With that many typical Nord red keyboards you see on live stages and in studio setups you may wonder how much they can improve on a 4th version of a keyboard player oriented board for playing organs, piano’s, EP’s and whatnot. Short version is that they made it better. Long version will take some explaining but first the most important bit, the sound.
You plug it in and start to play and skip through the various presets. Having heard my fair share of B3 and EP emulations from various brands I must say the Electro 4 sounds convincing and can be considered among the best you can get out there. Not only does it sound clean without that digital edge but you also notice that it’s an expressive sound that will sit well in a mix without that much hassle. When I was playing along with some music I did notice that one or two sounds drowned in the mix but even then with a 3 band EQ and a gain you’ll be able to adjust your sound in an instant.
Most used functions have a single function which give it a no-nonsense approach and makes it easy to handle during live gigging. Even though the manual is explaining it all very clear I didn’t have to use it at all. In this case you don’t need that much complicated controllers because the basic sounds are often good enough to start with. If you pick any of the 32 patches of the 4 banks you can adjust the 4 effect sections each with different effects and adjust them with a select button and a wet/dry knob at pickup mode so you can ease it in. For the delay you have an extra tap knob. For the rotary speaker emulation you have an extra fast/slow button and/or foot controller. It’s all to the left because then it’s easy to reach with your left hand and keep your right hand free for your solo’s.
The key bed itself is semi-weighted which I personally aren’t used to, but how it feels always seems to be a personal choice for keyboard players anyway. To me it feels very solid but a tad springy for my taste. On the whole the board itself feels very solid with its metal casing and wooden side panels but it’s not way too heavy (9.1Kg).
The whole left section of the panel is dedicated to the organ led bars, rotary mode buttons, organ type selection button, vibrato section buttons, percussion buttons and split section buttons which only function for the organ sounds. So it has a lot of organ in it like b3, farfisa, vox and they all sound great. The low end growls with that dirty feel if you put much low in with the draw bars. The high end squeals without getting a nasty ringing tone or anything. The click modeling on release give it that much more feel to it. The default setting was a little bit too loud for me but you can adjust the b3 setting details with shift+b3 buttons and selecting the parameters to change to get your favorite b3 sound.
The factory settings have quite a number of piano, EP, clavinet and harpsichord sounds which are sample based with extra dynamic settings. On top of that you can select string resonance and release modes as well for pianos. Clavinets have extra EQ settings as well. I do like it they included some upright pianos as well because they are not common on all boards. And even if you want to have some other piano sound you can swap the samples. At the Clavia website you can download a large number of piano sounds.
Me being a big piano fan I’ve tried most sounds and even though they are not gigabyte size sample packs they still sound like pianos you’d like to play with all the various music styles out there. Mind you that you’re limited to 380Mb which still is double the size of the Electro 3 but if you’re using the large or XL version you’ll have to make choices. Clavia offers a wide range of choice and for a lot of sounds you can make a choice between various sizes. If you’re OCD on organizing your patches you’ll end up using the Nord Sound Manager to organize the unorganized default factory settings which is fairly easy to do.
Swapping those samples can take a while though. Even if you’re using USB2 to hook it up to a computer it can take a while like >10mins for an XL piano to a full hour for an entire factory restore so doing that during a performance wouldn’t be advisable. You’d be better off using a 2nd unit instead or organize in a smart way. The application for doing that is a great help in that way though. Just like the Electro 4 itself it’s not overly complicated it just takes a while. I did use USB to swap the samples and midi for my DAW and during the small loading breaks I could still use my DAW with the Nord Sound Manager in the background and immediately play them when the loading was finished.
In addition to the pianos you also have 128Mb room for samples which also is about double the size of the Electro 3. So you can have your must have brass sounds, must have strings and must have mellotron sounds. But Clavia offers way more sounds and with that many sample packs it’s even harder to choose from and pick your favorites. I became jealous at all those sounds from the great classic synthesizers they are offering and you only can load them in with a Nord. On top of that you can make your own sounds with the Nord Sample editor and load them into the Electro 4. Then you can adjust the attack and release settings but other from that they are the basic sounds. Not all sounds are mapped across the whole keyboard but that is hardly noticeable. Besides a mellotron doesn’t have a 5 octave spread either.
The Electro 4 is a good improvement of the Electro 3. Not just the doubling of the sample memory and patch memory but also adding more details and options for users which are practical and make sense. Being able to use all types of foot controllers, improved Rotary emulation effect, Long release, Delay, Amp simulation and USB. They listened to their customers and used their input on this. The only things I could come up with that I would like to see improved would be the ability to change the Q factor of the mid EQ section which is too small for my taste and the time it takes to load samples. (Then again my Motif XF doesn’t have an excellent track record either.) The price seems steep but given the fact that it has 3 different ‘faces’ it’s rather an unique board compared to its competitors and more than adequate compromise for a Nord Stage 2.
The Nord Electro 4 (MSRP 1999€/2399$) is a board for keyboard players with a mindset for keyboard players and then some.