Who does not know the vexatious problem of space. Not only the number of instruments grows with the passing years, but also the ensuing original packaging that needs to be kept. In order to store the latter, I have organised a small space, which regularly requires reorganizing.
My enthusiasm for this work can at best be described as ‘limited’, which does not, however, remove the necessity of performing it. And so it was due once again. However, this time the rudimentary pleasure was transformed when I unexpectedly found something red wrapped in plastic in my hands after opening a box. My forehead probably looked like a corrugated iron roof at this moment and I heard myself say in a surprised but joyful tone, “oh yes… I’ve still got this one too!”
Minutes later, the Nord Rack 2 was in the studio relieved of its coverings and the exciting moment of flicking the on switch had arrived. After five years in various, and more to the point suboptimal rooms, I expected the worst. However, I was taught a lesson. The small red Swede had continued without complaint from where he had had to cease operation in order to lead a barren existence in a cardboard box, and was now available for a test report.
This gives us the chance to list at this point the four… or actually ten different instruments. Clavia, or „nord®“, as they call themselves nowadays, has brought the Keyboard known as ‚Nord Lead“ and the rack version known as ‚Nord Rack’ to marked in four different series.
1995 – 1998: Nord Lead und Nord Rack
1998 – 2003: Nord Lead 2 und Nord Rack 2
2003 – 2013: Nord Lead 2x und Nord Racke 2x
2001 – 2007: Nord Lead 3 und Nord Rack 3
2013 – : Nord Lead 4 und Nord 4r
The Nord 3 series was succeeded by the 2X series, an interesting step back. However, in early 2013 nord® released the new Nord Lead 2 series.
Clavia/nord® has managed, more than almost any other comparable young company in this field, to established itself as a successful manufacturer. The red colouring of the instruments makes them quickly recognisable on international stages and allows us to guess the range of their use. The persistence of the tones, coupled with a good finish and a nonetheless relatively light weight makes the ‘reds’ popular instruments amongst many musicians playing live. The simultaneous fulfilment of all three criteria can be freely judged as a distinction.
On the other hand, nord® have clearly taken their foot off the accelerator a little in terms of the development of new synthesizers. A pity! I am probably not the only one to feel this way. A pity in particular because Clavia heralded a new era with the appearance of the Nord Lead. The era of the virtual analogue synthesizer. The Nord Lead was the first of its kind, and was quickly succeeded by Access’ Virus and the Sound Set 2 for Yamaha’s VL Synthesizer. Clavia followed up later with the Nord Modular and the Nord Wave, but since then it seems that they have concentrated more on the Nord Electro, Nord Stage and the Nord C2. However, the newly available Nord Drum gives hope for further developments from the house of nord®.
Let us return however to the virtual analogues (VAs). The era of the VAs was only recently impressively prolonged by the appearance of the Accelerator and the Solaris. The renaissance of analogue synthesizers stands in contrast to this, which can in part also be traced back to the presence, not to say dominance, of the VAs over many years.
Demo track „blue“, all sounds Clavia Nord Rack 2 except Strings (Memotron).
And with this we already find ourselves in the middle of the discussion that began by placing the Nord Lead tonally near the Prophet 5. A certain similarity in some of the sounds of the Nord Lead cannot be disputed and by that the Prophet 5 sounds subsequently programmed by nord® are not intended. If one begins such a discussion and starts the comparison, then the circle of presumed templates should also be extended to the Roland Jupiter-8. Whether it is useful to judge tonal quality exclusively by its closeness to an analogue synthesizer is by the by. I would like to quote by colleague Robert Wittek from synthesizer.at at this point, who posed the provocative, for some probably blasphemous question, “does the Prophet-5 sound like the Nord Lead?”
Oscillator 1 is structured in a straightforward way and offers the following waveforms, which are not usable simultaneously: sinus, triangle, sawtooth and pulse. And that is about it. Only the ‘FM amount’ parameter deserves a particular mention. Here, in a departure from the virtual analogue concept, the Nord Lead brings linear frequency modulation to the table. Here oscillator 1 functions as ‘carrier’, oscillator 2 as ‘modulator’ (audio sample ‘DiXital’).
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – „DiXital“.
Oscillator 2 is more flexible and offers, as well as triangle, sawtooth and pulse, noise as starting matieral. The intensity of the frequency components of the noise is increased by turning the ‘semitones’ knob in a clockwise direction and, in the position ‘+60’ closely approximates white noise. The same knob determines of course the frequency of the other waveforms.
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – „PW Poly Synth“.
Oscillator synchronation and ring modulation are present, as is pulse width modulation. The latter cannot, however, be separately set for both oscillators (audiodemo ‘PW Pulse Synth’). A pity. Nothing has changed here in comparison to its predecessor.
The situation with regard to the filter section is rather different. Here the algorithms have been improved in comparison to the previous model. However, the offer remains unchanged and is made up of Low Pass 12 dB, Low Pass 24 dB, High Pass 24 dB Notch + Low and Band Pass. The resonance, which is available to all the filters, is sufficient for self-oscillation but produces a thinner sound in the case of both LP filters. Otherwise, this section sounds very good over a wide range, but does not reach the standards of its analogue models. Generally it is noticeable that the Nord Rack produces a slight metallic basic sound. What is one man’s meat is another’s poison, and some sounds profit from this peculiarity. The bell-like sounds can be given as examples here (audio samples ‘DiXital’ and ‘Bells’).
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – „Bells“, clarity not only in its design.
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – BandPass and Vowel example.
In contrast to the first Nord model, the keyboard tracking can now be set to any of three levels and is an immediate neighbour of the ‘distortion’. Otherwise the Nord synthesizer gets by without internal effects. And nord® is proud of this, not without reason.
The filter possesses, just like the
a classic ADSR envelope. The envelopes are clearly among the quicker of their kind and make a substantial contribution to the quality of the percussive sounds. They are able to provide a correspondingly fast attack and a short decay time and to give the bass notes the right resonant form. A third envelope (Attack and Decay only), which is, however, only available to modulate the FM, pulse width or the frequency of oscillator 2.
LFOs and ARPEGGIATOR
Let us turn to the LFOs. LFO1 can either modulate the frequency of Osc1 + Osc2 together, or just the frequency of Osc 2. Pulse width, filter frequency as well as FM are further modulation targets. The frequency ranges (audio samples ‘LFP range + BP’) make a positive impression, as do the five available waveforms of the LFO, in place of the previously offered three.
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – LFO FilterMod.
LFO2 can be used to create vibrato, tremolo and filter frequency modulation or function as a simple arpeggiator. The notes are played by the arpeggiator in the modes Up, Down, Up&Down or Random. As suggested by its name, the ‘Echo’ function additionally on offer repeats either singly played notes or accords (third sound in audio sample ‘DiXital’). The number of repetitions can be increased by turning the ‘Arp range’ knob in a clockwise direction. The result is slightly reminiscent of an LFO driven amplitude or filter frequency modulation, but in contrast to this is at the expense of the number of voices.
Both LFOs can be synchronised to MIDI clock, whereby the restart of the LFOs can be caused by every new beat or with each newly played whole, half, quarter, eight or sixteenth note. Similarly pleasing and in the case of virtual analogue synthesizers by no means to be take for granted is the portamento, which is controlled in its intensity by its own knob. Poly as well as legato and mono are available as modes of play. The ‘unison’ function leads to the sound being distributed in the stereo model and leads to a ‘fatter’ sound in total (audio sample ‘PW Pulse Synth’), assuming that one uses two outputs at the same time, such as Out A and Out B for example, and distributes them within the stereo panorama. Incidentally, the possibility of playing sounds in unison mode is available for all three modes.
Clavia Nord Rack 2 – Mix + Arturia SPARK Beat @ t=22s.
Whereas the Nord Lead 1 had four voices in the basic version and could optionally be extended by eight further voices to a maximum of 12 voices, the Nord 2 is already provided with 16 voices in the factory setting. 99 programs are available to musicians, of which the first forty can be overwritten with self-programmed sounds. You might think that this is not particularly generous, but in practice this is advantageous. Regular back-ups are mandatory and I personally don’t get much out of hundreds or thousands of sounds in an instrument – ‘quality not quantity’ is the motto. Nevertheless, if this is insufficient for anyone, he or she can use a PCMCIA card to provide a further 297 memory slots.
In addition to the 99 programs there are 10 percussion kits. Each of these kits is compromised of eight single, virtually analogue produced drum or percussion sounds. And they are excellent. Several of them can be heard in the audio samples, such as ‘Drums + Percussion’ for example, or in the factory demos. For the case that you are equally enthusiastic about the drum and percussion sounds, but need additional memory space, the already mentioned PCMCIA card provides 30 further memory slots.
The rack version comes for obvious reasons without a pitch bend and a modulation wheel. The appropriate information will, however, be understood and appropriately processed. The modulation wheel can be assigned to five different functions: the intensity of the LFO1 modulation, the intensity of the frequency modulation, the filter frequency, the frequency of oscillator 2 and the morphing function. The latter is a clear highlight of the Nord synthesizers and begs the question why other manufacturers has not followed their example and made the function into a standard function for all digital synthesizers. What is, then, particular about it? By means of morphing one sound can be crossfaded into another. By these means even complex changes can be made and the interpolation is, at least via the modulation wheel, simply impressive.
Clavia nord rack 2 – Factory Demo 1 © Clavia.
Clavia nord rack 2 – Factory Demo 2 © Clavia.
This brings us at this point to an important distinguishing feature in comparison to the keyboard version. The keyboard version is marked not only by an unusual 4 octave keyboard, but also by a modulation wheel of stone and a wooden pitch stick. Both made waves at the time of appearance, as until then we had been used to other materials. In particular the stick pleases me, as it enables nuanced vibratos.
In general, you cannot avoid attributing a mostly intuitive and very good operability to the Nord Lead/Rack synthesizers. For example, in the area of sound synthesis, each of the 25 knobs has one function and can be controlled via MIDI. In this way, sound programming can be fun.
The situation with regard to memory structure is a little different. It is initially not quite so intuitive and this is not only due to the three-level LED. At the top point of the hierarchy is what is known as ‘performance’ which is comprised by the four assigned slots (A, B, C and D). These slots can be assigned to single ‘programs’ with different MIDI channels and combined in turn with one another. It goes without saying that layer sounds quickly reach the limit of the maximum available number of voices.
As previously mentioned, the finish offers no cause for criticism. The five ‘forgotten’ years under ‘semi-optimal’ conditions can act as a genuine proof of this. But also beginning with the structure of the segments, to the colour selection to the materials used and their finish: the concept reduced to clarity is visible in every situation. And with this we have already reached the
The Nord Lead is no ‘Featuremonster’. As already mentioned, the clarity of the concept is visible at every level and, more importantly extends to the basic sound. This can be described as ‘exquisite’ and whether or not it is a successful simulator is in the best case of secondary importance. In the first instance, the Nord Lead, just as its successor Nord Lead 2 and the rack version tested here are excellent synthesizers. The Nord Lead has taken up its rightful place in synthesizer history, and not only because it was the first virtual analogue synthesizer on the market. The aforementioned quality needs no internal effects, or an equalizer, to give the sound of the Nord Lead breadth, depth or to find its place in the mix. The Nord Lead does its job without leaning on such crutches.
Its structure is almost ‘old school’: ‘two oscillators, a filter, two ADSR envelopes, two LFOs, quick and direct access, a rotary knob per function… the production of new and the alteration of existing sounds is therefore simple and easy. The playing aids in the case of the keyboard version are new in their implementation, but drawn from their models. The morphing is new and has made me a fan. I wish that this feature would become a standard for digital instruments. Independence and expressiveness would certainly profit from it.
The comparison with the analogue models is of course to some extent invalid as the manufacturer themselves has copied some of the Prophet 5 factory sounds. There is a very nice comparison with this that the aforementioned Robert Wittek has posted on amazona.de. Find the link at the end of this article.
Is it a successful simulator or not? Whether the simulation is successful I will leave to your judgement, but that it is successful is above discussion. After all, the Nord Lead 1 and its successor the Nord Lead 2, laid the foundation for the entrepreneurial success of Clavia and now nord®.
The Nord Lead is distinguished by its broad acoustic spectrum. This extends from beautiful pads to basses, aggressive and even typically digital sounds, as well as the extraordinarily good drum/percussion sounds. Under consideration of everything written I come to the conclusion that I cannot avoid describing the Nord Rack 2 as a very good synthesizer, and I ask myself what on earth possessed me to put it in that crate and forget it. That will with certainty never happen to me again!
Website: Clavia / nord®
Robert Wittek’s Clavia Nord Lead 1 and Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 comparison: amazona.de