By AVI HERSH
PROS: Killer new organ and Leslie emulation. Physical drawbars. Great pianos, EPs, Clavs, and other vintage sounds, all expandable by Nord-supported download libraries.
CONS: Still can’t split or layer organ with non-organ sounds—it’s one or the other.
Bottom Line: The world’s most popular one-stop shop for serious vintage keys just got a lot more serious.
$2,499 list | $2,199 street | nordkeyboards.com
Nord’s Electro line has won the hearts of musicians in all genres who share a love of vintage keys. Its dual personality—tonewheel organ and rotary speaker on one song; piano, electric piano, Clav, or other classics on the next—has made it as welcome a main keyboard in some rigs as it is a second or third axe in others. Now, the 4D hits the scene with physical drawbars and the company’s current best organ sounds. Time to upgrade? Read on and decide.
First and most obvious are the drawbars. Second, the organ side of the 4D has the same sound engine as in the flagship dual-manual C2D organ (reviewed Aug. ’12). Compared to the C2 engine, which then trickled into the Electro 3, it boasts improved key click and harmonic percussion as well as a new rotary simulation and overdrive. There are also some cool upgrades to acoustic piano sounds, such as optional long releases and a dedicated panel button for string resonance (as on the Electro 3HP but not the “regular” Electro 3). A new delay features tap tempo and stereo ping-ponging. Nord also has doubled the number of live presets, improved support for volume pedals, and added MIDI-over-USB—the lack of which was a sticking point for some musicians on previous Electro iterations.
Keyboard and Drawbars
As an organ player, I find noticeable differences in resistance and bounce in the pack of current clonewheels. The feel of the Electro 4D’s keyboard is superb, with just the right amount of both. This had a direct and positive impact on my execution of runs, smears, and solos. I found I played cleaner and more precisely on the 4D than on other clones I’ve played in recent memory.
What’s kept me from becoming an Electro user until now is the lack of moving drawbars, so I’m very glad to see them migrate here from the dual-manual (and pricier) Nord C2D. To conserve depth, they’re actually drawbar-shaped tabs that slide within fader wells, but they respond like the real thing and have the right amount of clicky feel.
Organ on the Gig
My live rig consists of a (non-Nord) clonewheel for organ and an 88-note workstation for everything else, and the 4D review unit arrived barely an hour before I had to leave for a gig. Feeling brave, I left my familiar clone at home, and the Electro didn’t let me down.
Right out of the box, the organ sounded great—noticeably better than the Electro 3, to my ears. There was just more body or meat to the sound, and the tone sat in the mix well but cut through when needed. The percussion also had just the right amount of “ping,” and both the long and short decay settings sounded spot-on.
I realized the first organ patch on the first page was split for left-hand bass. One of the things I love about Electros is how easy they are to edit on the spot—a simple Shift and button-press took me out of split mode. At the next gig I found myself making edits to the same preset, thanks to the 4D’s live buffers. These do a running save of whatever changes you make on the fly, are immune to power-off, and the 4D has four of them where the Electro 3 had two.
For rotary simulation, I normally use Neo Instruments’ amazing Ventilator stompbox (reviewed May ’10), but of course I had to check out the 4D’s internal sim, which, like the C2D, boasts an improved Leslie 122 model. Long story short: It’s so good that I’d have no problem using it on gigs without the Ventilator. You can add reverb downstream of the rotary effect (which you can’t do with a dedicated rotary pedal), which I think makes the rotation sound a hair more realistic—as if a Leslie cabinet were in a reflective room—and sounds especially good in stereo monitors. Another nicety: The 4D’s improved overdrive can go from subtle warmth to Jon Lord-style grunge without sounding buzzy or digital.
Piano and Other Sounds
The piano section offers toggles for string resonance and long or short release—the latter simulates loose or tight dampers—and these can affect sounds downloaded from the Nord Piano Library.
The pianos have a great deal of detail and are very realistic across the 88-key range. Though not weighted, the keys were a joy to play piano on, and the octave buttons being in the center of the panel makes for fairly seamless shifts while playing. Timbral changes in response to your playing velocity sound markedly more smooth and natural than on previous Electros.
While a good amount of the new piano sounds are preloaded, a DVD-ROM of the current library of all 4D-compatible samples comes with the unit, and is also a free download. In addition, the piano section offers a slot for sounds from the Nord Sample Library, which is distinct from the
Piano Library and offers a wide range of sounds that go beyond pianos, EPs, and organs—including authentic, vibey Mellotron and Chamberlin patches.
The Electro 4D can match several popular expression pedals to facilitate the authentic volume curve on organ sounds. With the parameter set to “Y7,” for example, my Yamaha FC7 pedal worked perfectly. This is also available for the Electro 3 in the latest software update.
At only 15.3 pounds, the Electro 4D screams to be the only keyboard I take to many gigs. The only thing in the way is that like on previous Electros, you can’t split or layer the organ section with the piano/EP/samples section, though you can split upper and lower drawbar settings within the organ. Still, it could easily replace my current clonewheel and take some duties away from the weighted ROMpler that sits below. Overall, there’s little not to like, and the drawbars make it eminently more playable than previous models. Add the improved sounds, rotary simulation, downloadable piano and sample capability, and the still-smokin’ Rhodes, Clav, and Wurly sounds, and the 4D has earned a permanent home in my gig rig.