Fig. 3 The four knobs near the middle of the front panel are all about realtime control.
It’s not just portable, it’s engineered for performance applications
Before the EQ/EM merger, EM ran an online-only Venom review in January 2011 (http://emusician.com/midi/avid maudio venom review/index.html), approaching the evaluation from a synthesis/ studio standpoint. So it’s time for the other shoe to drop, and cover the other—and some would say even more important—part of its split personality: live performance.
First, what makes for a live performance keyboard? It sometimes seems that simply means, “you can lift it.” But Venom made this roundup because there are several design decisions that were clearly intended to optimize its operation in a live performance context. Given the price, tradeoff s must be made— but M-Audio made sure those tradeoffs tilted in favor of live performance instead of following the workstation paradigm.
WHAT IT IS
Fig. 4 The Vyzex editing software is not a “bundled bonus,” but an essential part of the package.
Venom is a compact keyboard (Figure 3) that eschews the obligatory sequencer and zillions of voices in favor of a simpler synth philosophy for live performance. There are only 12 voices—a small collection by today’s standards. For performance, though, you do have only ten fingers. You might think Venom’s multi-timbral mode (four timbres) would stress out the voice count, but the way it’s intended to be used, this isn’t as big an issue as it might appear because you’ll often use one or more timbres for a limited number of voices (e.g., bass, drums).
Surprise: It’s almost like a DJ machine, too. You can wind up the four voices with drums (there are lotsa included drum sets—if nothing else, this is a great drum tone module), nasty synth bass, some cool arpeggiated figure (yes, there’s a sophisticated arpeggiator), and then play a lead line on top of it.
Venom has a four-octave keyboard, and is easy to carry. The case is plastic; don’t drop it— but this construction does keep the weight down. The wall wart (no internal power supply) also reduces weight, but it’s a good idea to carry a spare—just in case.
Much has been made of Venom’s ability to produce nasty, dance/ industrial/electro-oriented sounds. That’s true, but it can make conventional synth sounds as well—what you won’t find are pianos, French horns, and other ROMpler-type instruments.
One of the most clever design decisions is conceding that you won’t be able to program everything from the front panel, so it doesn’t even try. Instead, you get the superb Vyzex crossplatform editing software (Figure 4) so you can tweak sounds, bigtime, then bring the synth to the gig and use the four easy-to-grasp knobs and button (along with arpeggiator, transpose buttons, pitch bend and mod wheels, etc.) to perform realtime performance moves with six banks of strategic parameters. This cuts down on one of the biggest expenses— hardware—without limiting your ability to shape sounds offline.
And this frees up bucks for generous I/O: mic and instrument inputs, RCA external audio in (for CD players etc.), 5-pin MIDI in and out, stereo audio out, expression and sustain pedal ins, headphone out, and even a USB audio/MIDI interface.
Another synth? No. This is a performance instrument with a personality, and it’s a personality I really like. I haven’t had this much fun with a hardware synth in a long time, and the price is certainly right.
Optimized for live performance. Excellent editing software. Plenty of I/O can make this the hub of a live act. Compact. Includes an audio/MIDI interface— convenient if you want to combine Venom with a laptop setup.
If you’re looking for a workstation, this isn’t it: 12 voices, no ROMpler sounds, no sequencer. Panel lettering can be hard to read under low light. No aftertouch.
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