"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

Behringer: Cheap and cheerful?

Toby Roworth

Jan 13, 2012

Photo credit: Chris Bradbury
For many years, Behringer's products have been considered very poor by many within the industry. But there are signs that they're changing their game. But did they really need to change it in the first place?
As a student with a penchant for exciting tech equipment, whenever it comes to choosing the next piece of kit for my rig, Behringer products always stand out slightly from the page, due to their extremely competitive price, helping my student load stretch that little bit further.
I heard of an installation company claim they would only ever touch three Behringer products:
  1. CT100 A cable tester. One of the best I've seen so far. I got shown a similar, much more expensive, product at PLASA, the cableJog, but the functionality it had over the CT100 didn't justify the higher price tag, and the functionality it was missing meant I wouldn't buy it anyway. For £20-30, this device could save you hours work trying to find what's wrong with your cables.
  2. UltraCurve DEQ2496 A digital graphic. For £220 you get not only a digital graphic, but a parametric EQ, feedback destroyer, dynamic EQ (what happens when an EQ and compressor spend a night toggether), stereo width control, auto EQ, delay unit and pink noise generator, all in 1U of rackspace! This box can make a room sound great, and is fairly affordable.
  3. Not sure I missed what the third one was, but it might have been compressors!
This leaves several hundred products, covering a wide range of PA functionality. What could be so wrong with them?
As an example, lets look at the Xenyx 1002B mixer I bought back in February. I wanted a small mixer to mix my bass and laptop into my Squeezebox, and ideally be usable for small events too. After a couple of months of looking and wishing, I decided on the Behringer, as it had more actual usable inputs than other 10-channel mixers, and was nearly half the price oif a similar Allen & Heath or Yamaha. It's a nice little mixer, which keeps my rig running on a daily basis, mixing computer, TV and instruments together in my living room, and with a bit of cunning wiring (and a lot of gain) can even act as a distortion effect. It's also been handy for a couple of small band setups at church events, and even got used as part of my 4-mixer massive jazz band setup back in May (more information probably to follow).
But cheap and cheerful rarely stay married for long. The faders are a little dodgy in places, with some bits of the track apearing dead. The power button's mechanism isn't perfect, with the button not jumping in and out like it should. My least favourite part of the desk, however, is that the headphone output only takes the main mix bus POST fade. The headphones have their own level control but the master fader has to be up to hear anything, preventing the engineer from listening to the mix when it's off. It's a 1-wire fix (hopefully - I'll check when I have a minute to actually fix it), but seems a bit of a design flaw.
When push comes to shove, I'd buy the desk again. It's a classic example of Behringer - very good feature to price ratio, but fairly poor build quality. But if I was actually gigging it more regularly, I may be a little more concerned. As a student on a limited budget, Behringer products can be the difference between me having a piece of kit and not, and for many other people/organisations on a tight budget, may be worth the risk of (minor?) failure during a gig.
But then I've heard rumours that since their 2009 acquisition/merger/holding-company-business-thing with Midas and Klark-Technic their game has been improving. Many of their newer products are mostly digital (iNuke, X32), and this reduces the complexity of their usually flaky hardware. The UltraCurve pre-dates this merger, but is a good example of how doing the heavy lifting in software means that you don't have to rely on high-quality ICs for decent sound quality - once the ADC has happened, you're only going to distort by overrunning a 24-bit buffer, which the software can take care of before it even happens.
The iNuke series of amplifiers are class D amps, weighing hardly anything but able to put massive power through your cabs (6000W for the largest). They also do a variant with built in EQ, much like a mini-ultracurve. They're still very new (about 6 months in the wild, if that) and reviews are thin on the ground, but I might be tempted when I eventually get a sub.
The really exciting new product is the X32 digital mixer, weighing it an £1500-2000. That's right, a digital mixer for under two grand. It still hasn't actually shipped, but when it does it could be interesting. They claim it's up to the standard of their Midas desks (top of the range, but look like they're made form Lego), but I somehow don't believe that... Even if it's a little dodgy after a couple of years though, it's got to be worth a try - you could buy 4 for the same price as an iLive, and it may not be too much worse. Sure the iLive's better - those things are sweeter than sugar, but maybe it's much like Photoshop vs. GIMP - several features I won't use don't warrant the massive price increase when the features I do need are there in a slightly different shape!
Hopefully we'll see a follow-up post when I've got £2000 spare and the X32 finally ships...