Jake Shimabukuro in the Nagra Suite at the Mirage

Now this should be interesting. We walk down the hall to the Nagra suite (in a similarly sized room to dCS) and there are the same speakers we just heard at dCS, but this time with completely different electronics. I set up my laptop, with Roon in "Exclusive Mode" as always, and test that we have sound.

Introductions are made, and Jake shakes hands with Nagra's Sales and Marketing Manager, the soft-spoken Rene Laflamme. With us is also recording engineer and Wilson Audio's Director of Sales, Peter McGrath. McGrath helped with set up in the Nagra room (which employ the Wilson Alexx speakers), and sits with us for the listening session.


First up, the same two Hi-Rez tracks from Jake's new album, Nashville Sessions: "Blue Haiku" and "Galloping Seahorses". After they finish, I prompt Jake with "sounds different doesn't it?" He responds: "on this system I felt that with the notes there was this glossiness, and more warmth around the things like the snare hits, the punchier things that stand out. Maybe a warmer lower midrange too. I'm not an engineer, so may not describe this well, but it felt like there was more bottom end, a deeper sense of the lower frequencies."

Jake then focused on some details in the first track, "Blue Haiku": "I remember specifically this one point where, while improvising on this track, I turned a little bit to look at the drummer, and on this system I could hear the slight shift in position of the instrument, of the ukulele turning. You could hear the tone change. I listened for it on the first system, but noticed it more on this one. It might also be the difference in the stereo imaging with this system."

He paused and then exclaimed "I don't know which one I like better! In the other room [dCS] I could hear more openess in the higher end, but in this room, the higher end seemed richer, where the other system I noticed more of the details. It will interesting to hear what the 'Eleanor Rigby' track sounds like on this system."

I agree with Jake. Same model speakers, similar layout room, but noticeably different character, especially in the top end. Which only proves that when voicing a system, electronics matter a lot. But it's also important to know what you like, so you end up with the right choice that suits your personality. I might tend toward more detail, but I know plenty of readers would be drawn to the richness of the Nagra sound instead.


Jake then pulled out the ukulele, tuned up, and treated us again to "Eleanor Rigby" live, followed by the recorded version. Jake: "I felt the dynamics were compressed a little more, but I'm wondering if we were listening louder in the other room?" At this point McGrath piped in and noted "the volume was too soft, down from live around 6dB." He was correct and we adjusted the volume to match the live level. Something else was bugging McGrath, and he jumped up and reversed the system's polarity while providing a quick explanation of its importance in playback. We ran the track again.

What a difference--now it was much tougher to call one system out in any obvious way over the other. But I was starting to get a real handle on the sound of the mics used for "Eleanor Rigby". There was a lack of dynamic ease with the recording on both systems compared to live and the top end was certainly softer, even though the mics were only a few inches from the instrument. The tonal quality of the ukulele shone through in spades, but in the end you could easily tell which was which. Jake noted that the recording sounded like "a shelving EQ was used a little on the top end", meaning that it sounded rolled off a little--a bit of the sparkle of the live instrument was gone. But there was no EQ used, these vintage mics just couldn't match real. A good system like the Nagra/Wilson combo made this obvious.

After we finished up, Jake spotted the two oscar statuettes Nagra had garnered for sound work sitting on the far side of the room. Rene quickly grabbed one and put it in his hands. By the look of that smile on his face, I'm guessing Jake is thinking, yeah I'd like to get one of these someday for some soundtrack work!


Nagra Equipment List:
Nagra HDdac $30,000
Nagra ClassicPreamp $17,000
Nagra HDamp $82,500/pr
Nagra VPS phono $7,650
Nagra CDT $14,775
Nagra Seven recorder $4,800
Kronos Pro Turntable $38,000
Kronos Black beauty tonearm $8,500
Wilson Alexx speakers $110,000/pr
Transparent Opus and XL interconnects
HRS racks

More info on Jake @CES here. You can read all of the Jake @CES posts here.