Pioneering sound-recording engineer dies

Stefan Kudelski posing with two of his four Oscars in 1991 Keystone

Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the Nagra, the first portable professional sound recorder, has died aged 84.

This content was published on January 29, 2013 minutes

Kudelski created the Nagra in 1951, an invention which was used by the radio, film and television industries, said the Kudelski Group, based in Cheseaux-sur-Lausanne, western Switzerland, in a statement.

He began his career by selling the device to Radio Luxembourg, Italy’s RAI and the BBC, as well as ABC, NBC and CBS in the United States.

“Stefan Kudelski was one of those personalities who contributed to the international reputation of Switzerland,”  the company’s vice-chairman Claude Smadja said in the statement.

“Anyone who knew him could only be impressed by his sharpness, his incredible culture, his curiosity and his permanent sense of humour. ”

The Kudelski Group spun the Nagra audio unit off in January 2012 and now focuses on technology for digital television. It also owns a unit that makes access systems for car parks and ski resorts.

The company has 2,900 full-time staff and in 2011 recorded sales of just under SFr900 million ($975 million).

Stefan Kudelski’s son André is chairman and CEO, having taken over from his father in 1991. Marguerite Kudelski, Stefan’s daughter, is also on the company’s board.

“Beautiful beasts”

Kudelski was born in Warsaw in 1929. His family fled Poland in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, travelling to Hungary and France before arriving in Switzerland in 1943.

He studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and constructed his first tape recorder there, as a student project. The recorder was supposed to drive a machine tool, but was good enough to record audio as well.

This was how one online gadget fan (see link) described the invention: “Nagras, rugged, expensive and battery powered, are designed for the chaotic, brutal world of location audio, so one does not normally encounter one in the studio. As such, most musicians rarely get an opportunity to encounter one of these beautiful beasts.”

In 1983, Kudelski entered the hall of fame of motion picture and television by receiving the John Grierson International Gold Medal, joining luminaries of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers such as Louis Lumière, Thomas Edison, Lee de Forest, George Eastman, Walt Disney, Samuel Warner, Léon Gaumont, Ray Dolby and Vladimir Zworkyin.

In the course of his career, he was awarded numerous distinctions including Oscars in 1965, 1977, 1978 and 1990 and Emmy Awards in 1984 and 1986.


The twitterverse was full of praise for Kudelski, with most of the comments probably coming from older journalists who remember carrying around the Nagra:

“RIP to the man who revolutionised the world of sound recording,” @simonsound.

“RIP Stefan Kudelski, who built the most beautiful tape recorders in the world,” @RadioMikeHill.

“Not the most famous man in the world, but someone who changed it in his own small way. RIP Mr Nagra,” @MickyCurling.

“RIP Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the Nagra – undoubtedly the greatest recording device made,” @benegal.

“Still use it here in Bengali films!” @PratimDGupta.

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