Ok, this is about the new babe who shares my bedroom with me. She’s small, powerful, and dressed all in red. Yes, I’m talking about the Nord Modular G2 synthesizer.
This is all but a full-blown review, rather more of a short summary. Now I already hinted at my love for modular synthesis things in this post here, and also mentioned the Nord MicroModular (of course in turn based on the Nord Modular) – a synth which was released in magic ’99 btw, which also brought us such wonderful synths as the Waldorf Q, the Kurzweil K2600, the Access Virus B, the Waldorf XTk, the Quasimidi Polymorph and the E-mu Proteus 2000 (the first three in this list I also own, btw).
Now the original Nord Modular was already a very powerful beast. As with all of Clavia’s synths centered around a virtual analog approach, this was a take (and the first one and so far only one in hardware form at least) at the modular synth thing.
This synth owned its success as much to its powerful and flexible sound engine as to the user interface: the editor, running on a computer, made a very intuitive drag-and-drop approach a reality for a very complex synthesizer.
Of course, there were some limitations. Mainly, these had to do with what one might consider “missing modules”. There was no reverb, there was no out-of-the-box pitch shifter, and while there were delays, the total available delay time in the 10-ms range seemed unfitting for several applications, and also an unneccessary limitation in the computer age where memory had become a cheap commodity. And finally, the communication for the editor via an additional pair of MIDI connectors required a total of four MIDI ports to hook that up to the computer.
The G2 addressed all of these issues, and although it was discontinued in 2009 (for which ever reason), it’s still going well on the second-hand market.
From the hardware side, it gives you a three-octave keyboard (offering velocity and aftertouch but sadly, no release velocity), a modulation wheel and Clavia’s signature pitchbend stick, eight endless rotary encoders with a two-line display, and buttons galore: 5×3 parameter pages for the rotaries (giving you access to a total of 120 parameters, plus the morph pages), buttons to access up to eight variations per patch, keyboard shift buttons etc.
Connector-wise, there’s four inputs and outputs each (1/4) plus a headphone jack and a 1/4 mic input (alas, without phantom power), jacks for footswitch and expression pedal and the usual MIDI trio. For the computer communication, we finally got an USB port (1.1, so no sound interface for that).
Compared to the original Nord Modular, which next to the 3-octave-keyboard variant, also came as a rackmount (which took up a lot of space, and so for somehow didn’t make that much sense), and the MicroModular (which was small, and also much cheaper, but lacked a lot in the feature department), the approach in variants has changed here: in addition to the original (discussed here), there’s the “X” version (with a 5-octave keyboard, more controllers, and the voice expansion already installed), and the “engine”, a 1HU rack device, which offers no controls at all, but apart from that, the same features, which is the perfect companion for a studio.
Sooo…how is it? I don’t want to go into too many details here, to spend more time playing with it. As with the original Nord Modular, the editor is as important as the synth engine, and as with the actual synth, Clavia has built on an already strong solution and added detailed improvements.
And with that, it’s really a Nord Modular, only better in the right spots. In the past, I had been thinking about two concepts for sound synthesis/processing. Doing a first additive synthesis patch, I was doing strange bell-like sounds which morphed smoothly into odd wavetable-style pads. I also had been working on what I’d like to call “additive resynthesis” and had been doing a mockup in Reaktor – only had a hard time go get it working without a complex introduction into this powerful tool. Here with the Nord, I was producing odd sounds to my liking within a mere minutes.
All in all – a great buy! So if you’re into virtual analog (but interested to go beyond the genre-typical subtractive approach), if you always wanted to go into modular synths (but had been kept at a distance by the complexity and the steep learning curve), or simply want a very flexible and powerful audio effect (without taking a full-blown training in using PureData and the like), this is really your beast!
Of course, as with everything, there’s small points of critizism: why don’t we have release velocity on they keyboard? Why isn’t there a seamless DAW integration, such as Access’ excellent “TI”? Why don’t we even have a digital output? And, the biggest one perhaps: why doesn’t it allow use of samples, like most of the newer Clavia products, giving it the possibility to rival the mighty Kurzweil? These are, however, relatively small points of critizism from my point of view, if you look at the whole picture:
There’s synthesizers which offer more processing power. There’s synthesizer which excel in specific features. There’s also some which, for some people, simply “sound better”. Still, the Nord Modular G2, for me, offers the perfect balance between power, flexibility, and ease of use. And in that synthesizer triathlon, this sexy beast is still unbeaten to this day!