Remember Behringer's enormous new range of effects pedals that looked very similar to Boss pedals? Roland have sued, saying that: "at the January, 2005 National Association of Music Merchants ("NAMM") industry trade show, Behringer announced the launch of a line of guitar effects pedals which replicate the distinctive design features of the BOSS pedals with such painstaking detail that the Behringer pedals are nearly indistinguishable from the BOSS pedals". More interestingly, they also claim that: "in an effort to gain industry acceptance of the cloned pedals, Behringer falsely assured industry retailers that the Behringer line of pedals was approved and endorsed by Roland." Which could explain the "Roland sold the rights for these things" comment on the last story.
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Last year Behringer amused everyone at NAMM by releasing a huge range of guitar pedals that were comically similar to Boss and Electro Harmonix pedals. Boss sued, and Behringer redesigned the pedals to look less like the 'originals'. Electro Harmonix don't have such effective lawyers, so the models inspired by them stayed the same. This year, Behringer have introduced a huge new range of mixers called XENYX, which feature "The new XENYX Mic Preamp", digital i/o (USB) and "neo-classic British EQ". I'm sure there's no connection with Mackie's range of mixers called ONYX, which feature "our new flagship Onyx mic preamps", digital i/o (Firewire) and "a 'neo classic' 3- and 4-band design based on classic "British EQ" circuitry". Of course, Behringer and Mackie have history.
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A huge pile of new super cheap effects pedals from Behringer today, mostly pretty standard-looking, but could the Chorus Space C be a pedal version of the legendary Roland Dimension D? It claims to be an 'Analog 3-Dimensional Sound Effects Pedal', although that doesn't mean it's actually analogue circuitry. Interestingly, they have a new range, adding to their Boss clones and Electro Harmonix clones, they now have MXR clones - Spot the difference: A or B, X or Y? Behringer seem doing be doing very well - as this jobs page reveals. UPDATE: Behringer's 'Chorus Space C' is, of course, a 'tribute' to the rare and long discontinued Boss Dimension C, which was a stompbox version of the Dimension D... If it's really analog, it will be quite interesting!
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Behringer have just announced a huge new range of stompboxes. The Boss-'inspired' pedals are £15 or £22 (for a digital delay or reverb). The Electro-Harmonix 'inspired' ones are £31, as are the Sansamp-'inspired' DI Boxes. Those prices are incredible, as is their use of phrases like "sound was modeled after Electro-Harmonix® Big Muff®" on the website. I imagine they have good lawyers, and that Uli Behringer thinks of his company as the Ikea of music technology. But Ikea design their own furniture. That said, this is probably new-ish technology. What they've presumably done is create a basic digital effects circuit (not too different from the Digital Stompbox). Every pedal probably has the same innards, with a different ROM chip, different knobs and a different colour box. Whatever you say about Behringer, I really wish they'd been around selling £22 digital delay pedals when I was 14.
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Behringer just announced a new firewire interface. $99, metal box, tiny, looks quite nice, 1/4 inch line-level stereo ins and outs, no preamps, headphone socket with volume knob, 24/96 recording, comes with freebie version of Ableton Live. Could be useful if you're playing live with a laptop or already have a hardware mixer, perhaps. Half the price of the new Presonus Inspire, but probably less than half the spec. (via GearJunkies) UPDATE: Here is a list of all Behringer endorsees, including Pete 'Wyoming' Bender, Ankle Music, DJ Jackie Christie, Oomph! and many, many more.
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So, it looks like Behringer have chickened out of their legal battle with Roland. Their US website says: "We are pleased to unveil the fantastic new look and feel of our coveted BEHRINGER stomp boxes" - a look which is now nothing like any Boss pedals. But it looks like another battle is just around the corner. On April 6th at 11am, they're launching 87 new products at the Frankfurt Musicmesse, including a range of genuine analog synths. The Ultrasynth MM1000 is a very familiar-looking three oscillator synth in a wood-effect aluminium case. The UltraMatrix SY1100 is built into a black plastic suitcase, with a matrix patch panel and a tiny membrane keyboard. Both synths are being produced in China, and the prices are astounding: The MM1000 is £250 ($475), while the SY1100 is just £200 ($375). Wow!
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I've been thinking a lot about this crazy new range of Behringer pedals, wondering if it is possible to copyright the look, shape and colour of a product.
In the 1980s, Gibson tried and failed to sue a load of companies producing Les Paul copies, but last year, they (bafflingly) won a judgment against Paul Reed Smith for making a very vaguely Les Paul-ish guitar (lengthy judgement here).
Headstock designs seem to be copyrightable. In the 70s, Gibson succesfully sued Ibanez and Tokai (who briefly had a "Les Paul Reborn" model), and Fender have done it several times.
Roland Corp (who own Boss) are pretty litigious: They've sent cease & desist letters to people making VST's with the word 'Juno' in the title, and sued Synthplanet.com over copyright and grey imports.
Behringer have had legal run-ins with Mackie and Aphex in the past.
Boss themselves had trouble. In the 80s, they released the SF-1 Superdistortion Feedbacker pedal. DiMarzio sued, because they made "Superdistortion" pickups, so it became the DF-2 Super Feedbacker and Distortion, which really doesn't sound so good.
I feel slightly mucky to admit that one of the few things that really caught my eye in all the Messe coverage was Behringer's fast growing range of tiny, cheap, nasty plastic stompbox range. At Messe the announced an analog-style filter which I'm guessing won't sound much like a Moogerfooger, but will cost about 1/15th of the price, a phenomenally complicated-looking harmoniser/pitch shifter, which looks sure to be £25 worth of plastic fun, and a knobtacular Bass Synthesizer Pedal if you're too cheap to buy the Boss version. I'd love to see someone breaking up these pedals and turning them into a big, gnarly, gruesome-sounding modular synth...
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While skulking around the Behringer booth, I noticed that their cheap microphones now sport these helpful stickers, reminding customers not to throw them in the bin. Thanks!
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Remember those USB guitars that everyone was talking about at the end of last year (like this one and this one)? Well, Behringer obviously did, and as is now traditional, they've been 'inspired' to create their own version. The iAxe 393 comes in white or black with a USB audio out and a bundle of stompbox/modelling software. For just £93. They're also showing off this rather tasty white version of their deservedly popular BCF2000 knob box in shiny white, which should go nicely with your mac. The Swiss product guy I spoke to didn't seem certain if this was actually going on sale, but if people like it, I'm sure it will.
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Behringer, the world's cheekiest music-gear company (previously here, here and here)
have been threatened with a $1m fine from the American Federal Communications Commission for selling 100,304 'digital devices' which hadn't been tested and approved by the FCC. Story here, full complaint here, which contains a few interesting details: The BCR2000 hasn't sold well* (4,000 imported but only 1,000 sold), and their biggest non-approved seller* is the decidedly unglamorous DSP1124P Feedback Destroyer, which shifted over 11,000 units. If you've ever wondered why they don't just make a cool boutique analog synth for cheap, there's your answer.
(Thanks, Anonymous) *It's been pointed out that I may have totally misrepresented these figures, as they could have sold a million BCR2000s after applying the appropriate CE sticker. Ignore me.
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This is a difficult review to write. The point of Music Thing over the last few years has been to celebrate hardware when all around were defecting to the sensible, practical world of software synths and in-the-box mixing. Celebrating hardware not because it's better, but because it looks cool and is nice to have around. The best hardware is ambitious, bonkers, knob-covered and over engineered; where no switch is left unilluminated and there's always a joystick. Synths should be modular and/or white. Sequencers should be analog and involve copious blinkenlights. We should remember the mega synths of the past - the Yamaha CS80, the ARP 2600, the Roland Jupiter 8, the Moog Modular, and we should remember the crazy experiments of the early digital era - Dave Smith's gnarly Prophet VS. Here, then, is one machine that does all that. The Arturia Origin is a big white synthesizer. It has a hand rest like an old studio console or an MPC60 (unfortunately curved steel, not pleather, but still...) It's made in France, of all places. It's a digital modular synth, containing models of oscillators and filters from Moog, Arp, Roland and Yamaha, plus a VS-style wavetable section. Editing is done on a little colour screen surrounded by knobs and buttons - just like the one on the prototype PPG Realizer - the German machine that anticipated soft synths and virtual analog long before it was possible. So why am I not in love with the Arturia Origin? Why am I writing this, rather than playing with the thing? How come I've already taken the top off to have a look inside and see how it all works? Because the Origin has crossed that line - it's not a hardware synth, it's a computer in a box covered in knobs. Please remember this isn't a real review. This isn't Sound on Sound. I've lived with this box for days, not weeks. I'm not a real musician, I haven't read the manual properly - most of what I say is ill-informed prejudice. The trouble starts when you turn it on, after first plugging it in, using the OEM external power supply that must have cost 99p. (Seriously, a £1900 hardware synth only really makes sense if you're playing live. An external PSU only makes sense if you're desperately trying to cut costs. If Behringer can manage a proper internal universal PSU in £70 mixers, why can't you?) Anyway, when you turn it on, it takes 30+ seconds to boot. Because it's a computer in a box. No, it isn't a literal PC in a box like an Open Labs Neko or a Hartman Neuron, so it will have taken serious R&D investment to design and build. The hardware was designed - in 2005 - by Wave Idea, a French company who make MIDI interfaces. What's frustrating about the Origin is that it's a computer in a box pretending to be an analog synth... and nothing more. The presets are nice enough, although it's a shame that combining 40 years of synth design produces a bunch of trance noises. The switch-covered interface means its rather too easy to turn off the layers of reverb and chorus on all the presets. It's a bit unfair, but does leaves many of the patches sounding weedy and thin. The fun bit is building new patches - delving in to that glorious vintage toolkit. And it's easy enough. You control the whole process through one one those big encoders with a push switch. I found it quick enough to patch together a basic VS - four wavetable oscillators, mixed by the joystick and running through (why not?) parallel CS80 and Jupiter filters. I like the little design features - the Yamaha filters look like knobs on a CS80. The thing is - and here's where I'm so conflicted - I just wanted a mouse and a decent-sized screen (oh, the shame of it). I'd much rather have the beautifully realised screen-based Nord Modular editor - which reproduces the reach-and-grab simplicity of a real modular synth, while allowing for endless complexity. Because patching a modular synth is more than rearranging a few filters and oscillators. It's about weird connections - putting control signals through audio effects, building oscillators from envelope generators. The Origin is not a tinkerer's paradise. Apart from anything else, the modules are so restricted - no sample player, no FM, no granular synthesis, nothing that's been invented since 1986. And it's a completely closed system - it doesn't run VSTs or allow users to develop their own modules. Perhaps there are hidden depths to the Origin - hidden away in menus I missed, or planned in future upgrades. It does much more than the £190 Analog Factory software/controller combo which presumably contains all the same synthesis algorithms. Unfortunately it costs as much as Analog Factory and a brand new mid-range MacBook Pro. That is a very, very big ask. The Origin is a wonderful thing. It looks good, it feels good. I'm sure it's not overpriced for what it is - a boutique, limited-run machine with a lot of custom hardware and software. But I can't imagine who would be willing to pay £1,900 for it. It's too digital for an analog fetishist, too analog for a sound experimentalist. The potential of this box is immense - DSP power + screen + knobs + blinkenlights + wooden end panels. But at the moment it's just - tragically - boring.
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Palm Sounds report on Belkin's great-looking TuneStudio iPod portastudio, which can record 4 tracks mixer - which can mix four tracks into a two channel recording on a 5G ipod. You can nearly do the same thing with a Behringer mixer and a Tune Talk (although there will be a level problem as the Tune Talk only has a mic input). But this thing is cute and knobby, and $180 isn't a terrible price. Alternatively, for $99 you can stay strictly old-school on cassette with the Tascam MFP01 which is actually sold with the line "Records one track at a time with classic warm analog sound"... (More coverage of the TuneStudio at iLounge, Engadget and Gizmodo.) (Thanks to everyone in the comments for explaining this story back to me...)
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