Virta by Madrona Labs Review
Virta under review today is a patchable software effect synth adapting your voice or any other sound into exciting distinct vibrations. To explain the origin of the name: Virta in Finnish means river or stream. Virta on the bench is an audio manipulating plugin. Virta is a truly unusual effect plugin unique and much more than ‘just a vocoder’.
Madrona Labs is know for very creative & very unique effects and synthesizer. The company did send a review copy with no strings attached.
About Madrona Labs
The company Madrona Labs a boutique developer designs and builds electronic musical instruments that open new creative possibilities to artists. Sonic quality, humane design, and longevity are their main concerns. the company strives to make deep tools that reward long-lasting engagement. The Pacific Madrona, Arbutus menziesii, is a beautiful evergreen with distinctive reddish-brown peeling bark. It grows in the Pacific Northwest and down along the coast into California. Madronas have tenacious roots that can dig as deep as the bedrock for water. They often locate themselves on arid bluffs where other trees can’t grow. The team is lead by Randy Jones, working with Brian Willoughby and Philip Kobernik on new exciting products.
The company is also developing Soundplane. The Soundplane Model A is a computer music controller with the sensitivity and feel of an acoustic instrument. It detects a wide range of touches on its walnut playing surface, from a light tickle to a very firm press. Unlike a MIDI keyboard, which typically sends out just one velocity value at the start of a note, the Soundplane communicates three dimensions of information, x, y and pressure, over the entire duration of every touch. As a synthesist, this lets you replace a triggered envelope with an intimate connection and breathe life into each note.
The effect plugin Virta is the company’s first introduction into the sound effect realm. Virta uses vocoding logic to a completely new level. Externally audio-controlled synthesizers or effects that divide the voice to other sounds have on the market either in hardware or software form. We all know vocoder from Kraftwerk’s The Robots, Laurie Anderson’s O Superman and Boards of Canada with In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country. The plugin Virta also has a vocoder module and can be wired as a pure vocoder, but it also provides direct control of an oscillator with an audio signal.
The tool alters voices and instruments into all kinds of impressive synth sounds. It is a blend of vocoder and modular synth. Besides creating drones and metaphysical sounds it can be also your prime effect tool to shape sounds in a simple way. For example just adding compression, feedback, delay, coloring.
The results of Virta are different from a classical vocoder. The plugin splits the audio signal into frequency bands. The resulting energy of these bands is given to the carrier signal by multiple available effects. The audio module processes the incoming sound material is very advanced. Virta is a truly fascinating anomaly instrument.
This effect plugin is a combination of vocoder and modular synth. Given that in the last month’s several companies trying to enter this market Madrona Labs has been in the leading group of boutique developers since 2016. The semi-modular design unlocks the field for experimenting with sound to take them into something completely different – not al results are musical and you need to keep shaping to get results that entertain your audience with inspirational, suggestive sounds.
User interface & Usability
The effect tool is designed to immediately respond to changes and shaping you apply. The end of knob shifting to look for results. Virta has definitely a UI design that is in line with the other products from Madrona Labs and supports an innovative way of shaping the sound. The visual, look and feel of Virta is similar to the other two instruments Aalto and Kaivo.
This area’s most vital item is a nice big preset selection menu with back and forward buttons for fast switching. On the right, you can find your license information as well as the plug-in format for the current instance of Virta. Click the gear-shaped icon to access the global settings that affect the way Virta displays info and responds to MIDI & OSC.
The KEY module receives the note and control signals you send Virta over MIDI or OSC and makes them available to the rest of Virta’s devices. If you have experience with CV-controlled synths, you can think of the Key module like a MIDI-CV converter box that outputs digital control ”voltages.”
The AUDIO module is the key to Virta’s powers. It receives incoming audio, analyses it, and outputs a slew of useful signals that you can use to control and interface with the rest of the modules. It also outputs the raw audio input signal, so you can run it through Virta’s processing tools.
The LFO module creates low-frequency oscillating control signals, useful for modulating all sorts of parameters. A variety of traditional LFO waveforms are available, as well as a couple that may surprise
- OSC 1 & OSC 2
Now arriving at Grand Waveform Station. OSC 1 & 2 create synthesized signals that can form the core of your synth sound, or act as carrier signals to feed the FORMANTS module (and a lot more besides). With a wealth of control inputs, these OSCs are all about responding to you, whether you use audio or MIDI/OSC to get things going. Each oscillator has two modes: one for making traditional analog waves, and one for expressive vocal tones.
The ENVELOPE module creates time-based control vectors, commonly used to control volume or timbre as notes are struck and/or held. Envelope is a fairly standard ADSR (Attack-Decay-SustainRelease) type, but with fully mod-able settings, and a trigger input that lets you get creative about how to fire things off.
The Patcher is the dark central strip in the plug-in window, surrounded on all sides by the Modules. The patcher lets you connect signals from the outputs of modules to the inputs of modules. It is notable that multiple inputs can be fed from a single output or multiple outputs to a single input. We think this is way more powerful and easy to use than a ton of menus.
The FORMANTS module acts a lot like a vocoder, but with several big surprises up its sleeve. Several modes of multi-band filtering are available, all designed to coax interesting, expressive, vocal-like sounds out of whatever waveforms it touches.
If you’re familiar with modular synth jargon, the GATE module can be described as-as a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier/Attenuator) or an LPG (Low Pass Gate) depending on the mode
you choose. Either way, GATE works in concert with signal sources
like ENVELOPE and LFO to change the level (VCA mode) or the level
and low-frequency cutoff (LPG mode) of the input signal.
Love crazy pitch-shifting delay effects? Fancy controlling one with your mind? You’ll adore the DELAY module. This delay includes the aforementioned pitch shifter and a diffusor in its feedback path, and a variety of filtering and panning options.
The OUTPUT module is where all of your audio comes together before venturing out into the wilds of your DAW. It includes controls for mixing and panning the output of the DELAY module (and thus, the whole bottom row of processors) along with any signal(s) you care to patch into the provided Aux input. It also contains a handy oscilloscope, which gives you visual feedback about the sounds you’re making.
Rating: Four Out of Five Stars
Virta is one of the most radical sound shapers. Very adaptable, modular and transparent idea. Everyone has a key use with a plugin, for me, it is the drone capabilities in combination with my AE Modular, upcoming Voltage Research Laboratory by Pittsburgh Modular and Kontakt Libraries Virta is injecting with much-loved drone vibes or just something completely new.