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
- Featurewise, Alesis Ion
with its mod matrix, multimode filters and versatility swallows the Nord Lead for
- 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
"LFO SYNC - Please note that
this only makes the LFO restart at the specified note value. In between
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.
Nord 3 review to get a fuller picture.