Behringer's Synth Clones Bring the Fun Back to Electronic Music

At $99, they're the perfect off-season stocking stuffer

Key Takeaways

  • Audio gear maker Behringer has launched a slew of sub-$99 synths.
  • Many of Behringer’s products are very similar to existing synths. 
  • These synthesizers are often cheaper than their software plugin versions.
The Behringer JP-4000 Spirit su=ynthesizer.

Behringer

Behringer, maker of budget gear for musicians, has outdone itself with a slew of sub-$100 devices that might attract new people to music-making, or seriously annoy seasoned musicians. 

Germany-based Behringer has been making audio products since the 80s, but recently it has become known for its attractive knockoffs of well-known synthesizers. It seems to happily skirt copyrights, selling versions of classics from Moog, Oberheim, Sequential, and more, at prices that rival the software plugin versions. And often, Behringer's versions offer features unavailable in the originals, like MIDI, or preset saving. But is this kind of copying ethical? And can these ultra-cheap devices help create a new wave of young musicians?

"49 USD? I swear Behringer is going to release analog synthesizer keychains next. Looks like a lot of fun […] No battery power is a strange choice though," electronic musician Norb comments on the Elektronauts forum. 

Synth Something Something

An official reissue of Moog's Minimoog Model D synthesizer, which you have almost certainly heard on a record, is going to cost you at least $8,000, used. Behringer's Poly D replica is under $700, and the keyboard-less, MIDI-capable Model D is under $300 new and sounds pretty much exactly the same

Over the past week, Behringer's has announced a whole range of miniature synths at stocking stuffer prices, from its $99 version of the Sequential Prophet VS (used, almost $7000), to the little $49 Behringer UB-1, a tiny device inspired by the Oberheim Matrix 6 ($1,300 used) and Matrix 1000 ($1000 used), to the $199 Toro bass synth, based shamelessly on Moog's Taurus, right down to the Bull logo. 

A Behringer UB-1 synthesizer

Behringer

The cheap build quality of these little devices is obvious from just looking at the images. Where Moog's originals are beautiful musical instruments with big heavy knobs and built-to-last wooden cases, these little synths look more like 1980s home computers or even toys. But that's not really the point. While there may be plenty of people who want the originals, there are even more who only care about the price and the fact that they're getting a taste of "analog authenticity" for the price of a software plugin.

Ethics

Behringer's knockoff strategy is far from universally loved. Almost every online discussion about a new Behringer product devolves into an argument about the morality of copying other companies' devices, especially when those devices are from small independents, and not from big corporations. 

"All the cashing in on clones of other people's vintage designs, though doesn't sit well with me," said musician Darenager said on a music forum frequented by Lifewire. "Not much more than counterfeit, really."

And those companies themselves often get involved in the fight. In 2020, Behringer created the Swing, a MIDI keyboard that was an almost exact clone of the Arturia Keystep, which is probably the most popular keyboard for electronic musicians who aren't trained pianists. 

Behringer, for its part, doesn't always help its own cause. A few years ago, it publicly ridiculed a music journalist who is often critical of its products. 

A Behringer synthesizer.

Behringer

On the other hand, the company often resurrects loved devices from the past that will never be made again, and that can only be had by paying absurd prices for used originals. That's a good result for everyone. 

Fun Factor

But more than anything else, these devices look like fun. You can buy them, trade them, and sell them, and all the while, you get to play with some possibly-inspiring new toys. These designs might feature the synthesized guts of classic musical instruments, but the interfaces are anything but classic. They only have a few knobs, making adjustments easy instead of stressful and involved. 

And those touch-sensitive keyboards, which are a mainstay of ultra-cheap music toys, are actually pretty great. There's no expressiveness from how hard you hit them, but they're very sensitive, fast-reacting, and give a direct feel to the instrument. 

In a music world where things are getting ever more complex and computerized, and forum threads are more likely to discuss "workflow" than actual music-making, these little boxes look like a real breath of fresh air.

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