German manufacturer best known for low-budget effects and mixers set to launch analogue synth.
In an interview with Amazona.de, translated by Sonic State, Uli Behringer reveals that his eponymous company is planning to launch a polyphonic analogue synth range, influenced by classic models from the likes of Roland, Korg and Moog.
Behringer reveals that the company is in the very early stages of developing its first synthesiser, set to be produced in conjunction with the Midas team in the UK (Midas is owned by Uli Behringer’s MUSIC Group holding company, along with the likes of Klark Teknik and Turbosound).
As a teenager, Behringer built a DIY synth, the UB-1, but the mooted new product would mark his company’s first move into the world of synths. For inspiration on the design, Behringer reveals that his team has been analysing the circuits of vintage synths: “We have not been idle in recent years and have invested a lot of time in the analysis legendary synthesizers from Roland, Korg, Moog, Sequential Circuits, ARP and PPG etc. The Curtis and SSM [chips] are today virtually no longer available and we have therefore used a lot of time, to replicate these with modern and high quality VCA and OTAs… These circuits will now form the basis for our synthesiser.”
The news raises the question of exactly what form the proposed synth might take, specifically the extent to which it will attempt to clone or imitate the features, characteristics or even circuits of existing instruments. Behringer has been criticised in the past for releasing products ‘inspired by’ other manufacturers’ designs, landing in legal hot water on a number of occasions. The company has previously faced legal action from Mackie and Aphex over infringements of intellectual property and ‘trade dress’, while, more recently, Roland and Behringer reached a settlement over Behringer’s range of Boss-inspired guitar effect pedals released at the Winter NAMM 2005 trade show.
Behringer’s openness about the analysis process suggests that he doesn’t fear any similar legal difficulty this time. In a 2012 Q&A with SoundForums.net, he justified the company’s approach: “Using ideas from other competitors is perfectly legal as long as you don’t infringe on patents, trademarks, etc. and again what the law permits and what the public deem acceptable often differs greatly. How many guitars look like Fender Strats? How many cars or phones look alike? Frankly every manufacturer becomes inspired by other competitors and this is how the world works.”
Regardless of design ethics and IP law, one thing remains undeniable: thanks to early investment in Chinese factories, Behringer’s low production costs allow the company to sell products at much lower prices than many of its rivals. Most of Behringer’s stompboxes, for example, retail for around half of the products they draw inspiration from (most of which are already reasonably priced). In some cases the difference is even more pronounced; compare, for example, the Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI (RRP £209), with the very similar Behringer V-Tone Bass Driver DI (RRP £44.85).
All of which means that Behringer could potentially become a major player in the analogue synth market with just one product or small range. The analogue polysynth market is currently dominated by expensive high-end products despite the recent proliferation of affordable analogue synths. The vast majority of new analogue instruments released over the course of the recent boom – including the Korg MS20 Mini, the Novation Bass Station II and the Arturia MiniBrute and MicroBrute – have been monophonic. Although a handful of analogue polysynths remain in production – most notably DSI’s offerings – it’s widely speculated that the higher production costs of polyphonic analogue synths would make it much harder to release instruments affordable enough to appeal to the same broad market. Demand for affordable analogue synths inspired by the vintage classics would seem to be strong, meaning that much would rest on Behringer’s ability to bring the product to market at an attractive price.
The final question is whether any other manufacturers can beat Behringer to the punch. Although they remain tight-lipped regarding the possibility, the logical next step for the likes of Novation, Arturia and Korg could be a polyphonic equivalent of one of their analogue designs. The chances of seeing a Poly Station, PolyBrute or maybe a Mono/Poly Mini at some point seem fairly good. The existing players in the market have the chance to make the first move, but the impending arrival of Behringer surely changes the game to some extent.
Behringer points out that the first prototype of the new synth will take at least another year to complete. Mark your diaries for NAMM 2016, when we may just find out what the company has planned.