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Access Virus TI

Remarkable for being: The Lady Gaga of synths.
 



 

A NON-SYNTHY SYNTH

Trying to express an opinion about this model is like starting a discussion about the probability of the existence of God. Two things are certain; that shit is going to fly through the air and land on faces, and that believers on both sides will hold their beliefs even stronger. When talking to one of TI fans I even felt that, by dissing the machine, I made him sad and insulted in the same way and amount as if I was being disrespectful toward his sister or mother... Geeeeeeeeez. But I'll give it a try for those of you who try to keep a balanced attitude and know that the world does not reveal itself in either black or white.

My best analogy for the TI - the Lady Gaga of synths. Or better: a GMO (Genetically Modified) fruit. It looks impeccable, it can grow in any soil and it has a set of 100 vitamins in it. The 64 thousand dollar question is - will you enjoy chopping and eating it? Often times I don't... Has all but feels kind of dull, as if the sound is flowing through a cotton pad. Is this the so-called "dark" or "German" sound of the Virus? I was going to rephrase it muffled / subdued, but some slight distortion and some onboard FX/EQ manipulations can give it a nice amount of crisp and tonal variety, so surely it's not muffled in the way the Korg Z1 is. Nonetheless the raw TI tonal experience, even after meticulously adjusting its distortions, is something totally miles behind, say, a DSI Evolver or a Nord Lead. Of course the raw Evolver is not the epitome of the best sound, as it often gets too invasive & metallic. The Evolver might be too bright, Waldorf Q might be too heavy sounding, so if you need more slender & politically correct, or should I say non-synthy sound, then the Virus is the best choice. It sits right in the middle between raw analogue-ness and glossy digital-ness and can sway to either side but within a safe distance.

The big argument for the TI is that it can do everything. As with everything, this everything can be much debatable. Its crude arpeggiator and kind of noisy FM + uncooperative wavetable + filter behavior make me miss my MS2000, An1x or Blofeld, yet the most important consequence of this is that I must discard a big part of the synth for which I paid. Comb filter? It's here, but it sounds like shit. Wavetables? They're here, but only some of them sound appealing. ARP-to-Matrix? The idea is cool, but the results are shit due to the aforementioned lack of agility of the sound. So despite the fact that I adore wild synth-mangling and forcing square pegs into round holes and most of the time I'm able to digest such fucked-up sounds smoothly, to my ears trips like that in Virus end up in unlistenable mess. Totally (and surprisingly) unconvincing and discouraging for me in this area (area of "synthy fun"). But that's a small area. Move on and...

WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY

I appreciate all things ambient, chill-out, ethereal & soundtracky I managed to make on my TI. Pads & drones shrouded in reverbs and delays are really classy, as the FX unit is great for this. After I've played with that kind of stuff, the TI mostly invites me to make "pop" patches. And even though I hated the synth for the first month, I now kinda like those unpretentious pop patches, their concise yet appealing plasticity & variety, and I could swear I hear them in TV jingles, commercials (example) and Lady-Gaga-esque songs. So yes - I think the TI can do pretty much everything for popular contemporary electronic music, under which I understand pretty much all things like the Gaga, Charli XCX, new Prodigy, Munk, Subsonik, whatever. The trick is that such people are / have good producers, so even if the synth sounds a bit deficient or rigid to your personal ear, you still like the songs made with it. I would even point to that issue as being the most vital part in understanding the Virus hype, or the actual Virus appeal - switch it on, take a raw saw sound, close the filter with a snappy envelope setting or push up the reverb knob without even diving into its options and VOILA - you have the "The Drill" (Matt Schwartz) or any Deadmau5 sound. In 5 seconds. Go and listen to the songs. Do they sound very analog? Very sophisticated? Not necessarily, but that's irrelevant. These and other songs are about something else. Virus has that something. And this something is a mixture of being appropriately generic & fitting in, appropriately versatile and appropriately down-to-earth & easy, appropriately balanced between clean & grungy. Ladies & gentlemen, meet the 21st century musical zeitgeist.

Back in the day I was criticizing the Nord Leads heavily, but with the Virus by my side I perfectly understand where the Nord's appeal comes from. Put the TI and Nord side by side, play a simple unFXed init sound on both, and they're like calcified water and fresh juice. Of course when it comes to versatility, they're like Inyo National Forest and an orange grove, but the Nord lovers don't give a fuck about Viru-esque versatility. So the most probable deficiency in your Virus will be the sonic qualities and responsiveness of your other synths, and the more synths you have, the more lacking the TI will probably seem. Having a severely limited amount of money, I would definitely choose to buy a bundle of 3 cheaper synths that just a Virus (as much as it has this specific, subdued tone during individual tweaking, I still have to admit that the TI is one of the most category-evasive sounds in the synth world; many times I am unable to tell that the sound I'm hearing comes from the TI. Just like with DX7. This is a rare instance when characterlessness is actually a merit / compliment, and this has to be perceived as a big plus for any synth. Nevertheless, the TI CANNOT make all kinds of patches other models produce, and the TI CANNOT mimic the sound of all other synths, so don't take such demented & extremist opinions seriously - there's no synth like that!).

I don't know how big a part of the entire enterprise the Total Integration feature is, maybe for some people that's a big point-scorer and makes their job a lot easier, I myslef with my workflow don't care and don't factor that into this review / opinion. I would only wish that in a $3000 synth one could expect and get a glitch-free arpeggiator, glitch-free LFOs, glitch-free envelopes, no fucking clicks out-of-the-blue (yes, I do have the latest OS - in 2011) and a 3rd mod envelope. But maybe that's just me with my wild fantasy, and the target-customers of that thing don't mind this kind of curious price / result ratio. To say a bit more about the interface: there's a significant amount of menu-diving, and the menu navigation resembles driving around Paris old town with its one-way-dead-ends. The Atomizer? What is that about? Cutting audio into slices according to tempo? That's okay, but I guess that's all there is to it. Isn't there a free VST doing it already? Of course the Virus still has a lot better interface and a lot more to offer than other synths like Yamaha AN1x.

The lesson I would draw out of this experience is that the more hype a synth has, the more cautious you should be. The "This synth is so famous and so expensive that it just has to be great, so I can buy it right away" approach is a very risky approach. A synth's greatness reveals itself in different places for different people. Looking at TI's big price tag, no mind-blowing technology (it doesn't run on IG00153s chips for Christ's sake) and not the most gratifying interface, I must come to the conclusion that it is certainly overpriced (Є2300! even for all its parts and polyphony) and going the VSTi route seems more justified to me (justified but not preferred - I will always choose hardware because I hate mouse-clicking and screens). And vice versa: the more hate-speech a synth gets, the more curiosity and examination should be given to it, because it may turn out that the hate is coming from a unified community of VCO-lovers, or trance-lovers, or lovers of anything that the synth does NOT represent. By the way - I wonder what Radias haters have to say about the TI. For me these two sound quite close, with Radias even winning in some cases (quick choice: sequenced creative fun bright & clear synth -> Radias, soundtrack / sitting-well-in-the-mix dirtier pop synth -> TI).

There's no perfect synth that is satisfactory in all areas, whatever its price might be, and that's the beauty of it. Because if there was a perfect synth, the richest people could with minimal effort produce the best results. And a world where only the rich have something to say would seem a bit scary to me. Besides, all songs would be "perfect" sounding, which means they would be the same sounding, which I think is what happened in some amount to the Virus house / dubstep community. But the public always gets what it wants.

ARE U INSPIRED? MAYBE YOU DON'T NEED TO, ACTUALLY.

Rich or not, in or outside dance / dubstep, the objective truth is that the TI is so feature-rich and versatile that you're sure to find it hugely entertaining and long-lasting, whatever your genre, with the sole proviso that you accept its software-ish, mid-rangey sound and that it inspires you during the tweaking stage. Many people don't need to accept it; they love the way in which it resembles a kind of adjustable-clayish-matter and how it finds proper place in their mixes. You should bear in mind that once you get past the uninspiring tweaking stage and create some seemingly plastick sounds, then those sounds magically fit into your songs. To those of you who love the Nord Lead or the A6 Andromeda sphere of crystalline presence, or the Evolver sphere of effective rebellion - I say BEWARE - because even though the TI has all the gadgets to go for the various & the hardcore, too often the results seem cheesy, like a fucking Casio on steroids. Yes, you heard right - I used the words cheesy and Casio to describe a $3000 synth. It's the cheesiest (least "synthy") synth if we take the price / sound ratio to be the decisive factor. Sometimes I'm tempted to think that Virus does that on purpose to keep our sounds within the safe boundaries of "mainstream music" - otherwise we would push it and make sounds that are too radical, a flatout demonstration of "our style" that would carry the risk of sliding out of that universally accepted & digestible timbre into yet another underground sub-genre.

The important factor in this entire assessment of mine is that I'm more of a sound-design guy than a full-time musician. Because if I were the latter I would probably thank the Lord for giving me such a compatible tool with such a lucid sound. YESSS! I found the right word! A tool. When I hear the word "synth", I think "Waldorf Q", "Alesis Ion". When I hear "Access Virus", I think "a brand", "a tool", or to make it more explicit: it's like the stereotypical lover vs wife. Should you face a frantic attempt of the Virus aficionados to defend it and prove it unbelievably awesome, which will inevitably be the case if you dare to question it, just ask them to show you an un-compressed, un-postproduced, beat-free audio example of why they rate the Virus so highly. Only after then will you be able to really understand what this synth is about, and to make your decision.

***

PS.
Why Lady Gaga of synths? Gaga has solid musical education, but somehow you always end up seeing her out-of-this-world hats or her groin - all according to market demands. Gaga is ubiquitous. Gaga is believed to be the new savior / queen of pop music. Naturally, Gaga attracts as many followers as haters. And the haters seem to hate her and discredit her for what in their minds are lofty and justified goals (She's overrated! You can find everything that Gaga does in past performances of Madonna, just the same way you can use VSTi for what the Virus does!, etc). Yet many people simply like her songs in a basic, psycho-biological-response way (I do). And the simplest of all facts is: Gaga gives entertainment, sells shitload of albums and is the right person in the right place, serving a function. So who gives a fuck?
Live and let die motherfuckers.
 

 

 

Watch the demo part 1:

 

Watch the demo part 2:

 

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