Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the first portable professional sound recorder died.

Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the first portable professional sound recorder, died on Saturday. He was 84.

Mr. Kudelski created the Nagra in 1951, and the invention was used by the radio, movie and television industries, the Swiss-based Kudelski Group said in a statement.

He began his career by selling the device to Radio Luxembourg, Italy’s RAI and the British Broadcasting Corp., as well as ABC, NBC and CBS, according to the Nagra Audio website.

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

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

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 parking lots and ski resorts.

Mr. Kudelski was born in Warsaw on Feb. 27, 1929, and his family fled Poland in 1939 as World War II started.

The Kudelskis fled to Hungary and France before arriving in Switzerland in 1943.

Stefan Kudelski’s son Andre is chairman and chief executive of Kudelski Group, having taken over from his father in 1991.

Marguerite Kudelski, the daughter of the inventor, is also on the company’s board.

Stefan Kudelski, Who Made Sound Recording Portable, Dies by APRIL FEHLING

January 29, 2013 5:18 PM
Listen to the Story All Things Considered 5 min 17 sec

While few outside the film and radio industries may recognize the name Stefan Kudelski, his Nagra recorder — meaning “will record” in Kudelski’s native Polish — transformed the world of sound recording for radio, television and film.

Kudelski, inventor of the first portable professional sound recorder, died Saturday in Switzerland at the age of 84, according to a statement from the Kudelski Group.

Before the Nagra, sound recording on movie sets required devices that “took several people to carry them around,” says Randy Thom, director of sound design for Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif. “They typically had to be transported on a truck.”

That made a Nagra set up — weighing in between 8 and 20 pounds, depending on accessories — profoundly freeing for filmmakers, particularly because the device reached the market just as cameras were shrinking.

“It was one of the tools that made the French New Wave possible, by allowing the young directors in the late 50s and early 60s … to shoot a scene almost anywhere they could think of shooting one,” Thom tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block.

And the Nagra was tough. “You could drop them and they would still run. They would run in very cold weather and they’d run in … humid conditions,” Thom says. “You could take them just about anywhere.”
Born in Poland in 1929, Kudelski fled the Nazi occupation with his family in 1939, eventually ending up in Switzerland. He built his first tape recorder while a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

He invented his Nagra device, which recorded on 1/4-inch magnetic tape, in 1951, and filled orders for his first customers, Radio Lausanne and Radio Geneva, in 1952, according to the Swiss company Nagra Audio.

Kudelski went on to win five Academy Awards and two Emmys for his contributions to sound engineering.

While digital audio recorders have largely overtaken tape in the film industry, sound designers still use them – particularly for recording very high-volume sounds like gunshots, Thom says. And no matter how small digital recorders become, Thoms says sound engineers still “get a bit of a starry eyed look” at the mention of the Nagra.

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