Access Virus TDM (Mac/Win NT)Tons of software synthesizers have appeared on the market, but unfortunately, most of them are limited in their power and polyphony by the resources of the host CPU. Digidesign has pulled an end run on that equation with the introduction of a TDM version of the Access Virus, the in-your-face German synth that's at home emulating vintage synths or fueling dancefloor mixes. (For a full review of the Access Virus hardware synth, see the April 1999 issue of EM.)
The Virus hardware emulates analog synthesis using the same Motorola DSP chips that are found at the heart of Pro Tools' TDM architecture. In fact, Digidesign collaborated with Virus's designer to modify the original code rather than reinvent the wheel. As a result, the Access Virus TDM plug-in ($795) is completely faithful to the hardware in both function and sound; the only differences take the form of improvements.
Spreading the VirusYou insert Virus TDM as a plug-in on a mono or stereo aux input channel, at which point you can play the plug-in from the onscreen keyboard or assign a MIDI track to it. You can also insert more than one Virus TDM plug-in on a channel strip, in which case the additional plug-ins process the audio serially. Similarly, Virus TDM can be inserted into a regular audio track to process the signal with Virus TDM's filters and envelope follower.
The Pro Tools Insert menu provides for eight master Virus TDM plug-ins, labeled Virus 1, Virus 2, and so on, which automatically create virtual nodes in OMS (Open Music System). Each instance offers a maximum polyphony of 16 notes. An instance usurps an SRAM-class DSP chip (the kind used for the most complex processing, such as reverbs), of which there are three per Pro Tools Mix card. Virus TDM can access up to eight of these chips for 128-note polyphony across multiple Mix cards. Assigning multiple copies of the same Virus TDM number causes its 16-note polyphony to be shared by multiple timbres - up to eight inserts for up to eight timbres.
Knobs and ClocksWhile the Access Virus hardware has physical knobs, many of its more obscure functions are buried behind its comparatively small LCD. Such is not the case with Virus TDM: all of its controls reside on six easily accessed pages, and the software displays the actual positions of all knobs instead of using the "sweep through" approach required by dedicated hardware pots. You can even use a hardware Virus as a control surface for the TDM version.
Virus TDM is noteworthy for its synchable LFOs, delays, arpeggiators, and other clock-based functions. It's a simple matter to assign MIDI Clock to Virus TDM within Pro Tools, paving the way for easy tempo-based experimentation. All of Virus TDM's parameters can also be automated using standard Pro Tools automation. Beyond the simplicity of not having to deal with routing MIDI controllers, the automation system's resolution is much higher than MIDI's; the possibilities for seamless control within a mix are amazing.
Virus TDM ships with lots of factory sounds that are organized into categories like Classic, Bass, Percussion, Input, and Vocoder. Moreover, Virus TDM saves an unlimited number of patches and folders to disk (unlike the hardware version), and Pro Tools saves Virus TDM's settings with the current session for total recall.
Wrap UpWhether it takes the form of hardware or software, Access Virus is a lethal weapon. It's a great groove synth, and the sounds cut like lasers. The TDM version integrated with Pro Tools works like a dream and further encourages inspiration and productivity. The manual is slim but clear and adequate.
Assuming you already have a Pro Tools system, the Virus TDM plug-in is roughly half the price of the Virus hardware. Of course, you can use Pro Tools' DSP for other tasks as well. Nevertheless, you might find that Virus TDM is one more reason to buy another Mix card. This baby smokes! A