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I've been commissioned as foley recordist/sound designer/sound editor for a feature indie film which is attempting to capture a nostalgic feel both visually and in its sound track, something akin to movies out of the 70s' or 80s'. The visual side, which is supposed to resemble 16mm, is being handled digitally due to the fact that film is prohibitively expensive. My question is, if I'm trying to create an authentically retro sounding audio track, would it be a smart move to buy a Nagra 4.2 or similar model open-reel recorder?

Much of the dialogue is being ADR'ed using digital equipment, so it would be necessary for me to dub these tracks to tape. Everything else, including sound FX, foley, and ambiences could potentially be recorded to tape for the first take. I'm new to the field of Nagra, FYI. My primary experience has been with a M-Audio Microtrack II for use as a field recorder. Mainly I'm asking if this would be a good return on investment for future projects, and would be sustainable in turns of repairs/media if I decide to continue using it for future work. If not, does anyone know of any good alternatives for the low-fi feel I am seeking? Thanks.

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4 Answers

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I have a Sound Devices 788-T and LOVE it, using it for production audio, location recording SFX/music, and ADR in the studio. Nagra is a wonderful company with a rich film history. There are a lot of sound designers out there that still use them especially for recording loud, impact sounds (gun shots for example) because of headroom and pleasant saturation you get from tape versus digital. But the S/N difference between tape and digital is huge, so if you are recording ambiences or quieter sounds something like Sound Devices or Nagra digital units are a better bet. As for an investment, if you are planning on doing a lot of location recording of loud SFX it might be worth having, but the quality and versatility you can get from something like a Sound Devices recorder make it somewhat extraneous.

Now, there are ways you can post process the dialogue to make it sound older which has its advantageous in that you can record clean audio and "dial in" as much effect as desired, but the other side of that is it is almost impossible to recreate the real thing. It is like plug-ins for music that say they can make your track sound like it came out of Abbey Road in '64...it might be close but nothing like the real thing. One bit of advice would be to begin trying to find settings for that now before you get into mixing the film.

Another option would be to rent one. Because of its cost and association with production, there are probably companies that would rent one to you to use, that way you can experiment with it and see if you like it without the investment. There are many here in NYC and California, I would do some research and see if there are any near you. Good luck, sounds quite cool.

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Thanks so much, I've kind of come to that same consensus too with regard to the digital units. Using tape as a main unit would simply be too expensive, and none of the sound in this film is loud enough to justify the headroom it offers. Instead, if I can't find the effect I want digitally, I'm thinking of resampling all of my recorded digital FX and backgrounds (which were recorded clean) to tape using a rental unit, and then back to digital for editing. The advantage would be that I would only need to rent the unit for an afternoon or so. Here in Australia, that might be a challenge... o_O –  davidreino Aug 11 '12 at 21:01
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If you have that budget, i would recomment to buy a good field recorder in the price ange of the nagra. Something like a sound devices or similar stuff. As you mentioned, the video is captured digitally, so why not doing the sound processing in post, a lso with the audio part ? There are really good pro-plug ins like waves / spl or similar stuff, that you can use for " designing " the 70's.

I think a really good digital fieldrecorder would be my choice, because you can also use it in the future. The tape thing is really cool, but in my eyes more a effect as a really portable thing for the future. The price of such recorders is high. You have to choose and think about, how you would it use in the future. Dou you have endless tape for gathering sound fx for fun ? I think a digital recorder is the way to go.

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Nagra's recorders are amazing. But if you don't own yet a good digital recorder I would suggest that you definetely invest on buying one. For the last six years, I have the Sound Devices 744T. It's a sturdy recorder and it can function under extreme weather conditions with out any problem!

Now what you can do is rent a nagra 4 and also an microphone used during that era in film and experiment. Also do a research and if you can find out what was the equipment used in the sound workflow during production and mixing, you could insert that equipment in your board and mix to taste. Could you give us some updates on your decision, and final result?

Best regards, Marco

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I woud personally record everything on a Sound Devices and rent a Nagra to use as an insert loop in post. That way you know that you will be able to capture everything nice and clean and you can add the retro sound later.

There are a lot of issues to deal with when recording analogue, such as saturation, wow, flutter, noise, azimuth, as well as sync and reliable tape supplies.

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