28
Apr
2022
1:31

Nord Stage 3 Compact Review

Nord Stage 3

I love it. I love everything about it. The sounds. The quality. The efficient and smart design of every facet of it. The more I dig into the more I’m just blown away by it and can understand why it’s a professional standard seen on the biggest stages around the world and in seemingly every television or video performance I see. Yes, they are crazy expensive, and worth more than many used cars but now I understand why. They are hand-built in Stockholm. The side caps and pitch bend stick are made of wood. The wood pitch sticks are all hand-carved by a man named Aaby Henriksson who is now in his 80s. Of course you can find endless information on line about specs, features, details and all, but so much of the ingenious design is in the more subtle things that you feel when you’re using it and hard to quantify in words. I have yet to encounter a single moment of wondering why they did something a certain way or wishing they had done it a different way. With so many knobs and buttons on the keyboard itself, you are very rarely diving into any menus. Many of the controls have other functions as well if you use the Shift key or hold them down which makes for more efficiency and simplicity without trying to find room to add even more controls which might start bordering on overwhelming and would also surely add to the already sizable expense, but also thanks to the smart design, is also just unnecessary.

Now of course all players are different and have different preferences and needs. This keyboard sits perfectly in my personal sweet spot of having as much or more depth than I would ever want without getting too complicated or packed with features I don’t want or need. I often find myself feeling like a wizard or a spaceship pilot as I easily and intuitively twist a knob or two and press a few buttons, to quickly adjust several things to my liking in seconds. It’s a pleasure to play, a pleasure to use, and a pleasure to listen to. And most importantly, these are definitely the best sounds I have ever personally heard from a keyboard under my fingers. I’m sure some people might need more depth, more control and more options, but for me I find it perfectly in that Goldilocks “just right” zone.

Let me detail my journey here for you. I’ve played keyboards for as long as I’ve played guitar. About 40 years. I definitely have far more hours in on guitar in that time, but keys have always been a part of of the journey, though for some weird reason I’ve always hesitated to call myself a “keys player” without prefacing it with some word like “adequate” or “mediocre.” When I started recording at home around 2000, at some point after that I bought a MIDI controller so I could use soft synths in my studio. I never played keys much in bands and when I did it was usually a handful of songs on someone else’s keyboard. Over the last few years I’ve suddenly found myself with growing opportunities to play keys in bands, often times sharing about equal time with guitar, but on a few occasions just covering keys. Previously, I would take my MIDI controller and my laptop to the gig to use Reason as my soft synth source. As I found myself starting to play out more I decided I wanted an all-in-one solution so I didn’t have to do the whole laptop thing. Initially a friend turned me on to the Medeli AKX10, a little-known keyboard that has made some waves in the keyboard community because of its insane “Bang for the buck” with many folks saying it’s comparable to units twice its price. It definitely had its quirks and limitations, but it was definitely a lot of power and decent sounds in a very affordable keyboard. One of the swaying factors for me was this in-depth review by Jeremy See. I used it for about 6 months or so and played a few gigs with it. One thing I found pretty quickly was that 61 keys just wasn’t enough for me. I could make it work but it felt restrictive.

I had previous used a friend’s Nord Electro on some gigs where I had filled in for him and had really liked it, but I knew they were very pricey and never even really considered one. Then one night, I decided to look them up just in that fun dream window shopping kind of way. Of course I first looked up the Stage 3 88, the fully weighted 88 key flagship model. I literally burst out laughing at the price. But something inside me wouldn’t leave it alone. There were also a 76-key model and a 73-key “Compact” model which were slightly less but still far more than even my most expensive guitar. At first I thought I wanted the 76 key model as I knew that very rarely if ever did I use the extreme keys on my 88-key MIDI controller. It would save a few bucks and also since it was only semi-weighted, it was a lot lighter than the giant 88-key Stage 3. The 88 and 76-key versions also have digital drawbars for the organ engine, meaning they use up/down buttons and LEDs which I actually thought was kind of cool. The 73-key Compact was the least expensive (though still over $4K through most sellers) and half the weight of the 88. It was also the only model with real physical drawbars like on a real organ, but this wasn’t really a plus or a minus to me. I could see myself liking either.

So suddenly I found myself doing my usual deep-dive research. Much to my surprise, I found that that every post I found about the 76-key model talked about how incredibly unpopular the “Hammer Action Portable” keybed was on that model. Everyone agreed that it felt heavy, slow, and sluggish. More and more I found myself being led to the 73-key Compact. The keys were still semi-weighted but were also “Waterfall” keys which just means they have a more rounded edge which is better for a lot of organ techniques and such. After consulting many of my keyboard playing friends as well as all my research online, I started to feel confident that 73 keys would be plenty. In a matter of days I had gone from laughing at the thought of ever getting a Nord Stage 3 to having decided that the Compact version needed to be mine.

Being that they are so popular and hold their resale value very well, you don’t find many crazy deals on them. I found one such “too good to be true” deal on Craigslist, and when I talked to the guy on the phone, it was a classic array of scam red flags so I graciously bowed out of that one. I found another pretty unheard of deal but never heard back. Eventually I found a “B-stock” (usually meaning an open box or store demo unit but still new and with warranty) on Reverb.com for about as low as these units every sell for according to my research of past online sale prices. I purchased it. Strangely almost a week later it was still sitting at “Label Printed” but not shipped and the seller had returned one message saying he’d check and get back to me, but then hadn’t responded to several subsequent messages. Eventually he finally responded saying they couldn’t find the keyboard at the warehouse and he immediately refunded my money and said that they’d have more in about a month and he’d get me a new one at the same price if I wanted. I thanked him and moved on, happy to be done with that particular seller. I found another “Open Box” for just a little bit more than the first and bought that one (shout out to Pitbull Audio on Reverb.com who were awesome communicators and very attentive to any issues or questions). It shipped via FedEx the next day (a Wednesday) with a delivery date of Saturday! Then very soon after showed as “delayed” in Bloomington, CA. Arrival date changed to Sunday. no more tracking data appeared for over 36 hour and a call to FedEx was no help. They supposedly were going to look into it and get back to me. Spoiler, they never did. Then suddenly it showed as being in Texas! Yay! Maybe it would be delivered Sunday after all! I had band practice so I told my roommates to listen for the door as the package required a signature.

While at band practice, I checked the status and it said they attempted delivery but no one was home. My roommates were there the whole time listening for the door. The tracking info said they would try delivery the next day (Monday). Monday comes and I’m at home listening for the door. Just to be safe, I put a note on the door that said “PLEASE KNOCK LOUDLY.” You don’t get tracking notification texts by default from FedEx but you can manually sign up for them, which I had done. Good thing too because as I was sitting at my desk, I get a text saying “Package was delivered.” I rushed outside and sure enough, the most expensive piece of gear I have ever purchase in my life had just been left on the porch with no knock and no signature obtained despite it being a “signature required” delivery. Well at least all’s well that ends well and I finally had my dream keyboard.

Going over every detail, I one tiny issue. There was literally one small green LED that was dead. It was one that honestly I’ll probably never use (only needed if I need to split my keyboard into 4 separate zones) but never the less, I didn’t want to just let it be on a brand new, very expensive keyboard that was under warranty. Pitbull Audio and Nord were both very helpful and attentive to the matter. Pitbull offered to just straight up exchange it but the units were backordered and they wouldn’t have any more for a month or two which meant I would have to ship this one back (and my trust in FedEx in non-existent) and wait for another one. I decided to go ahead and have it serviced since Strait Music here in Austin is an authorized service center. The issue there is that there is about a 5 week line for service there and there’s no “take a number” type option or anything, you just have to drop off you instrument and leave it sitting there at the store until it gets fixed. I did however find out that you can pay a $40 rush fee, which wasn’t a big deal to me since the work was free under warranty. I also spoke with the repair manager there who is a friend of mine and was very helpful as well. Much to my surprise, less than 24 hours later, the LED was replaced and ready to be picked up, and the manager cut me a deal on the rush fee.

While I was at Strait Music, I took the opportunity to play on the 76 and 88-key models as well. I definitely think I made the right choice with the 73 Compact. The 88 is probably best for discerning piano purists, and I totally agree that the 76 felt sluggish, heavy and weird. The 73 has a great feel to me and I think I ended up in the right place.

Since it arrived I have been going through every preset and analyzing how it’s set up especially if it’s using splits, layers, or “morphs” as it’s a great way to get ideas and better understand how things can be set up as well as getting to know what presets I might like to use or at least use as starting points. I had read the entire manual before it arrived but went through it all again with the keyboard again to try everything out first-hand. I joined the Nord Users forum and started posting and reading posts there. You can use Nord’s software to upload new sounds to your keyboard and many times they come in various sizes with differing amounts of detail and nuance. I quickly realized that the super detailed nuances of the “XL” size sounds would never be heard in a band setting and I was better off replacing them with smaller size files so I could fit more cool options in there and they still sound amazing. I also constructed many of my own sounds for some of the bands I play with and it was easy and fun and they sounded amazing.

When I was first considering this purchase, one friend recommended I wait until next year as there are rumors that the Stage 4 is overdue, but the thing is, I can’t imagine wanting more from a keyboard than the Stage 3 offers me. I know, famous last words. I guess if there’s anything I might want (and it would be a want and not a need) it would maybe be more memory for more cool sounds since the online library has way more sounds than you can possibly put on this thing at once. I could definitely see this as a “forever” keyboard. I could not be happier or imagine a better keyboard for my tastes. The more I use it, the more impressed I become. Sometimes you pay a lot for a name or such and sometimes you get what you pay for. Now that I’ve been down this journey, I am fully convinced that I absolutely got what I paid for.

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