Yamaha, Roland, and Kawai are all based in Japan. You’ve probably heard of their digital and acoustic pianos, and they’re renowned as some of the best in the world. However, would you be surprised to learn that a little company from Sweden is not only competing with the big Japanese names, but is outperforming them in several ways?
I’m talking about Nord, of course—the soon-to-be iconic red piano that nearly every professional stage performer is using these days.
But what makes Nords one of the best digital piano brands out there?
That’s what I’d like to talk about in this review, with an emphasis on the Nord Electro 5D, a particularly new model from the Swedish keyboard company. However, to leave out other excellent competition in this article would be unfair, so I’m going to compare the Electro 5D not only to the Nord Stage 2, but also the Hammond SK1 as well (since the Electro 5D deals primarily with organ sounds, which is no doubt in competition with what the SK1 is all about).
If you’re in the market for a new digital piano or keyboard and you’re interested in spending the money to get something that’s professional-grade, you might want to consider the Nord. While there are plenty of options, and while Nord isn’t the cheapest, it definitely has some benefits you should know about in order to make a better-informed decision.
In fact, in order to better help you make an informed choice, please use our interactive table below so that you can directly compare the Nord Electro 6D (which is the successor to the Electro 5) to other notable keyboards currently on the market.
|Roland RD2000||88||SuperNATURAL Sound Engine: 128 voices|
|Casio PX5S||88||Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II Keyboard|
|Kawai ES110||88||19 voices (8 piano sounds)|
|Kurzweil SP6-7||88||10 selectable key velocity map|
|Yamaha YC88||88||128 Notes (AWM2/Organ), 128 Notes (FM)|
Nord Electro 5D: What Stands Out
I want to start at the very beginning—the aesthetics of the keyboard. The Electro 5D comes in two lengths, a 61 and 73-key version. Simply put, the Electro 5D is stunning.
It’s big and red, with a wooden pitch bender and a cool metallic-looking mod wheel. All of its programmable parameters are located on the face of the keyboard. For some, this might feel chaotic. If you’re looking for the cutoff filter on the synth portion of the keyboard, it’ll definitely take you a second to find.
For me, I wanted to adjust the reverb levels, so it took me a moment to locate it. Once I did, I could easily adjust the reverb without having to scroll through digital menus, which is something I personally don’t like doing.
The sides of the keyboard are bright red wood, while the face is solid metal. It looks and feels incredible sturdy, and the only plastic to be found is on the knobs, which are not wobbly or light, so you will be able to adjust everything with extreme attention to detail.
Now, for something that looks really heavy, it’s actually not that bad. The 61 key model weighs just under 18 pounds, while the 71 key version is about two pounds heavier at just over 20 pounds. If you wanted to set it on an X stand, you more than likely wouldn’t have to worry about it breaking or bowing.
One small note before we move onto our next section—I really love the font that they chose for their model names on this instrument. It’s sort of cartoony, with a touch of professionalism that makes it look almost vintage and modern at the same time. It definitely adds a lot to the overall character-aesthetic of the keyboard.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling stage pianos on the market today that are currently on sale at Amazon:
|1) Yamaha P-515|
|2) Roland RD-2000|
|3) Casio PX-560|
|4) Casio PX-5S|
|5) Kurzweil SP1|
The Nord Keyboard
Nord keys might be my favorite keys to feel out of any keyboard I’ve played. They use what they call a semi-weighted waterfall for the Electro 5D and I think that’s the perfect way to describe it.
The keys press down with the perfect amount of firmness and sensitivity, and the velocity is both accurate and delightful. It might not be as noisy as a literal waterfall, but it’s smooth like one. I don’t want to get carried away, of course, but it might be the best weighted key keyboard I’ve played in a while.
This Nord Forum post talks more about how users like the waterfall action of the 5D.
While we are on the topic of the physical layout of the keyboard, we should talk about the layout of the buttons. The panel is roughly divided into five sections. Let’s start on the far left, the organ section.
The organ section also includes the master volume knob. I liked the fact that it was easy for me to find, and I felt like the keyboard can get plenty loud enough if you need it to. The organ section contains several fundamental organ controls, including the rotary speed, which controls the vibrato of the tone, and the drawbars, which control the tone itself, such as how much like a flute you want it to sound (or if you prefer something more reedy).
I love that you can also control the percussive nature of the tone. So, if you want the keys to make a clicking sound, they have the ability to do it. You can also control the presets from the organ panel, so if you want to get to a church organ, you can.
My favorite organ sound is the jazzy muted sound, which you’d probably hear in one of those old 70s bands like Weather Report or something like that. I don’t play a lot of organ, although I do own one of those cheap Baldwin vintage home organs, and I just think Nord did a great job making a keyboard feel like an organ.
It’s really impressive.
Piano Panel and More
I had the most fun on the next panel from the left, which is the piano panel. It’s one of the smaller panels, but that’s just because it’s simple and easy to use, and there’s more than enough sounds to get the job done in the studio or on the stage, in my opinion.
My favorite sounds are the Italian Grand and the Studio Grand on the piano section, and if I’m being honest, Nord has some of the best grand piano sounds I’ve ever heard.
However, it gets better.
The Electro 5D also specializes in vintage keyboard sounds like the Rhodes and Wurlitzer. So, if you’re feeling jazzy, you can play some amazing licks on the warm muted sounds of the electronic piano.
I should mention that you can plug an expression pedal into the Nord to get it to do awesome effects like wah and phasers and other cool things that give the performance more dynamics. A lot more keyboards need to be able to utilize expression pedals in my opinion.
In the center panel, you can control your main patches, anything from organs to pianos to synths and even samples. For instance, there’s some really great mellotron sounds in the 5D. In case you didn’t know, a mellotron is like an old digital synthesizer used to make string and brass sounds. It’s not a clean sound, but it’s definitely beautiful in its own way.
Nord has its own line of analog synths, but this one doesn’t really deal with synths in the same way. There are plenty of presets, and you can tweak all of them in the effects panel on the far right, but if you’re looking for full-blown synth stuff, you should look into the Nord Lead 4 instead. I think the designers at Nord like to make keyboards that cater more to specific types of players rather than make all-around keyboards that can do absolutely everything.
What Else Can It Do?
There’s plenty more to do with the Electro 5D. Nord has its own sample library on its website where you can download fresh sounds and upload them into your keyboard via a USB cable for even more variety.
You can make your own sounds and save them for presets and organize them in any way you want. I think this is a smart move, because stage players like to be prepared for everything, and there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to access your patches as quickly as possible.
The Nord Electro 5D comes with two audio outputs in the form of left and right channels, three inputs for pedals, including an organ rotor pedal, control (expression) pedal, and of course, a sustain pedal.
You can also plug headphones into the back of it, and the headphone jack still outputs the same high quality audio that the left and right channels utilize. It also comes with the 5-pin MIDI if you want to use your Nord to control something like a modular or analog synth, and a USB output so you can use it as a MIDI controller for your computer if you want.
Personally, I don’t see tons of applications in which I’d want to limit the Nord to just being a MIDI controller, but I would absolutely use it to record audio for pianos in music recording.
Here are a few noteworthy specs of the Electro 5D:
- Splits and Layers – Piano/Organ, Piano/Sample, Sample/Organ
- 1 GB memory for Nord Piano Library
- 256 MB memory for Nord Sample Library
- OLED Display for excellent overview and readability
- 6 Split Points with LED indicators
- Redesigned Program section with Set List feature
- Organize Mode lets you rearrange programs and samples on the fly
- E-E key range for 5D 73 and 5 HP
I’d recommend checking out their specs page for the full list of technical specifications.
Is it the Ultimate Organ Modeler?
One of the things the Electro 5D does well is model the organ. Its sounds, playability, and overall feel are all really well done. So, I figured that in this review, I’d like to pit its organ functionality against that of the Stage 2 and the Hammond SK1 because those two also model organs very well.
Nord Electro 5D vs Stage 2
So, let’s start with the flagship Nord, the Stage 2. It’s also worth noting that the Stage 2 is in general, a beast of a digital piano. The Stage 2 has a model that is 88 keys, while the Nord Electro 5D maxes out at 73 for the larger model.
So, right off the bat, if you need the extra keys, you’re going to want to get the Stage 2.
Now, when it comes to the way the organ section sounds, it’s extremely similar. The Stage 2 and the Electro 5D are both modeled after a Hammond B3, so the rotors feel almost identical.
However, I have one complaint about the Stage 2. The drawbars are actually digital, and you have to press buttons in order to change the organ sections. This is certainly not as convenient. I’ve tried both the Stage 2 and the Electro 5D and personally, I prefer the drawbars to be hands-on because they’re easier to fine-tune and see.
You’ll be able to know exactly where your ‘4 reed is sitting, for instance, whereas with the LED lights on the Stage 2, it’s a little harder to pinpoint. But on the other hand, the Stage 2 is fully weighted, and comes with more sounds and effects to tweak. It’s also around $4500, while the Electro 5D is $2200. So from a budget standpoint, the Electro 5D also wins.
- You can read our entire review of the Nord Stage 2 here.
Nord Electro 5D vs Hammond SK1
The Hammond SK1 is a little cheaper than the Electro 5D at around $1900 for the 61 key, roughly $2200 for the 73 key, and about $2500 for the 88-key version, which is a nice option if you want the extra keys.
In my opinion, the SK1 is a better organ modeler than the Electro 5D for a few reasons. First, it comes with the option to model a vintage Leslie speaker like you would find in the old organs, which helps the sound get gritty and spin around with all the nuances you’d find in a B3. I’d recommend checking out the Hammond website in order to learn about the vintage Leslie speaker and how important it is in making the sound authentic.
It also directly samples B3 sounds, and because it focuses more on the organ sounds, there are more control options. The drawbars feel about the same, but the keys feel light like organ keys, whereas the Electro 5D is a littler heavier. I prefer heavier keys, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most authentic.
The SK1 also replicates the dual-keyboard functionality of a real B3 by allowing you to split the keyboard down the middle and play different tones on each one. The Electro 5D, however, does have better vintage keyboard and grand piano sounds. The Hammond’s piano and electric keyboard sounds are nice, but they clearly put all the effort into their organ sounds.
So, while the Nord’s organ sounds aren’t quite as perfect, the fact that it has better piano sounds makes it my personal choice. However, I’d say the Hammond SK1 is the best organ modeler of the three.
As someone who is passionate about all types of digital pianos, I have to say that the Nord Electro 5D is one of the best. It’s very easy to play, and my favorite part is that all of the customizability is easy to get to. I think a lot of keyboard manufacturers could learn a valuable lesson from Nord in this regard.
Sometimes a few extra buttons can make a world’s difference.
I think that unless you’re extremely picky about organ sounds, you’ll find satisfaction in the Electro 5D’s organ panel. It’s still very accurate, and it’s definitely easy to use and feels great to play. I am a big fan of the Stage 2 and I think that it definitely has more to offer than the 5D, but the physical presence of the drawbars as well as the high quality of all the other sounds makes the 5D a great competitor.
So if you’re interested in picking up a Nord keyboard, I’d recommend this one because it’s more affordable, nearly as good as some of its competition (and no doubt much better than some of its other competitors), and will definitely stand the test of time.
For a professional digital piano, I would give the Electro 5D a 4.9 out of 5 stars.
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