I once DJ’d at a night in Banbury and before my set I got talking to one of the other DJ’s. Naturally, talk turned to music, and I asked him what sort of music he played…the answer I got was a single word, spoken in a deep gravelly voice….‘FILTH!’ I didn’t pry much more! But that guy would probably be a fan of the latest product we have available for pre-order…the M-Audio Venom.
Again, I haven’t had the chance to play on the M-Audio Venom, so this article will be based upon the information that I have gathered from various sources. Hopefully this blog post will compile all the important information into one concise article, saving you the time from searching about yourself!
M-AUDIO VENOM – INTRODUCTION
Whilst putting together this report, the words that Avid seemed to want to stress in relation to the M-Audio Venom were ‘aggressive’ and ‘gritty’. This alone would have captured my attention, as these are exactly the types of sound that I love to play about with, but what added to my Venom interest was the fact that The Crystal Method seemed to be raving about it (I hope they weren't just doing it for the money!) Ever since I was first introduced to The Crystal Method when one of their songs popped up at the side of Youtube whilst I was watching a Prodigy video, I have been a fan! If you have never heard of them before, think along the twisted Chemical Brothers kind of lines…all good stuff! :D
So, when i watched the Venom promo video and saw them hail it as ‘the best synth within the last 10 years’, I knew I simply had to find out more!
So, what actually is the Venom?
The M-Audio Venom is a virtual analogue synthesiser, which combines the fundamentals of analogue synthesis with the power of modern digital processing technology. It combines a set of full sized keys with a minimal, uncluttered control surface, using just 4 knobs to selectively access 30 parameters. Combined with the included ‘Vyzex’ software editor, the Venom offers high programmability, powerful soundshaping tools and the capability to produce a range of outputs from subtle atmospheric pads to those seriously dirty sounds that I mentioned earlier. What’s more, you can also use the Venom as an audio interface with Pro Tools M-Powered and othe music software.
M-AUDIO VENOM – PRESETS
The M-Audio Venom ships from the factory with 512 Single patches and 256 Multi patches. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these synthesiser terms, a Single patch is just a single program/sound, and a Multi patch is a preset consisting of a number of layered Single sounds, so they allow for more complex sounding timbres and patches. And it’s also worth mentioning that some of the best sound designers in the industry helped program the presets of the Venom, to give it that forward thinking quality that is so important when a new synth enters the market. And as well as huge electronic basses, euphoric leads, percussion, atmospheric pads and glitchy effects, the M-Audio Venom also comes complete with a classic arpeggiator to add additional movement and inspiration to your sounds.
M-AUDIO VENOM – THE SOUND
The Venom makes use of a brand new M-Audio synth engine, combining the classic analogue feel with powerful digital processing, to give a new sound, different from the usual 'glossiness' of other virtual analogue synths. Add to this the tube saturation limiting algorithm that the Venom team have added in at the beginning of the filter, plus the range of distortion effects included in the synth, and there is no wonder we keep hearing words such as ‘angry’ and ‘gritty’.
The M-Audio Venom wave shapes were sampled from a wide range of existing oscillators to give a huge variation to the types of sound that it is capable of producing. From selected classic vintage analogue synths to modern oscillators and FM synths, the Venom sampled them all! It even includes waves sampled from quirky little gadgets such as old test oscillators, which were capable of producing highly pure sine waves. This all adds up to the 41 oscillator waves that come with the Venom, plus 53 drum sounds (also sampled from a selection of popular vintage keyboards from the past 40 years). To add to the retro feel, the M-Audio Venom even includes DSP-induced oscillator drift to model the nuances of classic analogue synths.
The M-Audio Venom is a 12-voice machine, and each of it’s analogue voices features 3 oscillators, so you have a lot of flexibility to sculpt and layer your sound, and perform detuning for chunky leads and basses. On top of this, the Venom also offers FM, sync, and dynamic wave-shaping on all waveforms, giving you the flexible tools to create unique hybrid sounds.
Of course one of the main sound-shaping parameters on any synth is the filter, and it’s the same with the Venom, which offers a resonant multimode filter with 2- and 4-pole operation modes, and that gritty tube saturation limiting algorithm (that I mentioned earlier) to give a classic overdriven sound. Each voice of the Venom can also cater for up to 3 LFOs, plus 3 AHDSR envelopes to morph the output into a completely custom form!
M-AUDIO VENOM – THE HARDWARE
The M-Audio Venom features 49 full-size, velocity sensitive keys, which Avid state will satisfy and inspire the most serious players (although obviously I cannot back up these claims just yet!) 4 octaves should be more than enough for most performances, and of course you can carry out keyboard transpositions if you require an alternative playing range.
One thing you may notice about the M-Audio Venom is how little physical control elements it has. This was a conscious decision made by the designers, to cut back on the number of immediate controls, and instead offer a top panel which is easy to use, easy to understand, and intuitive. In fact, the Venom uses just 4 knobs to control 30 parameters, including the filter, ring modulation, glide, the LFOs, oscillator pitch, etc. To switch between the different sets of controls, simply use the 2 Performance Control buttons – easy!
M-AUDIO VENOM – MULTI CONTROL
The Multi mode is fantastic for creating exceptionally complex sounds, and is also brilliant if you want to trigger multiple different layers simultaneously for live performance (e.g. trigger drum, bass, and melody parts in perfect sync). Each part contains a phrase sequencer, which is especially useful for playing back drum patterns, but can also be used to trigger your lead synth lines, and all will stay perfectly in BPM-sync via tap tempo! The Venom’s live performance and songwriting features are enhanced by the fact that you can switch melody and rhythm patterns on the fly, and with 256 separate patterns available across 256 Multi patches, you should never be short of inspiration for virtually any electronic musical style.
M-AUDIO VENOM – VYZEX SOFTWARE
Nope, Vyzex isn’t the name given to a product available in your pharmacy to sooth an embarrassing disease! It’s actually the name of the Venom’s included software editor! If you are a serious synth programmer, you are probably going to want to delve deeper than the limited controls available on the Venom’s interface. Hence, the Vyzex Venom software editor allows you to establish a clear visual representation of all the Venom’s settings and parameters, so you can gain an even deeper understanding of what the synth is actually doing if you so choose. The software also allows you to arrange your sound banks, rename patches, save backups on your computer, and share sounds with other users (if you are feeling generous!) Also, the patch collider feature provides an innovative way to ‘mash up’ multiple patches for the creation of new hybrid sounds. It’s an Avid claim that the Venom ‘offers more sound design flexibility than any other synth in its class.’
M-AUDIO VENOM – ONBOARD EFFECTS
The M-Audio Venom comes complete with a host of onboard effects to take your sounds to the next level. The Venom includes two global effect busses with Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser, and on top of this, each of the Venom's four Multi parts has it’s own effect insert with compressor, EQ and distorion, plus Bit Reduction and Decimation – perfect for creating lo-fi and glitchy electro! An additional modulation path within the M-Audio Venom also provides Tremolo and AutoPan.
As the M-Audio Venom also features audio inputs, it is also simple to process external audio signals with the included effects, so there is no excuse not to get creative!
M-AUDIO VENOM – CUSTOMISATION
The Vyzex Venom software is also useful as it lets you customise the way you work with the synth. It’s quick and easy to spread the Venom’s 12-voice polyphony across up to four assignable keyboard ranges, and use splits and layers to create custom stacked patches and keymaps with different sounds on separate sections of the keyboard. In fact, keymaps are essential for customising your Venom, allowing you to control everything from the velocity range to the response of the wheels and pedals. It is even simple to assign each sound to its own MIDI channel within your DAW!
M-AUDIO VENOM – AUDIO/MIDI INTERFACE
The M-Audio Venom isn’t just a powerful synthesiser – it’s also a USB 2.0 audio/MIDI interface, capable of interacting with Pro Tools M-Powered and other popular music software. The unit features microphone, line, and stereo line aux inputs, which means you can use the Venom to record vocals and instruments straight into your favourite DAW without having to hook up any extra gear (apart from a microphone or instrument of course!)
If you are working with MIDI, the M-Audio Venom also makes it easy to record MIDI tracks into your software, then play them back in real-time using the Venom's sound engine. And as mentioned previously, why not route external audio signals through the Venom and process them with the inbuilt effects, filters, envelopes, and LFOs?
M-AUDIO VENOM – SUMMARY
As I’ve already said, I have not had the chance to use the M-Audio Venom yet, but I’ve heard it produce some seriously evil sounds within the various demo videos I came across! This goes a long way to explain why The Crystal Method rate this synth so highly… in fact, lots of the sounds I heard from the Venom heavily reminded me of The Crystal Method’s signature warped sound. This fact alone means that I simply cannot wait to get my hands on the Venom and test it for myself as soon as possible!
Whilst digging around for information I also found a few opinions from some lucky people who have already managed to use the Venom, so as I haven’t had the experience myself, it seems to make sense to tell you what other people are saying, so here goes…
The main plus point I gathered from other peoples experiences were the sounds. The vast majority of people seemed to really be raving about the ‘amazing’, ‘exciting’, and ‘dirty’ sounds it produced, and commented that at it’s fairly budget price, it really was astounding. This type of sound seems really relevant to the current market, with an unescapable commercial Dubstep explosion happening in clubs over the UK, so this synth will certainly please people who are after ‘that’ sound. In fact I found many home dubstep producers personally giving it their blessing. Nevertheless, at such a good price, the M-Audio Venom must fall short somewhere, and the first area that seems to have come to the attention of the public is the lack of real piano or string sounds. I can’t imagine this being a massive problem though… as one Youtube user correctly pointed out, if you want these types of organic sounds, then there are plenty of products out there (such as Omnisphere) that can achieve this beautifully without breaking the bank.
The second area of weakness for the Venom that seemed to annoy some people was the lack of hardware controls. It seems that there are a number of people out there that do not buy into the idea of a hardware/software hybrid synth, and would instead prefer to do all the tweaking from the controller itself. I can definitely see where they are coming from, but at the same time, I can also see the opinion of the people that see the uncluttered surface as a positive thing, and enjoy the process of performing deeper synth edits within the software. It will ultimately be a personal choice as to how you view the limited controls… so I can’t really guide you here! However, I would say that the limited controls may make it a little more tedious to use for live performance, but for studio use it should be no problem at all!
The third and final set of grumbles that I found about the M-Audio Venom was it’s build quality. Unfortunately, budget M-Audio products are a little infamous for this – in the past M-Audio keyboards have come under scrutiny for their poor quality, sometimes ‘sticky’ keys. I would hope that the keys have been improved for the Venom, although it seems that the build of the main body and knobs still possess a plastic, fairly cheap feel. Although with it’s apparent awesome sound quality, Avid must have compensated in other areas to keep the price so reasonable… and after all, it is the sounds first and foremost that will sell a synth.
And finally, what are the alternative choices to the Venom? The main similar products within the same price range as the M-Audio Venom, are the Novation Ultranova and the Roland Gaia SH-01. The Ultranova also seems to have been geared towards the dance and Dubstep market, but I would have to admit that I personally preferred the sounds I heard from the Venom’s demo videos. However, the Ultranova seems to offer more hardware programmability, comes with more knobs and a gooseneck microphone, and features some fantastic features for live performance such as touch sensitive encoders. The Roland Gaia SH-01 is an extremely popular keyboard, capable of producing a wide variety of sounds, and although featuring a smaller keyboard than the Venom, it does feature a whole host of additional hardware controls, and a seemingly better build. However, it is also slightly more expensive than the Venom and the Ultranova. As to which one is best…. I really don’t know! Naturally each seems to have it’s strengths and weaknesses and I would need to have a good long play with each to really compare and contrast, and even then, I’m sure my preferences would not be the same as everyone else’s… so the best advice I can give is to get hands on with these things for yourself if you ever get the chance. I know I certainly will jump at the chance!