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 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 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.