Sonic LAB: M-Audio Venom Virtual Analog

US Dirty little synth      28/02/11

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    MP4 12:53 mins

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These days, a DSP based hardware synth has to be quite a compelling device to keep you away from the limitless possibilities of plug-ins and purely computer-based instruments, so what does the Venom bring to the party?


The M-Audio Venom is a 12 voice virtual analog synthesizer with sampled waveforms - quite a selection of the great and good in there, it has 3 OSC, 3 LFO, 3 ENV, one Filter and 3 FX (one insert, two aux). Tweaking is taken care of by the 4x6 edit matrix (plus one switch), deeper editing is taken care of by the free Vyzex (pronounced Veezex) editor. A 49-key light synth action keyboard, USB audio and MIDI interface built in.
First impressions are one of cost cutting, the keyboard is not great, no aftertouch, the editing system is a little disappointing - only four knobs, the editor is okay, but more functional than with a delicious GUI. And then you play it.
The marketing speak has been all about the edgy, aggressive sound - as a rule, you should ingore that kind of rhetoric. But in all fairness, they pretty much nailed it. Raw oscillator waves have plenty of sonic depth, I hesitate to use the word, but in this case I think fat is called for. A savage OSC sync and Ring Mod feature gives more bite.
Waves are taken from a variety sources:
MG - Moog Model D, RP- Arp 2600 Greyface, AL - Alesis Fusion, JX - Roland JX8-P, SH - Roland SH-5, MS - Korg MS-20, OB - Oberheim SEM, PB - Plan B Model 15, TB - TB 303, HP, Hewlett Packard 200CD  - 1952 test oscilator, DP - X wave Doepfer A-137, Bit Wave - Harvestman Zorlon Cannon.
There are also a few multi-sampled kits - the TR909, 808 and DR55, plus an FM kit. These sound pretty good and form the basis of many of the groove patterns.

Non Step Filter
The multimode filter is a real treat - although there is only one,  clearly this only child has had a very happy upbringing with lots of love lavished on it by the designer Taiho Yamada (Alesis Fusion, Andromeda). Firstly the resolution is 8-bit - correction 10-bit, that means 1024 steps which translates to a very smooth sweep - no noticable stepping. When combined with say a MG Saw wave (Moog Model D) the results are about as analog as I’ve heard - very nice.

Effects are basic, but complimentary, with a single insert effect (Compressor, EQ Bandpass, AutoWah and Reducer) and two Aux effects.
Aux 1 gives: Plate, Room, Mono Echo, Stereo Echo, with various ¾, 4/4, triplet -  mono stereo combinations.
Aux 2: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser and Delay.

Four parts, split, MIDI channel, pan level, fx sends etc, all the usual stuff here, though you cannot get at the parameters from the front panel, you need to fire up the editor. The real biggie at least for some is going to be that patch changes are just a no no. While playing beats, a bassline and a lead, changing programs for a single part in the multi results in glitching and pauses in playback. The root of this is that the DSP is under heavy load. Clearly this is going to be a big problem if you are working with live seuqenced MIDI.

Lots of the preprogrammed multis use the arpeggiator on all parts (one for each), these can be drum patterns, phrases or standard classic UP/Down UPDown octave range kind stuff. Patterns can be loaded in from MIDI files and up to 2-bars in length. The multis show off this capability extremely well and are a great way of getting the juices going.

USB Audio
Also included is the 2 IO USB interface, with a fixed 44.1kHz 24-bit  you have a mic, instrument and Aux (stereo phono) input. Once the driver is installed, your DAW can take signal from the synth engine, or the inputs. The synth engine can be used to process the live inputs or the USB audio return, giving access to the synth engine and effects. Seemed to work fine for me, I process some guitar with it.

The Antidote
Venom certainly has its faults - the average keyboard with no after-touch, the lack of front panel controls, the need to use the not particularly brilliant editor for much of the programming, plus the quite literally show-stopping program change glitches when in multi-mode, mean that for some people this will not be the synth for them. But - and this really is quite the biggest of buts, its almost all forgivable coz it sounds pretty darned good to me. In a synth of this price, I wouldn’t expect to be getting many ‘in your face’ usable signature sounds, but Venom comes up trumps. I think we’ll be hearing this all over the place in the coming months.

Available now.
£470 /$599 - full retail price


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