Nagra HD PREAMP preamplifier

hfnoutstanding.pngNagra’s monumental HD amplifier series reaches completion as its monoblock power amps are joined by this sensational, two-chassis, fully-balanced HD PREAMP

Nagra has, with the exception of the now-best-forgotten Pyramid amplifiers [HFN Feb ’05], a near-faultless track record. When you consider that the company leapt from professional tape decks to audiophile-grade valve electronics 20 years ago, the transition has been remarkable. With the second of its HD models, the HD PREAMP (joined by the HD DAC), one witnesses the completion of ‘Phase One’ of Nagra 2.0.

Phase Two will consist of further models currently in the planning stages [see interview with CEO Pascal Mauroux]. This signifies a complete break from its predecessors, though some are still in the catalogue, like the VPA hybrid tube amp. A new design team led by a Frenchman – not a Swiss – new circuitry and PSU concepts: the transformation is audible. The legendary obsession with accuracy has been tempered by something typically unknown to the Swiss. It’s called ‘soul’.

Siren Calls
Costing £49,500 and occupying two chassis, each with a 320x395mm footprint, the HD PREAMP represents a new size over the earlier models (what we might call Nagra 1.0) – the original PL-L, for example, stood at 310x254x76mm. With the HD PREAMP’s platforms and their decoupling support columns, the separate preamplifier section and the power supply require space of 438x121x396mm (whd) apiece, stacking nicely, with a ceramic locating ball placed at the top of each lower pillar.


Before I drop into hi-fi porn mode – and the HD PREAMP is a siren, to be sure – let’s deal with the admittedly odious matter of price. Whatever the real reasons for a stratospheric fee, there is no point in trying to justify or explain the cost of high-end gear (especially cartridges and cables). It is what it is, and the same applies to £90 lambs’ wool socks, £2500 bottles of wine or shoes for £3500 – as long as people will pay these prices, manufacturers will charge them. So, apologies if, like me, this stuff is way out of your league. Nagra gear is achingly expensive, but of late I am no more inclined to say ‘Sorry!’ for its existence than a motoring journalist might apologise for the latest Ferrari.

What you get for the money, however, is astonishing. The build quality is exactly what one expects of products made in the land of Rolex and Patek Philippe. The comprehensive facilities speak of Nagra’s professional division, although at this level I would like to have seen the provision of a mono switch and a headphone outlet. Its party trick is a pair of ganged, motorised left/right volume controls that also address balance. The nifty feature is a reset toggle located between the two that returns them to matched levels.

Red Means Go
That aside, the HD PREAMP is thorough enough to accommodate two balanced (XLR) and three single-ended (RCA) sources, throughput/bypass inputs and an array of tiny toggle switches that allow users to exclude unused outputs, deal with ground lift, adjust signal levels, meter mode, set up the unit for Record Out usage, etc. The instruction manual is comprehensively illustrated and you’ll want to read it all.

Two different diameter LEMO connector-equipped cables join the power supply to the control unit. The power supply unit will also trigger other devices and can be integrated into an automated system. The back, too, houses a primary on/off switch next to its IEC mains socket.

Around the front, despite its completeness, there’s a sense of near-minimalism compared to the rear panel. At the left is the Modulometer, which can indicate either input or output level, with the toggle on the left setting the display brightness. Next are the volume controls with the aforementioned selector for ganged or independent rotation, a mute toggle – the unit mutes for 2.5min when you switch on, shown by a blinking yellow LED – and a toggle to choose XLR or RCA output. Lastly, there is the signature Nagra on/off source selector that rotates to reveal a red stripe when the unit is switched on.

Nagra supplies an unusual remote that made me think of a cartoon penguin as it rocks on its base. It chooses source, adjusts volume, mute and power on/off and, once you get past the odd shape, you realise it’s an ergonomic joy that simply falls to hand and stands up on its own. Set-up, together with the HD AMP mono blocks [HFN Jul ’18], was undertaken by Nagra’s Audio Division Director, Matthieu Latour, and took minutes – but then he’s probably done it a few hundred times as he tours the hi-fi show circuit with this HD gear.

Audio Technology
Switzerland S.A.
Supplied by: Padood Ltd, Cambridge, UK
01223 653199