Amid the sea of analog synthesizers hitting the market in recent years, Modor Music’s NF-1 comes as something of change of pace. “Digital and proud” is how Modor describes its first synthesizer release, and the Belgian company has crafted a beautiful device with a distinctive sound that’s both fun to use, and able to knock out a wide range of sonic styles.
How It Looks
The NF-1 makes a good first impression, with its open layout, clean lines, striking type and sloping profile, all wrapped up in a solid, off-white steel case. At 17.3 x 10.5 inches, it’s got a fairly chunky footprint; also included in the box are two nice wooden end cheeks for using the NF-1 on your desktop (which add about three extra inches to its width), as well as two rack ears for rack-mounting, should you want to go that route.
Everything is laid out in smartly ordered sections, mostly minimizing the amount of time you’ll need to spend looking at its LCD display. The clickable plastic switches feel good; the dials—though gorgeous, with a beautifully sloped, unique, low-poly style aesthetic on top—do have a bit of a wobble to them, however. While this feels not entirely unintentional, some sturdier, stiffer knobs would have perhaps better suited the otherwise solid hunk of synthesizer. In general, the NF-1 feels like a synth best kept in the studio, rather than brought on the road for the abuse that often entails.
Around back are stereo ¼-inch audio outputs, a sustain pedal input, a volume pedal input, as well as MIDI In, Out and Thru (DIN) connectors. Surprisingly—particularly for a digital synth—there’s no USB port, and any OS updates are done over the standard MIDI jacks via SysEX. Not a huge deal, especially since MIDI-over-USB is notoriously fiddly, but should there be a continued series of updates for the synth engine (in fact, updating the synth was the first thing I did), a USB port would have been a nice way to deal with that. The consequence of this omission is that you’ll need a MIDI interface for your computer to back up or update the OS.
How It Sounds
Rather lovely, so long as you’re looking for something new. While it certainly can sound analog at times, this is a synth that clearly isn’t going out of its way to emulate analog; fortunately, there’s plenty of texture to its digital sonics. While it uses the classic structure of virtual analog synths—oscillators, filters and effects, and parameters that can be modulated using LFOs and envelopes—nearly every element has been tweaked for digital. There’s a classic 12dB/oct resonant filter, along with a versatile formant filter. There’s a classic delay onboard, as well as a comb filter, and every parameter is editable.
The NF-1 has 448 user-writable patch memory slots, and it uses a three oscillator, mono-timbral, eight-note polyphonic design. Each oscillator has ten modulatable waveforms (some of which are very noisy), ranging from traditional saw and square waves to Wind, Arcade, and some rather fantastic FM varieties.
Once you have your oscillator waves chosen for the three oscs, a volume mixer (for all three oscillators), plus ring mod and white noise can be added as well. Each oscillator has a select button and LED, letting you edit one or all of them simultaneously, using a single control set.
While there are plenty of beefy, upfront patches to be dug into here, it was the ambient, warm, and sometimes distorted pads that really brought the machine to life for me. There’s lots of cool FM action—bells and nasal keys, as well as “talky” sounds, achieved by putting the formant filter to use—and plenty of string, horn, and bass patches as well (a bunch of which are already accessible via presets). Pretty much every parameter can be sent and controlled via MIDI.
The Bottom Line
It doesn’t come particularly cheap ,and it’s got a sizeable footprint—but the NF-1 is overall a rather beautiful, powerful beast. This is a synth that’s extremely tweakable—it’s easy to get lost for hours, dialing in new patches and, quite conveniently, saving them to its hefty memory. While there are a few things that would have made the experience of using the NF-1 feel a bit more “premium”, not to mention portable—sturdier knobs, and a USB port for easier interfacing with computers, in particular—this is a digital synth with its own sonic character, and would make a great addition to any studio. (One with the space and money to spare, anyway.)