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Clavia Nord Lead 4
4 4 out of 5, based on 3 Reviews

A versatile performance synth with limitations but varied characterful tone.

15th September 2016

Clavia Nord Lead 4 by TheOmegaShadow

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 3 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 3.75
Clavia Nord Lead 4

First impressions:

After trying one in the store for a good couple of hours I decided it was better or me than the Lead AI. I wanted the more complete envelopes over the slightly better sounding filters of the A1. The tones I were coming up with at the time were bright, alias free and the envelopes were snappy / whippy enough for the lead arp tones I was looking to get out of a new hardware synth. The unison had enough beef to it so I decided to get one.

Learning the instrument:

Very simple, not quite Minibrute simple, but a great synth for a newcomer to begin learning subtractive synthesis.

There were some times when something was not quite obvious like killing vibrato on the mod wheel and setting up the arpeggiator, but this was a case of RTFM, and I felt like an idiot because the functions are all labelled right on the panel.

Making patches on this synth is a pleasure, it's so fast, coming from using Access Virus synths, the Nord way of doing things is far more intuitive and streamlined, the shift key crams so many functions into the interface, they slowly become muscle memory, the ability to keep playing and use shift functions one handed feels pretty good.

Making do with restrictions:

the effects are the biggest let down of the whole package in my opinion, while they're easily modulatable, you're restricted to either delay or reverb, you can't have both. but there is a workaround, load the same patch on 2 slots and change one's fx assignment to the other effect and adjust levels to taste.

having only 2 oscillators was a welcome limitation, it generally leads to sounds in the higher registers only or bas sounds only, I'm used to sub oscillators on everything I touch nowadays and this drove me to do more with less.

the impulse morphs rarely get used on mine due to the studio nature, but they are indispensable for the performing keyboard player, you basically get a total of 8 variations of every preset you make with those.

The Octave up - down buttons have no effect on outgoing midi notes from the keybed, when using this board as a controller, you're stuck with those 4 octaves unless your destination midi instrument has it's own transpose functions for incoming midi.

Sound quality:

The bass on this synth is lacking, you have to work a bit harder when dialing in patches to get the bass to sound good and weighty, but the drive knobs really add width when used subtly. In the higher registers, the oscillators are miles ahead of the Access Virus classic oscillators, lots of clarity, subtle detuning is possible to emulate the analog character of a real analogue.

No actual wavetables here, just single cycle waveforms, false advertising but I knew this going in. The primitive waveforms are great, the FM modes are a big bonus, they sound very detailed, not mushy noise until you push it all the way up.

The filters are not the best when compared with the Lead A1, but they're still good quality, there's plenty of filter types to select from. the Moog style filter is a standout, the acid filter not so much.

The lead tones you can get out of this board are excellent, extremely expressive despite not having aftertouch.

FX section one is a mixed bag, the comb filter was a little underwhelming, I was expecting a more pronounced effect, it only does subtle comb filtering. The bit crusher does exactly that, compressor is useful for bass tones, the filter drive and talk box sounds are first class.

There's plenty of modulation possibilities under the hood, they are limited but more than you would think at first glance.

Build quality:

It's good and bad, the Keyboard feels sturdy, does not really have any flex in it and it's relatively very light. the gap in the panel work on the lowest C key is ugly, they're obviously making these from a single stamped sheet of metal, but they could have made some plastic insert to cover that hole, I worry that liquid could accidentally penetrate through there and get into the circuit boards, and dust too.

The knobs are sturdy and tightly mounted, spaced out just enough for my fingers, the buttons feel great and like they will last. Given there are Nord Lead 1's still going strong I have every confidence these will last at least 25 years.

The keybed is great, I personally prefer it to all my other keyboards, My Nektar panorama P6 has left my desk and the NL4 replaced it as my primary KB, and that pitch stick, so precise, I love it.

The PSU does make a really low level hum/buzz noise but it's almost inaudible, the condenser mic doesn't pick it up at high gain. But given what others have said I would not buy one without hearing it turned on first to save yourself the trouble if you end up with a loud one.

Overall impression:

On the limited amount of recordings I've made so far with this keyboard I've been able to get what I want out of it, and have no complaints about the sound quality, I've no regrets and likely will never sell it. it's gnarly tones are a joy to jam with, I've had the most fun on this synth compared with the other synths I've acquired over the years.

I've had such a good experience with this Nord keyboard. I give it an 9 out of 10 overall. The sum of the parts really work.

  • 4
5th February 2019

Clavia Nord Lead 4 by Josef_K

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Clavia Nord Lead 4

Nord Lead 4 review

I recently bought this after not being able to choose between the OB-6 or Prologue. I basically accepted that none of the polysynth alternatives would give me the analog sound and the modulation flexibility I wanted. I like Nord as a company, having had the Electro series as main keyboard for the whole 10+ years I've been playing music. I never liked the Lead series before though, they felt cold and digital whenever I tried them. In the end the Nord won though due to the form factor being perfect for my desk, in combination with the more advanced modulation, layering and morph functionality. Also I found a good deal second-hand.

So lets go through one section at a time.


Well. They're not VCO:s or even analog, so they won't have that special something. Detuning OSC2 creates some movement but the movement is kinda static, if that makes sense. The detune interval has to drift for the magic to appear. The waveforms are great, if maybe a bit harsh in the high end. The extra waveforms in OSC1 are a mixed bag, with the extended analog, organ and formants being really cool and the rest best ignored imo. Hard and soft sync sound like they should, if a little tame compared to an analog synth. Digital stability does shine with FM sounds though and all these three modes are great, and the third envelope generator really comes in handy here. I came up with bell tones miles ahead of the included bell wavetables in no time.


Seven types, all of which have their place. They all sound great but the HP can be a bit tricky since the oscillators weak spot is the treble. I wouldn't ever replace a Moog Grandmother lead or bass sound with the Moog emulation on the NL4, but I never expected to. Imo a notch filter would have been more appropriate than a 48db/oct LP in a polysynth, but oh well. The filter drive is not so impressive compared to an analog drive circuit, but in subtle use it can sound great.


The envelopes sound great, no complaints here. The third AD/ASR mod envelope is a welcome addition for just about anything. I was really let down by the fact that you can only control LFO2 amount with it though, and not LFO1 or 2 rate. This goes for the LFO:s as well, controlling the speed of one LFO with another is great fun in a modular system and would be perfect for some pad sounds. While on the subject of LFO:s, they have some interesting shapes, but I really would have liked at least one sine option, preferrably two. The only kind of smooth waveform in LFO 1 is a triangle, that feels kinda limiting. There is a third limited delayed vibrato LFO which sounds good, mostly useful for lead stuff. Both amplitude and filter modulation sound interesting around the audio rates, especially when using the triangle wave. Here of course a sine wave would have been extremely useful.


The comb filter is interesting, also since the fx can be modulated by an LFO which opens up some possibilities. The other effects are nothing I'd use though, I'd much rather have the A1 fx section. Delay and reverb sound decent for live use, though too limited for studio imo.

Other functionality that I really like is first of all the morph. Having control over anything using velocity or wheel/pedal is just awesome. Also setting the max value manually with the knob is a fun and fast way to work, since you always end up with exactly the right amount of modulation. Layering is awesome, having different sounds fade in and out or be modulated by synced LFO:s is great. The unison mode sounds huge and imo feels more like a stereo chorus effect (which is kind of the same thing I know). It does lack control over detune amount, but has three set levels. Great for huge pads and 80s FM piano, among other things. The pitch stick is, for me, an enormous upgrade compared to a standard pitch wheel. Suddenly I can do a convincing manual vibrato without endless practice hours! Lastly, the Fatar keybed is very light but the velocity control is still surprisingly expressive. The 9PS keybed in my Moog feels better in every way, but the 7PS is not at all as bad as some would have you believe. Despite being so light my wrists don't get tired the way they might from playing piano sounds on the Nord Electro with organ keys.

To summarize, I'd highly recommend the Nord Lead 4 if you can find a used one for a good price. The new price might not be worth it compared to the newer Korg Prologue unless you want more layers and modulation in favor of the analog sound. I imagine playing live with this thing would be a breeze compared to an analog monosynth or menu-diving digital keyboard. With that said, you are sacrificing character/vibe/mojo for flexibility here. If you can afford a Moog One or live with the limitations of a OB6 or Prologue, that might be the wiser choice.

24th January 2021

Clavia Nord Lead 4 by cr73645

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 3 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 2 out of 5
  • Overall: 3.75
Clavia Nord Lead 4

Build quality:
The overall quality of materials, buttons and knobs are the standard Nord quality. The knobs are small, but feel good and well spaced, the buttons seem to last a lifetime. Pitch bender is an amazing and solid piece of wood, and the modwheel feels great.

The keybed is a disaster... really light action, with a poor feeling on touch, it’s definitely sub-par, with even cheap controllers being equal (if not better). It should have a decent semi-weighted Fatar keybed. Even being bad, the velocity response is almost decent.

Sound quality:
Wasn’t expecting it to be this good, really. Bought it used as a controller/polysynth, but the overall sound got me as a surprise. Demonstrations usually show it as a distorted kind of thing, but it is also capable of some beautiful mellow sounds. It is pretty decent on the lower frequencies and aliasing is pretty much unnoticeable, even on high frequency sounds. No, it is not a bass monster as a Moog, but it can do pretty well comparing to other polysynths, even analog ones as the DSI synths.

> Oscillators:
Good sounding, the standard waves are way better than the digital ones (which I use almost exclusively as a way to create exquisite FM patches), the PWM on square is pretty decent for a digital synth. Sync and FM work nicely, even with extremes. Mixer is simple and adjustable with a single knob.

> Filters:
Some are way better than others. The selection of lowpass 12/24/48 and M (this one gives it a bass boost) are the best, with a great feeling on each sweep. The high pass and bandpass are kind of strange, with the resonance not responding exactly how I expected (kind of harsh sounding). The TB isn’t really my thing. Drive on filter sound artificial and totally not to my liking.

> Envelopes:
Basic ADSR for filter and volume, good enough on fast times, and a variable response when using the M filter model, which makes the ADSR a little more exponential. The amount of modulation by the envelopes is wide, which is great. The extra envelope AD/AR can be used as modulation for a few different stuff, a great addition.

> LFO:
Although very good resolution for a digital synth, the way you’re limited with some defined routing for 1 and 2 seems weird to me. PWM can only be achieved by using LFO1 for example. The other weird problem is that you have to sacrifice LFO1 to be able to use the arpeggiator. Anyway, the waveforms are varied enough, the frequency range is good and they can be tempo synced.

> Effects:
This is a strange module to have on this synth... the overall choice of effects are certainly not usable, but once I got the idea behind these effects everything changed. These are meant to be used as an additional filter. You get a comb filter (with a very good sound), 2 different “talking” filters that are good, a better overdrive than the filter section, and a few others (including the useless compressor) that should be something else like a stereo spacing.

The delay is kind of rubbish, and the reverb is decent enough as a test drive of how it would sound with reverb. The limitations on editing makes these unusable to me. Would rather have more exquisite effects (like separate drive/distortion module, EQ and filters) and complement with traditional ones with external units.

> Unison:
There are 3 unison modes, which multiply the voices and defines them differently, but only at fixed rates. The first mode is the only one that doesn’t consume polyphony, and works as a subtle chorusing effect. The other modes sound better,but consumes 2 or 3 voices per note.

> Portamento:
Although very good with monophonic sounds, there’s no polyphonic portamento on this thing, which is a shame. There’s a multi-trigger and legato mono mode.

Been using analog synths for a long time, and missed the possibilities of the digital world. There’s a certain magic by how simple they made it to create modulations and stacks of sounds with simple button combinations.

> Performance:
You can use up to four sounds at once, each with its effects, arpeggiators, etcetera. The split is simple, with a selectable split point, dividing the keyboard with lower (A and B) and upper (C and D). The best part is that you can let arpeggios playing on the background, unselect that part and control other stuff with the keybed, allowing rhythmic parts to not be altered by how you’re playing. Selecting different sounds is also very simple, with the touch of a button. Each part can also be controlled by a different MIDI channel.

> Morphing:
There’s a dedicated button for mod and velocity modulations to the sound. Press and hold it, turn the knob, and you just created a modulation. It is really super easy, fast, and the result is quite magical. You can create a blend between two entirely different sounds. There’s also the impulse buttons, that do this, but instantly with the press of the button.

> Arpeggio and patterns:
Besides the usual arpeggios, there are some interesting patterns that can be used to create rhythmic stuff. Seems like an idiot addition, but one can benefit a lot from this. The only problem is that it kills LFO1 as stated before.

> 4 individual outputs:
You can make each sound have its own output, allowing you to process each sound as you want. Since each sound can also be controlled by its own MIDI channel, you kind of have an Analog Four style of instrument (minus the sequencer), making the Nord a very nice studio equipment.

The good, the bad and the ugly:
*Good: I was quite surprised with the overall sound quality of the Nord Lead 4, since I wasn’t expecting it to sound as good as some of the best VSTs around. This thing sounds good and also has a lot of the features I never thought I’d miss when I went full analog mode.

I like the simplicity of a single LED screen, but understand that it is quite outdated. Even so, it’s quick and easy to use. The interface in this thing is amazing, with everything condensed in a logical way.

*Bad: Price is a big problem here - I certainly wouldn’t pay the full price of a new unit.

The effect selection is also weird...... the bit reduction thing is just bad. Missed ring modulation, AM, stereo spread and other things that could be used as add-on filters. The delay is baaaaaaaad, way too static and limited in terms of editing with the fixed feedback settings.

Loosing the LFO so you can have arpeggio is also really bad. It’s a simple thing, but you can’t for example use PWM while running the arpeggiator, which is ridiculous on an instrument with this price-tag.

*Ugly: The worst part of it, to me, is the cheap keybed. It’s simply not good at all. Overall the build is good, which is a shame with this terrible keyboard. The Electro range also have bad keys, I just can’t understand why going cheap with the most important thing for a musician. A Fatar TP9S would make this shine!


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