Clavia Nord Rack (1st)



"Nord Rack" is keyboard-less version of Nord Lead, that was a virtual analog synthesizer released in 1995 by Clavia DMI AB. Nord Rack is a tabletop synthesizer, also can be used mounted on EIA(Electronic Industries Alliance) rack. The rack mounted height is 4U. However, you need some more space above for wiring.

At minimum configuration, Nord Lead/Rack is 4 voice polyphonic synth. The memory capacity is, 40 user programs, 59 factory programs (no store allowed), and 100 factory performances. With this configuration, you can do very limited operation. With the expansion kit, you can add a PCMCIA card slot on the back, and use 12 voices. With a PCMCIA SRAM card, the memory capacity is expanded. If you seek Nord Lead/Rack, you had better select the box having a PCMCIA card slot.

Today's most synthesizers have their operating system (sometimes called an OS or firmware) written in flash memory and you can download files to update the OS. Nord Lead/Rack OS is written on the EEPROM chip, and the only way to update it is to replace the chip. The final version is 2.70, but it is no longer available from Clavia. My Nord Rack shown in the photo above is version 1.6 and will be difficult to update. The manual in public is for version 2.0, and the manual description is sometimes not available with my Rack 1.6.

The Nord Lead / Rack became a hit product, and the successors(Nord Lead 2, Nord Lead 3, Nord Lead 2x, Nord Lead 4, and Nord Lead A1) were created. These synthesizers have long been the pillars of Clavia's management.

There are several reasons why Nord Lead / Rack was a hit. The 1990s was the heyday of Japanese-made digital synthesizers, but the number of parameters to be operated increased with each new product, making it difficult to look into the LCD (liquid crystal display) to find the parameters. The Nord Lead / Rack has a reduced number of parameters, with knobs and buttons to access key parameters. The direct feeling of operation is the first reason why it has gained support from synthesizer players.

The second reason is the great sound. PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and Oscillator Sync, which were forgotten in PCM synths, can be well performed with Nord Lead/Rack. In addition to 12dB / Octave and 24dB / Octave LPF (Low Pass Filter), there are HPF (High Pass Filter) and BPF (Band Pass Filter). Velocity works well just by applying it to the filter envelope, but it can also be used as a source for morphing. FM (Frequency Modulation) sound can be get with two oscillators. You can select a random waveform at LFO1 and raise the rate to create noise and it can modulate the filter. The hard (not soft) and cold (not warm) sound character is said to be similar to the analog masterpiece Sequential Prophet-5. I think Nord Lead / Rack has established the genre of virtual analog synthesizer.

As mentioned above, Nord Lead / Rack has many successor products, and the successor products have more functions than original ones. However, by increasing the functions, the direct feeling of the operation that the first generation had was lost. The first generation has the goodness of their own.


Factory Sounds

01 Sawbrass

Playing the factory program No. 1 "Saw Brass". Directly connected to Yamaha SPX2000 and chose "MONO DELAY". No sequencer used. For the final note, I stepped on the sustain pedal to extend the note and move the modulation wheel up and down.

01 Sawbrass

Same sound as above, but recorded on a different date. The effect is "Vox Reverb 1" of t.c.electronic Firewor X. The sound of the sawtooth-like brass is as it is, and the modulation wheel changes filter cutoff instead of vibrato. I connected Roland's EV-5 to the pedal jack of the nord rack and played it so that I could raise the modulation wheel with my foot. That's what the last wow wow sound. I used a KORG wavestate with only 3 octaves to play. After recording, I was surprised at the low floor noise of the nord rack. It exceeds -80dB.

02 Velocity strings

Even though it is a strings program, it is not a fluffy sound. Similar to the above Saw Brass, the modulation wheel changes filter cutoff.

03 Resonance pad

I started playing with the pedal (same as the modulation wheel) fully pulled, and gradually stepped on it. It is a squishy filter. It may be Prophet-5 style. I'm not confident because I don't have a Prophet-5. However, the sound of the nord rack is clear and does not shake, so that point may not be analog-like.

04 Hard string pad

Sound using an oscillator sync. At the sync function of nord rack, the pitch of oscillator 2 is synchronized with oscillator 1, and when the pitch of oscillator 2 is shaken by the envelope generator, oscillator 2 makes a squeak. I wonder why this sound is "string" and "pad". The usage of terms may have been different in the 90's.

05 Resonance fade pad

This sound is saying shuwa-shuwa. I think the sound is reminiscent of expensive old analog polysynths like Prophet-5 and JUPITER-8. It sounds like digital because there is nothing wrong with it. It can be said that analog-like plus digital-like are breaking new ground.

06 Portamento quints

I wondered where the portamento was, and when I turned off the AUTO button and twisting the PORTAMENTO knob, it sounded different from this recording. Does "quints" mean to remind you of Prophet-5?

07 A fifth pad

The sound of oscillator 2 set 5 degrees above oscillator 1. It seems that portamento added a little.

08 Pulse pad with FM

Raising the modulation wheel increases the FM amount. It's difficult to find a good boost with the expression pedal, and my play is not working well. In Nord Rack's FM (Frequency Modulation), osc 1 is the carrier and osc 2 is the modulator. In this tone, both oscillators are pulse waves, and the sound is quite different from DX7's sine waves. If the oscillators are set to triangular waves, it becomes DX7-like. The manual says "For classic FM sounds, use triangle wave on both oscillators."

09 Weather bass

When I played the Weather Report songs with my band, the first song was Birdland, followed by Black Market. I think they were songs for synth bass.

10 Lead saw solo

UNISON is turned on at this tone. Since the OUT MODE is set to "1: Mono / UNISON stereo", you can listen the spreading in stereo. Unison Detune can be set from 1 to 9, but here it is set to 5. OUT MODE and Unison Detune cannot be set for each tone. The Nord Rack I have has 12 voices, so even with unison, I don't have to worry too much about the sound interruption.

75 Wurz piano

I started thinking that I should record 1 to 10 of the factory program, but I felt that there were few variations, so I recorded three programs more. Nord Rack's program from 1 to 40 is rewritable, and from 41 to 99 is not. 41-99 may be the true preset.

81 Hamplafon

With this tone, raising the modulation wheel applies LFO1 to the filter. It's a nice shake.

83 Bell bar

Raising the modulation wheel raises the FM amount, and the sound of hitting a tree gradually turns into metal. I was impressed that the sound of hitting a tree seems to be made well only with a triangular wave and LPF.

My Sounds


A lead sound with one sawtooth wave. At first, I set the destination of the modulation wheel to LFO1 for vibrato, but then it was too much. And I couldn't use LFO1 for anything else. If I put the morph on amount of LFO2, it would be better. So I made this method my standard. I added "100 Prime Time Delay" of t.c.electronic Firewor X. The same effect was used at 3 recordings below.


From the upper program, I changed sawtooth wave into a pulse wave and the filter is edited. The previous tone used a 24dB per octave low-pass filter, but here I chose a 12 dB per octave type. Korg and Yamaha's old synths used the 12dB frequently. ARP Odyssey, the white early type was the same. When being nostalgic, I often choose a 12dB filter. This tone is still in poly mode and no portamento. You can enjoy a variety of flavors by chosing mono or legato.


Early low-priced analog synths often had sawtooth and square waves, but omitted triangular wave. The reason may be that it is possible to create a similar tone with a square wave. But after all, the triangle wave is hard to throw away./p>

Noise And Resonance

With the Nord Lead/Rack, the volume of the two oscillators can only be adjusted with the "Mix" knob, and the oscillator output cannot be reduced to zero. This tone was created by making noise with Oscillator 2 and raising the resonance to the full. I forgot to use it in this recording, but I applied the modulation wheel to LFO1 and set the modulation destination of LFO1 to the filter. It makes possible to apply vibrato.

Kick1, Snare1, Closed Hi-hat1, and Crash Cymbal1

It was fun to make a kick sound, so I saved the kick program in number 4. I made snare in number 5, hi-hat in number 6, and crash cymbal in number 7. I could use them simultaneously by using 4 slots and 4 MIDI channels. I prepared 4 tracks with Apple Logic and play notes. I didn't use any effectors such as reverb in this recording. I can't use the "Percussion Kits" feature on my Nord Rack 1.6, but I'm happy to see that it still produces drum sound.

Saw Detune Strings

Strings made by detuning two sawtooth waves. With the morph function, modulation wheel made LFO2 vibrato. LFO1 has a Prophet-5-like setting. Random and maximum rate creates noise. The destination is filter cutoff (pictured below). Roughness can be added by raising the amount. The effects used in the recordings from here are all t.c.electronic Firewor X's "64 Vox Reverb 1".

Saw Detune Strings (Unison On)

The same program as above, with the unison button turned on to give a stereo feel. Unison Detune in the system settings is set to 2. It's a little disappointing that it can't be set for each program.

FM Cello

A cello made by FM (Frequency Modulation) . Oscillator 1 and 2 are set into triangular waves and the same frequency. At first I was thinking of making strings sound, but it didn't work so well. I decided to make solo cello. I played with my right hand only, so I raised the modulation wheel with my left hand to apply vibrato.

Saw Brass

Brass using sawtooth wave. Too much vibrato I made. So I feel sick. In this recording I used oscillator 1 only. Oscillator 2 is set one octave lower, so if you mix it, it will be a little thicker.

PWM Strings

Strings using PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). I added a little detune between two oscillators. PWM is often too strong at low keys and too weak at high keys. Nord Rack does not. Unique.

PWM Strings (Unison On)

Unison turned on with the tone above. The Nord Rack unison is a bit tricky. But it's an attractive feature.


If you need a flute, you should try triangle or sine wave. It is necessary not only to produce the original waveform, but also to make it dirty in some way. I mixed the noise with oscillator 2, made LFO1 random and made it faster to make something noise-like, and modulated the filter with it. Oscillator 2 noise can be filtered by turning the Semitones knob. I'm impressed with how good it is. Velocity modurates filter envelope generator. The effect is appropriate. I respect the person who made the Nord Lead/Rack.


A clarinet made in much the same way as the flute above. The waveform of oscillator 1 is a almost square wave. I played the school song of Hamamatsu City Shijimizuka Junior High School. I wonder if members of school bands are still playing the national anthem, the school song and marching music at the Monday morning assembly.


Oboe can be created by reducing the pulse width of the square wave. However, this time, the charamela-like sound did not come out very well. Maybe I should have adjusted it a little more. The lower keys sound like a bassoon, and as it gets higher, it becomes an English horn and becomes an oboe.


Few 20th century Japanese analog synths had an oscillator sync function. I think it was only JUPITER-8, JUPITER-6, MKS-80, and MONO / POLY. That's why, for me as a Japanese synth boy, oscillator sync is an unfamiliar technique, and I still don't feel like I can do it well even now. I think Keith Emerson used sync lead sound with his Moog modular.


I tried to raise the pitch of Oscillator 2 with MOD ENV to make a human voice, but it didn't work well. I mixed it with Oscillator 1 to give a detuned feeling to the begining.

The ZIP file below is containing the system exclusive files of the above 17 programs. I created the files with the Nord Rack global channel set to 16. Please keep this in mind when sending sounds to your Nord Lead/Rack.

Download - 20201115a_nordrackprograms.zip


Happiness Never Chosen

I played the factory preset "5 Resonance fade pad". The theme is shown at the memo above. I overdubbed something that looked like a melody at higher keys. I also overdubbed control change #1 by pushing the modulation wheel. The effects are SPX2000's "MONO DELAY" and t.c. electronic Reverb 4000's "Studio Spring". In addition, the dbx Quantum equalizer cut the high frequencies quite a bit.

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©Hideo Harada 2010-2024 updated on 2024/02/05 12:50:45