Manufacturer: Access Music
Release Date: 1999
Type: Virtual Analog / Subtractive Synthesis
Reviews: Vintage Synth | Sound On Sound | Audio Technology
The Access Virus B is the first synthesizer I ever bought (purchased second-hand off Craigslist), and it is the first synth I used to learn about subtractive synthesis. Looking back, I probably should’ve looked for a more immediate/hands-on and simpler synth such as a Roland Juno 106 or Juno 60 to learn synthesis on, but alas, the Virus B came up for sale and I decided to snap it up.
So with that said, despite the many knobs and buttons, initially I was overwhelmed by the interface due to the amount of menu diving required to change certain values, or to get into the effects section (I really like my effects to be instantly accessible, for real-time tweaking! :)). As well, at the time I was mystified by the “mod matrix”, as such concepts were new to me but additionally the Virus B’s small LCD screen made it hard to visualize what source was modulating what destination (ie, lots of flipping through menus). However, having gone through the manual and learning more over time, it has become much more intuitive… that said if you are a beginner synthesist, you may find the menu diving/routing area a bit confusing at first.
Sound-wise the Virus B has an interesting sonic character… it’s warm in a digital way, but can also sound aggressive or harsh. The filter is very resonant, the envelopes are snappy, the sustain and release times can get massive… which makes it great for ambient drones and pads. Additionally, the reverb can sound incredibly spacious, and the delay effects are varied and fun to play with. However, one downside is that it’s not possible (to my knowledge) to have both a global delay + a global reverb at one time, or multiple effects at once (a la Novation Supernova II). Access apparently enabled multiple simultaneous effects capabilities with the later Virus TI models, thankfully.
Regardless, the Virus series has been somewhat pigeonholed over the years as being a “trance” synth. Yes, many of the Virus B’s presets have that late 90s era sound to them, but this synth can be used for much more than trance and presets. For ambient music I find it excellent as it’s quite easy to create soundscapes and manipulate the sounds in real-time via the front panel knobs. The stereo spread is wide, and the saturation curves can bring out some great additional harmonics and textures. Compared to some synths, it’s actually fairly easy to begin from a basic INIT patch, start tweaking, and come up with a lush sound a few minutes later.
The Virus B’s build quality is excellent (made in Germany) and it has nice wooden end cheeks. It’s sturdy, has high-quality rotary encoders, and feels like it will last a long time without issues. Personally I haven’t had any technical problems or glitches with it since I’ve owned it the past few years, and Access provide great support for their products (OS updates, patches etc).
If you are looking to learn synthesis on a synthesizer that is sonically flexible and aren’t adverse to some menu diving, then the Virus B could be right up your alley. That said, if you prefer not to have to bother with menu diving and prefer a simpler setup, consider synths that do not require an LCD to adjust deeper parameters.
|Interface||32 knobs, 30 buttons, 62 LEDs|
|Polyphony||24 voices (Rack model has 16 voices)|
|Oscillators||3 Osc per voice plus 1 Sub-Osc: Sawtooth, variable pulse, sine, triangle, oscillator sync.
5 FM Modes: 64 digital FM spectral waveforms. (Rack version has just 2 Osc. plus 1 Sub-Osc.)
|LFO||3 LFOs with 68 waveforms|
|Filter||2 independent resonant filters; lowpass, hipass, bandpass, band reject, parallel, split & 2 serial modes with up to 36dB/voice (6-poles), overdrive/saturation.|
|VCA||2 ADSTR envelopes|
|ModMatrix||3 Sources, 6 Destinations|
|Arpeggiator||16 independent arpeggiators with numerous arpeggiator patterns and real time parameter access. Arpeggio parameters can be modulated in realtime and include swingfactor and notelength.|
|Vocoder||Programmable 32-band vocoder|
|Effects||82 simultaneous effects (34 to 66 in Rack version): 16 Phasers, 16 Choruses, 16 Distortions, 16 Ring Modulators, Delay, 32-Band Vocoder, Surround Sound (not available in Rack version).|
|Keyboard||Virus KB: 61 Keys with note-on/off velocity, pitch bend, modwheel and two switches/control pedals and aftertouch.
Indigo: 37 keys
|Memory||1024 programs (256 User / 768 ROM / 128 Multi)|
|Control||MIDI (16 multitimbral parts)|
According to the Virus B manual, Delay and Reverb can be used simultaneously. “For example, you can use the DELAY unit described above to dial in the desired pre-delay for room simulations. The DELAY effect is located prior to the room simulation in the signal path. Delay time and feedback are infinitely variable and may be synced up to the global clock generator. This means that you can create REVERB effects that are a perfect match for the rhythmic context.” (Ch. 16 pp. 162-163.) Delay precedes Reverb.
Bought this same time as Microwave XT. Loved both but too much at once so I sold the Virus. But honestly – it’s versatility is pretty amazing. I kinda want one again. 😉 LOL.
It is a pretty awesome VA. Also a bit sad I sold mine as it was my first synth, but I let it go as part of a bigger trade deal for something more rare. 🙂