Jun 12

INTRODUCING THE CLAVIA NORD VIRTUAL ANALOG DRUM SYNTHESIZER

Announced at Winter NAMM this year was the Nord Drum which is a Virtual Analog Drum Synthesizer with four inputs for Electronic Drum Pads or Acoustic Drum Triggers. It has been designed to be extremely dynamic and provide a lightning-fast response as if you are playing an acoustic drum. I will be comparing this response to the more expensive Roland TD20 so it will be interesting to see if Nord have achieved this for less than a third of the cost of a Roland TD20 Brain.

UNPACKING THE NORD DRUM

It is suitably packaged in a cardboard box almost to the size you would expect it to be but as you remove the foam it took me by surprise by just how small the Nord Drum is. It is just 7.85″ x 5.5″ x 1.34 ” (19.93 x 14.00 x 0.34cm) which is just a little bit larger than a DVD case and it weighs a mere 0.77 lb. which is just 350 g. It has that famous Stockholm Red colour that we have come to love on Nord products and it is wedged-shaped and its height comes down to approximately 12 mm at its front edge.

There is a twenty page manual inside, so that shouldn’t take too long to read. I am told that this machine is very user-friendly so hopefully you will not need it to be any larger. I must say it is very pleasing that also in the box is a 23 mm stand holder which allows you to mount the Nord Drum on a stand that is equipped with a clamp. 23 mm is the size that will work with most clamps.
Lastly in the box is a 12 volt DC power supply with interchangeable plug attachments for your world tour.

HOW ARE THE SOUNDS MADE UP ON THE NORD DRUM?

This is very much a different beast to the Roland TD20. Roland seem to be committed to keep moving the Electronic Drum Kit forward to achieve the perfect recreation of the acoustic kit. There is a big part of me that says “why?” but I understand the advantages of things like quiet practice, layering of sounds and having 100 different acoustic kits, and other percussion readily available at the flick of a switch. However, today’s music demands a greater amount of synthetic drum sounds and sometimes it is good to have both. Well this is where I see the Nord Drum fitting in so well. It is extremely small and compact and can accompany an existing acoustic or electronic kit to add more flavours to the sound. It is a synthesizer after all and it does not use samples nor has any physical modelling to create its sounds. To me the advantages to this are not just in the interesting sounds that this can produce but the extent of how these sounds can be changed.

There are 99 Programs locations in the Nord Drum, 80 factory programs and 19 to allow you to store your own. These programs are made up of Styles and Categories. There are four Styles: – Real (Acoustic), Retro (Machine or old school sounds),Ethno (World Music) and FX (Weird tweaks and FX). Then these are sub-divided into three Categories:- Drums (Kick, Snare, Tom1 Tom2 – these can be used with acoustic hi-hat & cymbals), Percussion (Made for 4 pads, for the stand-up percussionist) and Kit (Kick, Snare, Tom, Hi-hat for use with a sequencer). I do like some of the names they have given these programs like ‘Must Bend Tolotto’, ‘Higgins Particle Hat’, ‘UnoDosKickHat’, ‘Vince Gate’, ‘Thanx to Burgees’, ‘King Kong Karma’, ‘BeatPerlife’, ‘HeaHihat’ and ‘Dull Dusty’.

I must say I really like the sounds which have a bit of an organic quality about them but Nord have kept their sights constantly on the percussive side of things with some great Industrial metallic clank which is so important in today’s music. It is not until you play around with Noise and the Click do you really appreciate the potential here. There are also 27 click types to choose from. If only the TD20 had a Noise and Click control. It is not just the controls but the immediacy and the results that you get. You don’t have to edit deep menus to achieve an awesome crack or the wet loose low-fi sound that the noise control can introduce. I put a bit a Snare Buzz in to start with and then turned it right up to it smoothed itself into lush white noise.

I have decided that these are my favourite controls on the Nord Drum and I sincerely hope that future drum machine / brain designers sit up and take note. These two controls form two-thirds of the elements that make up the sound, the third element which is really the first is ‘Tone’ which provides the main body of the sound. The ‘Tone’ can be edited and you can select different waveforms from the Nine Drum Waves, five Percussion or three Analogue waves (Sin, Saw and Square) all with the quality that you know Nord will provide.

Sound shaping doesn’t stop there because you can filter and morph the sounds into such desirable additions to your existing Electronic or Acoustic setup. This makes me think of a talented American Drummer I saw a few years ago who had the creative flare to bolt and weld various metals of differing types and sizes to his acoustic kit and hardware. He used them like a hi-hat or cowbell and I was amazed at the variety of sounds that he produced and how powerful they sounded. You can also throw in some Punch which adds a short attack to your sounds and you can use Decay to control the length of the tone. For some added fun you can play about with the pitch. This is divided up into quarter tones and gives you a range from B1 to D7. In general, the factory sounds use Channel 1 for Bass drum sounds, channel 2 for Snare, channel 3 for Hi tom and channel 4 for Lo Tom. I nearly forgot to mention the Mixer section and this is so important because you can mix to set the balance of each of the three sections – Tone, Noise and Click. This just adds more tonal possibilities because the sound can be so different if it had say more noise than click coming through the output for example or very little Tone at all.

ARE MY EXISTING PADS GOING TO WORK OK?

Nord used a variety of Drum Pads to test and develop the Nord Drum. Other pads other than those they have used below will work but you will have to try different Trigger Types and settings to find out what is best for you. The Trigger types are:- ‘Pad1’ for Roland Rubber Pads like their PD8 and PD9, ‘Pad 2’ for Yamaha pads such as the TP65, ‘Pad 3’ for Mesh Heads, ‘Acoustic 1’ for where an acoustic trigger is used on a Bass Drum or Snare Drum, ‘Acoustic 2 ’ where an acoustic trigger is used on a high and mid-Toms and ‘Acoustic 3 ’ where an acoustic trigger is used for Low and Floor Toms.

The Nord Drum is not a machine whereby you can just plug in the Pad and away you go. You have to set up the Pads before you can start using them. First of all you need to set up the Input Sensitivity. This is very easy and you start off by hitting your Pad, listen and look at the Input trigger LEDs which show you how strong the incoming trigger signal is. You then need to hold down the Shift key and press the ‘Inp Sens’ button on the Nord Drum panel. The Red LED above the button will start to blink. Strike the pad again and adjust the Input sensitivity by turning the Dial.

There is also a Dynamics setting where you can adjust the linear response to the velocity on the pads. You just need to press the Trigger Type a second time and select either Dn1 or Dn2. Dn2 will give you a ‘hotter’ response.

I tried it with PD125 and PD 120 Mesh Head Pads and it had a great response. I have to say that although the Nord Drum response was very good it was not quite the TD 20 quality that would pick up every nuance of your playing. Having said this it was every bit as good or better than other drum brains at this price point.

THE FRONT PANEL LAYOUT OF THE NORD DRUM

The front of the Nord Drum consists of just two knobs, 13 buttons and a small LCD. One of the knobs is the Master Level and the other is a dial simply to select programs and change the setting of a selected parameter. To the right of the Master Level is the Program/Store button for you to select one of the 99 programs or save one in the user area – Programs 81 to 99. Your selection is displayed in the LCD.

The Panel is fairly easy to get used to and it doesn’t take long to be familiar with its 13 Buttons. I found myself constantly pressing the Red Program / Store button to start with as this brings you back to the programs acting like an Exit button. The next button along is the Channel Select and quite simply allows you to select either Chanel 1,2,3 or 4.

The next eight buttons after the ‘Row Select’ have multiple functions and are used in conjunction with the Row Select. As soon as you touch one of these you are in Edit Mode. The Row Select toggles between the first and second row. The top row has the Noise and Mixer Parameters which are Color, Filter, Sweep and Decay for the Noise and Tone, Noise and Click for the Mixer. The second row has the Tone and Click Parameters and there are Wave, Filter, Sweep, Decay, Pitch and Bend for the Tone and Type and Decay for the Click.

For both of these rows the LEDs will show where you are and some of them have some alternative parameters shown in red lettering. With these it states on Panel to “Hold Button for Red Parameter”. There is also a Third Row under the buttons for Copy, Paste, Program Dump, Midi Channel, Midi Note, Trigger Type, Input Type and Input Sensitivity. To access these you need to hold down the Shift Button.

MIDI FEATURES

Midi is fairly basic on the Nord Drum and it can only receive on one Midi channel at a time but it can dump and receive SysEx data via its Midi Out and receive Midi Program Change messages. It also has a couple of interesting features called Midi Channel Learn and Midi Note Learn which assist you with your Midi Setup without the need to go through pages of deep editing.

CONNECTING UP THE CLAVIA NORD DRUM MODULE

If we look around the back, we will see the four quarter inch Trigger Inputs, MIDI In and Out on 5 pin DIN connectors, the DC input (DC 12V 250mA) and a really big shock for me which is just one singular Audio output which is a mono quarter inch unbalanced 6.35 mm jack socket. I checked it again and in the manual, and yes that is what it is – what a real shame.

CONCLUSION

There is a lot to love with sounds possible from the Retro times of the Eighties to drums of the future. Sadly there are two big disappointments which I think Nord are already taking some stick on (Sorry about the pun). The world seems obsessed with everything tiny but I believe Nord could have easily made this box two inches longer and had six inputs instead of four. This would have provided a better sized kit but I suppose if you are adding this to an existing setup this is not so much of an issue. However, to create a great sounding, easy tweakable Drum Synth that is incredibly portable with all the quality that comes with a company like Nord and then to make a ridiculous decision by having one singular mono output in 2012 seems unbelievably short-sighted as people expect so much more – Stereo being the baseline.

So this becomes one of those weighing up the Pros and Cons type of purchasing choice in my opinion unless the number of inputs and outputs do not bother you. As Nord mainly aimed this at the ‘Live’ player and depending on how you integrate this into your existing setup, the singular mono output may not be as much of as a problem as it first seems. For example you could make different panning decisions between the Nord Pads and your other electronic pads. I would not simply dismiss this product because of the singular output especially when the cost is so low. You need to hear it and tweak it for yourself; it is very hands-on, has a great sound and is a fantastic price to add some new percussive flavours to your setup.

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Absolute Music

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