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Clavia Nord Stage 4 88

Stage Keyboard By Gordon Reid
Published November 2023

Clavia Nord Stage 4 88

The ubiquitous Nord Stage keyboards just keep getting better.

When I started out with this musician lark, every type of keyboard sound I wanted came from a dedicated instrument. If I needed a piano sound, I had to find an electric piano of some sort. If I wanted ensemble sounds, I had to blag a Mellotron or one of those newfangled string ensemble thingies. And if I wanted organ sounds, I had to have an organ. But in 1975, a new class of keyboard appeared. This was the multi‑keyboard, so called because it was capable of producing the sounds of multiple classes of instrument, sometimes one at a time but, more often than not, allowing players to access two or more sounds simultaneously using early implementations of what we now call splits and layers.

At the start, these instruments tended to hail from Italy and were — not to put too fine a point upon it — rather cheap and cheerful. But within a year or two, Japanese manufacturers were getting in on the act, with instruments ranging from some relatively small and affordable Korgs at one end of the scale to the monstrously large, heavy and expensive Yamaha SK50D at the other. By providing some combination of analogue pianos, half‑decent organs, fully‑decent strings, and brass (which later morphed into paraphonic synthesis) they were a boon for players whose budgets stretched to a tiny fraction of the cost of a Rhodes, Hammond, Mellotron or polysynth (let alone all four). However, the era of the multi‑keyboards was short‑lived and their fate was sealed in 1981 when affordable polyphonic synthesizers began to appear. Except that it wasn’t. If you had told me when I bought my first Juno‑60 that the spiritual successor to the Crumar Composer or Multivox MX‑3000 would be one of the most widely used and recognised keyboards of the 21st Century, I might have questioned your sanity. Nevertheless, a squizz at the stage of any major gig or festival will demonstrate that the various generations of Nord Stage (which comprise pianos, organs, polyphonic synthesis and effects) are almost ubiquitous within the rigs of those who can afford them. But why? Workstations such as the Korg Kronos and Kurzweil K2700 can do just about everything that a Nord Stage can, plus a great deal more, and cost you less while doing it. So what’s the attraction of the big red Swedish beasties?

I think that it boils down to four things: the build quality, the sound quality, the relative simplicity of use and — in a somewhat circular fashion — the aforementioned ubiquity. Turning to the first of these, I’m not aware that anyone has ever seriously questioned the build quality of a Nord Stage. Sure, you have the right to dislike it in matters of personal taste but, in all fairness, you can’t claim that it looks or feels anything other than high quality. The same rationale applies to the sound quality. You are under no obligation to like the sounds it produces, but I doubt that many would agree if you were to suggest that it’s fundamentally naff. The question of simplicity is itself simple to understand. By limiting the Nord Stage to a handful of mainstream sound engines, Clavia removed much of the fear that sometimes accompanies powerful workstations. The final argument is perhaps the least obvious but, if your live rig is based upon a Nord Stage, it’s possible that all you will ever have to carry on your next tour will be a storage medium containing your samples and Programs. Having seen my keyboards disappear into the depths of Stansted Airport to be mishandled by staff who view ‘Fragile’ stickers as some sort of challenge, I can tell you all about the fear that accompanies the first opening of your cases on foreign soil. A rental company could have provided a Nord Stage locally, but the chances of finding a fully‑loaded XP‑80 with the correct configuration of SR‑JV cards as well as an 18‑voice Z1 for hire on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea are as close to zero as makes no difference.

Following the success of the first incarnation of the Nord Stage, the problem facing the big brains at Clavia for the past few years must have been, “How do we keep it new and exciting without fundamentally changing it?”. They clearly felt that a cautious approach was warranted because, looking back, its evolution has been glacial. When the original version (retrospectively named the ‘Classic’) appeared in 2005, its piano section was based upon sample memory of less than 256MB, and its polyphony was 40 stereo or 60 mono voices. This was later updated to 500MB in the Nord Stage 2 (reviewed in SOS November 2011), to 1GB in the Nord Stage 2 EX (2015), and then to 2GB and 120 voices in the Nord Stage 3 (SOS March 2018). Similarly, the original Hammond/Vox/Farfisa organ voicing derived from the Nord Electro was updated to the Nord C2 voicing (minus pipe organs) in the Nord Stage 2, and then to the C2D (including pipe organs) in the Nord Stage 3. Perhaps the largest improvements were to be found in the synthesizer section, which started out as a basic 16‑voice polysynth, gained 380MB of sample RAM and two additional voices in the Nord Stage 2, followed by an additional 100MB and another 16 voices with the adoption of the Nord A1‑based synth engine in the Nord Stage 3. Given that 18 years have passed, these are not huge leaps, so what can we expect from the Nord Stage 4 — another small increment here and there, or something more substantial?

The Next Stage

I covered many of the Nord Stage’s underlying facilities in previous reviews so I’m not going to revisit them here. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on the latest changes to the architecture and the sound engines. So I should start by telling you that, while looking and feeling much the same as before, the Nord Stage 4 is fundamentally different from its predecessors. This is because it has dispensed with the previous two‑layer Panel A + Panel B architecture, replacing it with a horizontal architecture that includes two pianos, two organs, three synthesizers, and six complete effects sections, one each for Piano A, Piano B, Synths A, B and C, and Organs A+B together. You can mix the seven instruments freely and, in addition, jump between two Scenes in any given Program. Each Scene has a different combination of instruments switched either on or off so, while switching between the two doesn’t change any of the sounds, it allows you to do things such as jump instantly from piano+strings for the verse and chorus to organ+synth for your blistering solo. I would find this hugely useful.

The Stage 4 88 measures 1282 x 121 x 349mm and weighs in at 19.6kg.The Stage 4 88 measures 1282 x 121 x 349mm and weighs in at 19.6kg.

There are numerous other system updates. These start with an increase in the number of Program memories from 400 to 512 and, in addition, the number of Live Program slots has increased from five to eight. If you look at the rear panel you’ll also notice that the Nord Stage 4 is able to take advantage of the Nord Triple Pedal 2 as well as the Sustain Pedal 2, both of which add additional functionality beyond the obvious. Another significant improvement at this level is the expansion of the Preset Library functionality, which now allows you to store pianos, organs and synths individually and then drop them into Programs when needed. Finally, the number of fixed split points has been increased from 10 to 11. But don’t get too excited by the last of these. Despite the extra option, I have always felt that a handful of manufacturer‑defined split points is one of the Nord Stage’s most egregious shortcomings, and that the splits for its four zones ought to be user‑definable... and I still do.

Turning to the sound engines, the improvements in the piano section comprise a performance compressor to even out your playing (which I’m sure that you don’t need but which will no doubt make your FOH engineer very happy) plus three modes of unison that create gentle spatial chorusing but never stray into full‑on honky‑tonk territory. The major update in the organ section is much more obvious: there are now physical drawbars on all three Nord Stage models (which we’ll discuss in a moment). Nonetheless, the LED bar graphs are retained so that you can see the current registration when you recall a preset. There’s also the addition of a new B3 Bass Mode with the correct pedal voicing.

Much larger differences have appeared in the synth section because the dual Nord A1‑inspired engines in the Nord Stage 3 have been replaced by three layers of a synth that incorporates features culled from both the A1 and the Nord Wave 2. This now offers 1GB of sample memory and the polyphony has been increased to 46 voices but, for me, these are not the most important changes. I’m much more excited by the new mono, legato, high‑note and low‑note priority modes when using it as a monosynth, plus the programmable arpeggiator that offers monophonic, polyphonic and gated (think ‘Baba O’Riley’) modes... all of which are on a ‘per synth’ basis. You might be surprised at the sounds that these arpeggiators allow you to create, with Programs ranging from early Tangerine Dream sequences to basic four‑on‑the‑floor rhythms. When combined with other sections, you’ll soon be hearing things that you would never have imagined coming from a Nord Stage. Nevertheless, an Achilles’ heel persists in the form of three‑stage filter and amplifier contours, which remain stubbornly ADR or ASR depending upon settings. It’s such a shame to limit the Nord Stage 4 in this fashion, especially since the Nord Wave 2 has ADSR contour generators. Indeed, I think that it’s rather disingenuous of Clavia to claim that the synth in the Nord Stage 4 is (and I quote), the “Nord Wave 2 Synth Engine”. I’ve heard people say that the Swedes can be naughty, but this is not what I thought that they meant.

The last area of sonic improvement lies in the newly multitimbral effects section. This is not just because there are now many more effects units but because the number of available effects has been increased. Many of the new algorithms are extensions of and improvements over previous ones, but I have to draw your attention to the new Pump option in the Mod 1 section, which emulates the nauseating ducking caused by excessive use of dynamics processes. It’s a very popular effect, but I hate it with a passion and its very existence (not Clavia’s specific implementation of it) makes me angry. But if you have a stronger constitution than I and enjoy doing harm you may be able to tolerate it, and even find yourself nodding along to the rhythm as it pumps and sucks and destroys the continuity of anything vaguely musical. On the bright side, the Reverb section now boasts very useful spring and booth modes plus a cavernous cathedral mode that I like a lot.

Taking To The Stage

The review unit arrived with OS v1.08 installed, so I took a minute (it really is that quick!) to upgrade it to the latest OS v1.12. Having done so, I decided which pianos to delete from the factory set to create the room needed to upload the Bösendorfer Grand Imperial XL and my other favourites from the Nord Piano Library, and then repeated the exercise for the additional Mellotrons, string ensembles and synth samples that I wanted to upload from the Sample Library. This took well over an hour but, once everything was configured to my taste, you could have found me performing all of those unmentionable acts that crumbly old prog‑rockers do with nine‑foot grand pianos, screaming Hammond organs, Mellotrons and analogue synthesiszers. And, while the playing may have been a bit questionable in places, the sound quality was exemplary.

Of course, you may not want to engage in all of this reprogramming (let alone donning the wig and cape) but that’s fine too. I suspect that many owners will be more than happy with the pre‑installed sounds and that many Nord Stage 4s will be used very successfully without ever seeing the business end of a USB cable. Indeed, the chances of this may have increased because the additional flexibility has been achieved at the expense of an equivalent increase in complexity. That doesn’t bother me — the ability to craft a sound with multiple selections of multiple sound types played through genuinely multitimbral effects sections makes it a far more useful instrument than before — but if you’re someone for whom the simplicity of the earlier models was part of their appeal, you’ll have to evaluate whether this particular lemon is worth the squeeze. Of course, you could avail yourself of a selection of Nord Pianos, C2Ds and Wave 2s to separate out all of the instruments, and the result of doing so would undoubtedly be simpler to use and look very impressive. But you’d also find yourself significantly poorer and carrying several cases rather than one — not to mention the multiple increase in cables, pedals and DI boxes.

As always, there are three models. The smallest is the Compact, which sports a 73‑note semi‑weighted waterfall keybed. If your primary need is for organs and synth sounds, this is probably the most appropriate for your needs. Next comes the 73, which offers a 73‑note hammer‑action keybed. I fear that this model is a mistake; emasculating the previous HP76 by three keys will be acceptable for some uses, but it’s an unnecessary restriction when playing acoustic pianos and also reduces your ability to create useful splits. The third is the 88, which, for me, is the only choice if you’re expecting to play lots of pianos on the Nord Stage 4. It’s the right width, and its keybed appears to have been upgraded to the triple‑strike action found on the Nord Pianos. Perhaps the feel isn’t quite as nice as the top‑of‑the‑range Kawai keybed installed in the Nord Grand, but I found it to be very pleasant and playable. And, despite all of the changes, the sizes and weights of each of the models are much the same as their earlier equivalents, which makes the whole range very manageable without them ever feeling lightweight or flimsy.

The Nord Stage 4 is so far ahead of its predecessors that I doubt I could ever go back.

All The World’s (Using) A Stage?

Looking back, the longevity of the Nord Stage series has been remarkable. What makes it all the more so is that Clavia have refused to let older models die. Rather than tell existing owners to dump their Classics, 2s and 3s onto the secondhand market and hand over large wodges of cash for the latest whizz‑bang, sell your granny, you‑can’t‑survive‑without‑it Stage 4, the company have continued to support and upgrade the earlier versions. Indeed, the Classic was updated as recently as 2018 and — within the limits of what’s possible on its older hardware — is now compatible with the newer sound libraries, Sound Manager and USB drivers, as well as hosting improved effects. Similarly, the latest updates for the Stage 2 and 2 EX appeared in 2019, and for the Stage 3 in 2021. I think that existing owners owe Clavia a huge ‘thank you’ for this; developing free updates is far from cost‑free for the manufacturer — it takes significant time, facilities and effort. So if the initial outlay for a Nord Stage is higher than you might expect (or want), ask yourself how much you value a manufacturer’s commitment to keeping your pride and joy current for 15 years after it’s been superseded. Having said all of that, the Nord Stage 4 is a huge step up from previous incarnations, and I suspect that there will be many owners who will seriously consider upgrading to it. I wouldn’t blame them; the Nord Stage 4 is so far ahead of its predecessors that I doubt I could ever go back.

The thing that will cause them — and potential new owners — to pause for thought is the cost. At almost £4500$5700 (or, to put it another way, nearly twice the price of a K2700 or a nearly‑new Kronos 88) the Nord Stage 4 88 is almost as far from cheap as a current digital keyboard can be. What’s more, were I ever able to make one the primary instrument in my rig, there would undoubtedly be occasions when I would find myself bemoaning its deficiencies in comparison with those powerful workstations. But I would never find myself cursing its playability or the sounds and inspiration that I get from it. It’s a beautiful instrument to own, to play and to hear, and I have no doubt that it will be every bit as popular as its predecessors.

The Rear Panel

Clavia Nord Stage 4 88

The Nord Stage 4 offers four assignable audio outputs, all available via unbalanced quarter‑inch sockets. Alongside these, a quarter‑inch stereo headphone socket echoes outputs 1+2. A 3.5mm monitor input is also provided, and any signal presented to this is routed to outputs 1+2 and the headphones. Unfortunately, there are no balanced outputs and no audio over USB, the latter of which is starting to look a bit archaic.

MIDI is handled simultaneously by two 5‑pin DIN sockets (in and out, but no thru) and USB, the latter of which also provides access for the Sound Manager and Sample Editor applications.

There are six connectors for control pedals. Five of these — Control (a routable expression pedal), Organ Swell (which can also act as a global volume control or emulate the modulation wheel), Sustain (which offers half‑pedalling when a suitable pedal is connected), Rotor (which accepts a pedal or a half‑moon switch), and a programmable footswitch input — use quarter‑inch sockets. The sixth is a DIN input for the Nord TP‑2 Triple Pedal, which, in addition to its usual sustain, sostenuto and una corda functions can control things such as layer switching and Program up/down selection.

The Sample Editor

Clavia Nord Stage 4 88

The Nord Sample Editor 4 was updated in February 2023 to coincide with the announcement of the Nord Stage 4. It’s compatible with Windows 7 onward when used with the Nord USB Driver v3.00 or later, and with revisions of macOS from v10.10 onward.

It’s a very slick piece of software. Just record audio within the Editor itself or drag and drop audio into its main window, edit its attributes — start, stop, loop, pitch, level, key mapping and so on — and then, when happy, click on ‘Save and transfer to Nord’. If you want to map a single sample across the whole keyboard it takes just seconds; if you want to set up a complex multisample it obviously takes a bit longer. Once transferred, the sample is immediately available on the keyboard and you’re free to treat it as you would any other underlying waveform, applying filtering, contouring, effects and everything else on offer.

The sample in the image here is part of an extended sound that I created some years ago using the vocal mangling capabilities of my V‑Synth XT, and it sounds like nothing that you would ever expect to obtain from a Nord of any flavour. But it took me less than a minute to trim, loop and transfer it, whereupon the Nord Stage 4 suddenly sounded like a V‑Synth. Don’t underestimate the power of the Sample Editor — it greatly extends the palette and flexibility of the big red beastie.


  • The new architecture is a big step forward from previous incarnations.
  • There are significant advances in the piano, organ and synth engines.
  • Genuinely multitimbral effects — yippee!
  • The sound quality is excellent.
  • Playing one makes you feel good.
  • It remains the pre‑eminent stage keyboard for those who don’t require a fully‑fledged workstation.


  • There remain some unexpected shortcomings.
  • The previous 76‑note version has lost three keys.
  • The Nord Triple Pedal is still an expensive extra.
  • It’s more expensive than ever.


If someone offered to buy me a single multi‑keyboard to be used primarily for piano, the Nord Stage 4 88 is the one that I would choose. If organ swipes and blistering synth solos were more important, the Nord Stage 4 Compact would also be high on my list. If my own money were involved, the price might force me to cast my net more widely.


Nord Stage 4 Compact 73 £3899, HA73 £4149, 88 £4449. Prices include VAT.

Nord Stage 4 Compact 73 $4899, HA73 $5399, 88 $5699.

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