By Fionn Kelleher
We live in an age where almost any sound imaginable can be synthesised on our computers: On workstations or laptops, but also on our mobile devices. Generations of producers have been inspired by accessible digital audio workstations [DAWs] such as Ableton, FL Studio and third-party audio plugins, and it’s easy to see why: All you need is the computer you already own, a set of decent headphones, and a bedroom to get you started.
Standalone, DAW-less analog synthesisers aren’t going anywhere, however, and it’s easy to see the appeal to modern musicians. While software-based synths have come a long way over the years and allow for an infinite amount of programming when combined with a DAW, there’s a certain charm and richness to the sound of analog synthesisers. Some people enjoy them more because the more limited options for sound design force you to be more creative with less; some people associate them with classic sounds from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and use those to influence their own sound.
While a lot of the classic synths are well out of the production line, one company has focused on recreating what makes them special: Germany-based Behringer. Perhaps an odd manufacturer to be seen creating replicas of old synths, the budget audio equipment manufacturer has released a stream of musical instruments in recent years.
Let’s start with the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The drum machine produced some of the most recognisable sounds in electronic music, heard over all the genre spectrum. If you’re a techno head, your ears will undoubtedly be familiar with it, and equally so if you’re a connoisseur of pop: Think of the iconic drum programming in Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’, the beat in Destiny Child’s millennial hit ‘Say My Name’, or the backing of L’Trimm’s ‘Cars with the Boom’ (which you’ve definitely heard as a TikTok sound if you’ve spent as long as I have mindlessly scrolling there). The drum machine has made the very idea of electronic drums synonymous with the term ‘eight-oh-eight’ among producers, and inspired an entire movie about it (unsurprisingly titled 808). It’s a much sought-after piece of kit, and a cultural icon.
I expected Roland would capitalise on how successful the TR-808 was by producing the machine again, or perhaps releasing an incremental update. They attempted to continue the legacy of the famed analog drum synthesiser with the TR-8S Rhythm Performer in April 2018, but it morphed into a hybrid live sampling machine aimed at a different audience. Behringer came in out of nowhere and released the RD-8, a faithful recreation of the 808 in both sound and looks, and at a price tag of less than €330 brand new.
As daring as it may seem to create a product heavily implied to be an authentic recreation of one of the most beloved instruments in modern music history, Behringer went further and came for Moog’s blood (and profits). Artists from Tame Impala to Tyler, The Creator and Prince have all used the classic Minimoog Model D synth. Behringer released their more affordable take of the sound module behind the Model D, and totally one-upped themselves (and Moog) with the Poly D — a pseudo-polyphonic version with four voices — something that Moog themselves have never offered. Moog no longer manufactures the Model D; if you wanted to grab one used, you’ll end up paying thousands of euro — or you could grab a brand-new Behringer Model D for less than €280. It almost seems too good to be true.
I can’t help but be impressed that a company who’ve historically been known for their budget-friendly mixers, audio interfaces, basically every component of studio equipment under the sun, have not only invested in researching and reverse engineering the circuitry of old analog synths, but have managed to release authentic recreations of them at much more affordable price tags than their first-party counterparts.
If you’re looking to expand your arsenal of instruments and have a longing to experiment with classic analog synths, Behringer’s range of classic remakes might be right up your alley. Just promise yourself you won’t spend all of that €250 rebate from our Government on one.