: Huge sound library with cutting-edge dance sounds. Stylish
trance gate, filter sweeps, and arpeggiator are ready to go. Many
optional expansion sound packs.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.