MAN CAVE, or a grotesque of mid life crisis
Virus TI: sold by weight.
Long have I wanted to know the answer to this ageless question:
why are Access Virus synthesisers so fucking expensive?
I found that the answer is really quite simple – they weigh a shit load. Like Ensoniq keyboard levels of Jesus help me lift this thing off me. The Japanese are always striving to run everything on batteries and little shoulder bags. No, the Germans will bolt an extra plate of metal on their wares; think of how the Blofeld is basically a folded sheet of metal filled with a VSTi – this is at least two sheets – twice better.
But there is a difference between Waldorf and Access. Here, twiddle this knob. Hey, that’s pretty nice, hmmmm, could give that a twiddle for a while, feels kinda silky. The Virus has the same kind of svelte as an old Hewlett Packard calculator, or Apple computers before they were ‘Designed in California’. Classy. Other synthesisers cut corners in interesting ways, here they just cut holes out of your savings – the machine cuts nothing.
But I did not pay the full price. Hardly fleacore price but about half the going rate for second hand. First of all the latest TI2 is just a faster TI. If you’re slow like me, just get the TI and save the large price differential. Wait for some sucker to upgrade. Pounce.
So then, to make it work. Access are proud of something called Total Integration, where the rack appears to your computer as a VSTi. I really don’t know why you would spend more on doing this than own all the VST’s in Native Instruments Komplete. But too bad, you have to have it, so first step was download the latest software from the website. This was a total pain in the crack; slow, hampered by a stupid password system that doesn’t work on Firefox, but anyway. They spend an awfully long time warning you about where to plug your USB cable. Get this wrong and you are in deep shit, they say, and so I chose a port directly on my computer.
Install, reboot, the software sees the Virus and installs new firmware on it. Then when I start up Cubase, there’s a VSTi called Virus TI. Cool. It spends the next half hour spooling patches back over the USB and now finally I can hear this thing…
… except I can’t. Nothing works. The cursor won’t even move. Sound card driver completely borked. I won’t go through the next hours of tedium, except to say, yes, get the USB port wrong and suffer. Once I played solitaire with my cables and won, we’re up and running.
Yes, but what does it sound like?
If you use MIDI (which can go over the USB cable) you get sound out the back of the box. Use the Total Integration and it comes up the USB pipe. It’s an interesting way to compare clean feed with the effects of running through a mixing desk. Maybe it’s psychological but the clean feed is pretty damn quiet and underwhelming. Crank it through the desk and it gets some balls.
Now when people say that VST instruments never sound like hardware, they mean (in part) software lacks the slight distortion of the circuitry which excite upper harmonics. This is actually noise and technically unwanted, but like tape hiss it brings the impression of air above the signal. Recent virtual analogues have a bit of this built in (the AIRAs for example). To my ears the Virus just doesn’t have that buzz. It sounds like a VSTi. Clean, solid, hearty and rounded off.
Compare this to a Novation Supernova – which let’s face it ‘borrows’ much from the Virus. The Nova is harsher, more pushy, even though it occupies the same genre. The Blofeld is just plain rude in comparison. The KORG Radius, which was born around the same period as the old Virus, it’s more buzzy and scratchy. Really it’s like the old Monty Python joke about ‘tinny’ and ‘woody’ words. The Virus is ‘woody’.
Start making your own patches and you find that the presets are overcooked in reverb and sauce. Dial it back and some character emerges. The architecture is the good old “2 oscillators through filters”. The filters are OK, but not exactly brimming with character, the resonance is (so far) not very organic, just a sub MOOG screech.
Oscillators can be one of four main types – standard waveforms including some Prophet VS style digital waves, a hypersaw, a wavetable, or a couple of variations on the wavetables that perform frequency distortions. The wavetables are good, they have a nice PPG 8-bit grunge to them that the Virus so desperately needs. The frequency distortions are interesting but mostly come down to aliased pitch shifting that works sometimes and not others. Here again there’s an effect I noticed with the filters – whenever you start to approach a violent or nasty sound the volume dips. Screech the resonance or fuck with a high frequency shift and the sound moves away from you. I haven’t quite got the theory yet but seems like it is rolling off bad frequencies to avoid aliasing.
When you hear an impressive Virus sound it's the effects. These are great, no contest. In attempting to get a distinctive sound I find myself thinking like a guitarist. The guitar itself is a known quality, and the pedals and the amplifier are doing the weird & wonderful. OK, that makes sense.
Nice woody edges, comfortable, smooth ride. Kawai 100F it ain’t.
THIS TOY IS EASY TO USE
IT MAKES HIT RECORD SOUNDS
THE SOUND QUALITY IS GREAT
IT WAS EXPENSIVE AND IS COMMON
ITS RATING IS MORNING WOODY
It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.