Q&A with Mat Latour of Nagra

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Q&A with Mat Latour of Nagra

What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side, family, or the electronics side?
I was fascinated by music and sound reproduction from an early age. At age two I was putting my plate upside down and using the knife as a tonearm! My father is an engineer and sang in a choir; my grandmother was a piano teacher; so music and technology were part of our life. 

What gear made up your first high-end system?
When I was 10, I actually took all my father’s stereo gear and set it in my room, but that did not last long! For many years I invested more in instruments and recording equipment than in playback, but my first serious speakers were Mission 753. I had to work two months one summer to buy them. I remember playing the Carmen opening for my friends to show them how a record could sound!

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
Somehow I always wanted to be a sound engineer or an electronics designer. For many years I was doing live sound and recordings as a non-professional. It became a career when I had the chance to enter a sound engineering course at age 22.

What education did you receive?
I have a Bachelor’s in Electronics from Paris University and a Master in Sound Engineering from École Louis Lumière in Paris, France.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
I believe the high end should be the pursuit of high fidelity. So probably the philsophy is the same. I guess these are more like marketing terms or ways to distinguish more expensive products from entry-level ones. For us at Nagra, high end means we have the chance to explore ambitious concepts to design the best products we can, even if it means an expensive product in the end.

Nagra produces both analog and digital gear. Do you have a preference?
I am lucky. I can play an analog tape from the legendary Nagra IV-S and then go to a high-resolution master from the Montreux Jazz Festival, so I don’t really have to chose one or the other. I do appreciate both for their respective qualities. In terms of recording and post-production, it is so convenient to use digital, but I have to say I always feel more involved emotionally when I turn the reel-to-reel selector to playback.

How would you describe the Nagra company philosophy?
Our philosophy is to focus on quality and design and build the most transparent and accurate instruments. They should not only perform well; they should also last for decades.

What is the greatest misunderstanding people have about Nagra?
Probably some people think we want to sell expensive equipment. It is true our equipment is high in price, but this is just a consequence of not making any compromises—neither a wish from the get-go nor a marketing approach. 

What interesting fact or aspect about Nagra might surprise audiophiles?
Stefan Kudelski, our founder, designed and built his own design of the first high-quality portable recorder in 1951. At this time recorders were the size of a washing machine, and yet he managed to build one that was self-contained and the size of a shoe-box. Nagra is a Polish word that means “it records.” His invention changed the face of radio, cinema, and music recording.

Describe a primary lesson you’ve learned working in the high-end audio business.
The first time I attended the high-end show in Frankfurt in 2003 I was blown away by the quality of the turntable we were playing. I knew analog (particularly reel-to-reel) was amazing, but I did not expect LPs could sound that good!

What are the greatest challenges confronting the high end in the next few years?
Because you need a certain financial strength to acquire high-end equipment, our customers are often in their late 50s. The new generations are very keen on listening to music, but probably mostly on headphones or portable items. We need to find opportunities to expose them to what a great high-end setup can do.

 

Outside of work, what do you do for fun?
I raise my four kids, and I play music, listen to music, and watch movies—that is while I’m not enjoying a hike in the beautiful Swiss mountains!

What inspires you about your work?
There are three things that inspire me to work everyday. The first is to be part of a fantastic team that comes from all around the world and shares a passion for music and sound. The second is to dream about amazing products and, after a couple of years of hard efforts, have the pleasure of seeing them come to life. The other great thing about Nagra is that we are represented in almost 30 countries. It is really enriching to meet people who love music all around the world and to get to know their culture.

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