Review: Clavia Nord Piano 3 - EMusician

Review: Clavia Nord Piano 3

Excellent sounds and feel in a lightweight instrument
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Just about anyone who focuses on piano is probably going to want a gigging keyboard with a weighted action. But finding one that feels good, sounds inspiring, and has the rare combination of being able to fit in your mode of transportation and not break your back moving it is akin to the Holy Grail. If such an instrument could also offer a full assortment of support sounds onboard, it would be a dream come true.

With all of that in mind, Clavia has unleashed its latest—and arguably greatest—stage piano to date, the Nord Piano 3.

With its 88-note Triple Sensor keybed and Virtual Hammer Action, the Nord Piano 3 provides an exceptional key response and grand-weighted action, yet remains remarkably lightweight.

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THE GRAND TOUR

The front panel tells you most of what you need to know to be able to move around the instrument immediately. The Piano section’s engine (40 stereo or 60 mono voices of polyphony) provides 1 GB of sounds sorted into six categories—Grands, Uprights, EPs, Synth, Clavinets, and Harpsichords—with a dedicated knob for scrolling. The list can be organized to taste, as can be the sample set itself. Controls are provided for Level, choosing one of three Keyboard Touch settings, toggling Volume and/or Sustain pedals, and Acoustics, which enables/disables pedal noise, string resonance, and a Soft Release feature for legato work.

The Sample Synth has 148 instruments, including strings, brass, bass, guitars, mallets, choirs and a surprisingly comprehensive assortment of classic synths. It can also be loaded with whatever sounds best suit the individual player. Level control and Volume/Sustain pedal assignment mirror the Piano section, but the ability to apply Dynamics to Filter/Amp supplant the Keyboard Touch parameter. Attack has its own knob, with a second knob ingeniously combining Decay, Sustain and Release into a single control that makes complete sense in use: Decay is adjusted by turning the knob to the left, Sustain/key-gated mode is straight up, and Release (with Sustain retained) is finely tuned by turning the knob to the right.

The effects are divided into six sections, and each of them can be individually routed to either the Piano or Sample Synth section with the exception of Reverb, which is applied globally. Effects 1 has three separate Pan and Tremolo modes, as well as Wah and Ring Mod, with dedicated controls for Rate and toggling on CC pedal affecting Trem/Pan amount, Ring Mod rate, or Wah control. Effects 2 is home to the modulation-based processing—two Phasers, a Flanger, a couple of Chorus types and a very cool Vibe effect that combines pitch bend with the phaser. In addition to the dedicated Rate knob, this section also has a Deep button that enhances the selected effect.

The Delay’s rate relies on tapping in the desired tempo, with a Wet/Dry knob and four different feedback settings varying from single slap to a wash of echoes. The Equalizer couldn’t be simpler: 15dB boost/cut control over high (above 4kHz) and low (below 100Hz) shelves. And Clavia gets bonus points for including sweep-able mids (200Hz to 8kHz)!

Fig. 1. Add color to your sounds with amp models, drive, and compression.

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Flavor gets added in the Amp/Comp section, where Small, JC or Twin can be selected (see Figure 1). Tube Distortion and Compression can be also applied here, with the Drive or Compression amount controlled by the knob at the top of the section. Finally, the Reverb section brings Room, Stage or Hall sonics that can be dialed in with the Wet/Dry knob and opened up by engaging the Bright switch. Master control of the unit is built around an easy-to-read OLED display.

The Nord Piano 3 comes with 200 programs; four banks of 50, with each bank organized into groups of five that are easily selectable by the Programs button. The keyboard also has a Live mode that allows any five programs you’ve copied there to automatically store any real-time edits without having to perform a Save routine.

The Set Split button lets you select either a Piano/Synth split or vice versa. However, only seven preset split points are provided, with LEDs that indicate which one is active. The Transpose button allows a ±6 semitone shift on the fly that can also be stored with each program, while global transposition can be set in the System menu. A dedicated Mono mode changes the left and right audio outputs to dual mono for all sounds and effects.

Fig. 2. A USB port and a stereo audio input round out the features on Nord Piano 3.

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Around the back of the instrument are all the inputs and outputs you’d expect; stereo output (which can also be switched to route the piano to one side and the synth to the other), a headphone jack, MIDI I/O, a USB port, and a stereo mini jack for playing audio from an external device (see Figure 2).

The two pedal jacks (Vol/Ctrl and Sustain) can support a bunch of configurations and assignments, the most obvious being the Triple Pedal that comes with the unit and a volume-type pedal of some sort: The Nord Piano 3 can be set to work with CC pedals from just about any manufacturer. The Triple pedal implementation really shines though, allowing half pedaling, control over the mechanical Pedal Noise level, and the ability to have the sostenuto pedal operate as a sustain/latch for the synth section, which is really convenient.

THE PLAY’S THE THING

From the moment you lay hands on this instrument, it’s obvious that there’s a unique connection between its new Triple Sensor keybed technology and the onboard sound engines. From a mechanical-feel standpoint, it’s kind of hard to believe that the Nord Piano 3 doesn’t have an actual hammer action assembly. The thing just plays fabulously, offering tremendous nuance and depth. The amount of available dynamic control over the instruments is immediately apparent and satisfying, especially when really laying into the bass notes on acoustic and electric piano programs.

I did discover that a decent amount of that is due to the Nord’s engine, not just the keybed: When I connected the Nord Piano 3 to a hammer-action, weighted 88-key instrument from another manufacturer, I found that Clavia’s keybed did not give me much more dynamic control over the other instrument, but that the other instrument’s keybed did give me more dynamic control of the Nord Piano 3’s engine than it did over its own.

I had a hard time finding a sound on the Nord Piano 3 that I didn’t like. A few of them had to be tweaked to my taste, such as subbing in a different string sample under the Velvet Grand, running a fat EP through a happily distorted guitar amp, pounding out some chewy Clav parts while dialing in the wah pedal, or even building the Watcher Of The Skies sound using the Mellotron samples. Overall, every sound in the Nord Piano 3 is artfully crafted and eminently playable.

The one reoccurring problem that I did have was that the limited polyphony of the Sample Synth section caused some of the programs to cut off, especially the more legato sounds and sometimes quite abruptly. The selection and quality of the sound set is beyond reproach, though. It was way easy to get lost in the Nord Piano 3 for endless blocks of time playing and fine-tuning the factory programs.

I also want to give kudos to the Virtual Hammer action technology. Every time I picked up the Nord Piano 3 to move it, I was struck by how lightweight and portable it was while still having such a substantial feel. That alone almost justifies adding it to your rig.

3’S A CHARM

I’m knocked out by the Nord Piano 3. The action feels fabulous and just about every sound in it is very playable right out of the box. Those that weren’t to my taste were easily tweaked or replaced. And with Nord’s ever growing library of downloadable sounds, it’s hard to see this not remaining as current as one wants.

The fact that I rarely had to open the manual is a testament to the thoughtful design of the interface: Anything I didn’t understand at first glance, in terms of operation, became apparent with a bit of exploration.

The top selling feature of the Nord Piano 3, however, is most certainly the connection between the onboard sounds and its keybed. If most keyboardists have their hands and ears react to this the way mine did, there’s gonna be an awful lot of the Nord Piano 3’s rocking the house all over the planet.

Nord Sound Manager

As with some other Nord keyboards, if there are certain parts of the sound-set that don’t suit your fancy, you can decide which ones stay and which ones go. This instrument has an immense online library for both the piano and sample synth engines, with over a thousand sounds to choose from in all sorts of sizes and configurations. The Download Manager is ridiculously intuitive to operate. There’s even a Substitute function that lets you swap one sound for another in the existing programs, so that deleting one piano sound and replacing it with a new one doesn’t totally screw up the Programs that were using the deleted sound.

STRENGTHS
Delightful action. Customizable sound set. Plenty of control under your fingers. Surprisingly portable.

LIMITATIONS
Voice stealing in the Synth section can be an issue.

$2,999
clavia.se

David Bryce is a recording engineer, voice-over artist and multi-instrumentalist specializing in keyboards and synthesizers.