Nord's classical Virtual Analog Synth Nord LEAD 1/2/2x/3/4/A1 and Nord Rack versions

Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby itsalwaysyou » 05 Oct 2020, 20:00

One of the very few things I dislike about the Nord Lead A1 is the voice allocation. On most analog polysynths it is not possible to trigger the same note with two voices, at least not in normal poly mode. This is similar to a piano, where it is impossible to play two identical notes simultaneously. But the NLA1 does just that. If you hold the sustain pedal down and play a note, then without releasing the pedal, play the same note again, you will play the same note on top of the first. You can do this up to all 26 voices (I think).

Now this may seem like an edge case: why would you play the same note over and over with sustain pedal down? You wouldn't. However, when playing any chord progression with notes "shared" between chords, each new chord may create overlapping notes that cause a chorusing effect and volume increase on the shared notes. Now, I admit I'm not a great keyboard player, but trying to overcome this problem by releasing the sustain pedal at the precise moment before you strike the new chord is very difficult. And frankly, for some patches the chorusing effect ruins the sound.

One workaround is to use the Hold function instead of sustain pedal. This will let the voice allocation work as most polysynths. However, this has other downsides in a playing situation.

I've contacted Nord about it, but never heard back.

This is my only Nord keyboard. Do the Lead 3 and 4 behave the same? Am I alone thinking this is a problem? To me it actually stops me from using my NLA1 for certain songs, even if the synth would be great without this "bug".
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Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy


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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby 23skidoo » 06 Oct 2020, 01:33

I have a Lead A1 and a Lead 3. Never noticed this before, but after intentionally setting up a patch with a long release and whacking on the sustain, I notice the Lead 3 also stacks the voices, which is not surprising... that's the difference between a synth and a piano. Synths are not pianos. They don't have the same expectations or the same behaviour. This isn't a big deal for me, and I use the A1 along with a half dozen other synths on a regular basis. I don't consider this a peculiarity or a major omission, either. I've run into other synths that did this (though exactly which ones escape me at the moment).

It helps if you set aside your expectation of all keyboard instrument as needing to be "piano-like" and think of it with the synth architecture in mind. When you use the sustain pedal, you're extending the sustain phase of the envelope. Since the note is in sustain, the voice is occupied. From a synth perspective, it doesn't matter what other notes you play, unless you're in a monophonic mode: any new notes played will not take into account assigned voices, but will simply allocate a new voice and carry on. Do some synths modify this behaviour intentionally to give more of a "piano-like" experience? Yes. But it's not required, or necessarily even desired. If you DID want to layer all those notes up intentionally, is there any other way to do it? Not really.

So there are two things to consider here:
1. The A1 is a synth. Not an EP. It behaves very synth like and offers almost no affordances to classical keyboard playing. This is to be expected for a stripped down, clearly focused synthesizer which has a strong emphasis on emulating vintage synths.
2. In my experience, which may differ greatly from yours, it's very rare to use a sustain pedals with synths (I don't). Occasionally you'll use the hold or sustain function when building up huge sounds or ambient washes, but it's not really a stylistic element when jamming out - you tend to adjust your playing style and play more like a Hammond organ or something. You want a note held you do it with your fingers.

You may not like this behaviour, but it's far from uncommon and it's not hard to adjust to, as long as you're not trying to play piano on it. But my advice is to drop the expectation that the A1 is, nor even should be, a replacement for an EP/Piano. That's not its point, it's not a do everything for everybody piano/EP replacement.
Last edited by 23skidoo on 06 Oct 2020, 01:34, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby CountFosco » 06 Oct 2020, 11:28

Nice description of the problem, and a good detailed reply from 23. I've come across this issue on and off when playing pads on the A1 using a sustain pedal, while playing for eg EP on another keyboard. The increase in volume associated with stacking of the same note can be a problem, and I guess this is a similar scenario to the OP. How about increasing the release of your synth amp env to a quite high value? Then you can release the sustain pedal a bit earlier before playing the next chord without causing too much loss of volume during the transition.

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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby itsalwaysyou » 07 Oct 2020, 16:36

Thanks for your detailed replies!

I guess this is a design choice by the Nord team and not a "bug". Since the recent Leads have a high voice count it is possible to allow this type of voice allocation without excessive voice stealing. Also, as the Leads are multi timbral designing a different algorithm may be complicated. You'd have to think of the layers when allocating.

However, I still argue that this behavior is not musically useful in most situations and actually get in the way of playing the instrument. It would be most welcome if it was possible to choose another voice allocation algorithm.

While I've not played all the classic analog polys, I have played a few. None of them exhibit this behavior as far as I can recall.

Thanks for the tip on adding some release on the envelopes and trying to release the sustain pedal earlier. It is a bit tricky to unlearn how to play with sustain pedal, though. On a piano, you aim to release the sustain pedal right when you strike a new chord. Too early and there will be a gap between chords, to late and you'll have overlapping and possibly dissonant notes.
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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby jeltz » 07 Oct 2020, 20:38

To be honest, I don't see the problem here. Or better to say, I don't think it's a fault. Don't know about old analog polysynths, but the modern ones, P6, DM12 and Prologue 8 are behaving exactly same. When you hold down sustain pedal and push the same key, voices will stack on top each other until all voices are used.
Last edited by jeltz on 07 Oct 2020, 20:41, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby itsalwaysyou » 07 Oct 2020, 20:56

jeltz wrote:To be honest, I don't see the problem here. Or better to say, I don't think it's a fault. Don't know about old analog polysynths, but the modern ones, P6, DM12 and Prologue 8 are behaving exactly same. When you hold down sustain pedal and push the same key, voices will stack on top each other until all voices are used.


Interesting! I did not know that. I just read the manual on the P6 and it has a brief section on note assign where you can set a number of options. When I had a Prophet Rev2, I did not experience the "stacked notes", but maybe I had set it to retrigger or something.

Anyway, it is what it is. I just have to live with it or find a synth that behaves differently. Thanks for everyone's input. I appreciate it.
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Re: Lead A1 voice allocation drives me crazy

Postby jramboutan » 25 Oct 2020, 19:28

Although this might not be something way up in Nord's priority list, would an update allowing settings over this kind of matter to be possible? I'm just curious, really. How much flexibility does the company have regarding the updates? Is there a point where it's simply not possible to change anything? Possibly due to memory or speed of processors or whatnot.

How the synth behaves has never bothered me, although I have noticed that the voices do stack up. However, I am certain somebody, must’ve thought this through, since you wouldn't get the chorusing effect if the notes were exactly the same. That means that someone purposefully programmed the synth to have a very slight deviation in pitch for any new retriggered note you play. On the other hand, if you didn't have this chorusing effect and identically pitched notes were to be superposed together you would most likely have awful phase problems (unless they had all of the new notes have exactly the same phase as the other ones).

If they were ever to change it, they should definitely allow for different possible settings because otherwise, it would make the synth pretty unpredictable. How would you decide what happens when a note gets retriggered? Does the whole envelope gets retriggered? Or it just stays on the sustain level? What about cases where you don't have any sustain?

But yeah overall, I guess you're right it could be bothersome if you don't like that chorusing effect. It certainly doesn’t fit all styles of music.
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