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« First Look Video Taster of M-Audio Venom Synth | Main | Pro Tools 9 @ $295 With 4 Years Free Updates For Academics »

M-Audio Venom - 12-Voice Virtual Analog Synth - World's First Review

You can tell from my recent video and also by reading our Twitter feed that I'm an old cynic; NAMM 2011 was wall-to-wall hype, it felt like silly season. So from the outset I'm going to avoid using the term 'game-changer' or any other meaningless phrase in any part of this review.

Bearing that in mind, this will now make writing this M-Audio Venom review extremely difficult, let me explain why. I'm old enough to have been there to try the Yamaha DX7, Roland D50, Korg M1 and Ensoniq Mirage, all synths that when I played them for the first time I thought 'wow!' - they so impacted me that I had to have them, and I did! So writing this article without coming out with hype and silliness is going to be damned near impossible because the Venom has done it to me again. That doesn't happen very often now I'm an old hack, but the M-Audio Venom has hooked me.

In the next days and weeks I'll be posting videos to show you the Venom in action with in-depth tutorials, in the mean-time these are my first impressions of the M-Audio Venom.

I'm not sure if it's by design or accident, but the genius of Venom is that you can get instant gratification out of the box, or if you wish, you can be exploring so deeply that you need oxygen. I had it out of the box and for the next two hours just played with the presets, one of them for 40 minutes using just two fingers! On the other hand I then spent about an hour exploring the editing capabilities, the on-screen editor just works and makes editing a dream.

In More Detail

Enough of my gushing (so much it makes it sound like I'm on Avid's pay-roll), let's get down to basic.

The M-Audio Venom arrives in a fully printed box, just so you're sure what's in there. In the box is the synth, a PSU with an assortment of world-wide converters (helpful) and a DVD containing the Venom installer and the Vyzex editor software installer. You need to install these first and then re-boot your computer, it takes a couple of minutes. You don't need to install these for the Venom synth to work, but it helps when you want to edit.

I already have the Axiom Pro, but the Venom build quality seems even better, with it's futuristic styling and green LCD display. This is not to suggest the Axiom Pro is poorly built, but putting them side-by-side it perhaps reflects manufacturing advancements over the last couple of years.

I could go into detail about connections and knobs, but you can find all this out by downloading the manual from the M-Audio site. So on to the goodies.

What does it do?

At base level the Venom is a virtual analogue synth, giving the user some of the fattest (or should I say Phattest) sounds out there be that; bass, lead, arp, poly and pad. It's called a virtual analogue synth because the raw waveforms it uses to create the sounds via its 3 oscillators are samples of vintage synths - from there on out you can manipulate to your heart's content.

It features both single and multi-mode which enables the user to create both complex sounds and also complex patterns, generated by the in-built arp. It can generate drums and play those as patterns and up to four parts can be combined to make either cool grooves or complex rhythms.

You can feed audio into it and then route that audio through the filters and effects to mash up the sound, but you can also use the synth as an audio interface for your DAW with mic, instrument and stereo aux input. Of course you can also use it as the audio hub to your on-stage rig if you only have 2 or 3 synths.

As I have already said it also comes with the FREE Vyzex editor for Mac and PC, little did I know that when hooked up it works in live mode, in other words as you edit the synth the on-screen editor updates and vice-versa - a very nice touch. So if you are using the Venom with your DAW you can almost use it like a plug-in and you don't need to go near the Venom to control any of it.

The Sounds

The M-Audio Venom comes with 4 banks of 128 sounds in single mode and 2 banks of 128 multi patches from factory. The sounds then have insert and master effects ranging from compressor, bit reducer and distortion affecting gain to delays, flanger and reverb effects.

You can tell there's been a significant investment in sound design because out of the box the Venom sounds brilliant, with diverse sounds perfect for every kind of style including dance, drum-n-bass, Hip Hop and then all the way through to vintage classics that take me back to Stevie Winwood and George Duke tracks.

Perhaps this is why the M-Audio Venom has done to me what the DX7, D50, M1 and Mirage did to me, it has such awesome sounds. When push comes to shove the test of any great synth is how good does it sound, for most of us who don't want to spend hours programming, that means how good does it sound out of the box? Simply put, amazing.


For the men reading this, let me try and use a few analogies, ladies please forgive me for any offence.

If the Venom was a woman then it would be Jenna Jameson . This synth is no lady, it's a filthy, beautiful thing that every man on the planet is going to want to spend a lot of time alone with. (warning - if you need to Google her, then make sure you have safe-search switched on)

If the Venom was a car then it would be the Bugatti Veyron, with that dirty sounding engine, sleek looks, giving you the ride of your life.

If the Venom was a food then it would be a huge Donar Kebab after 10 pints, with lots of hot chilli sauce, but no salad, there's certainly no padding here, it's 110% meat!

For the women reading this, not wishing to leave you out of my analogies, they've turned Jason Bourne into a synth; it's dangerous, sexy and unforgettable.

There's no need for any of the changing games rubbish, if you want to play games then buy a PS3, this is for those who want to make some serious edgy music that gets people's attention - it's got more attitude than a 14 year old hoodie after two bottles of cider. If you are looking for subtle then give the Venom a miss, this is anything but that.

So the million dollar question is should you buy it? Well if you make Bavarian Drinking Music or Celtic Folk then perhaps not. If however you make any kind of beat or synth based music I suggest you get one as soon as possible from your dealer, my guess is the chance of a second hand Venom appearing on the market any time soon, is about a likely as me giving birth.

Thankfully I don't need to, the Venom is my new baby and I'm smitten.

More information from M-Audio

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Reader Comments (16)

Nice review Russ. You've really piqued my curiosity about this little gem. Can't wait to get my grubby hands on it.

As an aside, your similes are getting better and better. I literally laughed out loud at some of your analogies. Watch out Jeremy Clarkson, there's a new boy in town!

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSonny

Aw, crud! And mine isn't due to show up for a day or so... I'm soooo jealous! I think I'll just sit reading the manual on my iPad while watching out the window for the UPS man and trying to stay somewhat sedate.

Here's a question for you: since I'm shoving my Novation Nocturn out of the way to make room for the Venom, can you map the rotary controls on the Venom to other plug-ins? That's probably the only thing I'll miss about the Nocturn. I haven't had a chance to crack the manual yet, but controller mapping to other plugs would be the icing on the cake!

In the meantime, glad you like it! I can't wait!


January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoiselab

Russ!!! Thank you so much for being the first to review Venom. I know a lot about venom living in the desert with scorpions and diamondbacks! Does it offer hyper-control? The editor does not look like RTAS!!!!!! LOL!

I think I'll be saving my pennies (or pounds.) for the Voyager XL. IMO resale value should be important to owning a synth, or any work of art!

Love your humor! Keep it coming!

John Costello

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRubicon

So how does this synth compare to analog counterparts, does it pull off the analog sound well?

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanDan

I wonder how it integrates with Pro Tools HD? Will it just show up as an input like Eleven Rack does? And I wish, but not likely, that it maybe saves the patch information with the track (that can be reloaded back to venom). That would be AWESOME!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJared

So has no one who's gushing over this synth ever heard of or seen a Virus? The REAL Bugatti of synths and the ORIGINAL game-changer (what with it's totally integrated (hence, TI) "control-the-synth-as-a-plugin" component)? RELEASED IN 2005?!

I think the Venom is great as it's the first time the Virus has ever seen competition, but it's VERY CLEAR where this synth has gotten ALL of its inspiration from. And I do mean all. Thus, before we all high-five in to the Avid circle-jerk I feel it's important to rate it within the context of the rest of the world of synths, which I think is nicely summed up thusly:

"The M-Audio Venom: Finally, a Virus for the rest of us."

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLover of the Synths

I think the name gives away the fact that even the M-Audio team were being tongue in cheek in the their acknowledgement of the inspiration for the Venom. Venom=Virus, see what they did there?

If the game was originality in the music/audio/tech world then there are not many companies who are going to win that pissing contest, I'm also not sure if M-Audio were even making that claim, my guess with the name - no.

We live in a derivative world, even the ideas that we use these instruments to make our creations with are a maximum 20% our own, the rest is inspiration intentional or otherwise.

Does the fact that the Venom may have had forerunners which inspired its creation change my opinion or my advice? Not one bit.

January 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterRuss Hughes

I think the Venom is a great value if you consider the price. This will be hard to beat.

Now it would have been even better if they had some kind of desktop version like the Virus Snow or Blofeld because I have already an Axiom Pro (and I want to keep it for the pads and extra knobs) and not so many space available in my home studio. I understand the concept is M-Audio controller + VA synth, but with so many customers owning an Axiom keyboard, I'm pretty certain that there is a market for a desktop version.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRan_ks

Wow, when could we ever buy a Virus for $499 USD? Agreed, the Virus sounds great, but at more than twice the cost of the more plebeian (and in some cases better sounding) Blofeld?

I think the Venom is better described as having similar character to and being priced between the Blofeld keyboard and desktop units. The Blo-key (sans Vysex equivalent!) is still twice the money of the new Venom - and the Virus TI2 keyboard is more than twice that again!

In the end, it still comes down to the character and quality of the sounds you get when you crank the handle set against the level of effort to get there.

Based on the quality of the sounds in the demos so far, the Venom looks like WAY more bang-for-your-buck! I suspect that M-Audio/Avid is going to do some damage with Venom to the future market shares of both Access and Waldorf. Let's face it, the hardware synth market hasn't gotten any easier in the last 2 decades...

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoiselab

BTW - I always thought the Virus TI was inspired by the enormously distinctive Waldorf wave-table synths from before the original company failed in 2004 (Wave, Pulse, Q, XT, etc...). I'll admit, I could be wrong! I remember trying to choose between a XTk and a Virus KB back ten years ago. The XTk easily won my vote, but that's a different kettle of fish.


January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoiselab

I think it's not fair to compare the Virus TI to a Waldorf or even the Venom. The Virus TI is not only about the sound, it's about the Total Integration part and the Virus control plug-in. To this day, only the Virus offers such powerful, workflow-friendly editor. I wish more synth companies would jump in this waggon as it's a huge time saver for songwriters who need to keep tight schedules. I unfortunately work less and less with hardware because saving / recalling presets or automation is too much time consuming. Virus TI is one of my go-to synth because it has the Virus Control.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRan_ks

Hmm, if only the audio interface was better than 44.1khz.

Currently my live rig is a Macbook Pro and Ableton w/Reason & Kontakt, along with a midi controller and Presonus Firebox interface.

Would love to have both a combined controller and audio interface, plus a 'real world' synth also. But most of my stuff is setup for 24-bit and 48khz, as I get lower latency that way.

Russ - any chance you can go into how it integrates into an Ableton setup? For example, switching in real-time between the synth output and other VST's, triggering loops etc.

I assume the controls on the Venom are detected as midi controls for other plugins?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjc

JC, the Venom doc does indicate that the rotaries do send CC messages, and it appears that the rotary knobs are dependent upon a bank matrix where the CC # is dependent upon what control bank you have the knobs set to. If Russ can't confirm, I should be able to later today when my Venom arrives!



January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoiselab

Correct all the knobs and mod and pitch send to external devices.

January 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterRuss Hughes

I am in the middle of, or should I say three quarters of the way through recording an album, and I had to break down and get this. I may end up re-recording a serious amount of synth parts. Having wished I'd never sold all my old analog gear I had in the eighties, I am really looking forward to getting this beast in my hands. Hopefully it will arrive in a week, already drooling over the possibilities...

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimple Nomad

Venom, not since the TB303 have I been so inspired!

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterxps4000
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