Access: Virus TI Snow

Over The Last Decade, The Access Virus has become a new classic in the synthesizer world. The German company’s products have become go-to gear for creators of electronic music, which begs the question, “Why should Guitar Player care?”
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Well, the Virus Snow accepts an audio input, meaning you can run your guitar through it for a whole world of effects that simple stompboxes don’t provide—such as LFO-controlled filters, delays with shifting EQ, white noise-infused chorusing, and much, much more. In addition, MIDI In and Out jacks accept control data from a MIDI foot controller—an important option for guitarists who typically have both hands occupied. So let me walk you through plugging in an ax, and experiencing the Snow’s “white wonderland” of sound.

You can plug the small (11" x 6") Snow synth module right into an amp as a standalone piece of hardware, but I began by running it into a computer via its USB port for several reasons. As part of the Virus TI (Total Integration) series, Snow can run as a plug-in in your DAW, which let me replace my amp with a laptop. Using a computer also allowed me to run the software editor—Control—to construct sounds. Although it is possible to program Snow using its hardware knobs and buttons, and its large LCD screen, it is easier using the software—even if, ultimately, you don’t plan to use a computer. Depending on your previous synth/MIDI experience, negotiating the Snow can be anywhere from relatively painless to a steep learning curve.

I jumped in, plugging a DiMarzio Virtual Vintage-equipped Fernandes solidbody into the Right Mono input. I replaced the module’s oscillators with my guitar signal as the sound source by calling up the FX page of the Control software, and choosing Static from the dropdown input menu. This turned virtually any factory patch into a guitar processor. All the filters, LFOs, and effect settings for that patch were instantly warping my guitar. Turning the Cutoff and Resonance knobs on the Snow interface created some synth-style filter sweeps that excited me enough to delve deeper. I wanted to edit and set up my own sounds, so the next step was to deal with the LFO, Filter, FX, and Matrix pages.

The FX page offers effects such as distortion, chorus, phasing, delay, reverb, and ring modulation. Of course, many of these effects are available in stompboxes or multi-effects processors, but what makes Snow special is that it allows you to easily modify any parameter of these effects through the use of LFOs or envelopes. I could set up a chorus sound that subtly changed speed over four, eight, or even 16 bars. Simply switching a couple of LFOs to Envelope Mode turned two different filters into auto-wahs that simultaneously responded to my attack. But in order to make this magic, I had to enter the Matrix page.

The Snow’s Matrix page offers some of the most intuitive routing I have ever come across. For each of its six Slots, I could choose the Modifier (LFO, Envelope, etc.) from a dropdown menu, and then send it to three destinations. For example, in the first slot, I could have a single LFO sweep a filter, change the depth of the chorus, and alter the decay time of the reverb. If I wanted real-time control, I could set the Modifier slot to a MIDI value, and perform these same parameter changes with a MIDI foot controller’s expression pedal. I could conceivably assign one foot controller to all six slots, and shift up to 18 parameters at once. Another Snow feature— the Atomizer— opened up further realms of sonic exploration. The Atomizer is a looping and slicing tool. Because it was meant for DJs, the looping length only extends to a half note—as based on a tapped in tempo or synched to a DAW—which barely gave me time to get one or two notes in. During that time, however, Snow adds any filters, LFOs, and effects programmed into that patch. Using a keyboard controller, the keys sliced smaller chunks as I moved up the scale, beginning with the half note at E1 (F1=quarter-note, G1=eighth-note, etc.). If I hit D1 on the keyboard while holding down one of the other keys, the Atomizer reversed the loop, while C#1 and D#1 gated it to silence. You could conceivably send momentary MIDI note messages from a foot controller to introduce this effect while playing, but I found that I had more fun recording an ambient loop into a Boss RC-20XL Loop Station, then sending the loop into the Snow. I could now use a MIDI keyboard to add cool glitchstyle effects on the fly—a sound that would normally require hours of chopping and programming in a DAW. This led to a veritable song-inspiration hoedown. Running my ax through this module essentially turned the guitar into a synthesizer— with no pesky add-on pickups or tracking issues. Playing into an amp, there was virtually zero latency. Through a computer, with the Virus handling the DSP load for the effects, I was able to lower the buffer size for low latency there, as well.

At $1,425 retail/$1,295 street, the Access Virus TI Snow isn’t as inexpensive as a typical guitar multi-effect processor—especially when you add the price of a foot controller or keyboard—but if you are into expanding the tonal and textural boundaries of the guitar, it may be time to put on your galoshes and go play in the Snow.