The arpeggiator on the Wave 2 starts off seeming old-school, but you discover it packs a lot of complexity. You can have a different arpeggiator pattern per layer, allowing you to build some interesting counterpoints. Or, you can use the Group function to arpeggiate multiple layers in the same way.
Four directions are up, down, up-and-down, and random. I’d like to see an “as played” option here as well, such that the arpeggiator picks up on whatever order in which you strike the keys, but that’s absent. The arpeggiator can function in mono mode (playing one note at a time) or poly. In the later, chords are repeated or strummed, and increasing the range makes the arpeggiator sequence through different inversions of the held chord — neat!
Zig-zag introduces another variation. It skips the next note in any held chord, then goes back to that note, then skips, then goes back, and so on. Let’s say you play a Cmaj7add9. In the up direction, zig-zag would order the notes C, G, E, B, G, D to start off. If you modify the Random mode by adding zig-zag, I’m not prepared to quantify what happens, but her name is Rio and she dances on the sand.
On top of all this, rhythmic patterns can be introduced such that instead of “straight” notes, the arpeggiator plays triplet feels, dotted eighths plus sixteenths, and a plethora of other things.
There are 28 preset patterns, and patterns are also user-editable. You access the pattern selector/editor by hitting shift and then the Program 5 button, which on most Wave 2 units should be subtitled “Pattern.” Mine is early enough that it said “Utility” on the panel instead, and in version 0.84 OS just revealed a Layer swap function. Updating to OS 1.10 put the Pattern stuff where the manual said it would be. You can also adjust the number of steps in a pattern up to 16, and odd lengths are supported for experimental tastes from Brubeck to Bruford.
Alternately, the arpeggiator can function as a gate for “choppy” effects, with the range knob now determining the gate’s attack and release time, i.e. how
choppy it sounds. Combine this with the rhythmic patterns, and you can get close to things like the filtered synth-organ pulse that underlies Seal’s hit “Crazy,” pseudo-sidechain EDM pumping, and more. At subtle settings, the gate sounds like a tremolo.
On balance I’d say the Wave 2 arpeggiator is more of a discovery
tool than a composition tool. Meaning, if you’re looking for inspiration and experimentation, it’s wonderful. Perhaps keep a DAW running to record any pleasant surprises — and be ready to mash the Store button the instant you hit a sweet spot, because if you stray from what you created, chances are you won’t hit it again exactly. But if you already have something in your mind’s ear and are trying to achieve it, even within the arpeggiator’s limitations, the impreciseness of the range knob and the general operating vibe can make getting there a matter of trial and error. I found that process more straightforward on a vintage Roland Jupiter-8 and a new System-8. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Is there a latch function? Yes, but it’s not exclusive to the arpeggiator. It’s a button over by the pitch bender that acts as an always-on sustain pedal.
Like the LFO, the arpeggiator is tempo-syncable to master clock and runs the full gamut of rhythmic subdivisions including triplet feels. Again, the Wave 2 automatically detects incoming MIDI clock as well as supporting tap tempo. If you want to put the time into setting up a Program with different arpeggiator patterns for each of four layers, the results can evoke what would happen if Bach got assimilated by the Borg. Audio Effects
This looks like fairly straightforward effects rack: Sections cover time-based multi-FX (chorus, auto-pan, etc.), EQ, tempo-syncable delay, and reverb. The most impressive thing is that where many performance synths would settle for dumping the entire stereo signal into a common effects chain, the Wave 2 is more workstation-y in that you can have independent effects settings per Layer — or, again, group Layers so they have common settings. On the Program B23: SynBrass Env, letting the first layer speak crisply while the second was awash in a hall reverb was both haunting and pleasant.
The biggest shortcoming here is that there’s no way to process external audio through the Wave 2’s effects. The synth includes a 1/8-inch stereo Monitor In, but it’s only for routing music from, say, a smartphone (for backing tracks or break music) through the Wave 2’s main outputs and headphone out.
That said, as I would expect from a Nord instrument, the quality of the effects is excellent overall. From left to right, here’s what the sections do.
MULTI-FX: This section is switchable between ring modulation, chorus, vibrato (separate from the dedicated synth vibrato function discussed earlier), ensemble, auto-pan, tremolo, and phaser — that last one is active when the ring mod and chorus lights are on simultaneously. There are rate and amount knobs, and the omnipresent Group button, and there you go. The phaser was particularly delicious on sawtooth pads to nail analog string machine sounds reminiscent of ARP, Eminent, and so on.
EQ: Here we have a nifty split personality. The EQ can function as a two-band tone control with fixed bass and treble shelf frequencies of 100Hz and 4kHz, respectively. Or, it can be a single-band parametric EQ, with the frequency sweepable between 200Hz and 5kHz. You’d think this would be an odd place to add a Drive knob, simulating tube-like soft clipping when turned up, but that didn’t deter Nord. Used judiciously, this can get you more “analog warmth” but much past 12 o’clock, I thought it sounded too buzzy — something I’ve also found true of the overdrive on Nord’s clonewheel organs.
DELAY: This is a pretty comprehensive little tap delay, with sound and features I’d expect from a higher-end stompbox. You can set the time/tempo with a knob, a tap button, and/or sync it to master clock. (It should be noted this section is about repeat and echo effects, not about adding precise amounts of delay to a signal in milliseconds.) An “analog character” mode causes the pitch of the wet signal to change if you move the tempo knob while playing.
There’s a lot of control over how the feedback, i.e. feeding the already-delayed signal back into the effect, behaves. In addition to the obvious amount knob, you can impose an extra chorus, vibrato, or ensemble effect onto the feedback signal. The ensemble is my favorite; it can make things sound really huge, really quickly. Then, a choice of lowpass, highpass, or bandpass filter processes the feedback more the longer the signal goes on. The highpass was the most dramatic to my ears, as it can really emphasize the sense of an echo receding into the distance, not to mention keep trippy Marco Benevento-style loop-upon-loop playing from building up too much low-frequency information and sounding muddy.
Last but not least, a ping-pong option alternates each tap between the stereo channels.
REVERB: Not a lot of surprises here. Big, lush sound. Stage, room, hall, soundbooth, and cathedral types, with bright and dark options for all. The noteworthy feature is a “chorale” option that adds something akin to the delay’s ensemble effect to the reverberated signal. I found that at higher settings, this imparted a sense of reflections and movement happening in multiple places in a large space — as might happen in a stone church. Miscellany
We’ve covered just about everything that matters at this point. A Live mode reserves five Program slots in which changes and panel tweaks are saved as you make them, with no need to press the Store button. Menu-driven settings are utilitarian, such as memory protect, what kind of switch and sustain pedal you’re using, and MIDI. A MIDI CC dump function will send all the CC values of a chosen layer externally, which is useful if you’ve hit upon panel settings you want to capture as “home base” for a sound in the context of a DAW project.
Shift + Program 4 gets you to an Organize screen where you can move Programs around, but this is far easier to do in the Nord Sound Manager software.
A word on updating the OS. The Wave 2 lacks a USB-A port for a memory stick. It just has a USB-B port for connection to a computer, so you’ll need one to update the OS. The instruction manual does not describe the procedure; Nord seemingly assumes it’s self-explanatory. You download a disk image for the latest OS from their website, open it, and follow the instructions. With the Wave 2 powered on and connected, everything happens from the computer end, quite quickly I might add. Users of MacOS Catalina will have to contend with Apple’s nanny-state balking at opening the app, which involves more “Yes I’m sure dammit” than before. Conclusions
The Nord Wave 2 is a powerhouse of an instrument for live performance and sound design. I’d say its greatest appeal would be to players who need multiple sonic personalities — real strings alongside string machines, crystalline ’80s textures alongside creamy analog leads and basses, and so on — in a package that presents itself as a synthesizer
. “Duh, Fortner, what else would it be?” To take one example, the Yamaha Montage and MODX provide just as much sonic diversity using only two synthesis methods: sample-based (Yamaha calls their flavor AWM2) and FM. In many instances, they sound just as convincingly analog on patches that are supposed to, and their acoustic and orchestral sounds are stellar. You can rely on them for your main piano and EP sounds, which I wouldn’t say about the Wave 2. Yet, with their touchscreens and left-of-screen fader banks, their vibe is decidedly workstation-y, as is their workflow for creating sounds. I’d say all the same things about the Korg Kronos, or my trusty Kurzweil Forte (minus the touchscreen). On the Wave 2, you play, tweak, dance between controlling different Layers, and hit Store when you hear something you really like. It’s a knob-twiddler’s paradise.
It’s not an analog purist’s darling like a Prophet-6 or OB-6, but it does virtual analog very well, and several other things those synths don’t do at all. So, if versatility is what you’re looking for and you have money for just one synth, it delivers more bang for the buck.
Omissions? For the price (even the current street price of $2,699), it should at least work as a simple USB audio interface for those who’d like to put it onstage alongside a laptop. Again, I’d like to see the ability to process external audio through the synth filters and effects. For what it’s worth, the unassuming little MODX6 does both of these things at literally half the price. Finally, as folks have pointed out in this thread, a deeper modulation matrix would be most welcome.
To rehash some upsides, the multiple synthesis engines, customizability thanks to the Nord Sample Library, and ability to roll your own multi-sampled sounds via the Nord Sample Manager software all make the Wave 2 a true do-it-all instrument cleverly disguised as a specialty synth.
I have a couple more videos brewing for you — cool tempo-synced demos of the arpeggiator and delay — not to mention delving into Adan
’s question about MIDI controller capabilities. Other than that, I’d now like to wrap up the part of this GearLab where I do most of the talking. I monitor the forum for questions nearly every day, so please consider it open to input and I will be sure to respond.