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August 18, 2010

6

Nagra LB – An Update

by soundlandscapes

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.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Audio Field Recorder
    Aug 26 2010

    Des, thanks for the information and pleased you like the recorder, they are all a bit of an unknown until you actually use them for yourself. Your excellent photo belies its actual small size. I am surprised that Nagra still use limited-life internal HDDs., rather than relying totally on CF cards. Perhaps they have problems with the read-write speeds for high definition audio formats with these cards, or they just prefer the additional in-built redundancy of an HDD.

    It would be appreciated if you can tell me your favoured stereo microphone setup for use with this recorder?

    Best regards

    Reply
    • Aug 26 2010

      Thanks for your comment. You are right, it is smaller than it looks in the photo. You will have gathered that I am very pleased with it!

      As far as the HDD is concerned, I think it is there partly as a back-up but more importantly for the “hot-swap” facility. This facility enables you to change the CF card whilst still recording. I have tried it and it works perfectly.

      As far as microphones are concerned, it depends on the circumstances. The Rode NT-4 works well for general recording, the Soundman OKM-II’s work well for street recording but I have been particularly impressed with the Audio Technica 8022 for reportage work. I was very unsure about the 8022 at first but it and the Nagra seem to make a very happy marriage. I also always carry my Electro-Voice 635A “Buchanan Hammer” mono mic in reserve … just in case. I’m quite sure that your Rode M/S rig would work perfectly with the LB.

      If you get the chance to have a look at, or to try the Nagra LB I recommend that you do. I think you will be well pleased.

      Reply
  2. Sep 7 2010

    Thanks for this information Des.

    It seams like you have use both Nagra LB and Sound Devises 722 recorders.
    If you compare this two recorders. Which of them is a better sounding recorder? I need this information’s before I’ll invest in one.

    To me, it’s almost impossible to compare the specifications on the company’s website. Nagra poor information’s are almost impossible to compare to Sound devices specifications. I think this two company are not using the same measurements, so information’s are like compering apple and orange.
    Mic-amp gain in Nagra is only 50dB (unlikely), but 70 dB in SD722!
    Noise are 130dB (A wt.) in SD, but “just something” bellow 100dB in Nagra.
    I know Nagra made nice product but they can not live on legend forever.

    If you compare the preamp noise floor and the gain of this two recorders. Which of them gives better result in your mind?
    SD recorders are based on almost 7 years old product, but Nagra LB is one or two year old, based on Nagra BB.
    Service looks like much better at Sound Device website, f.ex firmware update, software and other things.
    In Iceland, where I live, I can buy SD722 for similar price as Nagra LB. And just for “something more” I can buy SD744 and connect my SD302 mixer. Then I have possibility for 5 mic inputs in 4 channels recorder.
    All information’s about comparisons will be nice. I need good sounding recorder. With Hi gain and LOW noise floor.

    Thanks for all the help and best regards
    Magnus

    Reply
  3. Nana
    Mar 28 2013

    Hi, are you still using your Nagra LB? Judging from your enthusiastic post and considering its sturdiness I would think so. I am about to start using one and am surprised that I cannot find out how to pause a recording – maybe I am blind?? I tried to switch the wheel from “REC” to “TEST”, but it always creates a new file. Or do other people not need a pause function?
    Looking for information online, I found your post and thought maybe you could tell me.
    Best wishes,
    Nana

    Reply
  4. Mar 28 2013

    Hi Nana.

    Yes, I’m still using my Nagra LB and much enjoying it. I can confirm that there is no ‘pause’ facility during recording although there is during playback. During recording you can create a new file though without switching from “REC” to “TEST”. Whilst in the “REC” position you can press the >> switch to create a new seamless file.

    If during playback the main selector is set to STOP, the playback goes in PAUSE mode. During the PAUSE mode it is possible to increment or decrement the counter by turning the jog wheel.

    I hope this helps.

    Reply
    • Nana
      Mar 28 2013

      Hi again Des (if this is your name?),
      thanks a lot for your very fast reply! This is helpful although a bit sad. Do other people not use a pause function? I record animals, and while the animal is quiet or I lost it, I prefer pausing the recording to creating new files every time I stop. I also wrote to Nagra, will see what they say.
      In any case, thanks a lot for your help,
      best,
      Nana

      Reply

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