Access Music Virus TI Snow by jimmyklane
Upon opening the package, the Access Virus comes across as being very well built. I opened the box, finding it very well packed from the factory, and pulled out the Snow...and was surprised at the heft and solid feel of it! In the package was a wonderful PRINTED MANUAL (a big plus for me in these days of PDF only manuals!) a USB cable (good quality, clear 6ft cable), a "line-lump" style power cable that is very long (probably over 10 ft!) and a Logstoff M4 Messenger bag.... I gotta say, while it's weird to get a man-purse with a synth, it DOES make it pretty easy to carry the Snow around! :-)
The Access Virus TI Snow is a 3 Oscillator+1 Sub-Osc, 2 Filter, 3 LFO, 4 envelope(with OS5, 2 with all others) VA with additional oscillator functions. I will attempt to detail the architecture of the synth below:
Continuously Variable VA Waves, from Sine/Tri--thru Saw--to Square(with PW/PWM) osc 2-->1 sync and FM are possible.
"Hypersaw" Oscillator with continuously variable saw count 1-9 and up to one semi-tome de-tuning and a special sync function.
Wavetable Oscillator with many(not sure of count) continuously variable wavetables... interpolation can be very smooth, or completely defeated for PPG style "jumps" between the waves in the wavetable
Wave PWM: takes TWO of the wavetables (same one, unfortunately) and phases them against each other, creating a really deep and detailed sound.
The Virus TI (all ranges) also includes Graintable and Formanttable oscillators, but I can't really speak to them, as I've only just started learning what I can do with them in terms of synthesis and sound design. I CAN say that they allow for sounds that I can conceive of achieving in no other manner, and I've been programming synths since I was a kid (20+ years!)
There are TWO filters in the Snow, and they can be routed in four ways: Serial 4(pole), Serial 6(pole), parallel, and Split. Both the parallel and split functions allow you to control how they are panned in a limited way, by using the "pan spread" control that is in the Unison portion of the menu in both Virus Control and the real synth menu system. There is an "analog" mode that drastically changes the sound of the filter, however, it can only be used on filter 1, and changes the routings in a way that I haven't quite pinned down. In Analog Mode, there are options to use the filter LP only, but you can choose to use it as 6dB/Oct, 12, 18, or 24dB/Octave!!! very cool. The filters are linked by default, but that can be defeated, and there is also a "filter spread" control that changes the frequency of filter 2 relative to filter 1. Overall, I feel that the filters on the Virus sound great. both the digital and the analog verisons have their own character...which I would characterize as more "smooth" than "screamy"....for reference, I consider the MS-20/MonoTribe/Monotron filters as "screamy" however, you can definately get some "scream" out of them, especially given the saturation options in the filter section! In analog mode, this is fixed as "analog saturation" and is controlled by the OSC volume. how hard you drive the filter controls how it sounds, as it is in a real analog synth. it sounds pretty convincing to me...even if it isn't "real". in digital filter mode, (as in analog) how you have the filters routed controls where the Saturation stage sits. In the serial modes you have: Filter One---->Saturation---->Filter Two. In Parallel you have: Filter One/Filter Two (L/R)---->Saturation. In Split: Filter One---.Saturation (L) Filter Two (R). This should help to show the HUGE sonic variations available simply using the OSC--->Filter routings! again, very cool!
These are standard ADSR, with an adjustment for "slope" in the sustain to release section, and can provide some cool swelling type movement in a sound. Something I should really bring into focus here: the "PUNCH" control. cranking this up makes the Virus sound the equal of the snappiest analog I've ever played....it just puts a great transient spike in the attack stage, and it really DOES work. Something cool: the new OS 5 beta adds TWO MORE ENVELOPES!!! YES!!!
There are three LFOs in the Virus TI range.... they go fast, but not QUITE into the audio range....if I had to guess, I'd say 20-30Hz, but don't quote me on that! The LFO can be used in Poly or Mono (one LFO/Voice, or one LFO/all Voices) There are some pre-wired routings in the Virus Control, as well as one "assign" routing where you can pick from a stupid-long table of destinations.... pretty much anything can be acted upon by an LFO....which leads me to the Mod Matrix. You have 6 Source boxes, each with 3 destinations, and the level of modulation is individually controllable. This gives you a 6 Source/18 Destination matrix, and that means you can get really REALLY wild with what and how your sounds "move". I have to admit that I am impressed.
There is more...the Effects Section
I'm going by heart here... and the Virus is not in front of me: BUT... you've got Delay (Classic and Tape) that can be clocked, free, doppler, and can be filtered and modulated. in the Tape modes, you've got up to 200% feedback, for some wicked analog-style distortions in the feedback path.
Reverb w/ Feedback: Not the best reverb I've ever heard, but nice and smooth with clean tails and the ability to lock the pre-delay to MIDI/USB clock!
Many types of Chorus....so far the very subtle "AIR Chorus" is my favorite. they all sound fantastic...and the Vintage reminded me strongly of my Roland Alpha Juno!
Phaser: user selectable 1-6 sections
Distortion: now with "stomp boxes" that are modeled after some classics..i know that one of them is the Ibenez Tube Screamer, and I'm sure you guys can figure out some of the others...Saffron is probably a Boss/DOD Overdrive, etc... many of these match up with the many filter saturation options, however now they act on the signal as a whole as opposed to per voice! perfect for lead sounds/guitar sims!
There are more...but as I said, I'm going by heart... they ALL sound really nice on this synth. One thing I will say: the Reverb eats polyphony for lunch... be careful!!!
Now for the business end: Upon bringing my new Virus over to my computer area, I knew that I'd have to get some software from the Access website. I sat down, created an account, registered my new baby, and downloaded the current OS/TI combo software installer. Here is where I started to run into an issue. I had done some research beforehand, and I already knew that the Snow(or any TI for that matter) needed to be on it's own, dedicated, USB port... it CANNOT be a hub. I am on a PC...Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. Turns out that most of my USB ports (Ive got 10... 8 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0) are actually HUBS as far as the Motherboard and Win7 are concerned! SO..... I stop what I'm doing and take a 4GB thumb drive and proceed to test every single port on my computer (not an easy task when the computer is in the corner of a closet with the back up against a wall/corner!!!) and finally locate a port that seems to fly solo. Ok... back in business... OR NOT. OS 4.3 starts to install, and rolls back several times.... I change some BIOS settings... roll back... I re-read the Virus TI Setup Guide... change some more BIOS settings...roll back.
Now I'm getting a bit miffed...
So... in a move of desperation, I download the new beta OS, OS 5, from the Access website. Restart the computer, get all ready to go, wondering if it's going to work...
The Virus TI Snow software installs, Windows 7 seamlessly installs the drivers so that it can be used as a soundcard, the TI Updater takes over my Snow and installs the new OS 5 in a quick and painless process that has me wondering why I was getting ready to take a bat to the whole dog and pony show just a few short minutes beforehand.... .... ...
OK. I had told the Virus TI Setup software where my VST plugins folder is, and let it put the 64-bit version wherever it wanted, as I'm using Ableton Live....no 64-bit support for me...bummer.
I start up Ableton, instantiate the special Virus TI Snow plugin (there are two, one for the Snow, and one for the rest of the family) and the plugin copies all of the RAM and ROM patches over to the computer for me in a completely painless process.... which is great, as I was NOT looking forward to a bunch of SYSEX dumps like I have to do for my analog polys!
Once I got the TI function working, it has stayed rock solid. ESPECIALLY with the Snow, the TI is extremely useful for programming the unit, as there are many, many layers of menu to go through and only 3 soft knobs with which to do it. The dedicated Filter and Resonance knobs are great....they have come in handy many times since I got the unit just 12 days ago. I am not a preset diver... I like to roll my own, and therefore can't really speak to the included patches all that much....what I WILL say is that they all SOUND really really cool, inasmuch as they show off the killer mod-matrix
NOW.... the sound? pretty damn good....pretty damn good INDEED. i especially love the sound of the raw square wave, which is SUPER hollow and creamy. Most digital synths do not get this right...they make the square too perfect, and it sounds like crap. I was fascinated by this, so I ran the raw square through my oscilloscope to verify what I was hearing....and lo and behold, the tops of the waves are a bit rounded, and there is some nice ring-y overshoot going on at the transitions as well.... NICE! As everyone is aware, the top 2 1/2 octaves DO alias like crazy. guess what? This means that the waves aren't band limited with a heavy hand, and that the low octaves sound better than they would otherwise! The Wavetable/Wave PWM sounds are about as expected, and although I would've liked to see a bit more variation in there, they all sound pretty decent. I have only goofed around with the Grain/Formant table oscillators a bit, and so do not feel qualified to judge them just yet.
Here is an overall impression on a 1-10 scale
Fit and Finish: 10
Raw OSC sound: 8
Filter Sound: 9
WORKING TI functions: 10
Ease Of Setup (for me): 5
Ease of Use (With Virus Control): 10
Ease of Use (Standalone): 6
Presets: N/A (the ones I checked out were cool, but I make my own)
Value for Money: 8
Drool Factor: 7
Hope you like my review, feel free to drop me an email or PM if you want to talk about the Virus TI Snow in more detail!!!