Nagra LB – An Update
It’s now some eight weeks since I wandered down to Le Microphone in the rue Victor Massé and bought my Nagra LB sound recorder and I thought that, having now given it a good workout, I might share my impressions of it.
I have always rather been in awe of the name “Nagra” and the reputation of their products and this is the first time that I have actually owned a grown-up Nagra. I have my hand-held Nagra ARES – M which has proved to be a real workhorse, but comparing the ARES-M to the Nagra LB would be like comparing chalk and cheese.
The Nagra LB comes from the Nagra tradition of designing and building audio recorders for the broadcasting and film industries. Following on from the ARES – C and the ARES – BB+, the Nagra LB is essentially a sound recorder designed for broadcast journalism, hence the on-board communications features via bluetooth, Ethernet and USB. It can of course be used perfectly well for any other type of high-quality recording as I have proved. The one that I have is the first model in the Nagra LB stable. According to Nagra, two more versions are coming up, one with a full SMPTE/EBU time code and another without the time code or the editing facilities. That’s the trouble with buying a new model early – you’re never quite sure what other versions might follow. Still, I’m perfectly happy with the version I have.
The Nagra LB is very sturdy whilst at the same time being easy on the eye. It gives me the feeling that one could drop it from a great height and it would survive although I’ve no intention of trying that particular experiment. It measures 175 x 65 x 85mm including the battery box and it weighs 1.4kg (3lbs) including the batteries of which 8 AA NimH or Alkaline cells are required.
I don’t propose to list all the technical specifications here except to say that the Nagra LB has the following key features:
- Two channel recording with two colour displays, one on the front and one on the top,
- Linear digital PCM, MPEG 1 layer 2 or MP-3
- 16 / 24 bit Broadcast Wave File BWF (WAV)
- Sampling rate: 44.1, 48 kHz, 88.2, 96 and 192 kHz
- +48 V Phantom power supply
- USB 2.0 communication Ethernet/Bluetooth
- Pre-recording buffer
- M/S decoder
- Internal flash and removable Compact Flash + Hot-Swapping
- Internal speaker
- Built-in audio editor
The technophiles can find the full technical specifications here.
The LB comes complete with:
- A battery box for 8 AA cells.
- A carrying case
- A carrying strap
- An AC/DC converter 100-240V AC, 15V DC, 0.7A including AC plug adapters
- A Bluetooth dongle
- A standard USB cable
- CD including the user manual
So, what do I think about the Nagra LB?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. The carrying case supplied is pretty awful! It’s functional in the sense that the recorder fits inside it but it offers little real protection except perhaps from scuffing and it has no extra space for a microphone, spare batteries etc. I can imagine very few people will want to use it. It seems that, as usual, it’s left up to Portabrace to provide the proper carrying case. Sorry, but I just had to get that off my chest.
The first thing to say about the Nagra LB itself is that I am absolutely delighted with it. It does everything it’s supposed to do and it does it very well indeed. It’s robust, easy to use and everything is easily to hand.
Having bought it, got it home and installed the batteries I was able to switch it on and begin recording right away using the default settings. However, there is a full settings menu so that you can set up the LB appropriately for whatever is best for you. The full settings menu is accessed from the top panel and is easy to navigate and a shorter version of the settings menu can be accessed from the front panel. Of course, the first thing I did was to try it out with all my microphones which involved multiple settings of the menu which was a bit tiresome but for everyday use I use three microphones for the majority of my work, all stereo, and now that I have the settings in place I don’t have to change them at all.
The front panel, the business end of the recorder, is excellent. Everything is clear and easy to get at. I especially like the master switch used for record and playback. Yes, it really is a proper switch which you turn from the mid “off” position going clockwise through “Test” (standby prior to record) and then to “Record” and anti-clockwise through “Stop” to “Play”. The switch has a positive action and it means that you actually have to turn something to engage “Record” which I find reassuring. I find it’s so much better and so much safer than pressing a button. I also like the screens. The one on the front is bright even in strong sunlight although it can be dimmed if required. The screen contains a wealth of information including the level metres and everything is very easy to read.
The LB has a 2Gb internal hard disk and it accepts Compact Flash cards type I and II. It also has a “hot-swap” facility which means that an almost full CF card can be replaced by a blank formatted CF card without loosing any information without stopping the recording – very useful in high-pressure situations.
I could write at length about all the technical things that impress about the LB, but this is not that sort of blog. Suffice it to say that my short experience of it shows that the Nagra LB seems to live up to the Nagra advertising – it really does seem to be what it says on the tin!
I gave the LB it’s first serious outing recording the fly-past on the morning of La Fête National on 14th July followed by recording the end of the Tour de France in the Champs Élysée at the end of July. I’ve also used it for some street recording. On all occasions the LB behaved impeccably.
For broadcast journalists working in a fast-moving news environment, the Nagra LB with its on-line editing and sophisticated communications facilities just has to be the best recorder on the market. For radio features and documentaries it is ideal – reliable, compact and easy to use. For more relaxed, general recording, the on-board editing and the communications facilities are a luxury rather than a necessity but the performance is exemplary.
For the sound recording that I specialise in the Nagra LB has so far proved to be a very valuable tool.
Finally, I think it’s always worth remembering that the hardware, however good or sophisticated, is not an end in itself – it is only a means to an end. Memorable sound recording is a product of the imagination not of the hardware.