ReFX Nexus 2 reviewed

December 20, 2013
share
If you need quick access to hundreds of awesome sounds for your electronic dance music set, you won’t want to miss Nexus 2. This VST/AU plug-in welds a serious sound library to a smart set of features.
 
 
PROS: Huge sound library with cutting-edge dance sounds. Stylish trance gate, filter sweeps, and arpeggiator are ready to go. Many optional expansion sound packs.

CONS: Not fully programmable. Key velocity not available as a programmable modulation source.

Bottom Line: If you’re doing electronic dance music and crave hundreds of new production-ready sounds, you’re going to love Nexus 2.

$299 | refx.com

 

Overview

The heart of Nexus is a large sample library: 3.8GB on disc, in a compressed format that makes it equivalent to 6GB of data. This library can be augmented with a hefty list of add-ons. The idea behind Nexus is that you probably don’t want to spend endless hours twiddling parameters and getting cross-eyed staring at an owner’s manual thick enough to choke a horse. The result: this synth is not fully user-programmable. To be sure, it’s not just a preset machine: You can do a lot to the factory sounds, from editing the rhythm of the trance gate and customizing the effects to adding wicked filter sweeps. But the deepest level of voicing is tucked away in the guts of the machine, with no user access.

One important reason for this design decision is to keep the CPU usage down. The raw waveforms aren’t necessarily simple—some include their own sampled modulations. We’re told that some well-known vintage hardware instruments have been sampled into the Nexus, though ReFX hasn’t said exactly which instruments are represented.


Front Panel

Nexus looks a bit like a hardware workstation keyboard from ten years ago — minus the keyboard, of course. Arrayed across the front panel are 28 knobs that you can assign to hardware MIDI controls and then grab and twist in performance. These knobs can also be automated in the host sequencer.

In the center of the panel is a large “LCD” containing multiple edit pages. The eight main pages are accessed by the buttons along the left and right sides; some have multiple sub-pages. The parameters in the LCD are intended for “set-it-and-forget-it” sound design, and can’t be automated, although some can be modulated by routing MIDI messages through the modulation matrix.

The knobs on the left are for filter parameters: cutoff, resonance, envelope amount, and the envelope’s ADSR controls. Those on the right adjust the amplitude, again including the envelope. These are all macro controls, which offset the values stored in the voice for all of the sound layers at once.

Along the bottom are a master filter, stereo delay, and reverb. The latter are not the only effects in Nexus, they’re just the ones that have knobs. The master filter has lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and notch modes. It’s essential for hands-on filter sweeps, because the filters within the layers are not user-programmable, other than with the offset knobs. If the filters in the voice are all lowpass and you happen to need a highpass sweep, the master filter will do the job nicely.


Sound Library

The Nexus 2 preset library leans overwhelmingly in the direction of dance music. Yes, there’s a category called Classical in the browser, but when you find a patch called “Guitar Fuzz” in the Classical list, well, enough said. In all categories, the presets are big, brash, and aggressive. Even the three “Ballad EPiano” presets are bold and bright—you won’t find an authentic vintage Rhodes here. To be fair, though, the Fantasy and Dream category have a few rich pads that would layer well into a mellow track.

Slightly more than a thousand presets are intelligently grouped into categories, including Arpeggios, Bass, Dance Leads, Epic Pads, Gated Pads, Piano, Voice, Textures and FX, and so on. A few are drum loops, and in the Splits and Sequences category you’ll find some gig splits with drums and bass in the left hand and a lead tone in the right hand. Scrolling through the presets in the “virtual LCD” is easy—there’s no pop-up file dialog box to wrestle with. After editing, you can save your new patch, and it will show up in the category right along with the factory presets. Creating new sounds from scratch is not possible, however.

Most of the presets map filter cutoff to the modulation wheel, either raising it or lowering it. This makes sense for on-the-fly mixing, but with the lead synth presets, you’ll have to program mod wheel vibrato yourself. Fortunately, this is dead easy to do.

The biggest hassle with the Nexus sound library will probably be getting familiar with its riches, and that’s a good problem to have. ReFX offers numerous expansion libraries (more than 60, and the list is still growing) for download, so there’ll always be more to discover. Be careful not to max out your credit card: A fully loaded Nexus with all of the expansion libraries will set you back more than $3,000.


Voice Features

A Nexus preset can contain up to eight layers, each with its own oscillator, filter, envelopes, and possibly other elements such as layer effects. The factory presets have four layers at most, but some of the expansion libraries use eight, and shortly we’ll be seeing new libraries with up to 16 layers. Your control over what’s programmed into the layers is very limited. The knobs give you offsets for the filter and amplifier, as noted earlier. In addition, you can switch layers off, transpose and detune them, and change their volume and panning individually. You can’t choose a different waveform or filter type for a layer, however.

The important user-programmable features are the effects, modulation routings, arpeggiator, and trance gate. In addition to the delay and reverb, you have four effects processors to play with, any of which can be a chorus, flanger, phaser, degrader, distortion, ring modulator, talkbox, and so on. Two of these effects are inserted before the master reverb and delay, and two of them are after, so there’s quite a range of processing options. Also on tap are a limiter and a four-band parametric EQ.

Two LFOs and ten modulation routings are provided, plus vibrato. The list of mod destinations is extensive—not only the effect parameters but a number of layer parameters, such as filter frequency and resonance and even the speed and depth of any internal LFOs that happen to be programmed into a given layer. Since the only way to know what’s going on in a layer is to solo it and listen, finding useful modulation routings is a bit hit-or-miss.

MIDI control change messages can be used as modulation sources, and there are also eight inputs for host automation data. The big omission from the modulation source list is MIDI velocity. Most of the presets are programmed with velocity response for both loudness and filter cutoff, but if you happen to want more velocity response from the filter, or if you happen to want to route velocity to a different parameter, you’re out of luck. It turns out there’s a reason for this limitation: All of the modulations are global to the sound layer. Velocity modulation would be per individual voice, and Nexus doesn’t allow user programming of per-voice modulations.

The arpeggiator and trance gate can have up to 32 steps. The gate is especially sweet: It’s stereo, and the left and right sides can have different rhythms. It also has delay and fade-in parameters, for those crowd-pleasing lifts. The arpeggiator steps can be transposed up or down in half-steps, the step gate length is adjustable, and each step can be given a velocity value. Both the arpeggiator and the trance gate have their own libraries of presets that you can load from a menu. With a setup like this, pulse-pounding rhythms are a slam-dunk.


Conclusions

Going back to 1980, the folks at Sequential Circuits noted that the majority of the Prophet-5 synths that came in for repair still had the original factory presets intact. (That was the rumor, at least.) It seemed clear that many synthesizer owners didn’t feel much need to create their own sounds. That’s probably even truer of today’s soft synths, given the huge sound libraries that come with them.

ReFX is betting that you want to get your hands on a huge batch of electrifying sounds with a minimum of hassle, and probably won’t need to do much to customize them. That’s what Nexus 2 is all about. To be sure, it’s not the only software synth that ships with a large sound library, but the clear focus on a singular pop music style (EDM) and the huge list of optional library expansions are not so common.

Nexus2 will have a limited appeal to those who prefer gentle, dreamy tones, and it’s not a heaven for sound design programmers. But if you’re looking for unbeatable power and excitement, step right up.

 
 

You Might Also Like...

Show Comments

These are my comments.

Reader Poll

Have rotary simulations gotten good enough that you don't miss a real Leslie at the gig?


See results without voting »