Imaginando VS is a visual synthesizer designed for music and musicians.
Why review a visual synth in an audio magazine? Well, many of us put our music online, and on platforms such as YouTube that support videos as well as sound, experience shows that you’ll get far more hits if you have some video to go along with your music. That’s where Imaginando’s VS comes in, and as it is designed for musicians, its controls have a lot in common with the sound synthesizers that we are used to.
It’s A Synthesizer, Jim...
VS (for Visual Synthesizer) really is a synthesizer, only instead of oscillators it produces visuals based on a library of ‘materials’. These materials are basically shaders. In computer graphics, a shader calculates the appropriate levels of light, darkness and colour during the rendering of a 3D scene — a process known as shading. Just as oscillators can be modulated in an analogue synth, these materials have variable parameters that can affect things like shape, size, position on the screen, rotation and so on. Materials can be arranged in up to eight layers with an additional background layer that can be an imported photo or a movie. VS is available for Mac OS, Windows and iOS and can be used stand‑alone or as a plug‑in with compatible DAWs such as Ableton Live.
Each layer acts as a polyphonic synthesis engine (though it can be switched to mono) so that the same material, when triggered via MIDI, can appear multiple times if different voices have different characteristics such as placement on the screen. A single audio file can be imported and be processed to be used as up to four modulation sources, either via full‑band gating or via gating a specific part of the audio spectrum, which then feeds an envelope follower. VS can also respond to a live input via the sound interface input or to MIDI from a MIDI keyboard. With your DAW you can send specific MIDI parts on different channels to the layers to create more complex visuals, and there are tutorial videos on how to achieve this for different DAWs. As an example, you might have your kick drum controlling one layer and a melody line controlling another. It is also possible to load in standard MIDI files.
The interface shows MIDI Learn status, clock source, tempo and patch name at the top of the screen, along with patch navigation and load/save controls. A menu bar offers a help guide, undo/redo, and a check on the frame rate of your video. If the frame rate starts to shift, the chances are that you are overtaxing your GPU, so you can select a less detailed image quality or perhaps use fewer layers. Occupying most of the screen area is the screen where you see your animated visuals, though this can be made full size or detached to allow for full‑screen viewing on a second monitor. Note that VS supports Syphon (Mac), Spout (Windows) and NDI cross‑platform. A red Record button at the top left of the screen renders your visual performance as a video file.
Directly below are the buttons for the eight layers plus the B (background) layer and a colour selection button that accesses the familiar colour wheel. A materials library allows you to select a material for each layer. Three further icons select the modulation, the mod matrix and the audio/MIDI source follower sections. The LFO has a choice of waveforms including random, and can be tempo‑sync’ed if required. In the audio follower section there’s a choice of Gate or Spectrum mode for the four audio modulation sources, with a display showing the audio signal spectrum overlaid with a threshold line. The threshold can be adjusted via a knob while in Spectrum mode, the grey area showing the selected part of the spectrum. Note that above the gate threshold the signal envelope is tracked. There are Attack and Release controls for the two envelope generators and for the audio follower.
The next button opens the modulation matrix which shows the four LFOs, two envelope generators, four audio sources, Kbd and Velo along the top and applies to the currently selected layer. These sources can be assigned to various parameters such as hue, saturation, brightness and alpha; alpha effectively sets the transparency of a layer to allow deeper layers to show through. The thin horizontal bar at the top of the matrix section access two further parameter pages. Note that the background layer can’t be modulated. The third icon button opens a panel into which an audio or MIDI file can be loaded via a browser, where transport buttons allow the audio to be played, stopped or looped.
That leaves the row of controls directly below the layer buttons, these again relating to the currently selected layer affecting such parameters as position on screen, image size and brightness, and so on. The number of controls in this row change according to the type of material selected. Right at the end of the row are buttons for mono mode, MIDI trigger selection and MIDI channel.
Music with a strong beat can be set up to follow audio or a selected MIDI part to create pattern movements that lock onto the beat in very positive ways.
While you can modulate different layers in different ways, things can get quite busy unless you keep things subtle. Indeed for ambient music you can get good results by setting the tempo and some slow movement for the layers, then letting VS generate some slowly evolving patterns that are not linked to the musical content. On the other hand, music with a strong beat can be set up to follow audio or a selected MIDI part to create pattern movements that lock onto the beat in very positive ways. DAW automation can also be used to operate most of the controls, including the Enable buttons for the various layers, so you can easily bring in changes at strategic points in the music.
There are 35 presets and 49 different materials to get you started, and you can learn a lot by seeing how these are put together. If that isn’t enough, there are also expansion packs available. The resulting patterns have an endearingly retro feel with rotating shapes, fireballs, clouds, lace‑like filters, kaleidoscopic patterns, shifting grids and pulsing blobs, so you can easily produce something that will keep the interest of those listening to your music on YouTube or other video platforms.
- By combining the various materials and layering them in different ways, it is possible to create a range of appealing dynamic images that respond to your music.
- As with any synthesizer, it takes a little while to explore all the options, but it is still possible to get impressive results with very little effort.
If your music is short of online views because it has no accompanying video, VS provides an easy way to generate some.
€99 including VAT.