Well, the simple answer is "tastes…"
Now, I'll try to express how I feel about Nord. I'm sorry I feel I have to justify myself haha
First, about the hype: is the whole thing really a hype?? I mean 3k boards, on the stages all over the world… really? And eventhough it is, I think behind each hype lies something real. Remember, the MicroKorg was one of the main competitors of the Phatty when it got out. Seriously??? Fact is it fit a need (or invented it). This certainly is real.
Nord instruments have great interfaces: from the Electro to the Lead, and of course the best interface I know is the G2's. This makes them cool for stage. Back in the days I used a pricey, excellent, most flexible workstation for a live project. It was purely awesome programmation-wise. It sounded great. But I ended selling it since the interface wasn't attracting me anymore, to say the least. To me, interface is one third of an instrument choice.
About sound -the second third- this really comes to tastes. You can choose to adjust expectations though. I remember the Nord Lead 1 SOS review. The author was praising the Moog-like aspect of the synth. Let's keep in mind Clavia were pionneer in virtual analogue -they did invent the term, right? - and at this time, synths were for the most part not very knobby. In 1995, a modern instrument you could play the same intuitive way than the old analogue was… kind of "innovative". De facto
, Yamaha made the CS1x and AN1x just some months later. Access started the Virus series. Roland launched the JP8000/8080 and Novation the Nova/Supernova series. There were something blatantly real in the air about virtual analog and knobby interfaces.
Anyway: in 1995, a Nord Lead did not sound like a Moog… but! the offer was such that playing a Nord Lead was what was closest to playing a Moog.
17 years later, of course I'm frustrated when I try to approach the Phatty sound with a Nord Lead. The offer has changed, the criteria as well and the musicians/synthesists have become pickier -no offense, me included: it's just logical. My point is: if -nowadays- you, synth passionate, consider the Nord Lead as a attempt to emulate a Moog, you will be disapointed, and you won't see the point. My personal state of mind is to consider it as a whole: it's a digital instrument with sound parameters and voice architecture inherited from the oldies, but with it's own character, and it's own advantages/drawbacks. And as a matter of fact, I don't get disapointed.
Am I a Nord fanboy?... Hmmm if so, I've been so for years. I started with the Modular and got a G2 then. For the record, Clavia are the very same guys that made this "hybrid modular synthesizer", albeit respectable or not to you. At that time, there was no such "big hype" about Clavia. This started with the Electro and Stage series, which the original users took this way: "huuh… wait wait… no synths? Samples? Really ?...ow."
Now, about the Electro and Stage series. First electro: 2001. Wasn't it a good time for Clavia to focus on anything else than VA? Six years after the first Nord Lead and overall after so many competitors births? Well.. I did not like this direction change but I can understand it.
The Electro, at that time, had quite a success too. "Gigabanks" were not so common at that time. And the Stage, I just did not understand it! Untill I got drowned in my workstation complexity haha.
Back to the EP/pianos/Organ sounds. Honestly, in the 18 last years, there were few moments when I haven't had 1 or 2 rehearsals a week. I don't want to put my 50 labs station in the trunk, back seats folded, and say my mates "you two take another car, ok? No room here…" (it really happened
). And consequently, I don't either want to have to transport a Rhodes, Wurly, upright piano or B3 on a weekly basis. So OK: Clavia boards can $µck if you are sedentary studio musician, and have the bucks for the real deal. Now, I am pretty nomad, and cannot afford the originals, and moreover I feel rather pleased with the sounds an Electro offers, overall in a band context. Now give me some real eletromecanical boards, a couple of roadies with their truck, and I promise I get rid of my Electro
Pricey? Yes. And also hand made in Sweden, in a 20 people company. Reminds me some other keyboard company… what was its name, again?
They are digital, no discrete components, less know-how in electronics. Ok. But initial research and development are involved anyway. I'll give you that the features now are often shared amongst the different instruments and that Clavia are clever about segmenting the series/price ranges…
Anyway: people put in an instrument the money they think is fair to put in. All the same for Moogs boards or Foogers. I don't like to put this argument on the table, but just as for the hype thing, this is a fact.
Oh and about virtual instruments or DAW plug ins etc as an alternative: please, don't!! To be honest, I think I prefer sacrifying 5% of sound quality than having to switch a computer on everytime I want to play piano. My Electro: whenever I feel like playing, I play. Voilà.
Now, that's me, no offense, no free crusade… you wonder, I testify. Well, I told you my whole keyboards geek life, sorry
Back to the topic: the original poster asked for a hands on, hardware, rather polyphonic, why-not-digital synth. Nord Lead is a good candidate. BTW Phatty + Nord Lead is a couple I've heard good things of many times, really. Not on the Nord forum