paralleled pairs, the former true transformer balanced just as the single XLR input) and five RCA inputs. The famously ergo-aggro metal remote is finally history and the new one a plastic but wonderfully ergonomic job shared with none other than Swiss competitor Soulution. And the sound? We're promised quite an improvement over the former PL-L which since has been discontinued together with its ergonomically nightmarish socketry mounted on either cheek. Improved S/N specs for the Jazz even made its battery supply redundant to now go regular AC.