I'm still giving Xfer Nerve 5 stars - even at the $200 price point, but technically its probably only a little above 4.8.
Particularly the customer support is not to be beaten. (I own every plugin by Xfer Records except Serum, which hopefully will change soon.)
It has great sounds (Although Chris Cowie's pack on Loopmaster is great as well - really gives the polish in terms of matching sample and pad levels, EQ and dynamics.)
I spent this past week digging back into the drum-machine-related vsts I own, or those that I have demos of. Nerve is near the top of the heap in terms of dance music. I recently picked up Spark 2, and I also compared Nerve to Fxpansion Geist 2, and Izotope Breaktweaker. Regarding Spark 2, I'm waiting to hear back from Arturia on why so many of the sounds seem stuck in 2-state velocity (64 or 127)... Regarding Breaktweaker, I watched the interesting Plugin Guru video on it that shows how one can achieve Swing (strange that a swing knob functionality isn't included in Breaktweaker).
Nerve has not only a late graph (use the SHIFT key along with your left mouse button to drag on it, or you will be forced into a 16 division resolution.)
Nerve has extremely good sounds.
Nerve has quite, quite a bit more in its arsenal of EDM-modding of playback and filter properties than does Spark 2. Its slicer function is better as well.
Nerve sounds fantastic and its sound exports sound great.
While dragging individual pads and full mixes is a breeze and works flawlessly, I would rather have a GUI location where the full mix is dragged from (as programs like Spark 2 allow) - because pressing CTRL ALT SHIFT at the same time one is dragging is tricky.
Nerve has a per pad side chain compression - This is the main reason I decided to give it 5 starts. This is such a cool feature. actually you can take the side chain "detection" signal from multiple pads and apply different amounts of side chaining compression, simultaneously, from that pad or pads to other pads. This means that from right within Nerve you can hear a mix-ready rhythm track (after all you can load any wave file you want into the pads, bass, guitar, whatever). This is a tremendous and brilliant feature and more percussion plugins should implement things this way, because things like perc and hats in electronic music really need to be reduced at critical down beats - its just the way things are now for the modern musician and its so helpful that Steve understood this.
On the negative side, the screen size of NERVE is fixed and relatively small by today's standards (although I like the optional horizontal mode). Its also hard to see the name of your loaded preset and drum kits, at least for me in Reaper and FL studio it is...I need to mouse over the place where these would normally be - where the current folder is listed instead of the preset name... I get why the current folder is important to know. But I would like to also see the name of the preset and the name of the currently loaded drum kit! For me occasionally looking up to see a kit name like that always helps to jog my memory into remembering a source of good sounds in the future... While auditioning, you'll be changing among several kits every few minutes if you're like me, and after hearing some "reasonably good sounds" and moving on, you'll realize maybe those were actually very good. Now what were they called? It just makes it more likely that you'll remember the names if there's a name written on the GUI. Same idea with the preset, it helps to see its name.
Also on the down side, I feel that although the pattern methodology is interesting and useful, relative to Geist 2's Scene and Song modes it leaves a little to be desired (even though it has an interesting plus which I'll get to. Geist 2 lets you organize a complete sequence that can play back for you automatically. It lets you record a complete song as well. So I think Nerve could really use a refined song mode on a separate page. One good thing in Nerve is the global mode off switch. When you turn the global mode off, your chains of patterns play back independently based on the pad row length, which can be independently adjusted. (Playing patterns in Geist 2, Breaktweaker, and Nerve can all be done with independent pad row lengths. However, Nerve pushes the envelope by literally allowing their to be an independent chain of sequences for each pad.. Wow.
One thing I need to recommend, is to be sure to get the latest manual if you purchase Nerve. I had trouble finding it and Steve pointed it out where it was. Some of the hotkeys in the 2010 manual included in my installation were not up to date and this left me wondering about certain of the features. For example, the SHIFT key.
Lastly, (and this is complicated - unless, especially, you are a Geist user and have become familiar with this..) NERVE allows triplets but they are accessible in an unusual way that takes a little getting used to. Basically its Alt right click while dragging horizontally over the "late" graph. This creates triplet timing. If you have 16 hi hats you'll think you've lost your mind, because this will turn them into 12 triplet sixteenths. Steve explained to me that the pads are not polyphonic, so even though the late graph for the last sixteenth of a quarter note position (one in each set of 4) is pushing the beat over onto the next quarter note, because this creates two quarter notes at an identical "tick" only one can play. Geist 2 has a similarly tricky method of handling triplets - well 2 methods actually. You can use engines and set one as the triplets engine, and play patterns from both engines simultaneously. A little strange, but it works. A second method available in Geist 2 allows the triplets to reside in the same pattern. It was difficult to find this:
Convert timing This function, available by right-clicking on a pattern memory key, allows the 'resolution' of a pattern to be changed without altering the position of events in the pattern. It can be useful if triplet steps are required rather than 16ths, for example.
Well, personally I think Nerve's method is basically about as good.
Summary: For techno, EDM, and all its variations, NERVE is way up there with Geist 2 (which I haven't reviewed but which I would give at least 4.5 stars as well). Nerve has a great audio engine, does pre-calculated effects (which Geist 2 does not do to my knowledge - and this is an important advantage for Nerve) and Nerve comes with sounds arguably more suited specifically for the EDM style of music - add Chris Cowie's pack for about $30 and you'll have more EDM styles as well as some exceptional Hip Hop, Drum and Bass, and Dubstep to name a few.
Another advantage of Nerve over Geist 2, is that drawing in the note patterns in Geist 2, if they have changing velocity, is typically a 2 step process for each event. You click the note into place, and then drag up or down to set its velocity. In NERVE you are presented with two options, 1 lane and 16 lanes. Since Nerve defaults to the 1 lane view, when you click on the graph you've created the note at the velocity you want all at the same time. You would think you could do the same in Geist 2, by accessing the velocity graph. But you can't. Geist 2 forces you to click twice, once in the note lane, and once to drag the velocity (whether in the graphs view or in the full lane view you still click to enter the note and then drag to adjust velocity). On the plus for Geist 2, it has scene and Song modes that NERVE, lacks. Spark 2 does have a Song Mode, but its not better than the version in Nerve. Geist 2 has the edge on these modes by far. Another thing that Geist 2 does well is let you record loops on the fly, and even record a whole series of them, moving to the next pad, and the next, and so on, and the sample quality is superb. Lastly, Geist 2 has 64 pads in 8 engines, whereas Nerve loads one kit at the time, but has quite a number of pattern chains, which can be configured to loop from 1 to up to 8 patterns according to your choice.
There really isn't a single "greatest" tool for these kinds of sounds. I'm glad I own Geist, and Nerve is exceptional as well. I don't use breaktweaker as much, but its probably something that needs, ironically, tweaking. (I think the "edge" sound its good for is partly due to the unique glitch modes, and also possibly the added synthesis in the drums - which I could adjust if I spent the time - but these are unique and worthwhile nonetheless).
I also Hope that Spark 2, Geist 2, Breaktweaker, and also Nerve will get more significant updates (Geist 2 needs some bug fixing primarily). Beat Anthology 2 by UVI is another tool, that I have yet to use - which allows mixing synthesis with samples. I haven't yet used Revolution or Evolution. Revolution has samples of 14 old school drum machines (not as many as Spark 2). But the sound of Evolution concerns me, because the synthesis seems a little over-simplified - it could be better than what's in Spark 2, but I don't know and won't know until I spend the $. Fxpansion Tremor is not geared exactly to the kind of ambient music I make, and I haven't gotten around to trying Rob Papen's Punch.
There are some other dance/techno/hip hop tools I have missed. (I'm not including BFD3, Superior Drummer 3, and the other acoustic drum vsts..)