In the world of electronic keyboards, it’s hard to beat the real deal. What I’m talking about is true analogue tone. There’s something quite magical about the idea of capacitor tubes filling and dispersing; undulating in a dance of Victorian electrical knowhow that is now becoming part of history. And the reason for the shift: digitisation.
In the digital word we’ve stripped out all expensive components and replaced them with algorithms, making computer music affordable for all. This revolution has spurred a fury of creativity which is unprecedented.
Yet, still today, classic analogue synths are so sought after. The market for vintage equipment is huge with tone seekers with a penchant for purity and hands-on functionality. The downside in both sides of the equation is reliability. Lucky for us we have an alternative, and that comes in handmade package from Sweden, behold the Nord Electro.
What is the Nord Electro?
The Nord Electro is touring musicians dream, sitting between the electro-mechanical world of vintage synthesis and modern software emulation. If you’ve been to see shows where the band has a keyboard player, it’s likely they’ll be performing on one of these beasts.
The original Nord Electo keyboard was released in 2001 and its primary goal was to emulate classic sounds of the Hammond B3, Rhodes Stage 73, a Wurlitzer electric piano, a Hohner Clavinet and an acoustic grand piano. Imagine how that must have felt back then, to harness the power of some of the greatest keyboard tones in the world, in one compact unit. That range has grown too, with a whole host of different samples beyond organ and piano; sounds like ensemble strings, brass and even saxophone (you too can be Kenny G for one night only).
The emulator of choice for Hammond users
Since 2001 the Nord Electro has gone through five iterations, and each time it’s been a huge level up. New models are so transformational that being in the Nord ownership club has almost become a cult in itself. Remember those days of the early Apple releases when people would queue for day; well it’s nothing like that. But each promise of a new release has fan boys and girls pre-ordering well before the release, and who can blame them…..
The Nord Electro 5 comes with a brutal array of B3 Tonewheel simulations, the same sounds that can be found on their pioneering C2D organ. Also included are the Farsifa and Vox transistor organ simulations, Baroque pipe organ and the sublime B3 Tonewheel Bass which gives an accurate representation of an organ footpedal. There’s something tonally satisfying about how realistic it sounds; it’s like Ray Manzarek is right in the room with you. Physical drawbars on the Nord Electro 5 61 and Nord Electro 73 key performance models add that analogue feel which we believe adds an extra level of class, as does the vintage 122 rotary speaker simulation.
Under the hood of the Nord Electro 5
Let’s get down and dirty now and explore some of the features that made our eyes pop when we saw them. Firstly, the massive 1 GB of memory just on the Piano Library. Now, OK you might be thinking 1 GB isn’t that much, right? Wrong. Nord are super economical with their sound libraries, in the previous iteration, the Nord Electro 4 the 73 key variant had only 380 MB. So why does 1 GB matter when the emulator is so well designed; let me say just four words: Free Online Piano Library. That means you can install more than one piano sound at the same time, imagine rocking a large scale grand piano and then for your next song move to a mini grand. You can really create some depth to your music with that level of flexibility. In addition to the pianos, there’s also 256 MB memory in the sample library too, giving you even more choice.
Sheer Nord brilliance
One of the coolest changes Nord has made with the Electro 5 is the introduction of the Big OLED display, gone are the days of remembering parameters. Say hello to full text referencing. Find everything you need without a fuss. Seamlessly scroll from bank to bank. In fact on that last note, the way this beast is set-up now you hardly have to scroll to get to the settings you want. It’s really easy to jump from a Hammond on the verse, to a Rhodes on the chorus and Farsifa on the middle-8. One button and you’re there; they’ve completely redesigned it for ease-of-use.
Some other noteworthy features include the highly tweakable effects settings, again they are all laid out in front of you so you can get right in there during a session. You can even assign to the foot controller to modulate those effects, and even split the keyboard, assigning effects to just one side of the keyboard! That means you can have a dry left-hand bass track, and shimmering delay overlaid on the right hand side. As for splitting the keyboard, there’s six different options and the breaks are highlighted with onboard LEDs.
Now, here’s the exciting part. There’s an additional control that lets you mix between two separate sounds at the same time. It’s completely controllable, which means you can apply different ratios of the two tones, sultry subtle or all-out having it. Imagine a grand piano supported by a pad synth when you’re performing solo or accompany work. We think this will give you an edge that will blow people’s minds.
Finally, there’s a second input on the Nord Electro 5. That means you can add an additional controller keyboard. We’ll just leave that thought there.
The Nord Electro 5 is not an entry keyboard, but it is an instrument that will last you your lifetime. If that is, you don’t get bit by the Nord Electro cult bug which is catchier than bed bugs in a New York hotel.