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Clavia Nord Lead A1 - User review - Gearspace.com
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Clavia Nord Lead A1
4.5 4.5 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews


20th December 2019

Clavia Nord Lead A1 by Poupou

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Clavia Nord Lead A1

The A1 is a very fun beast to use. It can produce a very wide range of sounds that fit in a multitude of genres. I would say that getting really amazing unique sounds from scratch on it requires some solid experience/knowledge about synthesis (but isn't that the same on any synth ). You might find disappointing demos out there, but chances are they are not due to the limitations of the machine itself.

The synth's architecture is rather unconventional. It uses an oscillator section, which appears to feature a single oscillator, at first. It does, in fact, present multiple oscillators, which you need to access from the "osc config" knob. You then get a bunch of classic oscillator configurations which you can modify through the "osc ctrl" knob. For example, you can set the configuration to be sync, so that your initial waveform is synced, or you could choose the detune configuration to have another identical oscillator to your first one, but with adjustable pitch. You also have a nice set of configurations that allow FM and AM synthesis (not on a super deep level, however. Only a single operator is available).

You can produce pretty much any kind of sound you would want to. The 4 separate timbers, present on most Nords, are also super useful. The build is super solid, just like other Nord products. There is no aftertouch on this keyboard, which is worth taking into consideration before buying.

It presents a randomizer button which randomizes all the parameters of the synth. I find this really cool to get some new original sounds.

Overall, a very polyvalent, fun and useful machine. It'll keep you occupied for years!

  • 3
2 weeks ago

Clavia Nord Lead A1 by cr73645

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Clavia Nord Lead A1

A little background...
Had the Lead 4 previously and decided to keep the A1 instead, mainly for the effects at first, but after some time with it, it's certainly a keeper for many reasons.

Coming from a long period mainly using analog synths, many of the features found on both the A1 and 4 made me re-think how I actually buy stuff. The ability to use 4 different parts thru different MIDI channels is simply amazing - while the Analog Four (gone now) did that, it only worked as 4 monosynths (with a lovely sequencer).

Hardware:
This is a point where Nord always gets it right - or at least almost.

Beginning with the bad choice, I'd say that the Fatar TP7BA they chose for the A1 is a bad one. It doesn't even go well with the overall great build quality it has. The keybed is kind of small sized, with almost no resistance at all - it allows fast playing though.

The chassis is pure metal, bended and bolted together and looks great. Even the sides are made of metal panels (which I do like). Pitch stick and modwheel feel great. Knobs, buttons, LCD screens, all made to last, with a great feeling on the touch. It is truly beautiful to look at.

All leds can be colored red and green to show modulations of both velocity and modwheel, giving a great feedback on use.

Connection-wise, it is very nice to notice that you can have 2 individual stereo outs or 4 mono outs, which is great for some external processing of individual sounds.

Shift Functions:
Before even beginning with the sound engine, there's an important addendum that the synth is deeper in terms of edition and global functions than it appears.

The shift button can be used for several functions one wouldn't be capable of using in a live situation. All MIDI selecting channels, output routing, pedal functions, etcetera are made by using the shift button.

It can also be useful for educational purposes by "monitoring" parameter values for a preset for example. You can also copy/paste sounds, use the multifocus function (where you edit all 4 parts at the same time).


Sound engine:
I'll try to divide this into sections of the sound creation, but the thing one must be fully aware of, is that there's not much more than what you see on the panel - accept its limitations and enjoy the sound.


Oscillators:
Instead of the regular 2 oscillator design, the A1 is actually a single oscillator synth, with some clever oscillator configurations to mimic a 2 oscillator synth (but way too limited for that). It is closer to a Juno than a Prophet.

The first thing to notice is that they do sound nice - better than the ones on the Lead 4, even if by a close call. There's some less aggressiveness on the A1, as well as a small but pleasant beating when playing chords. The 4 is a bit more clinical sounding (although pretty good too).

Passing the more regular waveforms, you get a very diverse sounding source for sounds, and thankfully to the different oscillator modes, there's a lot to extract here.

Summarizing things, there's different ways of using your oscillator, by either simply editing its pitch, waveshape, but also combining different waveforms (on the same pitch) or even a copy of the first oscillator (detuning them as you wish), and also some modulation options (FM, AM and sync).

The one thing that separates the A1 from other modern Nord synthesizers, is that it is the only capable of travelling thru a "wavetable" sound - selecting the waveshape mode gives you access to interpolating/wavefolding oscillators, and it opens up the possibilities for sound creation by a large margin (and hold me on "updating" to the Wave 2).

The oscillator section and all its options is certainly the deepest and unexpected part of the A1's sound engine. Besides actually adjusting your configuration for the oscillator (both waveform and mode), you can also use envelope and LFO for modulating the oscillator parameter (changes for each different osc mode).

One nice observation for FM sounds, is that you get an added dot at the side of the FM mode when you get perfect harmonics (like fifths, octaves, and even some unexpected intervals for the FM-beginner like me).


Filters:
This here is another GREAT part of the A1 sound. The included filters sound very good, even in comparison with excellent VST synths like U-He Diva (which is my other option for polyphonic sounds).

There's a bunch of different models of filter, and all sound lush and beautiful, probably tuned from the previous Lead 4. They're a bit more polite in character, maybe "creamy" in comparison. The drive behaves better, but can get quite harsh on higher configurations.

You don't get any stepping of the filters, or aliasing from high resonance setups, which is great on a digital high-end synthesizer (and also expected). The M (Moogy enough, and also gives different curves for the envelopes) and TB (not exactly a TB filter, but mimics several older Roland synths) filter provides different LPF flavors, and sound very good.

Modulation come from the same envelope and LFO that you can use for the oscillator part.


Envelopes:
This is the only part that I would change of the synth. The absence of regular ADSR envelopes for an ADR/ASR model is simply not good enough.

Time-wise, you can have very fast envelopes, and they're totally fine within all the spectrum, but the sustain part of the envelope is something I really miss, specially for the amplifier. You get 2 different ADR/ASR envelopes - one for amplifier, the other for modulation.

One thing that I find a bit strange is the mod envelope position on the panel, would rather have it closer to the filter (since it is pretty much the most used destination).


LFO:
Again, a simpler version than what you find on older Nord Lead models. The LFO is fast enough, including audio range, features a few different waveforms, and can also be exchanged for a simple envelope based on the waveforms (great for FM sounds).

The problem here is that the destinations (oscillator and filter) are too limited and that you get a monophonic LFO - you can't have different velocities controlling different LFO speeds for each note. This is a big limitation in my use and something that would greatly increase the sonic palette of the A1 if present.

Exchanging the LFO for a simple envelope seems unwanted, but there's the gain that this envelope works polyphonically - you can get each envelope to act differently to each note played based on velocity for example. This lends to several options of creative use on the oscillator parameter, specially in FM mode.


Portamento:
Yes, it has portamento, but only for mono sounds. No portamento on your polyphonic sounds, sadly. Another big limitation.


Unison:
Comparing the A1 to the 4, I'd say that you get a very pleasant unison sound on the A1 without the penalty of voice decrease, which happens on the 4. Although probably not true unison, they've done a great job here. Besides adding copies of your oscillator, it also distributes them in the stereo field and sounds very good.


FX:
Here you get 6 different and very useful effects. The chorus, ensemble and drive are very good - like, totally unexpected good. Phaser is kind of ok, flanger is badly implemented, and the RM is bad.

Talking about the chorus and ensemble alone, I'd say that they make the A1 kind of a modern take on a Juno synthesizer, being a big part of it's sound and giving it a pleasant character. Although not as good as a Juno chorus, the included chorus does sound very good, with a nice stereo field distribution - sadly not being able to choose depth and speed independently. The ensemble is just as good, but with a different character (closer to old string machines). They're not substitutes for external processing, but great for saving sounds and recalling on the fly.

The drive (not filter drive, but the FX one) is way better than on the Lead 4, less raspy and digital, and gives some oomphf to the sounds. Phaser and flanger are very limited by the lack of separate depth and speed controls, the RM isn't as good as RM between oscillators (having a fix frequency).


Delay:
Although sounds better than the Lead 4, the delay still kind of weak, with no modulation possibilities, but with ping pong. Feedback still limited to too few repeats or more than you need (values from 0-3). There seems to be a better implementation on the Wave 2.


Reverb:
They're all basic variations of the same thing, but they do sound marvellous on the context. No, you don't get a Valhalla Vintage Verb quality, but it's a very soft and beautiful sounding reverb.


Panorama:
THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE JOY ON THE A1.

You can freely pan each part on the stereo field. Might seem like a small feature, but it enables you to create beautiful stereo sounds on the fly - something that some modern analog polysynths are starting just now.

By combining different sounds to left/right, what you get is a full sounding stereo sound that isn't as easy to achieve on pretty much anything else I've ever used - and it's not just a gimmick like on the Dave Smith/Sequential stuff by hardpanning voices left or right - you get true panning of each sound.

This is probably one of the reasons I chose the A1 instead of the 4 as a keeper.


Modulation:
One important aspect of the Nord Lead synthesizers is to use both velocity and wheel to morph different parameters within a sound. This couldn't be different with the A1, and the result is a lively sound that behaves differently as one plays with it.

In synthesis, you can use the modwheel and velocity to change the position of each knob, and get totally different sounds interpolating with each other (specially for velocity). It's truly a remarkable feature of every Nord, and it isn't different with the A1.

The most wonderful part of it, is that all you have to do is double-press/press-n-hold the morph button and edit the destinations. That easy - no menus, hidden stuff.


Vibrato:
This a nice addition, considering how limited the A1 is on the modulation side. There's a global vibrato inside the A1 that can be used on all sounds with a dedicated button. It's simple and certainly a nice extra for several sounds.

(You can use the modwheel for vibrato only and morph thru a pedal, which is great)


Arpeggiator:
Each part has it's own simple arpeggiator setup, and they're all tempo syncable with different times and modes. You can edit the direction (U/D/UD/RND) and octave range. Simple and effective, also syncable to external MIDI. There's a HOLD button that keeps things going.


Keyboard Split/Layer:
It's important to reinforce that the A1 is a 4 part synthesizer. All of the above are applicable to 4 synth parts - yes, it is like 4 inside 1, each with its own output (if mono out selectec) and MIDI channel, possible to split in 2 lower parts and 2 higher parts, or controlling each part with its own MIDI controller. Present since the first Nord Lead, this still a very powerful feature of the A1.

Sound Storage/Presets:
There's a good amount for storing your own sounds and your performances (4 sounds combined). The included presets (also considering the ones available on Nord's website) are diverse and cover a lot of ground sonic-wise, including some hidden gems among them.

The saving system, being limited as patches without names, is kind of a "vintage feeling feature", but I'm one of the guys that simply can't stand giving names to patches, and usually divide my own in different banks.

Like:
Using the shift function LIKE, you get access to different states of edited sounds on the fly (50 of them), that can be saved after you select which version you like the most. Seems like a ridiculous feature but it is quite useful.

Randomize/Mutate:
Also a shift function, can provide some unexpected results that maybe you wouldn't ever do yourself. It's the kind of feature with the beginner in mind, but it's also useful for someone with a vast experience, by taking you into otherworldly results.


Conclusions:
I wasn't expecting that I would like this thing as I do. It is truly a beast sounding synth, with lots of limitations, but an excellent interface and amazing sound.

The overall feeling of the hardware is great, and it seems to be built to last. The keybed is not the best in the world, but one can get used to it (I'm a classically trained pianist, and can handle myself controlling velocity on the A1 in a comfortable manner). All other hardware parts are just gloriously made.

One of the best parts of the synth is its interface, and how easy it is to create, tweak, layer and split different sounds with the touch of a few buttons. The simple sound architecture seems limiting, but the only thing I really miss is the sustain part of the envelopes, while all other limitations kind of impulsed focusing on making music, rather than eternally editing sounds (which I did on the Lead 4 and many other synths I had).

In the end, this is certainly the best VA I've ever used as a musician, and certainly not for deep tweaking of sounds. For that, you can go for older Nord Lead models (which are also limited) or something made to be messed with (think of U-He Zebra/Omnisphere). For vanilla/simple sounds, the combination of interface, sonic character and features, the A1 is truly unbeatable.

 

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