A huge lot of unfeasible requests, and some constructive, but merciless, criticism

  • Hello, let me start saying I absolutely love my Virus, it is the most inspiring instrument I've ever owned, and for sure one of the better sounding I've ever played, now that I have one, just as Access ads say, I wonder how could I live without one. Still, there are a few things I don't like, and I think the root of the problem is retrocompatibility:

    It is obvious looking at the virus panel that it is just a machine from the 90s, to which a colossal amount of processing power and modern features were added, but that monolithic architecture and the "vintage" interface do have some problems; I don't think there is any better sounding digital synth in the world right now, not that I know at least, but I know more than a few with a less crowded panel and way easier to program.

    1) Why are there dedicated modulation busses for LFOs and envelopes? That's nonsense when you have a modmatrix; ok, the filter and the amp should have their "hardwired" envelopes, and it makes plenty of sense to have an LFO which by default controls the pitch and is triggered by aftertouch, or as Access calls it "channel pressure" (I happened to spend several minutes looking for a modulation source called aftertouch, but no luck...) also, the velocity settings are hidden in the config menu... why? This just makes programming counterintuitive, the Alesis Ion, which I mentioned on this forum in a thread somewhere else, was out 10 years ago, was a budget synth and has a proper modmatrix from which everything is modulated: want to modulate something? open the matrix and voilà, with the Virus things can get a bit more complicated, this also makes understanding and studying a patch all but transparent

    2) 2 lines of display are not even remotely enough for editing a synth this powerful on the fly, they could be acceptable in a 90s synth or in one of those Swedish nanny state synths known as Nord, but in a complex and deep synth, aimed to professionals and not kids with a big wallet and no knowledge of synthesis, things are different. The Waldorf Blofeld for example has just a few knobs and a huge display, it is architecture wise a more complex synth than the Virus, but thanks to its display it can be programmed easily on the fly, the same goes again with the Ion, and they're both budget synths!

    3) the button layout is confusing, and sometimes dangerous; the select button for filters for example is just on the side of a button which would change the mode of filter 2, on a dark stage, in need to select a filter to tweak it, the risk is suddently changing the mode of the filter, and therefore the character of the patch, no matter how quick you are in hitting undo, that's something that won't go unnoticed to the public. also with oscillators, there is a dedicated button for turning on osc3, is that something you ever thought of doing live or you ever felt the need of a hardware button for? I'd rather have 3 buttons which selects one of the oscillators period. Also the buttons, they're all identical and almost featureless, of course in a studio that's not a problem, but live it definitely can be, big backlit buttons with a name on them are way better, playing a synth should be about doing things, not intensely looking at a panel making sure you're pressing the right button.

    3)Now for some proper nonsense; why does the type/mix knob in the distortion menu control the distortion type? Do they expect people to go, in the middle of a gig from a tube saturation to a bitcrushing at the touch of a knob? The fun thing is you can, but I think you're all very likely not to want to, while controlling the distortion mix could actually be useful, but it requires entering the menu, and pressing the edit button... careful, not the select button just on its left, totally identical except for a small name just at the bottom of it, if you do, you'll have to cycle through all the effects, open the menu and then modify the distortion mix with one of the soft knobs, feasible, but not immediate at all. Then there is the osc volume knob... I find it somehow useful and interesting that the same knob controls the volume, and if cranked high adds filter saturation, but I think it is quite counterintuitive as well. Also, as somebody mentioned already on this forum: compression; I hate it, but it's almost a must nowadays, with something capable of such diverse sounds, the ability to have some dedicated compression for each patch is a must, most cheap synths with a bit of effects have it, why is the big Virus missing it?

    4) architecture. The Virus is substantially a subtractive synth, with also amazingly cool hypersaw, wavetable grain and formant oscillators, the oscillator section is amazingly powerful, but the routing of things inside it is pretty straightforward and hardwired, filters can be in series, in parallel or split, period, for effects the choice isn't even given. Also, back to filters, I don't really see the need of a led light telling me in which mode each filter is, Especially because it is slightly more useful than a second sphincter around my elbowl, It can't be easily read quickly while playing, reading the panel requires attention, an attention a live player should be keeping elsewhere, those informations have to come as quickly as possible. And those stupid led lights I suppose are the only reason there aren't more filter options in that section, the Ion I already mentioned had about 30 different filter models, all pretty good sounding for the time and for the cost of the synth, the filterbank looks almost like an insult to me, you can have all those filters, but all you get is a dry/wet control using them as effects at the end of the effects chain. Not entirely pointless, but a bit frustrating for sure, no way of routing them in parallel or in series with any of the actual filters, which would have opened to creative and more modern sounding things than the usual techno bass or 70s mooglike lead. Oh, also about filters, how come there is no way of setting the pan settings for the 2 filters independently? It allows to create wonderful stereo sonic textures, but unfortunately it can't be done with the Virus... you'd better get a cheaper synth or a plugin for that.

    5)The audio interface is CRAP! I got a Behringer something for free with a mixer I seriously regretted buying, and it sounds better, less jitter, less crackle, and it can also run with a 64 samples buffer, how come on the most expensive digital subtractive synth on the market I get that thing? not that the converters are bad, because they definitely aren't, I don't know what's wrong with it, but something is for sure.

    6) Last but not least, I think walnut and metal are very good materials, they feel great to the touch and give quite a sense of quality, but while for the keyboard version that might not be an issue, since if you got the 61keys version you either don't move it you are ok with suffering or can afford some slave roadies; on a Polar, which is by your own website marketed to the "on the road musician", everytime I take mine out, for a gig or reharsal I just miss the feeling of cheap plastic in my keyboard bag, I wonder why, in a world iof indestructible and light polymers a 37 keys keyboard is built like that, who is it trying to impress? Conservative musicians will save for a Minimoog Voyager anyway, they're not going to be fooled by a bit of walnut by a synth whose pedigree screams techno and dance, for sure it is capable of way more, but I imagine the typical virus user would be way better off with something looking less out of last century, and maybe weighting easily half of what it does the way it is, I'd be more than happy to trade all that metal and walnut for a proper display, and I don't think I'm the only one.

    To make a counterexample, I made this improvising on a single patch I made on an Ultranova: http://soundcloud.com/neonbug/weird-pad-short-improvised
    as you might hear, it sounds polytimbral, and that's because of the filter and effect routings, on that patch I didn't even use the arpeggiator, Now the sound quality of the Ultranova isn't as good as that of the Virus, but if I could have had one of those with a bit of multitimbrality I'd be seriously regretting buying the Virus, might not have that phat german sound, but it's not like it can't produce a decent bass, the oscillators are almost as intriguing as the ones in the TI, the filters have character, and when it comes to interface (I love big backlit buttons, I want to keep my brain on playing and programming, not understanding which button I have to play to do something) filter and effect routings it just annihilates the Virus, leaving it a decade behind.

  • To make it clearer, I still love my Darkstar, and back from the last reharsal, the Virus is here on my desk, since I can't live without its sound and the feel of those long solid keys, and the Nova is still in its bag, still I think making synths is about looking forward, or at least looking around at what the competition offers, (and I think in this case Novation made one hell of a synth) not looking back and trying to renew something that is definitely old, and is beginning to stink, Of course very little of what I've said could be object of a sw update, to do anything about it, the instrument would need to be redesigned from scratch or so. A bit of retrocompatibility could be kept though, there is no need to redesign or reprogram oscillators, filters and everything in the software, patches could probably be easily converted from their "old format" to a new Virus one, while the architecture gets more flexible and powerful, without the need to taint it with stupid samples, since there is no way it can be a better sampler than a PC or some of those Workstations designed and programmed by japanese anal engineers, and if there was one, that would be throwing the Virus spirit away.

    Thank you, and sorry if my language sounds colorful more often than not, I'm also sorry if all I've said has already been said in countless threads, but I didn't have the time to read them all, besides, these are my impressions and I think they're bettere expressed in a thread of their own.

  • Regarding the hardwired routing, I believe it is there to make the synth support the patches of its ancestors, which I think sends a very clear message to the owners of the older generation products that they are not forgotten. This, and the continuing support. Apart from that, the hardwired routings seem to consume less resources then their modulation matrix counterparts, which is good for polyphony.
    Regarding the effects section there is a lot that can be done without breaking the synth's backward compatibility. I believe the case is the same when it comes to adding filters and routing options at the single note stage.
    Regarding live performance, in your position I would just go and buy a backlit programmable MIDI control surface (they are not too expensive) and configure all the missing/sensitive knobs and buttons in it and connect it to the Virus' MIDI in (I guess a little gooseneck lamp would help as well).

  • Of course, my point exactly, backward compatibility, which after 15 years I think has done its time, these generations of the Virus will stay in the legend forever like the Kurzweil K series, being all compatible one with the other, but it's time to realize the 21st century is here, and it has also been here for a while, not saying "forget about the old virus owners" but please don't forget about the new virus owners! Yes, we got the atomizer, more poliphony, new oscillators, a bunch of cool effects, but the interface and the architecture just stayed the same in 15 years! I'm not saying I don't like the virus nor that all my problems have no solution, yes, I could get myself a control surface and a gooseneck lamp, but there is no way this is getting any more practical than backlit buttons and properly placed and mapped knobs in the first place. About the modulation routing, I read that on the manual as well, all the synths I know with only a modmatrix don't have dynamic polyphony so they don't have this issue. Still I'm thinking that more processing power could be cheaper than high quality walnut, or those sort of armor plates that cover its edges,

  • How's this for an idea... How about if they loosen the 'Hardwiring' of the routing, and then any new patches that are made with this new feature will obviously have this routing in the patch information? Any old patches made before this date will be presumed to have the 'classic' routing options as they will be missing routing info? New routings may cause sound character differences with older models but we already have that issue if you're trying to load a patch using Hypersaw or Wavetables etc on an A, B or C machine yeah? Surely this will allow the opening of the sound pallet but still not forget about the users of the older systems?

    Someone please tell me if I'm missing something here, that's if my post made any sense to you at all!

  • Unfortunately I can play and program the synth, but I have no clue about the developement, and therefore I have no idea what implementing those more flexible routing options would take for the people at Access, I hope they read this thread and took it under a bit of consideration. Happy rebirth of the sun everybody :)