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Has a New King Been Born? - VPS Avenger Review

Synth Morph avenger synthesizer synthesizer review

VPS (Vengeance Producer Suite) Avenger from Vengeance Sound is the long awaited synthesizer from the successful German sound ware company Keilwerth Audio & sound wizard Manuel Schleis from Vengeance Sound.

I own a few plug-in products from Vengeance Sound and I like the way they operate. They plan and realize their plugins according to musician needs right from the initial version, so you rarely have to ask developers to implement this and that later. Nearly everything works the way it should be - out of the box!

The "from musicians to musicians" approach permeates all of their plug-ins: the right controls are at the right place, all works as you would expect. They find the true balance between usability and deep feature set, and the quality is usually top-notch. E.g. the super quick and easy way you can browse programs in their Phalanx sampler is still unique - the technology does not stop or slows you down just because you want to preview sampler programs very quickly.

Back to Avenger: however they could re-use some components (some effects, Nexus filters) from their earlier/3rd party products, making a new user-friendly, distinctive and competitive synthesizer in the sea of recent advanced VSTi's must have been a massive effort.

There are tons of features, so instead of trying to list them dry, I share my personal experience gained during the beta test period: what is the general feel of the instruments and what distinguishes it from other virtual instruments. 

GUI

For me the vector-based graphical user interface (GUI) is a masterpiece in itself, at least it is very unusual compared to any other current virtual instruments... Not necessarily the look (it will accept custom skins later), but the way it operates. Most sections are tab based but the essence of Avenger has been squeezed as if it were in a single window.

You can manually resize the interface by dragging the bottom right corner - it could not be easier, so you can make it huge even on 4k displays. Warning: at 100% scaling its size nearly takes up the full space of a 1920 x 1200 display!

Its look-and-feel is superlative: there are no glitches, you have to see how fluid and smooth all GUI motions are, including the waveform oscilloscope and the visual feedback of modulations (the rings around the knobs). Of course it comes at a price (higher CPU/GPU usage), but this is a known issue on certain computers and to be optimized in the future with scalable refresh rate and other improvements.

 

Vengeance Avenger modulation gui

 

There are gorgeous, clever and to the point visual representation of several parts, like setting the random range of sample start will show you a fine gradient band where the randomization occurs within:

 vps avenger sample start modulation helper

 

Another example: several elements are context sensitive - when you move e.g. the Shaper Gain knob a graphic EQ appears briefly above, then quickly fades out:

 

vengeance avenger shaper

 

Dedicated...everything

Do you remember the times when you had to use an LFO to create a vibrato or to use up the two oscillator to get that cutting edge sync sound? You do not have to in Avenger, as there are dedicated parameters / sections for basically everything!

For example, there is a dedicated vibrato function per oscillator with all sorts of options.

Do you need Sync? You have four different types of Sync per oscillator with a hidden sine generator and special windowed mode with fade-in/outs to avoid clicks in the sound.

The same refers to the FM mode: it is actually a 2 operator FM oscillator with 3 different FM modes (including windowed) and 12 different modulator shapes, and yes... it is capable to create that dirtiest digital metallic sounds with a saw carrier and a sinus modulator. Feedback or modulation between oscillators is currently not possible, however I did not feel this limiting at all thanks to the wild oscillator shaping tools.

Do you want to stack multiple oscillators to get a fat unison sound? You do not have to sacrifice polyphony here: within a single oscillator you can have 7 of the same type of osc stacked / panned, plus there is a dedicated Chorder module per oscillator to multiply and stack even more instances (max. 4) of the same osc. CPU consumption can be anything from solid to extreme: loaded the preset called "LD Who Needs a JP" which uses a single oscillator. After some minor changes I managed to tax my desktop i7 CPU up to 100%, resulting full 32 polyphony and 1120 oscillators (!) in unison mode (you can see these details on the left side of the top center display bar), the sound was really impressive though.

 

 

Want to add more fatness? There is a separate Sub oscillator for each and every oscillator where the sub ironically can go not just down, but even one octave up higher next to the basic oscillator. Sub oscillator is especially useful when of the Osc transformation tools thins the waveform out into a cool sound yet lacking sub frequencies – now you can add the missing low end here.

4 and 8

Four and eight are the key numbers in Avenger: you have 8 oscillators that can be driven by up to 8 arpeggiator modules, 8 step-sequencers, 8 envelope modules, 8 pitch envelopes, 4 amplifier envelopes, 4 full featured filter modules, 4 distortion modules called Shaper, 4 LFO modules... quite dizzying just to list them. Routing any of these modules to any oscillators is a very quick drag and drop once you get how to use the Routing tab:

 

vengeance avenger routing page

 

Now add that you can import your own multi-samples, oscillator shapes and wavetables and you can even save your own single cycle osc waveforms for later use. You can even re-sample your own voice to play it by chords, check factory preset Everybody Pad or Everybody Ballad to get the idea.

I could continue, but I have to stop at this point - everything is massively oversized to satisfy the most demanding musical context, and getting even the strongest CPU on the knees... Fortunately this is an extremity - average presets use only a few percent on a current CPU so you can play safe even with multiple instances of Avenger within your DAW.

Sound

The sound is virtually faultless, despite its beta stage I did not experience any serious sound-engine based glitch - just the opposite: it can be very clean, fat warm, fuzzy, distorted, dark, silky, liquid. As a test, I recreated some common basic analogue presets on Avenger and some other synthesizers considered top-of-the-line today, and Avenger produced surprisingly musical results in comparison. I would say, better to my ears, so the sound generation is very impressive.

There are a dozen of filter models in each main category (LP, HP, BP, BS). Nexus filters are very smooth, the ANA, POW and PXL models are more characteristic, plus there are some more esoteric in the Special group: Trash FM with a kind-of ring-modulator-ish sound, the Peak-Phaser filter and the VPS Talkbox to mimic human voice diphthongs. As modulation is quite easy to set up for literally every parameter, you can even create your own morphing filter characteristics by modulating the EQ effect parameters. See an example below:

 

 

Envelopes can be very snappy with adjustable slopes on the Attack, Decay and Release point, so you can mimic all the usual envelope behaviour.

The LFO feature set is decent, the rate can go up to 100 Hz, however I miss the opportunity to use single cycle waveforms as custom LFO's. This could add a more granular, dirty quality to the modulated sound.

Factory content: Avenger being a Vengeance product, it is obviously targeted toward the contemporary EDM genres. These sounds and especially the elaborated and professionally composed sequences, however do not necessarily show the strength and finesse of Avenger as a synthesizer, but more as a sample player / drum machine. Certainly kids will die for the instant stadium sound, and certainly this is the major selling point, but please understand: VPS Avenger is more than an editable Nexus on steroids. It is only up to your creativity which direction you choose: use it as a phrase player, a drum machine or a high-end synthesizer - all is possible at a sophisticated level.

The full factory preset library may open a whole new world of ideas for you. After going through the presets even your production skill would raise to a whole new level, as you'll get the essence of layering, stacking samples, modulations that make sounds alive, assigning controllers to real-time performance, etc. - Avenger presets are great as educational tools!

I did not even go into the resampling / wavetable synthesis with built-in editor, oscillator shapes, drum sampler with drum kits, etc - all with a huge selection of useful factory presets for these categories - it is all here in the initial release!

Quick tip: if you want to quickly browse through the presets, just use the up / down arrow keys to go through the list and the right key to load the selected one.

Modulation monster

This is the part of Avenger where all synth nerds' dream come true.

The way you assign destination is intuitive and super fast - just drag and drop modulators to any knob, set the amount around at the little tiny triangle (or equivalent at other controls) - done!

 

avenger modulation assignment

 

These modulations are automatically created in the modulation matrix (according to the developers it has a limit of 100 slots which is hard to even approach) intelligently and automatically grouped per mod sources. You can easily find all controls that are being controlled by e.g. Velocity.

Would you like to change all these velocity connected parameters to something more controllable tool, like Modulation wheel? With a simple click you can re-assign any modulation source to a new source without touching the existing modulation settings - a smart feature.

Want to modulate the parameters assigned to Modulation Wheel using the Aftertouch, Expression or Sustain pedal or a Breath Controller? Just switch on the MW button next to the controller name and apply the modwheel modulation using this specific controller. Example: while playing both hands and pressing aftertouch will modulate all controllers assigned to modwheel originally - a nice unique performance feature that can guide you to whole new sonic territories!

 

avenger midi modulations

 

Want to modulate LFO1 speed with LFO2 speed while LFO 2 speed is being modulated by LFO3 speed? No barriers at all, and you'll never be frustrated like this:

 

 

The Undo function is especially beneficial - in certain situations it still does not work as expected, but this is the privilege of the higher league instruments only, like e.g. HALion.

Future

Avenger does require some studying, at least the easy way: the great personal video tutorials from Manuel himself, showing nearly all aspects of Avenger are on-line. If you are not the manual reader type, I definitely recommend watching all of them. I am sure that even veteran synth lovers may find innovative (and a bit pointing the way to the future) solutions that are not so explicit at the first sight.

During the beta testing the main developer René Keilwerth was very responsive and implemented everything super fast. I sent him some ideas to improve the  Keytracking MIDI modulator and after some hours he came up with a new build, implementing keytracking the most user friendly way you won't find in any current synthesizer. If the same unparalleled development is what we can expect in the future, we are in safe hands!

With the release of Avenger, Vengeance debuts their new license file-based copy protection system, so you do not need the USB eLicenser dongle anymore. After the purchase, you have to download your personal lock file which allows three separate installations of Avenger.

Conclusion

VPS Avenger plays in the top league of hybrid VST workstations that can import multiple user content. While both UVI Falcon and Steinberg HALion offer more in terms of features, the ease-of-use, the way user can work with would make it an absolute pretender even against these synthesis giants.

The price is fair for what you get: an amazing synthesis powerhouse based on a well engineered future-proof concept. The factory sounds are very similar to Nexus expansions but you have to work harder to get that unique synth character out of it - it is possible and the synth will not limit you in any way.

Do you have a favourite VSTi? Be careful! After watching all the tutorial videos (do not leave them out!), then spending some time with VPS Avenger there is a chance you'll realize that it is not your favourite anymore, because - as of 2016 - nothing compares in terms of usability and user experience to Avenger on a relatively fast computer. If you dig deeper into the synth engine you will be able to create sounds and phrases previously unheard or too hard to realize due to GUI barriers (hence felt "being too lazy"...) or lack of features / limits.

It works exactly as you'd expect, there are virtually no modulation boundaries, and after watching all the on-line tutorial videos you will be completely in command. Terms like "intuitiveness", "infinity" and "expressivity" come into my mind when thinking about Avenger.

There are some minor issues with the initial release version, and the developers are working hard to sort them out. Building up the current GUI takes long seconds - the bigger you set the GUI the more time the GUI engine needs to form it, there are unusual CPU / GPU overloads even in idle states on Mac OS. Additionally, even at full screen certain parts of the GUI are not visible well, like mod matrix or details of the Zone tab. They are usable but could be improved and certainly will be in future releases. Some parameters are displayed in strange units, like Cutoff in percentages instead of hertz.

Despite these minor problems I can not stop being epic (and a bit excited) here: Avenger is a milestone in the history of VSTi interfaces and overall usability, and also first-class sound-wise.

I like it that much. But do not believe me, just try and evaluate it for yourself.

You can download the trial version here: VPS Avenger trial and you'll find the purchase link too.

My rating: 10/10

 



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  • David Farquharson on

    Just finished playing with the demo… blown away. This could easily replace my Sylenth/Massive holy grail! 10/10 well deserved.


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