Clavia Nord C2
By Stephen Fortner
Sun, 1 May 2011
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nordC2_topFor some organ players, less than two manuals just won’t do. You know who you are, and you know that even portable two-manual clones are usually bulky. A lighter but messier route is to go modular, with a single-manual clone, a controller as your lower keyboard, and MIDI pedals if you kick bass. When Clavia released the Nord C1 (reviewed May ’07), they had a hunch that a lot of musicians would jump at an integrated two-manual organ that’s as easy to carry, and in the same price league, as the average synth workstation. That hunch proved correct, and now, the C2 ups the sound quality, features, and tweakability even more.

Overview and Controls

If you’re unfamiliar with Nords, your first encounter with the C2 will feel kind of like driving a Prius for the first time—or since Clavia is Swedish, maybe like trying to find a Saab’s ignition (it’s on the floor between the seats). Once you’re hugging the corners in either of those cars, your initial confusion quickly gives way to appreciation of the elegant logic of the driver interface. The same goes for Nord keyboards.

Some organ purists will always feel alienated by the LED strips and “drawbuttons” Nord uses in lieu of real drawbars, but you might be surprised at who doesn’t. Booker T. Jones had my C2 for a couple of months, and reported, “Those buttons really aren’t that hard to get used to. Given how good this organ sounds overall, and how easy it is for me to carry, they’re more than an acceptable trade-off.”

PedalKeys_left<- Nord’s optional PedalKeys (approx. $2,300 street price) includes a beefy expression pedal and plugs into a dedicated MIDI input on the C2.

 

Rather than rewrite the instruction manual (it’s only 24 pages and you can download it yourself), I’ll showcase a few examples of the thought that Clavia obviously put into this control panel. As on the C1, you get separate drawbutton sets for the upper, lower, and pedal parts. Above the LED strips for the upper and lower sections are three Drawbar Preset buttons. These change drawbar settings while leaving everything else about the current program—such as rotary speed, amp model, and effects—unchanged. Best of all, switching between them doesn’t cut off any held notes. (Changing programs does, however.) If you hold the adjacent Preview button and hit a Drawbar Preset, the LED strips will change to reflect the new sound, but the sound itself won’t change until you hit the Preset button again. So there’s no danger of getting tutti when you just wanted flutey.

Up to 126 Program slots store the entire state of the C2 (except for system settings and certain sonic details that are global—more on this later), and in addition, two “Live Mode” buttons remember every control move you made before changing programs, even if you turn the power off .

Keyboard

While I didn’t have a C1 on hand for comparison, the C2’s keyboard seems smoother for palm wipes than my recollection of the C1. I still have my Electro 2, however, and the C2’s keyboard feels much better in all respects. It’s also lighting-fast for solos and “machine gun” trills, owing to Clavia putting the note-on point fairly high in the keys’ travel. The closeness of the two manuals also facilitates the classical technique of “bridging” both manuals with one hand.

Nord_C2_RearPanel<- You can decide which of the C2’s organ models go to the main stereo outs, and which go to the dedicated 11-pin and 1/4" rotary outs. Among other options, this lets you play B-3 sounds through a real Leslie but pipe organ through a stereo P.A.

 

Since the nine contacts under each key of a real B-3 hit at slightly different times when you press a key, there’s an almost subliminal randomness to when the various harmonics that make up a note kick in. This is probably the hardest thing for a digital instrument to model, but Clavia has made some progress here. You won’t hear drawbars come in one by one if you press a key slowly, as that would require duplicating the original mechanics—which the Hammond New B-3 does for a five-figure price. But when I listened carefully, especially at full drawbars, I could indeed discern some randomness in what I’ll call the Nord’s “harmonic attack profile.” Nice work!

Drawbar Organ and Rotary

Remember the first time you played an Electro, and how blown away you were by the B-3 sound and rotary simulation? It made those “drawbuttons” almost entirely forgivable, didn’t it? The Electro 2 improved on things, particularly with a less phasey rotary effect. Then the dual-manual C1 took a big leap forward in terms of sounding more organic and less boxy. The organ section of the Electro 3 (reviewed Apr. ’09) is based on the C1, but “breathes” more freely to my ears.

The C2 is better still. In particular, the drawbar tones are more evenly balanced in relation to one another. I reviewed both the Electro 2 (after which I was impressed enough to buy my review unit) and the C1 in Keyboard, and in both cases, I felt there was a bit too much rolloff of the higher frequencies when the rotary simulation was on. This was even more noticeable through a real Leslie. In this regard, the C2 fares much better. There’s not much else to say about the drawbars, vibrato/chorus, or harmonic percussion—all of it sounds like everything you want and nothing you don’t.

As of OS version 1.2, a new rotary speaker model (“A” in the Sound menu) has more of the round, woody character that I like to hear from a Leslie. Option “B” has the rock ’n’ roll scream you want when soloing in the high octaves.

nordC2_frontFast speed with high drawbars is where a mediocre rotary effect will begin to sound two-dimensional and squirrely, but when so tested, the C2 admirably preserved the sense of sound moving through real space. There’s no question that this is an excellent Leslie simulation, and will easily convince anyone listening to your live show or recorded mix that you used the real thing. I can’t deny, though, that the rotary eff ect in the Studiologic Numa Organ is a bit better still, but we’re arguing over increments above the 90th percentile if we belabor this.

The C2’s Sound menu offers a lot of tweaking that the Numa doesn’t. You can set separate speeds and acceleration times for the virtual treble and bass rotors. The options for all these are just “low,” “normal,” and “high,” but that’s what you get on a vintage Leslie—three sizes of motor pulley to wrap the drive belts around. Except for normal (medium) acceleration on the treble horn, everything set at the lowest speed sounded most like the real thing to my ears.

You get a similar three levels for all of the following: decay times for fast and slow harmonic percussion, volumes for normal and soft percussion, and key click. Four tonewheel sets range from clean sine waves to a mildly leaky generator, but neither leakage nor key click can be dialed to the rude extremes the Numa Organ allows. You can also decide whether turning on harmonic percussion mutes the 1' drawbar (as it does on a real B-3) or not.

Anyone accustomed to how clonewheels “think” would expect sonic details like the above to be saved per program, and that if anything were global, it’d be effects-related—whether the EQ or reverb is turned on, for example. On the C2, it’s the opposite. Pick a tonewheel set, key click level, or anything else in the Sound menu, and that’s what every B-3 program in the C2 will use. Settings for the tap delay, overdrive, EQ, and reverb are saved per program, however.

Transistor and Pipe Organs

The Vox and Farfisa models are much the same as on the C1, and they’re a blast, with full control over the stop tabs on a Farfisa or the drawbars on a Vox. I compared the C2 to the real Vox Super Continental that resides in the lobby of San Francisco’s Crescent Hotel. Th e emulation sounded perfect.

Clavia have really outdone themselves with the pipe organ, which is new to the C2. The samples are clean, interacting with each other without any bad artifacts. The drawbuttons become stops for various flute and reed pipes, and the rotary and percussion buttons act as couplers that let you layer one manual’s part with another’s, or double the principal pipe of your registration with a duplicate of itself an octave higher or lower. This makes for some positively huge low end—especially if you bring the pedal part up to the lower manual—that you really need a subwoofer to appreciate. Turn up the reverb, and you’re the Phantom of the Opera.

All levity aside, this makes the C2 a clonewheel that a classical organist can take seriously. I spent much more time playing the C2’s pipe organ than I thought I would, and it inspired me to reboot my long-neglected Bach studies. One more thing: You can put the Vox and Farfisa organs, but not the pipe organ, through the rotary effect if you want.

Effects

The C2’s overdrive interacts convincingly with the various amp simulations that you access by pressing the Speaker Model button. The Rotary model breaks up the way a real Leslie does, with just the right harmonics and a bit of compression kicking in as you turn the knob up. Only in the top 25 percent or so of the knob’s travel do things begin to sound buzzy and un-tube-like, and with the “Twin” and “JC” (my ears say that refers to a Marshall, not a Roland Jazz Chorus) models cranked way up, your lows totally overwhelm your highs— but that’s what the real amps do. I only wish that you could pump the non-rotary amp models through the rotating effect.

A tap delay provides guilty psychedelic fun—“Fly Like an Eagle,” anyone? You can decide whether it affects both manuals, or just the upper one. Though there’s no way to sync the delay to MIDI clock, a Tap Tempo button suffices for getting in step with your DAW or bandmates. Last but not least, the three-band EQ is handy for tuning to different rooms, and the reverb types sound lush and not at all brittle.

Conclusions

The Nord C2 is to dual-manual clones as Studiologic’s Numa Organ is to single-manual ones. Which is to say, it’s the current (press time: May 2011) king of sound and portability. Where the Numa excels at being a no-frills, stand-up-and-shred B-3 machine, the C2’s variety of organ and amp models, deeper editing options, and effects make it fit a wider range of musical applications. It can grind, scream, and spin with the best of ’em, but it can do a lot more. If you need two manuals and extreme portability, the C2 marks the return of the all-purpose organ—the real organist’s organ—for the modern gigging era.

Specifications

PROS Excellent tonewheel and rotary simulation. New pipe organ sounds gorgeous and adds versatility. Realistic tube amp models and overdrive. Great feeling, lightning-fast action. No heavier than the average 61-key workstation.

CONS No MIDI over USB. Parameters in Sound menu, including key click, rotary details, and percussion decay times, are global and not savable per preset.

CONCEPT Dual-manual drawbar organ with integrated rotary effect plus Vox, Farfisa, and pipe organ.

SYNTHESIS TYPE Modeling; pipe organ is sampled.

MULTITIMBRAL PARTS Upper, lower, and pedal.

WEIGHT 34 lbs.

PRICE List: $3,599

Approx. street: $3,000

nordkeyboards.com

*Extra mini-review of the Nord C2 by Booker T. Jones.

*Factory audio examples.

 

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