Uli Behringer’s Dream of Synthesizer Domination (Update)

As and avid collector of music instruments, effects and general gear, if someone asked me 10 years ago if I would ever be excited about a piece of Behringer gear, I would have laughed out loud.  I had just destroyed (seriously, broke to pieces) my Behringer FCB foot controller as yet again, it was sending random MIDI CCs to Ableton while I was preparing a live performance.  In a fit of rage, I grabbed the board from the ground, lifted it over my head like the angry simian in the opening scenes of “2001:  A Space Odyssey” and with wild anger and exhilaration, smashed it on the cold concrete of my dingy basement.  As the pieces flew in all directions, my rage quickly receded into that form of shame that comes once you realize how foolish you are behaving.  From that point on I swore “NEVER AGAIN ULI!!”

Now back to the present.  I currently own an X32 Digital Rack Mixer, a Euphoria USB Interface and, one of my favorite pieces of gear, the Deep Mind 12.  What Behringer has been able to do for me as a broke musician has been nothing short of remarkable and has caused me to do a 180.  High quality gear that actually works great for bargain prices, what’s better than that? Now I would be disingenuous if I failed to mention the negative side of these deals: alleged labor practices, abusive/excessive legal actions and of course, the accusations of theft of ideas.  I don’t defend or condone any of this and I’m always open to hear opinions and definitely any facts about these subjects but that’s not what I’m looking at in this article.  If you wish to look into that further, google is your friend (there is no shortage of educated and non-educated opinion on the matter online).

What I’m here to talk about is the plethora of new “clones” that Uli and the Behringer team have released, leaked, and promised to deliver soon.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m a musician that loves (more like obsesses) over gear.  I read nearly every quality blog on the matter and find myself checking Synthtopia.com and forums like Elektronauts, Gear Slutz, etc… several times a day.

I know I’m not alone…

Whether you are for, or against the new wave of instruments coming from Behringer, one thing is for sure; the synth world is getting shook up.  The sound, the feel, the pleasure they will bring to their owners are all up for debate but what is not is the price.  Compared to other clones on the market or simply just synths with very similar capabilities, Behringer is coming in way under current market standards.  The Deepmind 12 is a great example.  When it arrived a few years ago, a 12-voice analog synthesizer was not only rare, but insanely expensive (looking at you Modular/Eurorack).  At just under $1000, Uli delivered a solid, very useable instrument with a lot of features that I would never expect for that price like the iPad editor, the amazing modulation section, the built-in WIFI access point and the strange but quite interesting Virtual Reality capabilities.  Though many would say they are much better instruments, similar boards from Oberheim and Dave Smith offer very comparable setups but with signficant increases in the price (and half the voices too).

With the success of the Deepmind 12 in their wake, Behringer decreed they are now a full-blown synthesizer manufacturer.  Not only would they be creating new instruments for the masses, but they would be resurrecting units that guys like me thought they would never own.  A Minimoog D, I wish.  A Roland 808, HA!!  Most of these classics are well into their 30’s and 40’s meaning aging, costly repairs are most likely needed.  On top of that, the price tags are easily in the thousands, so when I heard Uli’s statements about the future, I was pumped!!  As a Deepmind owner, I’m confidant in their plans.  As an avid gear reader, I hear mostly high praise for the BOOG (mini D) and sheer ecstasy from Neutron (new semi modular synth) owners.  To me, the future for synth players and enthusiasts is looking pretty dang bright!

Without further ado, here is a comprehensive (and growing) list of the current known projects that behringer has in the works:

The Model D (Moog Minimoog Model D Clone)

behringermodeld-1200x675

I can’t start a list of Behringer clones without mentioning the highly controversial harbinger of this wave of affordable instruments.  Before it’s release, the internet was on flames with arguments over the quality, the legality and the general moral idea of Behringers ambitions and one argument stood out among all others:  how good could a Moog clone under $300 from Behringer actually be.  Well the verdict is in.  Fantastic!!  Comparing the Boog (as it has been nicknamed) to a vintage Minimoog D would not really be a great comparison as decades of age alter the sound of instruments in unpredictable ways and vary greatly between units.  However, Moog Music Inc. just so happened to rerelease their own version right before the Boog hit the shelves.  With a price tag over $3,000.00, the Moog version was large, beautiful and sounded excellent.  So how would the Boog stack up to the new Minimoog?  Well, I can give you my opinion but as Levar Burton would say “you don’t have to take my word for it.”  Check out the video below from Starsky Carr for the answer.

Video: Behringer vs Moog: The definitive comparison

The RD-808 (Roland TR-808 clone) behringer-rd-808-270644-700x420

Very little needs to be said about the Roland TR808.  If you’ve listened to any electronic or hip-hop music from the 80’s and early 90’s (and even today) you’ve most likely heard the iconic sound of this 12-voice analog beauty.  Possibly the most recorded and sampled drum machine ever made, some argue it was responsible for several genres of music that were inspired by its non-realistic, but huge, crispy sounds.  So many musicians have used its sounds that a list would be far too big for this page.  Some of my favourite one’s include the Beastie Boys, Aphex Twin, Orbital, and even Marvin Gaye.  Seriously, you’ve heard it before!  Despite it being cloned many times already, Behringer is still smart in my opinion for including it in their clone army.

Though Behringer has changed/missed the estimated release dates, it is highly expected to finally arrive in Q1-Q2 2019.  At first glance we can see some excellent additions such as the LCD screen, backlit buttons, a few extra parameters (Tune for the Kick!), a wave designer effect on a send channel, and, possibly the most important, it’s FULLSIZE!  For many electronic musicians, myself included, Roland’s reissue from a few years ago is just too damn small.  If a very simple, portable drum machine is your dream, then it was a match made in heaven.  For myself, I leave most of the hardware in the studio or for stage.  When I’m on the go, my iPad/iPhone or laptop are the only things I really care to tote around all day.

There have been a few videos released showing a RD808 prototype in action.  The early ones were “proof of life” with one engineer commenting on some interesting firmware being designed.  No details were really offered.  A later installment was released with a somewhat boring performance (sorry, but true) and many viewers were quick to point out that the body of the unit was flexing noticeably under the users fingers implying a very cheap, low quality build.  Thankfully Behringer quickly responded saying it was still a prototype and that the finished version’s PCB would be properly mounted to the chassis.

Regardless of the delays and the issues above, I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on this machine for a test drive.  When I do, I will release a demo and share my experience.  The rumored price will be under $400 which, if the finished product feels and sounds like a TR808, will be a heck of a good deal.

Videos:  Superbooth 2018  (Sonic State)

Official Demo

UPDATE!!!

Behringer has released the final price and eta for the RD808.  We are looking at a release in March of this year and the final price is only $299.99.  Here is the latest demo (and it sounds pretty darn good even through computer speakers).

NEW VIDEO

 

The RD-909 (Roland TR-909 Clone)behringer-rd909-top-770x425

Though not quite as ubiquitous as the 808, the Roland 909 is another iconic drum machine that is synonymous with several genres of electronic music (House and Techno to name a few).  Released in 1984 and only in production until 1985, it’s tight, punchy sounds are still found in the music of many famous artists including Moby, the Future Sound of London, Aphex Twin, Jean-Michel-Jarre and so many more.  Much like the 808, it featured a straight forward sequencer, song memory, individual outs and 12-voices of pure analog.  Though it’s older brother the 808 was more popular, many (including myself) prefer the sound of the 909 and still embrace it’s sound today.  When Behringer announced the 808 clone most knew the 909 was not too far behind and happily we were right.

Unfortunately, not too much is really known about the RD909.  From the images we’ve seen, it most likely will be very similar to the RD808 in terms of almost everything minus the actual sounds.  We see the same LCD, similar buttons, the Wave Designer send effect and of course all of the expected 909 parameters.  Namm 2019 is just around the corner so many are hoping to hear more about this anticipated machine there.  The RD808 was announced much earlier and really got me excited but honestly, if I had to choose one, it would be the RD909.  The Roland TR909 has been a huge part of the music I fell in love with when I found Electronic Music and even though I have copious amounts of 909 (and 808 for that matter) samples in my studio, I would love to own an affordable and high quality sounding analog unit.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one too.

Most likely this will be in the same price range as the RD808 (sub $400) but I did hear an unconfirmed rumor it might actually be less than that.  All we can do is wait.

Videos:  Knobcon 2018 (Sonic State)

The Pro One (Sequential Circuits Pro One Clone)

behringer-pro-1-vorschau-2 The Pro One is a beloved classic created by Dave Smith under the name Sequential Circuits circa 1981-1984.  Considered to be a slimmed down version of the Prophet 5, this synth was more affordable and much smaller due to its limited, monophonic voice structure.  Known for its modulation options and its excellent Bass Line sounds, it became popular with many well-known bands (Depeche Mode, Prodigy, New Order, Prince).  Unfortunately, only 10,000 units were made, making it very hard to find an affordable unit these days.  Those who craved this particular sound were generally forced to use samples or VSTs (which sound very good to be honest).  However, Behringer aims to change that with this new addition to their clone army.

Thanks to modern hardware being much smaller and also dropping the keyboard, this unit will be around the same size as their Neutron.  Add in the CV patch points and you have an excellent all in one Eurorack/Modular starting point.  The rumored price point will be under $300 which is very impressive.  Some videos have been released demonstrating the sound of the raw oscillators and they sound very good, very rich and raw.  This synth is expected Q1-Q2 2019 (very soon!).  I fully expect to see the finish product introduced at this years NAMM.

Videos:  Superbooth 2018 (Sonic State)

 

The Odyssey (ARP Odyssey MKI/MKII/MKIII clone)

Behringer-Odyssey-Front-S

In response to the successful Moog Minimoog, synthesizer manufacturer ARP released the Odyssey Mk 1 in 1972.  Considered to be a “hardwired” version of their famous ARP 2600, the Odyssey set itself apart with 2 oscillator-duophonic capability, a high pass filter (in addition to a low pass that can be used serial), oscillator sync and pulse-width modulation.  It quickly caught on and was used by many famous artists like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Vangelis, Jethro Tull, Tangerine Dream and Elton John.  The Odyessey is still a sought after sound finding itself in modern bands like Air and Nine Inch Nails and countless others.

Between the years 1971-1981, ARP released three versions (MK1, MK2, MK3 respectively)  that all kept the simple, spacious and easy to navigate interface.  The major differences in the models existed between the MK1 and MK2.   Various improvements included a better tracking VCO, added CV/GATE control, a unique PPC (Proportional Pitch Controller) pitch bend knob and lastly the Filter was changed from a 2-pole to a 4-pole giving it a deeper, bigger, “Moog-ier” sound that actually resulted in a temporary agreement between the two companies in which ARP paid Moog a licensing fee.  ARP later redesigned the filter (with some issues unfortunately) to move away from that agreement (and also causing the smaller run of “Moog” sounding ARPs to become very coveted).  When ARP moved to the MK3 model, very little changed and it is considered to be a simple cosmetic makeover to bring it in line with other synthesizers the company was releasing.

Due to its popularity and scarcity, Behringer is not the first company to see the value of bringing this beast back to life.  In 2015, KORG, with the help of  David Friend, co-founder of ARP Instruments, reissued a modern, yet very accurate version of the iconic instrument.  For the most part it was very well received and sold fairly well with a price tag around $1,000.  The one drawback some synth heads saw (myself included) was the incorporation of “mini keys,” the dreaded 1/2 size keyboard that certainly saves on cost/price but can hinder it’s playability.  KORG later released a desktop module version without keys to further decrease the price and eventually released a full size, full key version to appease the full key purists.

So what is Behringer bringing to the table that hasn’t already been done?  Why would another Odyessey clone, so soon after the KORG, be interesting to this already saturated synth market?  For me, there are three huge reasons the Behringer might win the day.  First off, FULL SIZE KEYS!  Though some enjoy the reduced size a mini key synth offers, the vast majority of people seem to prefer adult sized keys (yep, that’s a little snarky :).  They are just better in every way when it comes to performing.  Second reason; the price.  Uli has promised not only to bring back all the synth’s we have loved over the years but to do so well under market prices.  Rumors suggest a sub $500 price tag which is nearly half of the KORGs.  Lastly, and this one is a biggie, images show the addition of an LCD screen which not only imply deeper, more robust features and editing but also patch memory.  If this in fact the case, I personally will plan on getting one.  I love classic synths and fawn over every one I’ve ever had the privilege to share space with but almost every synth I’ve owned has had patch memory.  When you create a stellar sound that you want to never lose, being able to store locally and backup via SYSEX/Editors for safe keeping is something I have become fully accustomed to.  One other thing to mention is that Behringer has gone the extra mile and morphed all three Filters spanning the three MK models and included them into this one unit as well as adding a modern sequencer and multi-effect unit built-in; VERY EFFING COOL!

Video: Sonic Booth 2018 (Bedroom Producers Blog)

The MS-101 (Roland SH-101 Clone)

behringer-ms-101-synthesizer

Shaking the floors of dance halls for a generation, the SH-101 by Roland was synonymous with genres like Techno, Acid, Drum n’ Bass and more.  A very simple, straight forward monophonic synth that made some of the most iconic bass lines of its time.  With a simple sequencer and arpeggiator, the SH-101 could fill a fair amount of sonic needs while being very accessible and easy to work with.  On top of that, if you felt a little cheeky, you could strap it on like a guitar and rock the stage as a keytarist (is that a word?).  Though the specs aren’t overly impressive, the raw sound of the SH-101 was and is beloved by many groups such as Orbital, Future Sound of London, Chemical Brothers, the Crystal Method, Aphex Twin and so many more.  

When Behringer finally releases this one, pairing it with the RD808 or RD909 (or both) will give you quite a nice vintage EDM setup that any child of the 90’s would envy.  Though this one appeals to me the least personally, I feel it might be one of the best sellers as its simple layout and overall size should allow Behringer to push it out well under the $500 mark.

According to the details released, this will be a very close adaptation to the original with two main exceptions; a 6-source FM section and MIDI implementation.  What that MIDI will cover is still unknown but unfortunately it does not appear to include Patch Memory (at least there is no LCD, nor mention of the feature).  Regardless, the SH-101 has many fans out there so the MS-101 should be a welcomed addition to the world when it arrives.

Video: Superbooth 2018 (Future Music Magazine)

The Vocoder VC-340 (Roland VP-330 Clone)

behringer-roland-vocoder

The voder and the vocoder were originally designed by Homer Dudley of Bell Labs (great resource for more info) to reduce the bandwidth of a vocal signal,  and therefore decrease the need (and its subsequent cost) for copper cables used in telephone systems.  However, it quickly found its way into the hands of sound designers looking for interesting, Sci-Fi inspired sounds and became a staple in modern music.  In 1979, Roland released a 10-band vocoder that packaged the unique sound effect into an easy to program and play keyboard unit and history was made.  The VP-330 worked by shaping the filters and envelopes of its 10-band configuration with any sound source you feed it which then modulated the internal sounds.  Most likely, if you’ve heard a highly robotic voice in movies or music over the past 30 plus years, it was either the VP 330 (or it’s rack version the SVC-350) or something modeled after it.  One of the most famous electronic acts today, Daft Punk, has chosen this as the voice of their robotic personas and is featured on many of their famous tracks keeping the VP-330 very much relevant in modern music.

With the Roland VP-330 long out of production, many (and I mean many) other vocoder options have flooded the market.  Several synths in my own arsenal include vocoders like the Korg Radias, the Alesis Micron and possibly the best one I’ve ever used, the Roland V-Synth XT with the VC-2 (Vocal Designer) card installed.  Despite the abundance of options on the market, many of which are superior in terms of inteligibility of the singers words, the VP-330 is still a coveted sound and very much beloved to this day.  So it’s no surprise that Behringer has tapped the iconic instrument to join the ranks of their clone fleet.  Several months ago, leaks confirmed the existence of the VC-340 and though specific details and price are still unconfirmed, images show the final product looking somewhat smaller (still full size keys though) but identical in terms of options/layout.  No doubt there will be a few additions as that seems to be on par with several other clones but until it officially hits the shelves, enjoy this great video by Mr. Firechild demonstrating the spot on sound of this highly anticipated gem.

Video:  Mr. Firechild Demo

UPDATE!!!

Behringer has brought the finished product to NAMM and the final price tag of $599.  Check out the latest video brought to you by Synthtopia.

NEW VIDEO (Synthtopia)

The UB-Xa (Oberheim clone OB-Xa)

ub-xa_p0cqm_top

Produced in 1981, the Oberheim OB-Xa was a direct competitor to the very successful Prophet 5 by Sequential Circuits.  One big difference was that the OB-Xa offered three models; a 4 voice, a 6 voice and whopping 8 voice model.  It also outshined the Prophet 5 by allowing layering and splits of the voices for larger, wider sounds and capabilities.   They also featured the new Curtis Chips that improved stability and the overall sound/filters.

Oberheim has always been known for excellent sound quality and craftmanship and the OB-Xa helped cement that reputation.  Many famous acts used one of these models including Van Halen (yep, it’s the “Jump!” synth) Depech Mode, New Order, Prince, Queen and even Bon Jovi.

A few months back, the Behringer team teased a desktop version of what they called the UB-Xa (no keyboard).  After synth enthusiasts made it known that a keyboard version would be most welcomed, Uli personally responded letting us know it was in the works.  So far, little has been shared other than prototype renderings but the interface looks very similar to the original and has an excellent retro vibe.  It is yet another synth that has me excited and I look forward to a test drive.  Unfortunately no details in terms of ETA have been released.

Behringer Eurorack Modules (including Roland System 100m clone)

behringer-m100.001

Modular Eurorack (or what some of my collector friends call “EuroCrack”) modules are some of the most popular, yet expensive collectibles in the synth market.  More often than not, a semi-modular, all in one synthesizer is far more affordable and user-friendly than a similarly capable Modular setup but far less experimental.  Like the word suggests, Modular essentially means individual parts.  Don’t like the sound of that oscillator?  Pop it out and put in a different module.  Want several filters to choose from instead of just the standard LP/HP?  Add as many as you like.  With modular synthesis, your wallet is the only limit to your creation.  As much as synth heads like myself drool over massive (or even compact) modular synthesizers, the overall costs for entry (case, power supply and fundamental modules) is straight up shocking.  A few manufacturers have tried to change that and have definitely brought some more affordable options to market (Pittsburg Modular is a great example), but it’s still a costly affair and keeps a lot of sonic adventurers out of the playground.  Behringer aims to change that with a solid-sized lineup of modules ranging from $49 to $99.  The goal is to start off by cloning aspects of the classic Roland 100m modular synth but Behringer has gone on record to say much more is planned.  This is really exciting as even if you don’t care to have a Behringer Oscillator or Behringer Filter in your Eurorack, cheap, affordable utilitarian style modules at that price will be hard to resist for even the snobbiest of purists :).

Seriously though, if you are into sound creation then a decent Modular setup is absolutely a tool to obtain.  Though many synthesizers have excellent modulation routing capabilities, nothing comes close to the options, the creativity/experimentation and the sheer pleasure (and maybe a little fear, which is exciting too) that comes from standing in front of one with 40 patch cables in your hand.  To be able to put together a robust collection for under $1000 would truly open up an aspect of synthesis that was extremely hard for most musicians to obtain.  I salute Behringer for their efforts and absolutely expect to have several of their modules in my rig some day.

Wrapping up

The list above is quite large, covering several of the greatest synths that ever graced our ears but it is by no means finished.  The Behringer team has been on a straight “tease” fest and rumors/leaks have shed light on several other projects in the works such as a Jupiter 8, a ARP 2600 (oh hell yeah!!), an OSCar, and several other clones.  There was a totally unconfirmed rumor of a TB303 clone in the works, which would make me extremely happy, but no details were ever released.

Regardless, only one clone has actually hit the market, the Behringer Model D.  Although it was regarded with skepticism and a fair amount of disdain before it’s arrival, once we all got to hear it, the message was clear:  Behringer is serious!   The sound was there, the build quality was there and most importantly, the price was wicked low.  Whether you are a fan of Uli’s new agenda or not, Behringer is on track to flip the synth world upside down and I personally can’t wait.  With NAMM 2019 just around the corner, the anticipation for what will be hitting the shelves over the next few months from this huge list is palpable.  As soon as I get my hands on anyone of them, be sure to check back for a review.

 

Cheers!

M, L

 

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