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But have Behringer gone a price-cut too far this time? The past few years have seen an explosion in the number of affordable MIDI controller boxes available on the market, at prices that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Inevitably, there is now a range of products at a variety of prices, from handy little boxes that feature just a few knobs or small faders in compact packages for the same price as a budget soundcard, right up to moving-fader assignable control surfaces that cost more than a computer. And as in any competitive market, manufacturers keep bringing out new controllers that offer more functions and features at prices that seem astonishingly low — until the next price-lowering development. Behringer are the latest company to throw established controller price conventions on their head.
Their first steps into products specifically aimed at computer users are two cross-platform USB-equipped MIDI controllers — a logical move.
Well, that extra 40 quid buys you eight mm motorised faders, which I think is unheard of in this price range. They even share a raised row of rotary encoders and switches across the top, a four-digit LED display and a strip of edit and assignable switches down the right. Operation is so similar for both units that Behringer have produced just one slim manual for both units as usual with Behringer, other European languages are supported with multiple translations.
It would be nice if this material — plus drivers and some further extras — were packaged with the controllers in future on CD. Once again, these are only available on line. A mains lead and USB cable are included in the box, which is very thoughtful. The knobs that populate the raised front-panel section of both controllers and the whole front panel of the BCR are in fact endless rotary encoders: they have no end stops, and their current position is indicated by a ring of LEDs that surround the encoders.
Two rows of assignable buttons, each with its own integral LED, finish this section of the front panel. In most standard mixer controller configurations, you can expect these controls to function as pan pots, and Mute and Solo switches. To this end, it might have been nice if the two rows of buttons had different colour LEDs; the integral LEDs in both rows are red.
The display reflects as best it can with four digits on-screen changes in host software, too. Returning to the front panel, the System buttons are next, below the Activity LEDs, and they are not assignable. You press Store to save an edited preset, hit Edit to go into Edit mode, and Exit gets you out of Edit or Global mode accessed by pressing Edit and Store together.
The Learn button makes light work of controller assignments by letting you simply move the on-screen control you want to assign. Well, as is pretty obvious, the BCF offers those eight motorised faders, and the BCR is equipped with three rows of eight rotary encoders, again with position indicated by a ring of LEDs.
If you press too hard on an encoder, it may well break. Operationally, the two units are obviously similar — as the identical manuals suggest — and which one you choose depends on how you like to work. If you absolutely prefer faders, then the BCF will be the one. The MIDI connections are rather more flexible than you might at first think. Although this is the back panel of the BCF, the rear panels of both units are identical, with the exception that the BCF has one continuous footpedal jack and one footswitch jack, as shown here on the right, while the BCR has two footswitch jacks instead.
Practically all features available to the B-Controls when interfaced to a computer are available in stand-alone mode. But perhaps you could be in the vanguard of that community! A single BCR preset, for example, has a potential individual assignments.
This leaves us with trying to keep track of what knobs or faders are doing what in which preset. Behringer help a little, with slim scribble strips running across various bits of the front panel, but these are only good for one set of assignments. The alternative is to photocopy the supplied preset sheets or print out the PDF equivalents and write assignments out by hand. The audio side is quite well thought-out, with a choice of analogue sources: one high-impedance guitar input is joined by a pair of phantom-powered mic inputs and a stereo line input pair.
Only three analogue inputs can be used at any one time, but they can be treated to simple dynamics processing, in the shape of a noise gate and limiter. There are apparently surround monitoring options, too.
In total, the interface can handle eight input and eight output audio channels simultaneously. Metering is well-thought out, as are the monitoring options.
Watch out for a review in SOS soon! Another functions as a simple mixer. The Banks for the eight raised push encoders allows them to function as controls for Pan, Balance for stereo channels , Effects send 1 or Effects send 2. The BCF then has eight level fades, obviously, but the BCR in this preset adds control over two-band EQ, since it has two extra rows of controllers per preset. This should be your first stop before trying to create your own presets.
Nearly every device within Reason has a profile, as do most Native Instruments products. But eventually there will come a time when you want to create presets from scratch.
And if you think creatively, you should be able to assimilate the control concept both in the studio and when playing live. For example, you could trigger samples or loops, control hardware sequencers, use the faders on the BCF as drawbars for software or hardware organs, play MIDI-equipped lighting rigs, and so on. B-Control parameters can be customised as to how they respond, too. For example, when assigning an encoder to a parameter such as pan, the LED ring lights solidly as you move the encoder right or left.
You could also simply choose to have one LED light at a time as a parameter is moved. BC Edit application. Recent updates to the B-Control firmware from v1. When emulating these other controllers, the BCF has very similar functionality, with banks of eight mix control channels changed by the preset up and down buttons.
In Pro Tools LE, for example, level-riding, pan, solo, mute and track-arm functions are supported, along with basic transport operations.
The display is small, though, and keeping track of controllers with no way to physically label them can be tricky. This sort of thing is always easier with a software editor, and Behringer apparently planned such a thing from the start.
Though currently a beta release, it offers great functionality and seems stable. While I was finishing this review, BC Edit v0. The early version I used was functional, if a little bit clunky, though that is probably down to Java more than the Applet itself. All encoder, button and fader assignments can be customised with a basic but clear graphic display and that includes managing the four possible banks of controllers.
Sets of presets can be saved to your hard drive, and moved to and from any attached B-Controls. The faders feel good if a little flimsy, and the encoders move well, with great visual feedback from the LED rings. Closer examination leads one to the conclusion that the packaging is a little plasticky, but bearing this in mind should lead to a long and happy working life.
The integration with software is exactly what most of us need, both in terms of simple control and editing and for recording complex mixes or parameter changes into a sequence. It remains reassuring to know that the process is as straightforward as dealing with MIDI bits and bytes can be, though. Behringer seem committed to supporting these devices, with all those on-line documents for free download. Still, it would be nice to see some of this material collated onto a CD supplied with the controllers themselves.
A Snapshot mode would have been good, too, especially when using the B-Controls in stand-alone mode with hardware instruments, or when working live that said, something like this option can be achieved when switching presets. I do wish that all controls could be switched to four banks worth of assignments, not just the top eight push encoders. The non-computer using community — it does exist! My concerns regarding the wider potential of the B-Controls were addressed by the firmware updates that appeared during the review.
The new emulation modes deal with most of these issues, allowing the BCF, at least, to control sessions of any size in the major sequencers. As a person with an increasingly virtual musical life, I find versatile hardware controllers such as these increasingly attractive. I may enjoy my streamlined computer-based studio, but I often miss the hands-on control offered by real synths and real mixers.
Behringer BCF2000 & BCR2000
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Behringer BCF2000 & BCR2000