The Nord Piano 4 is a premium offering in the realm of piano-centric keyboards, aiming for hyperrealistic touch and expressive piano emulations. This fourth-generation model builds on the best features of its predecessors, adding expanded polyphony, smoother patch transitions, a new filter bank, and enhanced splitting features.

IN THE BOX

Nord keyboards are often lauded for their impeccable design standards, and the Piano 4 is no exception. It’s a tad heavy, but the Piano 4’s weight is justified by the quality of its build. Each element of the instrument is thoughtfully and sturdily constructed, from the input jacks to the control pedals. It's a sleek design that attains equally strong aesthetic and functional value.

The back panel of the Piano 4 opts for all the essentials: a stereo headphone output, individual 1/4” left and right jacks, an auxiliary monitor in jack, 5-pin and USB MIDI jacks, and sustain and control pedal inputs.

The sustain jack supports Nord’s included triple pedal set, which blew me away with its dynamic response. The damper’s strength and mechanical noise levels are precisely controlled by pedal pressure, lending additional depth in performance and practice. When combined with the Piano 4’s “soft release” mode, the sustain damper helps soften and expand legato passages.

The compact control surface features Nord’s familiar modular layout, with sections for general program controls, pianos, sample synths, and six stompbox-inspired effects sections that run the gamut from tremolo to ring modulator. There’s also a new “bright” mode on the reverb bank for added brilliance.

No surprises here: the Piano 4’s control components are nearly identical to those of its predecessors, and other Nord models like the Stage and Electro. There’s little room for improvement in this intuitive layout that’s already well-suited for live, studio, and home use. That said, the Piano 4 has upped its patch organization game, facilitating set building with new copy/paste/move functionalities and page/list patch views.

IN THE FIELD

I’ve recently reviewed several strong contenders in the world of hammer-action keyboards, but the Piano 4’s Triple Sensor Fatar keybed may be the most convincing piano-style implementation I’ve encountered yet. Nord’s Virtual Hammer Action technology encourages a huge range of articulation, boasting top and bottom triggers that accurately mimic half-pressing on an acoustic piano. Note repetitions may also be re-triggered without fully releasing depressed keys. The Nord Piano 4’s keybed is moderately heavy-weighted - enough to feel secure without stiffness. It certainly feels more comfortable than any Nord keybed I’ve played thus far. 

To add yet another layer of depth, Nord has designed a new set of Creative Piano Filters to help sculpt its patches to the user’s playing style. Filter options for muted softness, midrange push, and high-end brilliance offer ample versatility when used in conjunction with Nord’s built-in adjustable velocity curves. Coupled with 120-voice polyphony and true-to-life reproductions of string resonance, the Piano 4 is quite a force.

True to its name, the Nord Piano 4 has a sizable bank of high-quality piano patches. Lush grand pianos, quirky upright pianos, retro CP70 and DX7 patches, and Nord’s famed electric piano emulations are swiftly accessible from the onboard program menu. The digital and electric pianos are quite similar to those found on other Nord models, but I was especially impressed by the upright pianos, which exhibit an abundance of imperfectly charming character.

For live performers, Nord has added seamless transitions and split point crossfades, two powerful features which improve fluidity when blending patches. The split point crossfades are especially intuitive, eliminating awkward sound jumps when combining patches like bass and piano.

The bulk of Nord’s attention clearly went into the Piano 4’s 1GB piano sample pack, but the 512MB sample synth library has a multitude of solid additional options for layers and splits. Some patches (keyboard instruments, basses, mellotron) expectedly sound better than others (brass, strings, guitars). All in all, however, the selection is extensive enough to accommodate most patch needs, both on and off the stage.

STRENGTHS

Top-notch hardware and keybed. Astounding level of depth and expression. New features, especially split crossfades and creative filters, are attentively implemented. A professional, versatile instrument suitable for all contexts. The Nord Piano 4 simply looks, feels, and sounds great.

LIMITATIONS

Premium cost will price out some intermediate and beginner keyboardists, but you get what you pay for: this is a top-of-the-line keyboard, no holds barred. Device weight, not to be confused with keybed weight, is slightly heavier than expected. 

$2,999 street

www.nordkeyboards.com

Cale Hawkins is a multi-instrumentalist and writer who has worked with Quincy Jones, Nate Ruess, Wyclef Jean, Bilal, Nikki Yanofsky and others. Find out more at www.calehawkins.com