Sonic LAB: M-Audio Venom Virtual Analog

Dirty little synth      28/02/11

No flash plug


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12:53 mins

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.

Multi-Mode
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.

Patterns
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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21 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
bartal    Said...

Hi Nick

You've set a new standard for reviews :-)

28-Feb-11 02:56 PM


mark    Said...

Great review.

Do you think it's destined to be the new Microkorg?

28-Feb-11 04:22 PM


Valerio Cambareri    Said...

Awesome review Nick. It does sound good!

28-Feb-11 05:54 PM


Curious    Said...

So I have seen many people say " sampled wave forms " So then are the OSC's not dsp based , but rather pcm ,wavetable .... literally samples ?

01-Mar-11 02:38 AM


SteveFromBerlin    Said...

Some days ago I was in a music store and checked it out. I have to say, while it does sound good and that indeed matters the most, it's even more ugly in real life than on screen. How could somebody do that to good sounding synth engine?

01-Mar-11 04:28 AM


Timmer    Said...

Hey Nick,

Great review, cool sounds, like the ability to route audio through it, though shame about dsp load and cheap key feel. Was that Max's old guitar? Cheers, Tim O.

01-Mar-11 04:35 AM


Nick B    Said...

Hi Tim! Yes it was Max old guitar, the Burns Split Sound

01-Mar-11 05:10 AM


rezazel    Said...

Sounds good, but I don't like synths that need an editor for full programming...

01-Mar-11 05:20 AM


Brian from USA    Said...

Nick,

You went over the audio interface rather quickly. I like the idea for LIVE use....one keyboard + laptop making a very simple setup. It's hardly the first product to offer this but I seldom hear discussion of real-world latency and stability of these interfaces compared to standalone interfaces.

01-Mar-11 07:57 AM


Nick B    Said...

Yes fair point Brian. I thnk the latency is dependent on how tight you have your buffers on the host computer, the i/f on the Vernom alows for direct monitoring in which case the answer would be zero or thereabouts, but you can process through the synth, rather than through plug-ins in your DAW.

01-Mar-11 08:20 AM


Timmer    Said...

Hey Nick, Thought I recognised it. As used in 'Panic Stations' if I remember rightly. Cheers, Tim

01-Mar-11 08:35 AM


selercs    Said...

Nick,

As always, great review! I agree about the keys: M-audio always made crappy keybeds to be honest...better than MIDIMAN but still not as good as a Fatar or Yamaha keybed.

Anyway, I have a question if you don't mind answering...what do you use to record audio into your video? I have a RME Fireface hooked via RCA cables to my Canopus ADVC...while it cancels out unwanted noise pretty good, I just can't seem to get the full depth and high decibel you get... any suggestions?

02-Mar-11 10:53 AM


Nick B    Said...

We have a vairety of record sources, camera, mac line in, sound input of our video capture system. I apply a little compression/EQ to the mic on record, usually I dont to the instrument, apart from a limiter at the final stereo output on our editing setup.

What I do do is setup a ducker on the line in keyed from the mic so I can maintain a higher level without having to automate all the levels of the music against a separate audio track. Oh, and I generally mix mic and instrument to stereo on record.

02-Mar-11 02:05 PM


Marc JX8P    Said...

Great review, as always! Nice guitar playing as well.

Very cool product, though maybe it would fare better if it were seperate from the audio interface.

On a sidenote, again no euro prices? :-)

02-Mar-11 02:34 PM


sf_user    Said...

The review really helps me to see what the potential is for the Venom. I am going to go and look into it soon. The price really set well relative to other synths available. Hope to see the Venom in a local store soon.

Thanks Nick.

03-Mar-11 01:19 AM


Venom User    Said...

I'm quite impressed by the Venom and the Vyzex editor. First off, the Venom engine does receive aftertouch. So using it with your DAW or any other MIDI controller, you can utilize aftertouch in your Venom patches. The limitation is that the Venom keybed doesn't transmit aftertouch. I'm sure this helped keep the price down. With the Venom not being my primary keybed, that's not that big of a deal.

The synth has found it's perfect spot in my keyboard aresenal. And that includes sitting along side of my Virus TI. They compliment each other so well.

I am very thankful that M-Audio has supplied such a 'thorough' editor with the Venom. There some amazing surprises in the editor that make you tweak in it for hours. Merging 2+ patches to create entirely new patches never heard before. Patch management has been well thought out. The integration is so tight, I forget that I'm not working directly on the face of the Venom. I've used some pretty robust editors before. Vyzex Venom actually ends up being one of the more 'brilliant' synth editors available - even when put up against ones that cost 20% of Venom's purchase price. Midi Quest XL, Access Virus TI Virus Control, Korg's M3 editor, and others.

The Venom is gonna be one of those classic synths that will be sought after for many years for it's uniqueness. The Venom doesn't seem to be trying to compete with anything out there. It's a Venom.

Nice job M-Audio & Psicraft. Quite impressed.

03-Mar-11 10:45 PM


Reyescult    Said...

Nice Review, Thanks!

04-Mar-11 09:45 PM


Omu    Said...

Do the other controls (I'm mainly interested in pitch and mod wheel) transmit 10bit data?

14-Oct-11 06:41 AM


venom analog prime soundset    Said...

please hear my venom analog soundset at youtube under THEXCEE you will recognice the real power of the venom. the sounds are free downloadable at venomsynth.com

20-Sep-12 12:31 AM


venom analog prime soundset    Said...

please hear my venom analog soundset at youtube under THEXCEE you will recognice the real power of the venom. the sounds are free downloadable at venomsynth.com

20-Sep-12 12:31 AM


Still    Said...

A little bit off topic sorry, but do you guys think about an getting an M-Audio Venom for Christmas ?

Any feedback(s) ( PMs ) appreciated !

16-Nov-13 12:14 PM


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