Review: reFX Nexus 2: A Synth That Everyone Should Have
A. Arsov makes the case why sampled instruments somehow sound better than virtual analog ones – can this heresy be true? Read and decide for yourself.
by A. Arsov, May 2013
I don’t know why, but sampled instruments somehow sound better than virtual analog ones. At least that has been the case ever since sampled technology literally exploded in the last two years, making significant improvements in sound authenticity, especially regarding the additional programming abilities that sampling hosts can provide nowadays. Virtual analog synths still have their advantages, offering some extra programming options, but I regret to inform you, my dear reader, that reFX nailed all those extra options in their Nexus 2, so we now have the impressive wide and ultra-fat sound of sampled instruments along with all the programming flexibility of the virtual analog ones.
That’s nice, but as this is not the only Rompler on the market at the moment — and few of them even come close to the flexibility that Nexus 2 offers — what is the point or the reason that gives me the right to claim that everyone should have this Rompler, or regarding its flexibility, that we can even say “synthesizer,” especially if we consider the fact that the price of Nexus 2 is much more in the Rompler range, which is a bit higher than the average virtual analog synth price? For that answer we should go a bit back into the past.
Some time ago, a friend of mine and a professional electro producer, visited me. As we talked about the production and about the tips and tricks we applied in our production, he suddenly told me that I definitely needed Nexus 2. I was a bit surprised, as I thought it is just another synth, and as I already have plenty of them, I wondered why should I need exactly this one? “First of all, with Nexus 2, you don’t need to lay sounds together to get that full and fat sound; just find the right one and use it. Secondly all sounds are preprocessed, mostly using the desired frequency range, so there is almost no need for additional equalization.” The more I explained to him how I equalized my sounds, the more he explained to me how he uses less and less equalizer in his production. “If the sound doesn’t fit, I just use another sound.” Hm…. Obviously this is the right season for me to try this Nexus 2 thingy. I already knew at that moment that Nexus 2 was probably the most-used synth in modern production. Some time ago, it used to be Access Virus, and now it is obviously Nexus 2. Just turn your radio on, and you will have a good chance to hear it in action.
Damage done, I got it, tried it, and then had to admit that my friend’s thoughts are not so far from the truth. Nexus 2 offers strong and nicely defined basses, soaring leads, impressive arpeggiators, and wide pads. All instruments are well-defined, and the frequency is well-balanced. Goodbye layering and goodbye equalization, at least the heavy ones. OK, it doesn’t hurt if you make few frequency tweaks here and there to make additional space for some other elements, but in general, most combinations sound good without any further equalization. A few days after I got Nexus 2, I received an order for making music for a short, 10-second commercial, so I decided to give Nexus 2 a try. Fifteen minutes later, I finished the piece with six instances of Nexus 2. As Nexus 2 proved to be very light on the processor, I didn’t need to export MIDI files to audio. Half an hour later, I received a message from the production house saying that they liked the piece, asking if the end note could be a bit longer. I just increased the tempo by a few BPM, and gave the end an extra second to fade out properly. Me happy, producers happy, Nexus 2 happy. What else do you want from life?
As we already said, Nexus 2 is a Rompler or “ROM synthesizer” as they call it on the reFX site. For €249 ($299 USD) you get a Nexus 2 DVD filled with more than 1100 presets. I didn’t try them all, but until now I haven’t found any bad ones: basses, leads, pads, arpeggios, plucked instruments, epic electric pianos — nope, it is not the name of the category, they really sound pretty epic — various out-of-this-world textures, and a few real instruments. (More real instruments can be found in some extensions.) Very inspirational pianos, all in all, this is pure producer’s heaven. The main advantage of Nexus 2 is that all those sounds sound just right, without being overloaded with reverb. A lot of modern virtual synths sound too wet, being soaked in too much reverb, making it almost impossible to put them right in a mix. Take off the reverb and you have the sound of plucking a hen; leave the reverb and this chosen sound overtakes the whole space. Thankfully Nexus 2 doesn’t fall into this category; it sounds strong and defined without leaving that wet impression of reverb overdose. Don’t get me wrong: Almost all instruments in Nexus 2 have implemented reverb as a send effect, but they don’t sound drowned in it as some modern synths can sound. That reverb just adds some additional space and roundness. It is a real pleasure to mix those sounds. In a pre-Nexus 2 era, my bass track was overwhelmed with various effects to keep the bass sounds alive. A touch of low cut (personal preference) just finished the business.
The graphical interface is very clear, offering basic classic synth controllers at the reach of one’s fingertips. There is one central window containing all the additional controllers that modern synths offer. Although usually not the case with Romplers, Nexus 2 combines samples using up to four additional oscillators, so it is definitely more ROM synthesizer than classical Rompler. This main window is surrounded with the knobs that are the most used and abused on most of the modern hardware or software synths. The Filter and Amp sections offer classical envelope plus ADSR knobs like type, cutoff, res, spread, slope, spike, pan, etc., while a dual-effects section allows us to choose the amount of the desired effect, along with changing some essential parameters – my favorites are high and low pass as it is in the nature of these effects to expand itself over all frequency range. There is also a master filter section, which is applied to the entire output signal, as Nexus 2 presets can be combined from up to eight layers and this overall filter control them all.
Main Window (or Display According to reFX)
Let’s go back to the main, central window: at the side we can see eight buttons for selecting eight different functions. The first, default one displays the preset browser divided into various sound categories from arpeggio up to various Fantasy and Dream, through the various classic categories like piano, plucked, single-layer leads or pads, the multi’s, and so on. Sorry to repeat myself, but only top-quality sounds are used. It is obvious that the reFX team spent a lot of time selecting only the best sounds for implementation in the final product.
The Next button brings us the modulation matrix window with all the functions that you’ll ever need. It reminds me of the modulation matrix window in Albino, in other words clean, neat, and very usable.
The Arp button is my favorite. I miss such arpeggiators ever since I sold my Access Virus B years ago. The only thing that I can say about this arpeggiator is: Yes, you can!” Simple but very effective with a nice bonus – a big collection in a preprogrammed arp preset library.
The next one is Trance Gate which works as it should. Similar to Arp, it has an impressive preset library. The thing that impressed me the most (later I noticed that Arp has the same function) is the little arrow on the top of the pattern which allows us to choose the looped part which starts looping after the pattern plays from the beginning for the first time.
A frequency analyzer is not so common in modern synths, but as I’m a visual man, I’m pretty grateful for that additional function.
The mixer button shows us the screen where various elements of the current preset can be activated, deactivated, or manipulated. You can activate or deactivate any of the eight layers that form the sound, or activate/deactivate arp, trance gate, or any two effects for every layer. There is even a four band EQ section. All in all, I have to admit that I haven’t elaborated on the whole mixer issue, but after five seconds of press and unpress the buttons I made nice and good-sounding pizzicato strings out of an arpeggio baroque preset, deactivating one layer, switching off all arpeggiators, and then changing a few effect parameters for every layer. This felt almost like being part of a Formula 1 team. All was done in 15 seconds.
The Live section is some sort of a news section, as it brings you information about updates, new expansions, and similar things.
The last one is a System button which brings up some essential parameters for chosen presets, like velocity curve, transpose, fine-tuning, voices, and some basic information about installed extensions.
Nexus 2 is definitely one of the best-sounding synthesizers on the market at the moment. It doesn’t sound like software at all. It is very flexible and very user-friendly with big array of implemented controllers and an even bigger expandable sound library. I know that reFX is not a big company, but their products and business approach gives you the impression that you are dealing with some really big and reliable company. So it is not all that unusual that we should hear this ROM synthesizer in almost every second song on the radio. (I presume that others are played with real instruments.) If you are in dance or electro, Nexus 2 could be the only synth that you will ever need; if you are in any other genre – the same thing is true, especially if you decide that you need any synth at all.
For a Nexus 2 adventure, you will need 5 GB of empty disk space, a USB licensing dongle (included in the shipment), and €249 ($299 USD).
If you need more details or if you would like to hear some demo clips, feel free to visit reFX at: http://refx.com/