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Clavia Nord Lead 2x

Remarkable for being: The most comfortable synth series.

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So, having seen it 10 years ago for the first time when I was a high school student, the alleged epitome of synthesist's heaven, the back-then unattainable dream is now in my hands... Wow. It may be the biggest disappointment of my synth-life so far! I don't get it. All the hype and market statistics and everything. It's the most limited and most soulless VA synth from the VA crowd. And it's... boring I guess. So much cash for a piece of junk that:

1. Doesn't even have a decent LCD - I have to dive thru three-digit LED display (although some of you may find it advantageous opposed to menu-driven LCD);
2. Doesn't have internal BPM counter / a decent way of syncing the LFOs;
3. Sacrifices LFO2 to make the Arpeggiator work? Was it too difficult to design a separate ARP section?
4. Keeps the ARP always key-synced, with no option of freerun;
5. Doesn't allow setting negative envelope amounts, only positive? And so on...

Let's make some technical comparisons:

- Featurewise, Alesis Ion with its mod matrix, multimode filters and versatility swallows the Nord Lead for breakfast;
- No choice in FM algorithms, whereas eg. Yamaha AN1x has several of them;
- No onboard effects, whereas eg. Yamaha AN1x has lots of them;
- Novation Nova's multitimbrality / layering / performance architecture and the arpegiator are a genius' work when compared to the Nord;

I feel remorse for having bashed all the previous synths in one way or another; today they all seem hugely superior to the Nord Lead. This synth is so limited in every respect that frustration is inevitable, especially on the technical side when you want this extra push of a button to make your sound special, or want to create that groovy sync here or there. It's the first time in my synth-life when I feel kind of like... a prisoner of a machine. Out of the modulation choices, which are not numerous already, you will be able to decide on one only. [LFO1] can modulate either [Filter], or [Osc2], or [FM], or [PW], or [both OSCs]. [LFO2] has even fewer routings, and operates only in triangle waveshape. And there's the one [Mod Env] which affects only one destination.

Now check out this bit from the manual:
"LFO SYNC - Please note that this only makes the LFO restart at the specified note value. In between those restarts, the LFO runs at the rate set with the RATE knob. Therefore, to "hard sync" the LFO to the tempo of the song when triangle or sawtooth waves are used, set the LFO rate as close to the tempo in the sequencer as possible. On the other hand, unusual Rate values can lead to interesting rhythmic effects."

Hey... no kidding... what the fuck. Really? Thanks for this piece of shit advice. I would still like to sync my LFOs as it's properly done in the MS-2000, or Nova, or Ion, or whichever synth out there. It's kind of embarrassing that I have to hook up an external MIDI sequencer feeding signals to the Nord's [MIDI IN] socket, yet the LFOs still behave erratically. It is inconceivable for me that the designers would choose such option intentionally, so I guess there has to be some technical or economical reason behind it. But what in the whole white world might it be? Why do all the other synths have the right solution? They don't come from Mars.


(Uh, was I really that mad back then?...)
Okay, enough of being a crybaby; I have new insight. I think I'm beginning to understand this case in relation to another. Namely, Nord Lead is today what Juno-106 used to be in its day (and still is). Ever wondered why Juno-106 is so ridiculously expensive compared to other (feature-wise superior) synths? Yes: because its distinctive sound strongly appeals to the majority of listeners and because it's laid out in a way that makes perfect sense and is super-easy to follow. Actually if I were asked to honestly recommend anybody their first synth, I would point to the Nords. The reliability + interface + sound bundle creates a launch platform that catapults one into the basics of synthesis and the ABC of synthesizer sound.

Now more on the sound;
It's hard to pin down the quality of the Nord sound which can be sterile and cold on the one hand, but musical and effective on the other. I myself will describe its sound as... "nice", in a standard, basic way. Nice like a nice partner / fiancẽ brought home by the daughter to be introduced to the parents. The parents eventually come to the conclusion that the new person is nice, because he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and has good (alas rigid) manners. Nord Lead is nice because it sounds like it was already mastered by a sound engineer. Sometimes it even sounds like diamonds pouring out of the line-out socket. I remember that when I heard Jarre's "Oxygene 7-13" on MTV in 1997 it struck me as different from everything else at the time because it sounded so transparent and airy, whereas all the other music sounded so layered and thick. I feel the same with the Nord: its clear & slim sound stands out in the synth world, and even if you build an entire song out of just Nord sounds, the whole package will still retain the slimness & the lightness.

So thank God the Nord Lead makes up in musicality & immediacy for what it lacks in features. There are so many other synths that are crap feature-wise and everything-else-wise. Eventually I can convince myself that maybe I don't need that fancy sound that I was visualising in my head because the simple one I'm playing right now is nice. Sometimes all we really need is nothing extraordinary, just a familiar sound that sounds good, and this is where this Nord acts great.

Too bad this synth is not meant (unlike Waldorfs) to be tweaked. In many cases, if you tweak the resonance down or the cutoff up, or the LFO depth, the good-sounding patch starts to sound like donkey's ass, and the effective Nord gets back to being the unlively, impersonal Nord again. I do love those ferocious, raw, bright, snappy, serrated sawwave bites - their the edge, their rawness, their clarity of tone are unsurpassable, and in this respect the Nords beat everything else (with only the DSI Evolvers keeping up the pace, running in the red dust behind) - but it's a shame that there's not much more to be made on this machine, even after taking full advantage of that generous red panel. So if you find the MS-2000, the AN1x or the JP-8000 too "plasticky" sounding, then the raw Nord sound may be like a salvation, a completely new realm. You do hear a huge difference.

To conclude, let's ask a question - can this be a fantastic synth in any way? Yes - it's fantastic in being an easy-to-use machine that produces explicit & expressive sound fundamentals. "Almighty synth"? Naw, I don't think so. Far from that adjective. Simply a well-designed device with polished engine, quality craftsmanship (made actually in Europe and not China) and comfortable interface.
I guess those three factors alone should make the majority of users happy. Pay the price and see if this manufacture quality & aural lucidity are the things that make you happy. For a variety of synthetic adventures and for a slightly more technically inspiring & liberating engine with more creamy & warm sound search elsewhere.

Read the
Nord 3 review to get a fuller picture.



Demo part 1:


Demo part 2:

FX / Sound Design:


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