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Clavia Nord Lead 3 

Remarkable for being: The most comfortable synth series.
 



 


DERANGED FREAK'S REVIEW (skip it)

First minute with another Nord Lead and I'm already kinda pissed off. Those delivery bastards squashed the box. If the box had carried an Oberheim OB12, or Alesis Ion, or Korg Z1, nothing would have happened. But da NERD LEAD is so flimsy that the casing got disfigured at the edges. I would really appreciate it if the Swedish alloy was 2 milimeters thicker. Right now I could smash this synth to pieces with one drunken-monkey kungfoo kick.

OK, calm down, it's just a momentary mishap. I'm forgetting all the previous negative experiences with my Nord 2x and I try to rediscover the Nord series in a fresh way. This is series 3, after all! So it's logical to assume (at least according to my type of logic) that this is going to be a much improved synth, free of the bugs or drawbacks of the 2 series. It was 2000 euro new, it's still 1000 euro used. It's gotta be top-notch.

Let's have some fun with the Arpeggiator for a start. Set the ARP on, play some notes, and... uhm. What's that? Why is the arpeggio sequence choppy and why does it retrigger with ugly intervals at key-strikes? I can't find any solution for that in the settings. I'm starting to feel nervous, but at the same time say to myself "don't let yourself get nervous, it's too early". Let's read the manual inside out. Nothing about that issue. Okay... so what other cool features does Clavia mention about the Nord 3, eh ? Let's see...

"MODULATION HEAVEN ! The Nord Lead 3 offers one Modulation Envelope and two LFOs per voice plus Global Vibrato. The LFOs can be hard-synced to the internal Master Clock or to MIDI Clock. Imagine the combination possibilities with hard-synced LFOs and the Arpeggiator!"

Oooookkayyyy, so let's hard-sync the LFOs to the tempo! Hmm... What's happening? I don't understand. The LFOs drift out of the tempo. Let's check everything from the beginning, let's use external midi feed instead, let's get back to the manual, let's fucking click the fucking synth inside out... Nothing helps. Hours pass, no clue. Conclusion ? I've just spent shitload of money for a calculator that can't count!

I contacted Clavia. The NL3 team is no longer there and some support guy told me that the arpeggio issue is an "unfortunate bug" that Clavia is NOT planning to fix and I need to find some "workarounds" for myself. Shit, man... workarounds? Say what? Am I dreaming a bad dream? (as for the LFO hardsync issue, the poor geezer head no fucking idea what I was talking about).

This is the deal as figured out by me: If you want to do away with the arp bug, you need to replace the latest 1.20 OS with the 1.08ver. (but by doing so you're stripping the Arpeggiator down of all of its cool functions back to its basic form).
Now, if you want to hard-sync the LFOs and still retain the access to the later-version cool arpeggiator - Start on 1.08, make a patch with the LFOs in sync, save it. Then export that patch outside, get back to the synth, throw away the current (old) OS and fit in the latest one. Import the patch to the newly set-up synth. The result - even though you now have a non-syncable buggy OS, your patch keeps in sync, because it acts on settings memorized from the previous OS. Voila. I'm Shiva the god of death. Just thank God and praise Jesus for there is a way to achieve what you need, if you need it, because from any demanding musician's point of view, a modern synth that can't do clock-syncing is a FUCKING JOKE.

Actually I don't know what I'm ranting for and what I'm fighting for. Because no-one on the Internet seemed to fucking care about clock-syncing, no-one seemed to have noticed that in their Nords when I asked them. At one moment I felt like some deranged freak talking some mumbo-jumbo which there's nobody to relate to. I was even told by some pioneer not to blame Clavia because "synths have bugs, that's the way it is"... Wow. People are stupid and unambitious... that's the way it is... evil men have itchy dicks and they need to rape women sometimes... that's the way it is... yep yep yep... But for those of you who care, I write all this shit. Now fuck off.

POLITICALLY CORRECT REVIEW

WOW, this is such a great synth, I've spent 1 grand on it and it blows all my cheaper synths away, it was used by all those superstar studios all over the world including Dizzly Fizzly and Srizzly Grizzly and Technical Brothers and their fathers and mothers and it was given the award of the "Best hardware synthesizer 2002". It sits great in the mix and I can get any sound I want [I mean the BAsS and zaPP sounds which I mostly use in my songs] with just one tweak on the panel. And it's red!

QUALITY vs VERSATILITY REVIEW

One has to admit it; Clavia are geniuses when it comes to designing a user-friendly interface. I think the NL3 has the best, quickets, most logical and natural interface of all synths EVER. Assigning sources and destinations by just 1 click, knob lights showing actual and morphed values, convenient buttons - just brilliant. You can feel a direct bond with the sound, unlike in Waldorf Q for example (let alone the A6 Andromeda), which seems to have a force field around. This fact alone could make NL3 the most favorite piece in people's collections.

Other than that, the old story recurs; in terms of versality the synth is sort of crap for the money it costs. Of course it very much depends on what you're looking for in a synth, but if we have a similar idea of a synth and our favorite models overlap then it's very probable that when you buy the NL3 you're gonna feel like you've made a somewhat stinky deal. It was supposed to be a beefed up improvement over the Nord 2. And it is in the specs; it has syncable (sic) LFOs, broader FM engine, fancy multi filters and what not. But the soul of the Viking-Nord is still here, and the idea of being able to control only one set of modulator & destination is also still here. (As much as I'm disappointed, it would be unfair to say that the Nord 3 is no more than a Nord 2 with just some additional modulation options - it is a little bit more that that. How? Well, it tries to transgress the borders of sound domains and mimic tones generally ascribed to "ditigal" eg. associated with the Roland D-50 or Korg DW-8000.  The ratio of analog / digital tonality is around 70%-30% (or sometimes I think the other way round;P). So if you want to decorate your traditional analog Oberheim cake with that atmospheric, glassy cherry on top, it works nice in this synth.

With Nords it's always a question of making a trade-off. What you lose in plasticity and depth / freedom of creation is rewarded with absolutely glitch-free, shiny-happy sound creating process within their Nordy scope. So either favor this scope, in which I admit it being quite fantastic and unparalleled and extremely enjoyable, or go for a more versatile animal. One point not to be overlooked is that this is the only (or one of the few) synth which lets you stack sounds [layers] on top of each other and they still sound great. Each next layer adds to the grandeur of the overall sound, whereas in other synths this process will just muffle and discredit the whole venture (again, the Waldorf Q is so fucking uncooperative at this).

I myself do like many sounds I wrung out of this board, I generally appreciate this unadulterated, thoroughbred, hi-fi hygienic Nordy timbre and, as I said, I think it's special and inimitable - this simple but unmistakably striking quality of the airwave that is born under the red hood and hits your ear like nothing else. And even if the price seems too high in relation to this narrow scope of sound, I guess a big part of the budget went to the excellent interface and the quality craftsmanship. Still it would be nice to have a ribbon controller or some other gizmo next to that lone modwheel and pitchstick. But shut the fuck up - the encoders are of great quality and there's as much as 27 of them.

Look at it this way: Nord Lead 3 is like a Hollywood celebrity, a Haris Pilton. She's on all the covers, looks great with all those flashy thingies and cute little dogs on her, storms every party, sneaks up and hits you like a fucking tornado, but after a short chat you feel sorta put off by the flimsiness and limits of the subject matter being discussed. Of course there are going to be people who love her to death because all they need is a whiff of glamour each Saturday, easy-mingling, and with her they get it. Choose your destiny, as the
classic says.

So to consolidate what might look like ambivalence on my side;
if there is any VA to give you that ultra-crystalline classic patches, ultra-quick access to reso-sweep pads and squelchy basses;  a decent set of well-behaved electro staple for performance-oriented music projects, plus that additional inclination toward digital timbres - this is it. It will earn a solid place in the studio and music-making process. All in all I guess you buy this synth for the simplicity and the healthy, sitting-well-in-the-mix sound. Because the rapacious idea of trying to make the Nord Lead stand up to the versality or creativity of other cheaper synths like Blofeld or even Radias is just flogging a dead horse.

 

 

Watch the demo part 1:

 

Watch the demo part 2:


 

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