All topics involving amplification and other accessories you are using with your Nord, and how all those things work together.

Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby cphollis » 15 Dec 2018, 15:19

(Note: at the suggestion of RustyMike and others, I've compiled a FAQ on this topic to help those that might be new to this topic. Feel free to suggest edits and suggestions, and I'll recompile this periodically. Cheers!)

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Amplifying Your Nords FAQ

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Nord forum is amplification — what do people suggest?

There is no one “right” or “best” answer, because so much depends on you, what music you play, where you play it and what you’re hoping to achieve. What’s great for one person may not work for another. And if you play in a wide variety of situations, you may find that you need more than one answer.

For many Nord users, it all gets down to acoustic pianos. Acoustic piano samples are difficult to amplify properly. Nord piano samples are even more difficult, as they are raw and unprocessed. This FAQ focuses on advice to help you get your acoustic piano samples sounding good. However, you’ll find that when you get the APs sounding good, the rest (organs, DPs, etc.) also sounds good.

When it comes to stage amplification, the three primary variables to consider are frequency response, dispersion and power.

A reasonably flat frequency response is best for acoustic pianos. Guitar amps (and many keyboard amps) don’t have a flat frequency response, which is why your acoustic pianos sound miserable through them. Some people like the “sound” of particular amps for specific roles, e.g. playing a Rhodes electric piano. That same effect can also be achieved using the Nord’s on-board effects through a good speaker.

Dispersion describes how “wide” the beam of sound is produced from the speaker. Narrow dispersion angles (60-90 degrees) can throw sound to the back of a large room, but anyone listening off-angle won’t get an ideal experience. Wider dispersion angles (105-180 degrees) make it easier to fill a smaller venue with a pleasant sound stage.

Power is usually thought of in terms of loudness, but there’s another aspect worth considering: handling transients. You bang hard on a piano keyboard, you’ll produce a sharp peak of sound that you want your amplification to handle comfortably, and more watts can help. Loudness is measured in terms of SPL — sound pressure. For example, a single QSC K8.2 is rated at 128 dB @1 M, peak 122 dB @ 1 M, continuous. That’s pretty loud. If a pair of them aren’t loud enough, tell the guitar player to turn down.

Your playing situation and choice of material will affect your criteria as well. If you’re playing modest jazz gigs in a small venue, you may want modest power and wide dispersion. If you’re playing classic rock with a loud band outdoors, you’ll want much more power and perhaps more narrow dispersion.

If you gig frequently, size and weight will also be a factor. And, in most situations, budget is a concern.

Why do the piano sounds from my Nord sound bad, but other keyboards sound better?

Many other keyboards process their acoustic piano sounds so they sound better through less-expensive amplification. The raw Nord samples are unprocessed. However, you’re free to layer on effects, compression and EQ to make them sound processed.

Why not a keyboard amp?

Some people play through them and love them. Generally speaking, they don’t have a flat response curve, they are very directional and they weigh a ton. Many of us avoid them.

Why do people keep steering me to self-powered PA speakers, or PPAs?

Because they do a lot of things well, and there are many good ones on the market. They can be light, powerful and great-sounding all at the same time. But not always the best answer for everyone. Don’t forget, you’ll want a pair of poles as well.

I’m having a tough time justifying spending a lot of money on keyboard amplification. Why is this stuff so expensive?

It’s up to you, of course. Might I point out that Nord keyboards aren’t exactly cheap either? A great instrument through cheap amplification will sound like a cheap instrument.

Do I need stereo?

No, you don’t need stereo, but you may end up preferring it. Lots of people are happy with mono through a single speaker. On the Nords, you’ll have to select piano voices that sound good in mono, as most don’t.

Others like the rich stereo sound stage. Nord pianos, in particular, sound wonderful through a nice stereo setup.

What about those columnar line arrays, like the Bose L1?

They’re wonderful for smaller venues and acoustic-level material — for example, backing a choir at church. However, they usually don’t stand up to louder material, and they don’t project well. We’re also talking mono, unless you buy two.

What about that Spacestation I hear about?

The CPS SSv3 is a handy, all-in-one stereo amp that has unique abilities. Put something like a B3 leslie sim through it and you’ll be amazed. But it’s hard to get a pristine acoustic piano sound out of it. It also doesn’t get super-loud. That being said, I have one and use it for smaller gigs as it does a great job of filling the room with a pleasing stereo sound. It also requires some special considerations regarding placement and orientation.

Some people like the stereo effect so much that they bring a separate small self-powered PA speaker and set it on top, which dramatically improves the acoustic piano sounds. But now we’re talking two pieces of gear instead of one.

Don’t I need a bigger speaker — like a 12” — for bass?

Usually not. People are usually surprised when they hear how much bass response a modern 8” PA speaker delivers. Go look at the frequency response curves. If that’s not enough for you, consider adding a small subwoofer instead. The 8” units are light, powerful, disperse well and sound great.

Why do I need amplification at all? Can’t I just play through the PA?

You can, and many people do just that. However, that presumes you’re playing through a decent PA with someone competent at the controls. Even in those situations, many prefer to bring their own monitoring. IEMs (in ear monitors) are popular for this.

If you play in situations where there’s limited PA resources — and no good sound person — you’re responsible for your own sound. For example, if I’m showing up to a new gig where I’ve been told there’s a great PA and a great sound person, I still bring my amplification — just in case.

I can’t be heard over the other instruments. What should I do?

Tell them to turn down. Seriously. Playing overly loud is unprofessional, damages your hearing and will annoy your audience and the venue owner. If, despite your best efforts, you still can’t be heard, several thousand watts of amplification (plus hearing protection) can tame most noisy musicians.

When they turn up, you turn up — until they start to complain, at which time you can suggest that everyone turns down. Repeat as needed.

Aren’t more watts better?

Not always. The insider joke is that we call them “marketing watts” because there’s no standard way of measuring them. SPLs will help you compare relative volume levels if that’s important to you. Once you’ve got enough volume, sound quality will matter more to you than simply having more watts.

Case in point: my RCF TT08-a claims 750 watts, my QSC K8.2 claims 2000 watts. Both claim peak SPL of 128 db. Guess which is the better sounding speaker? Hint: the much more expensive one with fewer watts.

I see substantial price differences between PA units that look similar. What’s going on?

There’s more going on than just size and power. Component quality (especially speakers), build quality, DSP — all add to the cost of a unit. Most of the time, this will be reflected in the quality of sound.

However, once you get past the mid-point in the market (e.g. ~$700 or so), the law of diminishing returns sets in. A speaker that costs twice as much will sound better, but not twice as good.

People tell me that I should get a PA cabinet made of wood. Why?

There are those that swear that wooden PA cabinets sound better. They may have a point as wooden units cost more, and this will keep you away from cheaper products. I own multiple PA units made of both wood and plastic, and can’t say that one is inherently better than the other.

I don’t have much money. What should I do?

It’s less expensive in the long run to save up and buy something you like, instead of burning through a lot purchases you end up not liking -- like I did. Used equipment is definitely an option. And never pay published prices for new — instead, call around and find a retailer who will discount substantially. The EV ZXA1-90 is widely used and represents a decent starting point.

Do I need my own mixer?

Well, it helps. Since mixers boost the signal level, it makes it easier to get all the volume out of your amplification (gain staging) and avoid a lot of hiss. It also makes it easier to play through your own rig and the PA system at the same time.

Why can’t I just EQ a cheaper speaker to sound good?

If that worked well, more people would do it. But it doesn’t work well. Save the EQ for adjusting to individual room acoustics. If you’re using decent amplification, you’ll find yourself using a lot less EQ.

What are the popular self-powered PA (PPA) brands?

The ones most discussed on the forums are ElectroVoice, Yamaha and QSC. That doesn’t mean other brands aren’t good (actually, many are quite good), it’s just that these are the ones that come up most often. If you don’t know where to start, start with these.

I’m not planning to gig. Can’t I just use studio monitor or my home audio system?

Of course! But if you do plan to gig at some point, you’ll want something different.

Where can I go to try out different setups?

It would be great to walk into a music store that has your favorite Nord set up, along with a dozen or so amplification choices. Best of luck with that. For most people, you do your homework and get advice from people on forums like this. Others buy from retailers with liberal return policies.

Any exceptions to these suggestions?

Yes, of course. If you play synth-heavy material, you’ll want a lot more from your amplification, especially bass handling and volume. If you stick to B3 sounds, you’ll be eyeing a real Leslie speaker. If all you do is play Rhodes, you’ll be thinking about a guitar amp.

However, these guidelines should be helpful for people who play a significant amount of acoustic pianos with other instruments thrown in.

I’ve read elsewhere that you have a lot of different amplification gear. Why so much?

I started playing out about 15 years ago. I kept buying different stuff and not selling any. I also started to do PA work for the bands I was in. I won’t bore you with the full inventory. Nobody really needs that much stuff.

In most situations, I’d be happy with a pair of QSC K8.2s, which are my current bang-for-buck favorite.

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Nord Amplification FAQ


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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby Rusty Mike » 15 Dec 2018, 19:38

Chuck, you are the bee's knees when it comes this stuff. Many thanks for putting this together!

Since I'm a named instigator in this thread, let me at least add some value. Here is a list of links to the most recent amplification threads in this forum. All were taken from the Accessories and Amplification section of the forum, so I may have missed a few. You can see the title of the thread embedded in the URL. Note there are four threads on the SpaceStation alone.

In general, I would advise anyone researching this topic to browse through the Accessories and Amplification section of the forum, as this is the most prolific of topics.

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/best-pa-amp-for-nord-electro-3-t16756.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/the-iem-thing-t14738.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/qsc-k8-vs-bose-l1-model-ll-t16353.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/gear-alert-new-qsc-k8-2-t13372.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/8-vs-10-speaker-t16074.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/genelec-8010a-t16019.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/skipping-the-house-pa-t15892.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/does-anybody-use-yamaha-dxr10-active-speakers-t15701.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/cps-spacestation-xl-t12465.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/roland-not-what-you-think-t15780.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/which-studio-monitors-for-my-nord-t9616.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/amplification-for-nord-electro-5-hp-vocals-t15524.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/looking-for-an-amp-for-rhodes-organ-sounds-t14249.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/passive-speakers-on-nord-piano-t15660.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/spacestation-t15372.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/bose-s1-pro-t15303.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/simple-spacestation-question-t15267.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/high-quality-low-volume-amp-t15262.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/nifty-and-cheap-sound-bar-t15053.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/spacestation-t9740.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/new-roland-kc-amps-t14031.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/guitar-amp-for-keyboards-t5492.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/single-qsc-k8-2-or-cps-ssv3-t13817.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/keyboard-amp-question-t14324.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/turbosound-inspire-ip1000-any-experiences-t14130.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/active-speaker-as-keyboard-amp-t6337.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/small-portable-speaker-for-my-nord-electro5d-t11677.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/any-reviews-for-yorkville-parasource-speakers-t13616.html

https://www.norduserforum.com/accessories-and-amplification-f8/stage-monitors-t12570.html
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby cphollis » 17 Dec 2018, 02:42

Nice list, Mike!!
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby Quai34 » 18 Dec 2018, 09:57

Holy S---! I would have never thought there were so many posts!!!! Ok then, your suggestion for an FAQ makes sense...
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby Rusty Mike » 20 Mar 2020, 17:48

Bumping this thread as there seem to be a lot of amplification questions lately.

While it's on my mind, here are several criteria you would want to understand to help you in your purchase decision:
  • Budget - how much are you willing to spend?
  • Application - how will the amplification be used? Floor Monitor for yourself, big audience, small audience, cocktail parties, etc.?
  • Music - what is the style of music you play?
  • Schlep - how light or heavy are you willing to tolerate? Multiple pieces or one simple cabinet?
  • Volume - how loud does it need to be?

I'm sure there are others.
Last edited by Rusty Mike on 20 Mar 2020, 17:54, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby Dreamer » 26 Mar 2020, 23:29

The fact that there are so many posts about amplification indicates that there is a tendency trying to wash hands without getting wet. Otherwise people wold just buy a pair of boutique speakers each 2000+ EUR and won‘t comply any more. I learned the hard way that especially Nords pianos need the best amplification you can afford. Sad but true. For organ and EPs this is different and you can use much more affordable gear.
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby cphollis » 26 Mar 2020, 23:37

I guess it's human nature to spend big on a great keyboard like a Nord, and then try to save money on the amplification. You don't have to spend a lot to sound good, but you do have to spend something. Your ears will thank you.
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Re: Nord Amplification FAQ

Postby Jeffmac » 27 Mar 2020, 01:11

Chuck and Rusty Mike,

Course it took me three edits of this post to realize you posted most of this stuff 3 years ago...but still really useful.

Nicely done on this. On the Wood/plastic front I would add that wood boxes do a better job of not leaking sound out of the backside. This can make them less prone to feedback at louder volumes.

I prefer them over most plastic boxes, but usually not until the wood is thick enough that I don't want to carry them around any more!

The trade off is definitely weight/cost/clean output and a quality plastic box with DSP generally hits the sweet spot better...as you allude to with your K8.2.
Last edited by Jeffmac on 27 Mar 2020, 01:15, edited 3 times in total.
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