Behringer’s leading a Synth Revolution, but at what cost?
Behringer’s Leading a Synth Revolution, but at What Cost? Uli Behringer’s barely legal assault on the pricey world of analogue synthesizers, In 1970, only months after Woodstock solidified the footprint of the 1960s’ musical counterculture, physicist Robert Moog made his own mark on the world of music–the Minimoog Model D. The Minimoog was the first commercially available keyboard synthesizer. While there had been other synthesizers before it, they were massive, cumbersome, and complicated.
Musicians of the day, itching for new ideas but lacking technological expertise, embraced the easy-to-program, organ-like Minimoog. If they could afford it. Just like its older, more intimidating cousins, the Minimoog was expensive. Its average retail price sat just under $1,600. In modern dollars, it would have cost over $8,000. Indeed, in today’s used instrument market, where the popularity of old school analogue synthesizers is experiencing constant renewal, a working Minimoog Model D will readily fetch that amount, and often more.
To cash in on the demand for such an iconic and rare piece of gear, Moog Music Inc. have offered various reissues and reimagining of their classic synth to varying levels of success, all at retail prices in the thousands. In general, synthesizers are expensive instruments, owing to the cost of research and delicate manufacturing processes. So when a German company called Behringer released the Behringer Model D in early 2018,eyebrows were raised. Behringer’s Model D is the spitting image of Moog’s, sans keyboard.
Its Controls, internal components, and, most importantly, its sound are nearly identical. And it costs $299. Attack of the Clones Known for most of its history as a manufacturer of budget guitar accessories, sound mixers, and lighting equipment, Behringer made a massive splash in the electronic music scene with the reveal of the Deep mind 12, the company’s first synthesizer.
A recreation of, and in many ways an improvement on Roland Inc.’s classic Juno 106 keyboard, the unusually affordable and capable Deep mind established Behringer as a preeminent force in the world of analogue synthesizers.
The Deep mind was not without critics, but its price and innovative features warded off the harshest complaints, inspiring genuine excitement for an era of economical synths. However, with the announcement of the Model D, Behringer has entered a new chapter defined as much.
By its laundry list of unabashed synth clones as the publicity they’ve received, both negative and positive. Behringer was founded by its namesake, Uli Behringer, in 1989, and operates under parent company Music Tribe, officially headquartered in the Philippines.
As CEO of both companies, Uli’s influence is near total. A peculiar type of visionary capitalist, Behringer is a Howard Hughes for thrifty musicians, the near opposite of prominent music tech characters like Robert Moog, Dave Smith, and Roger Linn.
His thirty-year career has seen him explore most corners of music tech, manufacturing to such a prolific extent that the construction of a massive, dedicated factory complex in Zhongshan, China–playfully dubbed Behringer City–became necessary in2002, as European labor proved too costly.
Behringer himself has called Asia home for much of his company’s lifespan.
The Swiss-born engineer and classically trained pianist, previously a low-profile figure, has emerged as an outspoken voice in his industry, partially in response to the criticism lobbed his way by music journalists and diehard vintage synth enthusiasts who suggest Behringer’s clones may devalue the original instruments on which they are based while simultaneously delivering sub-par products suffering from poor quality control.
Naturally, the question of legality has followed Behringer’s releases. In a 2020 Facebook post, Behringer responded to complaints: “In our Vision, we only have two obligations–to relentlessly deliver what customers desire and to observe the law.
We will always respect that people may have different opinions about what we should and shouldn’t do, however that’s not an area we will ever engage in.” Having long desired to manufacture affordable synthesizers but held back by the prohibitive cost of research and development for such products, Behringer’s approach is a decidedly legalistic compromise.
His company’s clones–numbering in the dozens at the time of writing, and with more on the way–are all based on instruments for which the relevant patents have expired. In Other words, legally, the clones are kosher. “Technology is free for everyone to use unless it’s protected.
That’s exactly the reason why the law was designed the way it is, so it encourages competition–all for the benefit of you the customers and for society to progress.” patents With eyes set on LinnDrum, Eurorack, the entire catalogue of Roland’s famous drum machines, and even Apple’s AirPods, Behringer shows no signs of stopping.
However, there is reason to suspect the company may be headed for choppy water. Uli Behringer’s now-infamous spat with journalist Peter Kirn gave off leaky ship vibes, with many beginning to doubt the leadership and of the CEO.
Similarly, Behringer’s new Swing, an almost shot-for-shot copy of Arturia’s still-in-production Keystep controller, is inarguably a misstep; while legally untouchable, many have declared the Swing a bad move indicative of Behringer’s seeming lack of etiquette, including Arturia themselves.
Lawyers we interviewed have differing opinions, though most, like eAccidents.com, agree that while Behringer’s approach is ethically questionable, the legal lens does not judge actions made in bad taste.
A month into its release, Behringer’s Model Dhad already sold 25,000 units, and each subsequent release seems to inspire more hype than the last, with his upcoming Oberheim Cyclone expected to make massive waves.
Behringer remains attached to his successful, albeit controversial business model, while boutique companies like Moog Music Inc., who assemble their instruments domestically in small batches, charge a commensurate price, and command fanatic loyalty, are still afloat.
Time will tell how Behringer’s mass produced, bare-bones offerings affect the appeal of pricier alternatives in the future. For now, there is an uneasy coexistence between Uli Behringer and his more prestigious competitors