Clavia Nord Lead 4 by TheOmegaShadow
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.
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.
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.
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.