NordLeadA1

We love analog. But for all the talk about analog synths, there are some advantages to modeling analog sounds in digital – like getting a handmade hardware synth that still has 24-voice polyphony.

So, the Nord Lead A1 is an analog-modeling synth, not an analog synth. It builds on the Swedish firm’s knowledge of analog modeling, reproducing the sounds of analog synthesizers, but by doing the work in digital form, still delivers up to four parts and 24 voices, for more thickly-layered sounds.

New in this Nord Lead: quicker access to a bunch of parameters as consolidated on one knob (Pitch, Detune, Shape, Sync, FM, AM, Dual Osc, Noise), plus two new filter models, plus two new effects (Chorus and Ensemble).

The selling point Clavia is pushing on the Nord Lead A1 is speed. And this is a Nord, so that means not only working in the studio, but manipulating sounds onstage. If you’re already a fan of Nord, of course, well – more of that. But the Oscillator section now includes configuration shortcuts – basically, macro controls on a knob that allow for speedier sound tweaking. (See the pic below for a closer look.) Here’s how it works: first, you select your waveform, then use the shortcut knob to choose what you want to control – Pitch, Detune, Shape, Sync, FM, AM, Dual Osc or Noise. Then, the red-backed OSC CTRL knob lets you tweak that particular parameter.

Beyond that, you get a fully-loaded synth keyboard with all the extras, and Clavia’s latest analog models. Specs:

  • 8 oscillator configurations
  • Pitch, Detune, Shape, Sync, AM, Noise, Dual OSC, FM controls
  • Full modulation section: 5-waveform LFO, mod envelope, or use the LFO as a modulation envelope
  • Multiple filter models: Low pass (12- and 24-dB), high pass and band pass, plus new modeled Ladder M and Ladder TB filters (think Mini, TB-303).
  • Effects: Phaser, Flanger, Ring Modulator, Drive, plus two new effects: Ensemble, Chorus. Each in one of four independent slots.
  • Master Clock Sync of Arpeggiator, LFO and Delay
  • Morph with velocity or mod wheel
  • USB MIDI
  • Four independent arpeggiator slots
  • Four independent outputs
  • Master Clock sync to LFO, delay, arp
The new oscillator section. Choose a parameter you wish to control, then tweak it with the knob marked in red on the bottom left. All images courtesy Clavia.

The new oscillator section. Choose a parameter you wish to control, then tweak it with the knob marked in red on the bottom left. All images courtesy Clavia.

Here’s what it sounds like:

Filters have a huge impact on the sound and character of a synth, so the filter choices here are especially relevant. And when Clavia says “four-part multi-timbral,” they really mean four independent parts – you get separate slots for independent effects, independent arpeggiators, and even independent outputs. That may be overkill for some, but it means parallel options for sound creation. Combine that with the new Oscillator section and existing Morph controls for quick sound design, and this is a rather nice piece of hardware.

US$1799 estimated price, available in April 2014, “handmade in Sweden.”

www.nordkeyboards.com/a1/

NordLeadA1-connections

NordLeadA1-profile

  • queazel

    but no more modulars :-(

  • miss o’brien

    besides having to twist two knobs to change one parameter, what’s new with this version?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      New filter models. (Ladder M and Ladder TB filters ) New effects. (Ensemble, Chorus). Latest model engine from Clavia.

      And you do get a lot of parameter access with that one knob – Pitch, Detune, Shape, Sync, FM, AM, Dual Osc, Noise.

  • any noumus

    No Sustain Knob? No more direct control of Osc parameters? And for that 1800UK Pounds? Very brave price.

    • prokoudine

      Last time I checked US dollars wasn’t the national currency of Great Britain :) That said, Clavia prices are, er, interesting :)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, look, even if they’re only *assembled* in Sweden, that drives prices up. (I don’t know how many parts they’re sourcing there.) We’re talking about the country with one of the most expensive currencies and highest taxes and labor costs of any country in Europe, let alone compared to Asia. I can think of few more expensive places to do business. And subtle differences in things like keybeds can make a big difference in price. They’re not a low-end keyboard, but they make a pretty nice stage keyboard.

      I don’t know enough about their supply chain to tell you whether their markup is higher than normal or not. ;) Then again, this is the Internet, so I imagine someone will make that claim anyway…

      If they’re a good value for you is another matter. I do wish they’d do a new Modular; I agree with other people here.

    • prokoudine

      Sure, the European make drives prices upwards. I get that. (Likewise, monome will always be more expensive than Launchpad, because USA is not China.)

      It’s just prices of premium gear always cause a few heart failures :)

      I hope my comment didn’t come out as disrespectful. After all, Clavia makes instruments that do last.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No, definitely! I mean, it must make some difference. If you think about the market some years ago, a lot of stuff really has shifted down-market in a big way. Then again, I’m guessing Clavia has enough of a dedicated market that they’re reasonably unaffected – it changes perception of them, but necessarily in regards to their customers. That’s just a guess, though; no idea what their sales are like.

    • Sparks

      I once applied for a job at Clavia, now I produce furniture for IKEA, in Sweden. True story.

  • TROS

    Clavia just leaves me dumbfounded sometimes.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    But I just saw on their website that they are comparing it with the 2X – does that make sense or is it just a marketing trick?

  • Derek

    I’ve always heard that the Nord Leads were some of the best VA’s when they originally came out. But how do they stack up now against something like Massive? Dave Smith have shown that digital oscillators can sound really good (Prophet 12), but they use analog filters and VCA’s. How do the digital filters on this sound compared to others?

    • Greg Lőrincz

      Derek, the filters of the Modular sound PHAT. One thing that Clavia got right and that’s their filter.

  • Taylor

    In 2014, Nord introduces a VA synth where you can’t name your presets.

    • just passing

      And don’t have full ADSR envelopes, apparently. No brass sounds for you!

      (Oh well, it should stop everyone from playing Jump ad nauseam on it at NAMM.)

  • http://website.coma/ DAE Error 7002

    UM, WTF?! They had two more octaves of panel space If they needed space to add an effects section or whatever!! They could have even added a better screens for menu navigation like the NL3. UGH I COULD HAVE DESIGNED A BETTER PANEL!!

    I guess I’ll just grab a Nord Wave or something instead.

  • Apeirophobe

    The A1 and NL4 look like huge steps backwards in terms of UI compared to the NL3. Do they really offer that much more functionality to justify choosing a newer model over the older one?

    • just passing

      I get the impression Nord are floundering a bit… maybe they lost confidence after they spent all that time and money on developing the NL3 and the market went “meh, it doesn’t sound right”?

      The ring of LEDs was an excellent UI device – something even Behringer realised, of all people, when they stuck LED rings on their £80 POD-alike. (Give Uli his due, he cares enough to rip off the very best. ;-) ) Quite what drove Clavia to abandon it after one synth, we shall likely never know – but we can reasonably conclude that it wasn’t cost. *shrug*

  • halicon

    I thought their A1 vs 2x comparison chart was kind of weak (especially since the 2x actually has 24bit/96khz) so edited one to compare the A1 vs the 4. Feel free to chime in with corrections as mostly i’m going off photos and the specs posted on their website (i only own a lead 2). The Oscillator Config section was weird, but really if you have two oscillators with pitch control and noise as an waveform for one, then “pitch” “dual osc” “detune” and “noise” configurations are a no brainer, right?

  • Ycros

    So it’s a somewhat cheaper, cut-down 4…

  • TROS

    It blows my mind that in the iPad age Clavia can’t see the opportunity for a Nord Modular G3 that’s editor could run on an iPad. It would be freaking amazing! Really frustrating. I happen to love the Nord sound, it’s just got something to it that I love, but it’s a real shame that Clavia doesn’t develop that into something truly amazing. It’s really weird when a product you made over 15 years ago (NM G1) is more advanced and forward thinking than anything you’re making now.

    • Göran Sandström

      At a job interview they basically told me they don’t think there is interest in the modular line and so they don’t see any reason to warrant the development costs for a G3, since the target user audience would be too small.

    • Digi

      Yeah, the modular business seems dead these days. Right? RIGHT!?

    • TROS

      That’s really disappointing. Modular synthesis is probably more popular than it’s ever been.

    • http://sequadion.com/ Sequadion

      I think most of the appeal of modern Eurorack modulars lies in their extremely hands-on user interface and the thriving ecosystem of module vendors. A proprietary virtual modular system would not have either of these characteristics. It’s probably not realistic for Clavia to compete with established products like Reaktor and Max/MSP. Yes, you need a computer to run those; I realize that this might not be to everyone’s liking.

    • Greg Lőrincz

      Agreed. Or at least support the editor for Mac OS X. Bloody disappointing that I can’t use my Clavia G2 Engine unless a boot to Windows XP…

  • miscend

    What’s the difference between the A1 and the Nord Lead 4?

    • halicon

      i created a A1 / Lead 4 comparison chart and posted it as a comment above.

    • miscend

      There’s not much difference. It’s maybe even a step backwards it seems.