Hardware Synthesizer – Clavia Nord Lead 2X – Review


by Kenny Inglis (music [at] kennyinglis.com)

In the context of a mix, the sonic advantage gained from using analogue synthesizers over those of the digital/software variety is undeniable. Whether it’s the warmth of those pads or the depth of that bass, the quality within is both immediate and effortless. However, for the majority of composers and producers the associated costs are also undeniable.

So what about the vast array of virtual analogues and analogue modelling synths which now dominate the pro-audio market – aren’t they all just poor alternatives cashing in on the analogue exclusivity enjoyed by the lucky few ?

Not all, no. If there’s one virtual analogue synthesizer which truly deserves to use the word on the front panel, it’s Clavia’s Nord Lead 2X. Originally released in 2004, the Nord Lead 2X was (bizarrely) a follow up to the Nord Lead 3. No, not a mistake on Clavia’s part – the Nord Lead 2X arrived as a more refined, expanded version of it’s predecessor, the Nord Lead 2.

The Nord Lead 2X is a two-oscillator, four-octave velocity sensitive MIDI based polysynth. It has four program slots (A-D) which can be used simultaneously (split individually or layered). It also has four outputs, allowing for a variety of mono or stereo output configurations. The internal memory contains 990 single sounds, 396 of which are user programmable. Furthermore, it also contains 400 performance sounds, 100 of which are set aside for user storage. In terms of sound quality, the NL2X uses super low noise 24-bit DACs running at 96kHz.

So what does it sound like? Well, it’s very close to analogue for a start. Yes….really. The entire sound palette has been loosely based around the kind of sounds found on sought after vintage classics such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Oberheim OB-8, or Moog Minimoog. As the Nord Lead title would suggest, the presets range from a variety of soaring filter-driven single leads right through to widescreen modulating pads and silky, fat basses. The majority of these sounds are instantly usable, many are immediately inspiring, yet spend a few hours pushing this machine off the beaten track and it’s true beauty will be revealed.

Whether it’s cranking up the FM control, exploring the LFO’s or arpeggiator, tweaking the ring modulation, or just forcing one oscillator out of tune against the other, there is what feels like an endless collection of sounds just waiting to be explored. The NL2X can be smooth and deep, yet equally it can be bitey and brash. Whilst it doesn’t in any way emulate ‘organic’ sounds, it is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and expressive synthesizers you could have the good fortune to own.

In use the NL2X is suited to a wide variety of compositional applications. Don’t be fooled by it’s seemingly niche sound palette – this synthesizer is equally at home underscoring a TV or film pitch as it is leading a techno track. Deconstruct what it has to offer with some deft editing and you have the perfect source for sound design and beyond.

I’ve owned my Nord Lead 2X since it’s release in 2004. Seven years later it’s still one of my go-to synthesizers in the studio and it never fails to impress. New or secondhand, grab one while you can….

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