- Early analogue synthsizers go from junk, to unaffordable antiques
- Behringer’s synths seem cheap – why?
- Wondering which Behringer synth to buy? Read this…
Synthesizer players have never had it so good – to the point that there’s an overwhelming selection of instruments now, all for far less money than when the instruments first dominated home music.
Experienced players are probably loving it, but if you’re new to synths, you could be excused for finding the variety daunting – and if you google for advice, you’re going to find the affordable synths from one firm divide opinion like little else in the gear-obsessed world of electronic musicians.
From spotty kids and hobbyists taking the dream route from Casiotone to one-hit-wonder status, to savvy pro studios working on a tight budget (or sensibly, not wanting to risk valuable kit on the road), everyone’s musical backstory probably includes something made by Behringer, but the firm’s better known for making less-expensive clones of popular gear.
In this case, (most of) the synths are well out of production, approaching 40 years old and hard to find in good condition – they’re the kind of synths I myself horse-traded away when they got valuable, and now regret selling.
Behringer’s hardware is almost excruciatingly tempting – but I’ve enough experience to know kit doesn’t solve problems. Whether you want a trip down memory lane, or just want an affordable synth, faced with so many familiar, technically similar faces – how do you choose?
One thing I’ve learned is that ‘trying to buy everything’ really isn’t sensible!
Why analogue synthesizers?
What makes analogue synths so interesting is the immediacy of control, the hands-on feeling of directly interacting with the signal path; it is a very different experience to essentially programming a computer to render an audio file – albeit at very high speed – through calculations.
When you look at the history of analogue synthesizers – of synthesizers in general – like any technology, the cutting edge was always about making it do more and more with each generation.
The cost and complexity ensured it was unattainable for hobbyists, and the companies making it all want to stay at the proftable cutting edge.
But it takes time to master – and the nice kit falls into the hands of the widest pool of artists just as it becomes obsolete. A new shiny arrives – right as those people are really cracking how to get the most out of the existing tech.
When it comes to analogue synthesis, though, the humble oscillator, filter and amp is as timeless as music itself, an electronic rendering of blowing across a grass reed in your hands.
Analogue synthesis hasn’t stayed still and stuck in the 1970s and ’80s; it’s more exciting than ever – and one could argue the reason many of these synths were seen as obsolete by the 1990s was because they marketed as dated and old, without any thought given to the sound or the user experience – hence the continued resurgence.
Why are Behringer synths so cheap?
The drive to make bigger, more complex, more powerful has lead to some amazing instruments, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when computers and large-scale-integration of silicon chips allowed huge amounts of complexity to be packed into tiny, low-energy, low-heat packages.
But a lot of the time we didn’t want a better brush – we just wanted the ones we had and loved to be more affordable
Some firms tried to bring cutting edge to market at a more affordable cost – be it Sinclair’s rubber-keyed microcomputers, or EDP’s membrane-keyboard Wasp, tech that could easily have been the ’70s equivalent of Kickstarter projects that explode into delayed reality, but keeping it all in-house and local pushed costs up.
Keeping the Sinclair metaphor – Sir Clive achieved some success, too, but the thinking remained too… small, even when profitable they tried to make thousand-pound computers for £399 with pointless compromises.
They were absorbed by Amstrad, and like Behringer, Amstrad’s skill was in getting the largest-scale production and most consumer-friendly package, for the lowest price.
In recent years Behringer’s size and success means they’ve acquired some innovative brands – T.C. Electronic, Klark Teknik, Tannoy, Midas… you get the idea. One of those firms is CoolAudio, manufacturers of audio ICs including, crucially, recreations of classic synthesizer chips from the ‘golden age of analogue’.
The gap in the market Behringer spotted was the lack of a more affordable brush – these old synths are cherished and loved for their simplicity and sounds; why waste money trying to reinvent the wheel?
These days an EDP Wasp – which cost £199 new in 1981 – can fetch up to £2,000 even with cracks in the simple shell and wear on the printed keyboard.
The same story applies to well-known Rolands – the SH-101, once a cheap monosynth you’d find unloved in secondhand shops, can comfortably reach £800 with dirty faders and wear (more if it’s a rare colour), and the TB-303 synth originally intended as an electronic bass accompaniment – is now over £2,000.
If money equals sound, that’s terrible value. It’s barely as capable as a new £200 synth – and certainly nothing like the monster Arturia Matrixbrute or Moog Voyager you could pick up for the same money (with change left over).
Which Behringer synth to buy?
Most of these Behringer analogue synthesizers cost less than £300 new, with a three-year warranty and support, undercutting used examples of the originals by a significant amount and at much lower risk.
There was a time that I’d buy every one of these, and probably find out that ultimately I made pretty much the same sounds with them all. Even when I had an Access Virus TI and Moog Voyager, I tended to create sounds that could be created on an ARP Odyssey, for example…
If you’re collecting recreations of classic synths, then all you really want to know is how good Behringer’s versions are. But if you’re new to electronic music, how can you choose!
- If you want a true synthesizer for your kids to learn on the Crave is playable and robust – and cheap
- For a semi-modular starter, the Neutron is very flexible for £250
- For less than £300, if you want a keyboard get the MS-1
- The Odyssey is the one to go for if you can go up to £500
- To add some distinctive new sounds for near-plugin money, get the Cat, K-2 or Wasp
- For less than £600 the Behringer 2600 puts an analogue dream machine on your desktop
A note on prices: shop around! I include Amazon links because years ago I had an affiliate account for this site and ‘why not’; they also link to many resellers in effect. However, in the course of writing this, I found Thomann to have consistently good prices, and Gear4Music to have some good deals and bundles.
At a glance, the parade of affordable monophonic analogue synths look kinda similar, but they’re not – this chart details how different they are before you’ve even got into how they sound.
Behringer synths - voice specifications compared
|Per Voice||Available across all oscillators|
|2600||2, Duo||3 VCO||4, patchable|
Patchable Ring Mod
4012 LP 16Hz
4072 LP 11Hz
|1 x ADSR|
1 x AR
|Sine/Vibrato + delay
|Model D||Mono||3 VCO||7, selectable|
|Osc 3 to...||24db Ladder LP/HP||2 x ADS(D)||1, 2 waves
|Neutron||2, Duo||2 VCO||5, variable|
|12db LP/HP/BP||2 x ADSR||1, 5 waves|
|MS-1||Mono||1 VCO||3, mixed|
|24db OTA LP||1 x ADSR||Sine
|Odyssey||2, Duo||2 VCO||3, switched|
1 x 2-pole 12db
2 x 2-pole 24db
|1 x ADSR|
1 x AR
Sample & Hold
|Poly D||4, Para||4 VCO||7, selectable|
|Osc 4 to...||24db Ladder LP/HP||2 x ADS(D)||1, 2 waves
|Pro-1||Mono||2 VCO||4, switchable||Sync||24db 4-pole LP||2 x ADSR||2, 3 waves|
|TD-3||Mono||1 VCO||2, switchable||24db 4-pole LP||1 x AD|
|Mono/Poly||4, Para||4 VCO||3, selectable|
|24db 4-pole LP||2 x ADSR||2, 2 waves
LFO 2 triangle
|Cat*||2, Duo||2 VCO||4, blended|
|1 x ADSR|
1 x AR
Sample & Hold
|Wasp||Mono||2 DCO||3, selectable|
|1 x ADS(R)(Hold)|
1 x ADD(R)
|1, 4 waves
Sample + Hold
|Crave||Mono||1 VCO||2, selectable|
|24db Ladder LP/HP||1 x ADS||Square
|K-2||Mono||2 VCO||4, selectable|
|2 x ADSR||2, variable waves|
|Deepmind 12||12, Poly||2 DCO|
|Deepmind 6||6, Poly||2 DCO|
|* The original Cat was considered a clone of the Odyssey, and the specs are very similar...|
|VCO = voltage controlled, analogue||Select: Choose a waveform for the ocillator|
|DCO = digitally controlled, analogue||Variable: Blend between adjoining waveworms|
|Digital = digital oscillator||Switched: Enable/disable waveforms, synth blends them|
|Mixed: All waveforms available, user blends levels|
Keep reading to find out what the whole range entails, and if there’s a better synth for your needs.
There’s definitely a cachet to owning the originals here (check out prices on Reverb to come back to earth) – but spending thousands on your first analogue synth might be quite frustrating. Behringer’s analogues (in every sense) are great synths for getting into hardware, as well as adding classic sounds to an existing studio.
Behringer make a couple of accessories for building these synths into your studio and using them alongside modular gear easier – all of the desktop modules can be removed from their cases and fitted in Eurorack chassis. But they aren’t identical, some are 80HP wide, some are 70HP; this affects using the Behringer desktop stand that fits three synths together (they must be the same width) or which rack ears you buy (rack ears for 70HP and 80HP cases are available, and cheap – third-party builders have made rack ears for the Crave).
How do you play these things?
Most of Behringer’s synths are modules – they don’t have a keyboard, and they’re controlled by MIDI either over USB, or old-school five-pin DIN. You can hook them up to that old home keyboard if it’s got MIDI ports, or get a dedicated controller – the Arturia Keystep is a safe bet and it’s got a sequencer to record notes, too.
The majority include a degree of CV – control voltage – connectivity too. That allows other analogue gear to add to, use or shape the sounds.
Where’s the ‘synth lead’ patch? How many presets?
You’ve discovered the biggest advance made in analogue – and it appeared after most of these synthesizers were first invented! You have as many sounds as you have bits of paper (or smartphone shots of the front panel now) to remember the settings. In the early days of synths, the affordable ones with presets were set at the factory and most people avoided such machines for ‘serious synthesis’ – they were more like home organs.
All of these instruments except the modern DeepMind series will need you to set the controls for the sound you want. It’s an immersive, responsive experience, but there’s no ‘push button, receive bassline’ option.
There are loads of preset sheets out there, though. Here’s an example applicable to the Model D – a book of Minimoog patches. You can use MDI editor CTRLR to draw patch panels with templates like this one from Goodweather. Arturia even include some pre-cut templates with the MiniBrute…
The Behringer synths (and their origins)
A legend on your desktop that fits your wallet – the 2600
Street price – £535 – £699
Value rating: A Close Encounter with a GAS giant
- 19-inch rack mountable analogue monster
- Improved recreation of a true legend, for an amazingly affordable price
- Additional models provide a choice of colours and analogue or digital reverb
- Powerful, yet very musical, 3 VCO semi-modular synthesizer
This is, probably, the diamond in Behringer’s desktop analogue synth crown. It’s a recreation of the ARP 2600 – and yes, Korg has done this as well, both in limited-edition, budget-breaking full-size replica form and more affordable 60% sized compact form – without the keyboard, and for £1699.
There are differences between the Korg and Behringer 2600s beyond the ‘cork sniffing’ of sound quality and perception of audio, though, such as built-in speakers on the Korg.
Behringer has released two versions of 2600. The original, in black and orange colour scheme, and limited-edition Blue Marvin and Grey Meanie models.
The limited editions don’t just have a new faceplate – the components are hand-selected and the digital reverb has been replaced with a mechanical spring reverb for greater authenticity, plus the rather gaudy multi-coloured LEDs are now a single colour. They still don’t have built-in speakers though.
All models expand on the original 2600’s sound-creation capability with an additional LFO, improved envelopes (but crucually, still compatible with the original intent when required), alternative pre-wired routing and switchable early/late filter designs (a feature that the Korg 2600 M also offers), and include USB & MIDI interfaces for modern connectivity.
There’s very little price difference officially, though Brexit has made comparing suppliers a little harder – Andertons want £655 for the limited editions and £555 for the standard 2600, but other dealers seem to be charging between £535 (BAX Music) and £699 (Gear4Music).
The official price is €615 for the standard 2600 and €619 for the Blue Marvin or Grey Meanie editions.
Behringer’s Model D – Mini Minimoog
Street price – £238 to £299 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: 10/10. The essence of analogue
- Analogue synthesizer, defined – it’s a Moog clone
- Three oscillator, faithfully recreated, and utterly classic
- Based on a 1971 original that costs thousands now
- 70HP Eurorack compatible, CV control
Arguably Behringer’s killer synth, the Model D is a desktop Minimoog clone that costs about a tenth of a real one; it’s been adopted by huge numbers of synthesizer nerds and musicians alike for its hackable nature and authentically analogue signal path.
It’s one of those instruments that raises a lot of questions – not least ‘why did this take so long’. Previous Minimoog desktops varied from lovingly soldered recreations for many times the price of this little unit, or software emulations running on DSPs (Creamware’s MiniMax, and the related Use Audio Plugiator).
Countless Moog and Behringer owners have tried to prove the difference between the instruments, and ultimately, you’re as likely to find the same variation between samples of the same instrument (one of the appealing aspects of analogue tech). Hacks and modifications are well-documented and it seems that the community that values synthesis and sound over tribal brand loyalty respects the Model D quite a bit…
The sound of the Model D really needs no description – it’s the sound of a Moog, and it’s as versatile as your programming skills can make it. Fat basslines, soaring, complex leads, gentle pads; it has the capacity to achieve them all.
Cats on Synthesizers – Octave The Cat
Street price – £279 to £329 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: 9/10 cats prefer it
I own one of these – a full review will be coming soon!
- Quirky two-VCO analogue synth with versatile oscillator modulation
- Recreation of a relatively rare cult synth
- Cats on Synthesizers is a thing…
- 70HP Eurorack compatible, CV control
This one snuck out in the evening while everyone was looking at the Pro-1 and K-2, and it falls into the pantheon of synths-named-after-animals as an apex predator that was hunted by rivals almost to extinction and – at least for budding synth enthusiasts – obscurity.
Where the Wasp was notable when new for its affordability and cost-reduced construction, the Octave The Cat (yes, that’s technically correct) caused problems with the neighbours – ARP figured it looked a lot like their pet Odyssey, and in true USA-style, litigation en-sued. As this 1999 Sound on Sound Retrozone states, the Cat was deemed worth £150 back then – these days, you’ll hand over £1500 for a broken one.
Or you could pay around £300 for a Behringer The Cat. Complete with a cat, on a synth; I hear plans to send one to the ISS are well underway, if only they could coax it into the pet carrier.
All of The Cat’s original features are reproduced; if you consider this feline was once deemed to be a clone of the Odyssey, Behringer’s Odyssey clone spawning a clone of a clone makes perfect sense, particularly as the Behringer Odyssey has a keyboard.
There’s enough difference between them to make The Cat interesting, though. It includes an extra waveform and cross-modulation tricks.
The Behringer Wasp Deluxe
Street price – £239 to £279 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: £239 vs. £1,000+ – no brainer…
- Two oscillator digital synthesizer first launched in 1978
- Notable for aggressive sound and versatile filter
- Good for processing external audio as well
- 70HP Eurorack-compatible
Since I already mentioned the Wasp, we’ll start with Behringer’s model. The Wasp’s USP is a pioneering logic-based architecture, the origins of the DCO (Digitally Controlled Oscillator) that allowed a two-oscillator synthesizer to be reliable, stable and affordable and a versatile filter design that offered far more flexibility than buyers at this price point would ever have expected.
The parallels with Sinclair’s clever home computers are more than just visual similarities – both British firms were true pioneers in the the nascent electronics market, both benefitted from Government investment at the time, and both were enthusiast-driven innovators who cast traditional product design aside to deliver more functionality.
Both Sinclair and EDP experienced problems by perhaps, biting off more than they could chew in terms of meeting demand in an era before outsourcing, fast-turnaround mass production had really taken hold.
The Behringer Wasp Deluxe is by all accounts, 100% accurate in terms of the circuity – and it joins a long legacy of Wasp clones that have used and built on the original transistor-logic based design – no custom ICs or software here, after all. It loses the membrane keyboard in favour of MIDI and USB connectivity; the five-pin DIN ports echo the original Wasp’s prescient sync and poly-chain connections.
Chaining Wasps together was a common practice; polyphonic Wasps are rare and expensive, like this ‘Stinger’ once owned and used by The Shamen. One of allegedly four made, it’s £4,199. Think how many Behringer Wasps you could link together for that…
You’ll love the Wasp’s vicious, fast envelopes and aggressive filter; it can shatter the top end and put the boot in the low end of the range with ease, but some might argue it lacks the soft edge of classic analogue thinking. Most of that is down to the programming – and without the flakiness of the original, the Wasp Deluxe has a great deal of potential.
I had the use of an original Wasp, and never fully explored it – it was too valuable for me to keep. For that reason alone the appearance of Behringer’s off-the-shelf, MIDI-and-solid-build one is very exciting.
A true star – the Neutron
Street price – £259 – £279 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: (?2±8)×10?22 e out of 10
I own one of these! Full review coming soon; it’s rather impressive.
- Relatively original, and full-featured
- Includes useful effects and modular layout
- Immensely powerful for the money
- 80HP Eurorack compatible, CV controllable semi-modular
Not everything Behringer’s produced is a clone, even if it’s competing with ‘similar’ products; as you’ve probably gathered from this article, the analogue synth market has pretty much always been saturated with similar products that gain status and brand equity from the artists they’re associated with as much as the technical ability.
The Neutron is a lesson in how to give analogue synth enthusiasts everything they’d realistically want in a desktop module/eurorack thing for not much money. It uses classic dual VCOs with variable waveforms, has a full complement of envelope generators and flexible filter routing, it’s patchable to a ridiculous degree (for the budget) and it even includes overdrive distortion and classic delay effects.
It doesn’t even look like any classic synths. Maybe a bit like a Moog Mother 32 for having the patch points, but it’s a very different sound engine. Such is the wildness of the Neutron’s design, there’s a thriving market for replacement faceplates.
If you’re an experienced synth programmer/player and are curious about Behringer, the Neutron is probably the best starting point to get a cheap taste of the hardware – though the ARP 2600 clone recently released is probably a better use of your money if you want to translate software/digital programming skills into usable sounds.
The Controversial One – K-2
Street price – £279 – £329 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: MS-20/10
- Patchable beast of a monosynth
- So popular it’s still available from Korg – with a keyboard
- Behringer’s one is cheaper – and more useful for many
- 80HP Eurorack compatible, CV controllable semi-modular
One thing links all of Behringer’s clones – the original analogue models are long out of production.
Where the original manufacturers have reissued them, they’ve usually been 21st-century thinking – the Roland SH-01a and TB-03 aren’t analogue at all, they’re DSP-based softsynths emulating analogue behaviour (ACB), and may as well be the Roland Cloud software ones in plastic shells.
There’s an exception to this. Korg. The K-2 is a desktop version of Korg’s absolute storming classic MS-20, and the MS-20 is a cockroach of a synth that while it was first buried in 1983, crawled out of the woodwork as a VST and USB controller in 2004, as a Nintendo Gameboy app (DS-10) in 2008, as a full-size kit, a desktop module MS-20M (and kit), an 87% scale synth, an iOS app… You get the idea.
Korg has definitely not forgotten the MS-20. It still makes the MS-20 Mini – and it’s a genuine analogue synth, not a DSP-software recreation, even if the nuts holding the jack sockets on are fake.
There’s logic behind the Behringer one though. MS-20s, even minis, take up a lot of space with their upright shape and keyboard. Korg’s version of the desktop MS-20 was insanely expensive by comparison, and is very rare. The Behringer one is under £300 and well made, fitting into the standard Eurorack-friendly case of other Behringer synths.
Sound wise, it’s a vicious bassline machine that plays very nicely with other CV modules, and it’s also really enjoyable to build patches on with the semi-modular form. I first played an original MS-20 in the late ’80s having found a forgotten one in a school cupboard, and wish I’d had more time with it.
Going Pro – the Pro-1
Street price – £299 – £329 – view offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: Arguably, the One to get for synthwave
- Legendary synth reborn
- But Sequential are still going…
- New Wave synthesizer for 1980s money
- 80HP Eurorack compatible, CV controllable
Sequential Circuits’ Pro-one fell into the category of trying to make a more affordable brush – in this case, a single voice from the legendary Prophet 5, and cased in a super-simple plastic clamshell case with a cheap keyboard mechanism (though the J-wire mech is actually pretty common in ’70s designs like the Jen SX-1000).
It found many fans, despite the cheap build (still well over three times the cost of the EDP Wasp mentioned in the intro), and excels at metallic, ’80s-driving basslines and evolving textures thanks to the complex mod matrix, allowing routing of more sources than the usual LFO and envelopes for sound shaping.
Of course, what provides the dilemma here is that unlike the eighties, when you’d be clutching EDP Wasp money in your paw and peering wistfully at the Pro-One in Tottenham Court Road’s windows, you can have the Sequential’s voice for the same money. It includes a dual 64-note sequencer, too, though it lacks the keyboard of the original.
Price-dropping acid – the TD-3
Street price – £129 – £169 – view some Amazon UK offers here
Value rating: 140bpm/10
I own one of these! Full review coming soon – and yes, it’s yellow.
- The repetitive sound of rave and acid house
- Simple, portable analogue synthesizer
- Born 1982, gone by ’84, defined a genre in ’87
Underlining the value of these remakes, the Behringer TD-3 is literally cheaper than a plugin softsynth. Roland’s updated Roland Cloud, and you can now buy the TB-303 outright – for $149…
Few synths have experienced the resurgence in value and credibility that the Roland TB-303 achieved. Laughed at in the early 1980s as a sad little plastic ‘bassline’ beatbox for buskers that failed to reproduce the intended bass guitar tones, it failed to do for bassists what the 808 had done for drummers (replace them) and was cancelled after 10,000 units, being sold off for ‘peanuts’.
As a clearance and used buy though, its fierce square-wave, low-budget price and super-interactive repetitive sequencer and irresistible cutoff frequency knob (in an era when ‘filter cutoff’ was Parameter 38 on Menu 48 adjustable in 127 easy steps – not MIDI values, but button pushes on a minimalist front panel) made it the darling of dance music, techno and rave – straight from the bargain bin to auction houses.
Such was the reputation of the 303 – and it’s more hallowed sibling, the 808 drum machine – that it inspired one of the first commercially successful software synthesizers, ReBirth RB-338 by Propellerhead software. You could download a revamped version on iOS until a few years ago – I first used it on a PowerMac back in 1997 and it felt revolutionary – but Roland’s desire to re-release the TB-303 as the TB-03 Boutique synth and Cloud plugin put paid to 20 years of RB-338…
It hasn’t, however, been sufficient to block Behringer; the TD-3 is a beefed-up clone of the 303 (there have been many others, most notably the Cyclone Analogic TT-303 – but none as affordable or backed by such a large company). It comes in a refreshing array of colours, including the lovely yellow Acid-themed model, and adds more pattern storage and distortion to the otherwise-faithful recreation of a TB-303.
It’s perfect for dance, rave, sparse electronic beats and of course, acid house; Behringer’s also recreated the analogue drum machine so often paired with it (the 808) as the RD-8. Between them you can get a powerhouse of late-’80s – ’90s music production for less than £400.
At the end of 2020 the colour range was expanded with a set inspired by the original Apple iMac, with shades like grape and blueberry in translucent plastic.
Crave – snack-priced monosynth
Street price – £149 – £169 – find offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: Almost disposable tunes
- It’s under £150, orange, and makes noises
- Crave is a basic building block for dance music
- 3340 VCO, Moog-style filter, patchable
Many electronic instruments remind me of a probably apocryphal story about IBM mainframe computers, where ‘the next generation’ speed bump consisted of an engineer opening the machine and moving a belt on a pulley to a higher-geared step.
For example, the Crave – an Behringer that exists on its own merits rather than resurrecting an ancient name and look – contains the same 3340 VCO as the Pro-1, or MS-1, or an SH-101, or a Prophet 5 – yet it’s a much cheaper, simpler instrument with fewer waveforms and less on-board control of the sound.
As a simple monosynth without effects, it needs something more going for it – and it’s got plenty. An 18-point patchbay for integrating with modular systems expands the Crave’s potential, and a 32-step sequencer gives instant gratification in a similar style to the TB-303. It’s hackable, too – you can add an external sub-oscillator, for example, giving it similar capabilities to the MS-1.
Behringer’s keyboard synths
All of the synths above are modules, and you need a keyboard, sequencer or MIDI controller to play them. Given their affordability, that’s not a big deal, and you can get great keyboards with sequencers included for less than £100 for mini keys, or spend five times that for a Novation SL Mk III that can handle multiple instruments at once. Behringer make a couple of controllers, too.
If you’re just starting out though, you might want a synthesizer with a keyboard built in – and Behringer’s got five to choose from currently. They’re usefully different, and as it happens, the starting point is a classic analogue synth for beginners that is a very welcome return…
Analogue synth 101, the MS-1(01)
Street price – £258 – £359 – find offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: 10(1)/10 – a real bargain of the synth world
- So many musicians started with the SH-101
- And now a new generation can share that experience
- Low-cost, keytar fun and bright colours, too
If the TB-303 was a bit of a flop for Roland in the ’80s, the SH-101 was anything but. Produced in the hundreds of thousands, this plastic-bodied single oscillator monosynth squawked its way into the hearts of bedroom musicians everywhere, thanks to the simple step sequencer, characterful sound and the amusing mod grip that turned it into the most fashionable, most un-embarrassing of instruments ever – the keytar.
In the ’90s an SH-101 was still a low-cost starter synth, but collectability and attrition kicked in, and now a decent SH-101 will set you back well over £750 – fully serviced and as new, you can double that, and you’ll pay a premium for the rare red and blue versions. The appeal is undeniable though, and crucially though an SH-101 wasn’t my first synth, it was the first one I really understood for sound creation.
Although an SH-101 has just one VCO, you can blend both waveforms freely, and add a sub oscillator (square wave) at one or two octave intervals for a full, punchy sound and it’s got easily-understood modulation source and destination controls, so it’s a lot more expressive and versatile than it seems at first look – the sliders are also really easy to read ‘at a glance’, too.
The Behringer isn’t totally faithful to the original – there’s no internal battery option, it’s got a more flexible modulation setup with filter FM and a velocity-sensitive keyboard with CV output for controlling other instruments.
Inevitably Behringer’s clone isn’t remotely as expensive; usually under £300, it comes with a more advanced sequencer, MIDI, and the mod grip and keytar strap is no longer an accessory (but it’s also no longer colour-matched to the synth, sadly). Choose blue to get that extra ‘unattainable SH-101’ feel.
Like the TD-3, Roland produces a boutique recreation – the SH-01a; it’s modeled using ACB plug-in technology like the Cloud VST or System-1 plug-out, rather than analogue – but it is four-voice polyphonic. It’s less than £400 (offers on Amazon UK) but comes without a keyboard.
Street price – £469 – £499 – find offers on Amazon UK
Value rating: 12/10 – it’s 20% bigger than its rival…
- Dual VCO, duophonic classic synthesizer
- Beautiful glassy leads, evolving pads and powerful bass
- Onboard effects and sequencer distinguish from rivals
You’ve heard the phrase less is more, I’m sure. The reverse applies here, more, is less – the Behringer Odyssey is of course, a resurrection of the ARP Odyssey, but it’s not the first one – Korg already sells an analogue Odyssey remake, and desktop and iOS virtual ones, too. So why would Behringer dive into this already established market?
First, there’s the fact that Korg’s time machine seems to take the whole ‘things that are further away are smaller’ paradigm very literally. Like the MS-20, their Odyssey is scaled-down. It’s also a fair bit over £500; not a bad price for what you get, but Behringer’s gone full-size and under £400.
Even so, with Korg’s connection to the original designer, and a limited edition full-size one (albeit at £1,299 – no longer available), it’s going to take something good to turn the heads of synth enthusiasts. So the Behringer Odyssey gains a few extras.
Effects and sequencer included…
Just above the full-size weighted keyboard is Behringer’s familiar step-sequencer layout. It offers 64 32-step sequences, and has the convenience of being built into the synth. And on the top left there’s a very un-ARP looking display for built-in Klark Teknik effects.
At least on paper, there’s no downside to the Behringer either. Balanced XLR output? Sure. MIDI and USB? Got it. All three revisions of Odyssey filter? Present…
Behringer Poly D – breaking the MonoPoly…
Street price – £649 – £699 – find offers on Amazon UK
- A unique diversion built on classic thinking
- It has one obvious, obsolete rival
- Delivers something unique for the money
Even though you can polychain and stack if you must, and many legendary musicians made globally recognised and loved tracks with a monophonic instrument, the idea that ‘if you Minimoog voice is awesome, what would MORE Minimoogs be like’ just won’t go away.
It’s an question that virtual analogue synthesizers keep on answering – even a MiniNova has three oscillators per voice and a choice of waveforms, mixing and modulation – but still the allure of analogue means ‘that’s not what we wanted!’.
Behringer’s answer – and I’ve no doubt they could, if they wanted, make a full 16-voice, 3 VCO-per-voice, 61-key 20Kg masterpiece if they felt the market was there – is to add one more oscillator to the Model D, and make it paraphonic. So, although it’s sort-of-four-voice polyphonic like a Minilogue or System 1, it’s not. Its closest ancestor is the Korg Mono/Poly, and if you’ve played with the iOS, Legacy or Full Bucket Music virtual ones (or a real one), then you know that’s a proper beast of a synth capable of an incredible range of tones and moods.
The Poly D costs over £600. Weirdly that feels expensive in this company, but you get a properly built, wood-and-metal Minimoog-esque analogue synth with adjustable front panel angle, fast semi-weighted 37-key keyboard with velocity and aftertouch, and so forth. It’s really quite remarkable value.
It is up against some formidable synths, though, at this money – analogue or otherwise – so it’s less of a no-brainer than adding the eurorack-style modules.
An actual Mono/Poly…
Street price – who knows?!
- On past form – you’re going to want this
- Much coveted paraphonic beast
- Yes, the Poly D does kinda the same thing…
It’s beginning to feel like if there’s a classic analogue synthesizer you wanted, you could starting saving up for the original and before you’ve got there, Behringer will have released a remake.
I’m not going to be able to add anything to the video – but there you go; after the Model D and Odyssey this will probably be the most talked-about Behringer synth for the rest of 2020.
If you can’t wait, you can always play with Full Bucket Music’s Mono/Fury.
VC340 – vocoder and strings
Street price – £420 – £449
- Analogue 10-band vocoder with delay-based chorus
- Strings ensemble for distinctive ’70 and early ’80s-synth tracks
- Instrument and dynamic mic inputs
This is the closest you’ll get to a preset machine or organ in Behringer’s current range – a recreation of the Roland VP-330 that first appeared in 1979, it includes string and human voice sounds on a split keyboard as well as the ability to process incoming audio for that distinctive robotic voice effect. The original wasn’t offered for very long, and it now costs thousands – famous tracks produced with it include Laurie Anderson’s haunting ‘O’ Superman’ and a fair bit of William Orbit’s work (with a rackmount version, the SVC-350). The latter is where the appeal lies for me – Pieces in a Modern Style and Madonna’s Ray of Light era strings and textures.
The sounds are mixed together, forming complex, lush layers, and there’s an analogue bucket-brigade delay (BBD)-based chorus that fattens the sound and adds texture. Unlike many synths-with-vocoders, the VC340 doesn’t come with a microphone – it’ll support your existing dynamic mic via the XLR connector (if you don’t have one, Lewitt‘s handheld/stage dynamics punch above their weight).
It’s possible to use an external source as a carrier for the vocoder, too – so what at first glance is one of the simplest machines in Behringer’s analogue line up is potentially, one of the most sonically creative. It would take a full review to really go into the scope of the VC340 – but if you’ve got an established setup of synths, drum machines and so forth, this is the one I’d add to a typical studio for more flexibility and inspiration.
DeepMind – Behringer’s first* synth
Street price – £400 – £700 – find offers on Amazon UK
- Analogue polysynth with a Juno-esque feel
- Immensely deep, clever interface
- Sound and build quality both impressive for the money
This one is actually three instruments. Behringer’s synth debut took the shape of the Deepmind 12; as the name suggests, it’s a 12-voice polyphinic synthesizer, with two digitally-controlled (DCO) oscillators per voice. A smaller version, the Deepmind 6, offers fewer keys and a small saving, and there’s a desktop/expander model too, the 12D.
Although UK prices can vary wildly with availability, you shouldn’t pay more than £650 for a DeepMind 12, £500 for the 12D, and £450 for the DeepMind 6. These are the only analogue synthesizers in Behringer’s range that offer preset recall – for now; several big, expensive classics have been previewed or teased.
It’s said to be closest to a Roland Juno in sound, but it includes digital effects (which can be bypassed), flexible modulation and three envelope generators, so it’s not a direct clone by any means.
It makes full use of Behringer’s acquisitions over the years – it was designed in the UK at Midas, and includes Klark Teknik effects, and also some of the WiFi/iOS integration lessons of Behringer’s most advanced mixers. However, what really matters is how it sounds. When it launched, the market for analogue polyphonic synths was dominated by relatively expensive options – such as the DSi Prophet ’08. Now there’s a lot more on offer – but the DeepMind’s usually sub-£700 price keeps it competitive.
Extras: Behringer’s bonus features
Many of these synthesizers were as basic as they could be in terms of the sound you got. What they provided was comparable to, say, an electric guitar before you’d even hooked it up to the pre-amp. Synths with built-in effects became more common through the 1990s – after these legends had retired. Similarly, very few featured computer-controlled sequencers or patch memories – the latter, Behringer’s remained true to.
Here’s what you get in each Berhinger that the original lacked.
Effects, sequencers and other changes
(Digital on 2600)
Changes to LFO
Mod grip included
|No||Klark Teknik effects||Sequencer
7 songs (tracks)
7 songs (tracks)
|No||Distortion||Range of colours
|Mono/Poly||No||No||No||No||37 keys instead of 44 keys
Adjustable angle case
|Deepmind 12||N/A||Yes||No||Klark Teknik effects|
|Deepmind 6||N/A||Yes||No||Klark Teknik effects|
|All Behringer's synths feature MIDI and USB MIDI, not a feature of the originals|
What’s coming next from Behringer?
Current projects in the pipeline or rumoured include:
- PolyEight – an eight-voice clone of the Korg Polysix, with enhanced effects and patch naming
- UB-Xa – long-rumoured and shown as a working prototype, an Oberheim OB-X recreation
- Solina String Ensemble – a classic string machine
- VCS 3 – a pioneering early analogue synthesizer
- RSF Kobol – keyboard synthesizer
- PPG Wave – keyboard wavetable synthesizer
- Pro 800 – Prophet 600 with two extra voices, desktop module
Synth terms: Mono, Poly, Para, Duo…
There’s a lot of debate about how ‘monophonic synths with several oscillators’ can be described – and it’s all down to how you perform with the different sounds. Working on the basis that you play your synthesizer from the keyboard, sequencer or MIDI track, a monophonic synth will only accept one instruction for a note at a time.
That note goes to the first oscillator. Given that the rules for synths are entirely open to being broken, I’m pretty sure there’ll be exceptions to that, but if you know of one then you don’t need to read this, do you! What the other oscillators do is set in the patch – the sound you’ve programmed – and that could be octaves, intervals or providing another way of shaping the sound.
Where it gets interesting is when the synth designers let you ‘play’ the other oscillators. The most obvious way of doing this is to create a polyphonic synth. In that case, every ‘voice’ is a whole synthesizer with potentially its own osillator, amplifier envelope, filter, filter envelope and low frequency oscillators too.
That means if you play one note, the next note can rise, sustain, fall and evolve exactly as the first one did. Repeat for however many notes of polyphony you’ve got.
In a monophonic synthesizer you get one lot of articulation per note; one amp, envelope and filter stage. You might have more than one oscillator though, and can therefore play an interval. You could just tweak the second oscillator’s pitch control as you’re playing, but paraphonic synthesizers let you press more than one key so you can play relative pitches during a ‘note’ for each oscillator.
A good analogy would be hammer-on during a chord on a guitar – you don’t strum or pick, you just alter a string’s pitch in the chord and that new note fades with the others.
Paraphonic can cover as many oscillators as you’ve got – four oscillators? You could set them all up in one stacked note with detune, you could make a chord to play, or, you can play different intervals paraphonically. It’s how the Behringer Poly D works, and the Korg Mono/Poly.
Most confusion lies around duophonic – two oscillator synths. The Behringer/Korg/Arp Odyssey is paraphonic, but marketed as duophonic; there are ways of building a polyphonic synth with just two voices though, and the Odyssey isn’t this.
Ultimately, if it’s not polyphonic, and has more than one oscillator, it’s some form of paraphonic from the listeners’ perspective – how easy it is to control the pitch of the voices is another matter!
Synth terms: Oscillators, waveforms and filters
Sound is oscillation. Your speakers oscillate. Your eardrums oscillate. If you’re fortunate enough to know one, a contented Ocelot oscillates at between 20-50Hz. But not all oscillators are the same. You can go crazy trying to understand it scientifically, so here’s an unscientific guide to help you understand the specificaions.
The pitch you hear is down to the frequency of oscillation – music is made up of loads of frequencies at once, with some that complement each other, all mixed up, but even a single note from an instrument as you hear it consists of many frequencies.
Synthesizers use a waveform shape to define which groups of frequencies – harmonics – you’ll hear at a given pitch. People perceive this as the tone, or timbre, or colour of an instrument; it’s why a square-wave sounds bright and harsh, and a sine wave sounds clean, but muted by comparison for the same given frequency.
If you look at the output of a synthesizer visually (for example, with Multiscope in Cubase), you’ll see the shape of the waveform is repeated more the higher the pitch you play.
The waveforms actually represent the amount of energy – the ‘loudness’ of the wave – before it’s fed through the other parts of the synthesizer.
A square wave has a hard transition from loud to quiet/silent. A ramp wave builds, then drops suddenly; a sawtooth is opposite, going to full energy almost instantly, then tailing off. A triangle is smooth up, and down.
They all sound different; they also mimic the natural behaviour of instruments like flutes, brass and strings.
These differing waveforms excite different harmonics in the note, which the synthesizer can then shape further to produce a final sound; you perceive the ‘fundamental’, the original pitch, with harmonics above it which may fade at a different rate for each cycle of the oscillator.
With one exception – a sine wave smoothly varies over time, and generates a ‘pure’ pitch. There’s a lot more to this than there’s room to cover here, but what matters when picking your synthsizer is how you can use those waveforms to make the sound you want.
In the example above, you can see the two main shapes the Roland SH-101 oscillator generates, square and ramp. They generate two different types of harmonic.
To make a more complex waveform – which sounds different even though the pitch is the same – you mix the shapes together, exciting a different set of frequencies again.
Synthesizers with more than one oscillator let you mix the oscillators together to make a more complex waveform, but most oscillators generate more than one kind of waveform in the first place – and you can use them in different ways.
- Switch: Switch an oscillators waveform on or off
- Select: Choose a waveform for the oscillator
- Blend: Smoothly sweep between waveforms
- Mix: Mix an oscillators waveforms together.
Having more oscillators allows even more complex waveforms and even more sophisticated ranges of frequency to be controlled – there’s no good or bad technology here, just different approaches; in the old days, you wouldn’t get a dual-oscillator synth for single-oscillator money and why so many low-cost monosynths were single-oscillator.
Having two oscillators where you can select a different footage (octave, taken from pipe organ terms) means you can manipulate more of the audible spectrum with one voice, even if each oscillator can only contibute waveform. This is why the SH-101’s sub-oscillator is useful; it literally gives it a deeper voice.
What this really means to do when choosing your first synthesizer is that if you have the ability to blend or mix oscillator waveforms, you’ll have more subtle control before you adjust how stable the pitch is, how loud it is over time, and how you want to filter the sound (trimming away unwated frequencies).
There’s much more to synthesis than this, of course; ring-modulation, sync, filters, LFOs, envelopes… eventually we’ll cover it all. From a starter point of view, though, these synths are generally, quite comparable.
Behringer’s got this market sewn up…
Not quite. With a budget of, say, £350 to get your first synthesizer, there are several options outside of Behringer’s affordable classic remakes. A good starting point is the Novation BassStation II; it’s the spiritual successor to the EDP Wasp with over two decades of development and advances applied. You could also consider the Novation Circuit Mono Station, reviewed here.
Modal also make a range of affordable, accessible synths, as do IK Multimedia. Mutable’s influence can be found in the sub-£300 paraphonic Arturia MicroFreak, and Arturia also offer the Mini and MicroBrute analogue monosynths.
Finally, Korg and Roland haven’t exactly abandoned this market – though Roland’s offerings are strictly speaking, emulations, Korg’s are authentic analogue synths. The Monologue is less than £250 and wonderfully accessible.
* Uli Behringer built a synth well before building a music-kit empire, apparently…