The very first Nord Lead I bought was the Nord Lead 1. Outstanding!! I love the Nord Lead 1 and it is probably the best sounding of all the Nord Leads, however, there are TWO MAJOR problems that ultimately lead me to the Nord Lead 2x. One problem was no split keyboard. I needed this for my live shows in order to minimize the number of synths on stage while getting access to more playable sounds. The second biggest problem was no Arp hold. I sing, play guitar, and work with synthesizers so I can’t be having my foot stuck on the sustain pedal or worry about missing the beat when making the arp changes. I need Arp hold and the Nord Lead 1 doesn’t have it. Some might say the lack of on board memory for programs and performances is a drawback which it is, but that didn’t bother me as much as having no split keyboard of Arp hold.
So, I was on to the Nord Lead 2x which is a beautiful synth and it had all the bells and whistles that the Nord Lead 1 lacked. I now had plenty of memory, a split keyboard, and Arp hold. I should have been satisfied and I was for about a year but then realized that I really liked the Sound of the Nord Lead 1. If I wanted that RAW LEAD sound, I needed to have the Nord Lead 1 because the 2x just didn’t have that warm grit that the first generation had. I’m a big fan of the Prophet V and the Nord Lead didn’t really sound like one, but it had the dynamics of one which allowed me to play music that often had a Prophet V in the mix. I then heard that the Nord Lead 2 was similar in sound to the Nord Lead 1. Thus I moved on and bought the Nord Lead 2.
Now, the Nord Lead 2 in my opinion is definitely the best between the Nord Lead 1 and 2x. It has the sound of the Nord Lead 1 ( close enough ) along with the Split Keyboard, Arp Hold, and the memory card for storing programs and performances. It pretty much has most of what the 2x has and everything the Nord Lead 1 had. When I first played the Nord Lead 2, I ended up playing it virtually all night. It was finally the right combination of functionality and sound. It was THE BEST Nord Lead I had played to date and I was very happy, until I got my hands on the mighty Nord Lead 3 ….crap!!
Everyone knows the interface of the Nord Lead 3 is better than any Nord Lead produced both past and present. In fact, many will argue it’s one of the best synth programming interfaces of all time. Of course there are other synths that are right up there with the Nord, but with those rotary encoders and the LCD showing the precise values of each and every turn, it’s hard to argue why anyone would settle for less. Unless…. unless the sound was not up to your standards. That has generally been the problem with the Nord Lead 3, the tinny sound most people say it has. I actually found it to be an amazing sound primarily because as an 80’s kid, the FM sound was huge during that decade of music. Of course analogs were popular in the early 80’s, but with the release of the Yamaha DX-7 and later the D-50, digital was king and I feel for that reason, the FM aspect in the Nord Lead 3 is essential “for me” in playing 80’s style music. YES, you can get sweet analog sounding patches out of the Nord Lead 3 but you need to create them. They are there, perhaps not the Nord Lead 3 strongest suit, but there is ample programming power and creative combinations to get the 80’s analog”ish” sound. You just need to really dive in and program it.
I thus found over the past two months more and more interested in the Nord Lead 3. I wasn’t playing the Nord Lead 1 or 2x hardly at all. I pretty much had confined myself to the Nord Lead 2 and 3 versions because in combination they covered the FM and Analog sounds perfectly for the 80 synthpop music I liked to play. I was doing fine when a nice shiny new Nord Lead 4 fell out of the sky and landed on my lap. I good friend at a local music shop in Japan gave me a deal I couldn’t pass up on a B Grade model. Whatever B grade meant, I had practically a brand new Nord Lead 4 in my studio. I quickly dove in and “almost” fell in love with it. I say almost because at the end of the day, I kept going back to the Nord Lead 3. Was it the FM sound? Or the awesome encoders? Maybe it was the that the sound was different than the other Nords that I felt it was better in the mix. At the end of the day, I think it was just that. The Nord Lead 3 fit better in the mix with pretty much every sound I created with it. The Nord Lead 4 while SUPERB SUPERB SUPERB, it just wasn’t quite grabbing my attention enough to pull me away from the Nord Lead 3. It did well to distract me from the Nord Lead 2, but not the Nord Lead 3.
Thus to finally answer the question in my title. Which Nord Lead Synthesizer do I like the best?
THE NORD LEAD 3 SYNTHESIZER!!
Note: I have not tried the Nord Lead A1 yet, but it’s on my radar. In Japan the Nord Lead A1 is the most expensive of all the Leads right now. I actually think it’s too expensive and will waiting until next year to check on out. Until then, I think the Nord Lead 4 should fill in nicely.