The Nord Electro is now something of a classic. It's reliable, tough, very portable and above all, offers some of the most realistic classic keyboard emulations around. It's no wonder it's remained so popular.
On the face of it, the Electro 3 appears very similar and the general look and operational concept will be very familiar to existing Electro owners. However, on closer inspection, it's lighter and slimmer and the front panel has altered significantly to reflect the new features.
First up, the main control panel has been moved to a more central position with all controls and functions now directly in front of the performer. The red case and grey and black with white livery look has also been adopted from the Wave and Stage EX.
The area on the right-hand side of the control panel is stamped with the menu hierarchy for the operating system which, while ugly, is very useful as the display is very small and cryptic. This space can perfectly accommodate a laptop, too.
Significant new features include the Nord C1 organ engine (including its excellent Leslie rotary speaker emulation), the Mellotron sound library (found most recently in the Nord Wave), user sample upload capability (with detailed editing software), new effects and EQ, a monitor input for playing along to stereo tracks on your MP3 player and a bigger on-board memory with 128 user-writeable programs.
Switchgear on the Electro 3 is standard Clavia issue with high-quality plastic buttons for on/off functions and rubberised dials for continuous functions. Sound access is easy and the general feel of the instrument is high quality throughout.
On the left part of the control panel is the organ section, master volume and controls for the rotary speaker emulation, virtual drawbars (these work great in practice), the organ type selector (Hammond B3, Farfisa or Vox), percussion selectors and the split/ assignment function.
This feature enables use of a different organ sound each side of the split point and also MIDI control of the lower manual (with its own independent drawbar settings) from an external MIDI 'board.
As before, The Electro 3 is available in two keyboard sizes (61- and 73-note), both in the waterfall organ format. The actions feel pretty much the same as on previous versions (well-balanced and positive) and almost identical to the Stage Compact, except that aftertouch is missing.
The improvement in sound provided by the C1 engine is immediately noticeable, particularly in terms of the rotary emulation, key click, percussion and the overall clarity. The organ in the Stage Compact sounds much muddier in direct comparison - there's now a lower-end Clavia model with a better organ than in the flagship!
There are also new organ sound shaping options, including settings for low and high rotor speeds, acceleration, different tonewheel vintages and new key click and percussion level controls.
Next up, the piano section. Clavia recently standardised its own sample library so its piano instruments can be used across the Stage and Electro ranges which is great.
We're happy to say that there's little to fault in this section; the Rhodes and Wurlitzer sampled emulations are very authentic and still among the best out there. They bark, sparkle and growl in a very musical way though there is no way to alter the velocity response curve as on the Stage.
Clavia provides several Rhodes models sampled with different tone and pickup placement that adds greatly to the versatility. Further tone shaping can also be applied to the Rhodes (or the organ, user samples and other piano instruments) via the on-board EQ, FX and amp simulators, so the permutations are pretty endless and you can truly personalise your sound.
The Clavinets and harpsichords are just about the best you could hope for save for the real thing, and it's nice having the Clav EQ/pickup selectors like on the original Clavinet D6. The only thing missing is the mute function.
We rate the on-board acoustic pianos and the Yamaha CP sound very highly. These really are some of the best we've heard. They sound very real and are warm, clear, resonant and beautiful - just as real pianos should be, though of course some may not enjoy playing them from a waterfall organ-type keyboard. You'll have to buy a Nord Stage for the fully-weighted keys.
Finally, and most significantly, is the sample library button. Here, you can access sounds you have downloaded from Clavia's growing library or you can import and use your own samples and use them as the basis for your sounds.
The Electro 3 has 68MB of flash sample memory onboard and Clavia provide their its software editor to edit and transfer samples. The Electro 3 can read most mono/stereo file formats (WAV/AIFF etc) at up to 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution. The sample editor can also run without the Electro 3 connected, so you can make samples at your leisure.
You will, of course, need a compatible computer with USB. To sample a Rhodes, you could even record every note as a continuous audio file into your DAW and the editor will chop and automatically map each note to a note on the keyboard. Each note can then be edited (crossfaded, tuned, gained, zoned) and then uploaded to the Electro.
A sample instrument could even contain a bass sample in the lowest zone, a pad in the middle and a lead in the top zone.
Effects and amps
The Electro 3 is very well specified in the effects department. First, it shares a similar three-band EQ to the Nord Stage with +/- 15dB of gain for seriously boosting or cutting sounds.
Available effects are split into four sections on the right of the front panel. Section 1 includes Auto-wah, panning, tremolo and ring mod; section 2 offers flange, chorus and phase; section 3 includes the C1 rotary cabinet, amp simulators and a compressor.
The effects are easy to use and sound great. The choruses and phasers are lush, the wahs are juicy and the amp simulations give an authentic 'amped-up' feel. A great-sounding reverb processor tops things off - the only real downsides are the lack of dedicated amount dials for each and no delay.
There are plenty of very useable sounds on board here. As well as those discussed above, there are also lush and authentic strings and flutes from the Mellotron Library along with pipe organs, accordions, harmoniums and some analogue synth samples.
While this is great, there's no pitch or mod wheel to bring out the best in synth type sounds and this also cripples the Electro 3's controller ability (which is already pretty basic).
The Electro 3 undoubtedly delivers sonically, though, and its feature set, while a compromise in some areas, is certainly very powerful and improves greatly on previous models.
Unfortunately, though, by including the C1 and user sample ability, some confusion has now opened up in the Clavia product line-up, and we sincerely hope the imbalance of features between Electro 3 and Stage is addressed soon.
Where the Stage series still stands head and shoulders above the Electro 3 is in its synth section, split/layer/MIDI abilities, aftertouch, performance controls, bigger screen, keyboard velocity options and the option of 76/88-note weighted keyboards.
Make no mistake then, there are still many reasons to purchase a Stage over an Electro 3, but the gap has closed somewhat and while the Electro 3 is a huge improvement over the outgoing model in many important ways, we suspect some will be weighing up the Stage Compact EX next to the Electro 3 and struggling to decide which to buy.
Our advice would be to try both and carefully weigh up which features are most important and of course the price differential (around £400). One other key point to consider is the Electro being monotimbral - only one piano or organ can be used at a time, while the Stage allows several instruments to be layered/split.
If you'd like the C1 organ/onboard sample capability in one box, the Electro 3 is the only option.
Couple that with great pianos, FX, portability and a simple approach, we feel Clavia has another winner on its hands. Now we have to see if these features appear in the Stage line.