Portable audiophileStefan Kudelski

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An engineer and physicist, as a young man Kudelski fled his native Poland as the Nazis invaded. In the 1940s, while a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, he created the first portable audio tape recorder as a student project. It was designed to simply drive a machine, but the audio quality was so good that it rivaled phonebooth-sized studio recording equipment. By 1951, his “Nagra” recorder was introduced, and swept into radio stations and TV stations. In 1958, Kudelski figured out how to synchronize his audio recordings to film, allowing movie makers to not only capture much better sound, but to do so outside of a studio. “There was virtually no film made from 1961 until the early ’90s that did not use the Nagra,” says movie sound engineer Chris Newman, who used Nagras to win Oscars for The Exorcist (1973), Amadeus (1984), and The English Patient (1996). “We would not have the movies we have today without it.” Kudelski won three Oscars himself for his Science and Technical contributions to the film industry, as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Gordon E Sawyer Award, and two Emmy awards. By the 1960s, Kudelski’s recorders were small enough that they were the choice for spies, too: there’s one in the International Spy Museum in Washington which was used by East Germany’s Stasi, and Kudelski says American administrations back to Kennedy’s have used them too. He retired in 1991, and died in Switzerland on January 26, at 83.

From This is True for 3 February 2013