Field Report: Nagra SD

January 1, 2012

Nagra SD

There are a plethora of handheld digital audio recorders available now, so when a new one is introduced, I want to know what sets it apart from other models. Each model seems to have its own unique feature set, so when I received a Nagra SD as a demo unit I had to check it over.

My first impression of this compact unit was its sturdy feel. The case is aluminum and some plastic, but it has some heft to it, unlike some other portable recorders I have looked at. All the buttons are laid out for one-hand operation, and it''s easy to access all the controls this way.

Getting connected

The unit has four connectors: 3.5mm stereo mic in, 3.5mm stereo line in, 3.5mm stereo headphone/line out and USB. The unit can be powered via the USB port. The audio input connectors are on the top of the unit, which is where most handheld recorders have their built-in microphones. The SD also has a mic, but what is unique about it are the four mic capsules available for the recorder. The mics all clip securely in place to provide on-board pickup, and they are color-coded by function as outlined in Table 1.

 Red Stereo cardioid
 Green High-quality stereo cardioid
 Blue High-quality mono omnidirectional
 White High-quality mono cardioid
Table 1. The various mic capsules available for the Nagra SD

The red capsule is included with the unit. Nagra also offers mono and stereo mic cables that clip to the same audio input connector. These cables provide a secure mic connection. A mono mic cable is included. The mic capsules and cables are the same style used in the preceding model, the ARES-M, and are compatible with both models.

The SD memory card accepts any storage capacity CD card. A 2GB card was included with my unit. The unit can be set to record mono or stereo files saved as WAV, MP2 or MP3. The sampling rate can be set from 24 to 96kHz and the bit rate can be set from 32 to 384kb/s for MP2 and MP3 files. The unit is powered by two AA batteries, which during my field recordings lasted for several hours.

On either side of the bright display are the input recording level set and output playback level set buttons. The software keys make it easy to set and repeat a level, which when the function hold switch is set to on will stay where they will not be inadvertently changed.

On either side of the bright display are the input recording level set and output playback level set buttons. The software keys make it easy to set and repeat a level, which when the function hold switch is set to on will stay where they will not be inadvertently changed.

When held, the files/menu button shows the various system and recorder settings. The menu tree is accessed with round function buttons that act like a cursor. When the files/menu button is tapped, a list of recorded files is shown.

Performance at a glance
◊ Built-in speaker
◊ Operates on two AA batteries
◊ Interchangeable mics
◊ Mic-in/line-in and line-out/headphone I/O
◊ Accepts SD/SDHC cards

There are seven switches on the back panel to quickly access several functions rather than having to toggle through menus. These switches include mic gain (high/low), filter (on/off), AGC (on/off), file type (mono/stereo), mic power (on/off, for the Nagra electret mic capsules), quality (low/high) and hold (on/off). The quality setting allows two standard setups to be set. The low/high labeling is really for convenience. I have both quality settings on 16/44.1 WAV just in case the switch is accidentally changed. The speaker is also on the back.

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In operation

The recorder has a pre-record buffer that can be deactivated in the menu, although I like having it on. When record is pushed, the ring around the record button flashes red a little faster than once per second. This indicates the recorder is in record ready, and levels can be set. Push the record button again, and the ring flashes red about four times per second. A circle on the display also fills solid to indicate the unit is recording.

I like having visual confirmation that I am recording, although I would prefer the ring to stay steady red while recording, like a camera tally light. The red ring can be turned off completely while recording, but I would like to have the option to make it stay on rather than flashing quickly while recording.

The unit includes a leatherette case, which protects the recorder while in use. A clear plastic front allows easy viewing of the controls and display. There are also cutouts for the audio levels and the hold button on the back. The case also provides the method to attach the recorder to a camera tripod mount.

The included mic sounds very good. I used it to record a concert band and a handbell choir, and there is good separation between channels. The frequency response sounds good as well. Most of the time I use an external stereo mic that has a 3.5mm output for these ensembles, and the recorder worked very well in this setup too.

I also tried the recorder like it would be used to get a news actuality or in a handheld interview. The high-quality capsule has lower handling noise than the standard capsule.

The mic preamps in this little recorder sound very good. The published distortion spec is listed as being 0.025 percent at 1kHz, which is really good. There is no published signal to noise ratio, although a 90dB dynamic range is specified in the manual. Using my external mic on the SD and the same mic on another handheld recorder, the SD appears to be quieter on silence.

◊ 615-726-5191

The recorder has a voice on record (VOR) function to automatically record when the audio surpasses defined threshold, which is adjustable to be -30dBfs, -20dBfs, -10dBfs or off. VOR can also be set to pause on silence or create a new file each time recording starts. A delay can also be specified to continue recording from 5 seconds to 3 minutes once silence is detected.

While recording, the stop button must be held a few seconds to actually stop. I like this because it prevents accidental stopping if the button is brushed by mistake.

Overall, the Nagra SD is very good recorder. With recording capability up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution and the variety of mic capsules, it can easily be used in a wide range of recording applications.

Weiss is a contract engineer in Kansas City.