A vintage English monosynth is reborn in Behringer’s Wasp Deluxe.
The Wasp Deluxe is the latest in Behringer’s family of classic synthesizer tributes. This growing product line now takes in the Moog Minimoog (Behringer Model D and Poly D), Korg MS-20 (K-2), ARP Odyssey, Octave Cat, Roland Vocoder Plus (VC340), Roland Bassline (TD-3), Roland SH-101 (MS-1), and Sequential Pro One (PRO-1), with more expected in the coming months. Current Behringer synths also include less obviously derivative instruments such as the DeepMind (which the Roland Juno-106 influenced) and entirely original instruments such as the Neutron and Crave semi-modular desktops.
It’s fun to look at the Wasp Deluxe alongside Behringer’s Model D and Odyssey, since the original Wasp competed with the Minimoog and ARP Odyssey on its release in the U.K. in 1978. At the time, the Wasp was less than half the price of those well-established, all-analog monophonic synths. In addition to representing a price breakthrough, the it showed plenty of innovation in its technology, as well.
A fledgling company called Electronic Dream Plant (EDP) launched the original Wasp. It was the brainchild of composer Adrian Wagner—who sadly passed away in 2018—and electronics engineer Chris Huggett, who went on to work with Akai and Novation. In 1974, Wagner had created an excellent all-synthesizer concept album, Distances Between Us, and was keen to find some new instrumentation for a follow-up. Although he had access to a large Moog Modular system, he wanted something smaller and more portable, though ideally with an equally big sound.
Chris Huggett came up with the necessary circuit designs, and the pair matched these with a two-octave, non-moving touch keyboard that made great savings on mechanical component costs. The whole device fit into a lightweight plastic casing with enough room left for a small speaker and batteries, making the Wasp convenient to use as well as highly portable. The strong buzzy nature of its analog sound gave rise to the name Wasp and to its distinctive black-and-yellow color scheme.
The EDP Wasp had a basic analog monosynth layout with a couple of twists. It had two (digitally controlled) oscillators with octave switching and fine-tuning, a filter you could switch from lowpass or highpass to bandpass (unheard of on either the Minimoog or ARP Odyssey), two three-stage envelopes you could set to repeat, a white noise source, and glide. Also on the top panel, alongside the built-in speaker, was a pair of five-pin DIN sockets. These had nothing to do with MIDI, however, which appeared a few years later. Huggett had invented his own digital control system that allowed you to play the Wasp from a later sequencer (the Spider) or from a polyphonic keyboard (the Caterpillar).
Due to its big sound and small price, the original Wasp took the British synth community by storm. Dave Greenfield from the Stranglers—by that time very well established and playing a Minimoog, Hammond organ, and Hohner keyboards—took up the Wasp enthusiastically and created most of an album with it. Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran had one as his first synth and still swears by it to this day. Folk musician Andy Cronshaw placed a Wasp on the floor with a note sustained by sticking a glob of wet paper on one key to create what he called his “pedal note of doom.” And slightly later on, I worked with a couple Wasps and a Spider and Caterpillar myself, both in the studio and live, and loved the flexibility of their sound and sequencing capabilities.
As you probably know, Behringer is now on a campaign to revive the availability of many classic synths, and the Wasp is as good a choice as any. Its filter is 24dB/octave lowpass, but it sounds so distinctive that Doepfer already makes a specialized Wasp Filter Eurorack clone module. The renewed availability of Wasp sounds and Wasp-style filtering has provoked plenty of interest.
As on other Behringer reproductions, the Wasp Deluxe’s controls replicate the original controls exactly, with a couple useful additions. The master Tune dial (between the Bend up/down and Glide level controls) is now more accessible and no longer requires a screwdriver to make adjustments. The oscillator octaves are still 32, 16, 8, 4, and 2 feet, but audio level controls are placed between them, also mixing in external audio (an option not found on the original) and white noise level.
As on the original Wasp, the LFO is labeled Control Osc. It has a rotary switch to select sine, sawtooth, inverted sawtooth, square, noise, or random waveshapes. Modulation amount is variable, always in a positive direction for oscillators but either positive or negative for the filter. Because its frequency extends into the audio range, it’s useful for generating ring modulator-like sounds. The LFO’s noise modulation imparts a kind of gritty distortion, making it less useful than its random modulation, which generates widely spaced tones ideal for producing gurgling, bubbling sounds.
Like the LFO, the filter’s AD envelope modulates the filter in either a positive or negative direction. It provides a delay stage to offset its effect, as well as the ability to repeat at a rate determined by the length of the attack and decay. The amplifier envelope can also repeat and adds a variable sustain level. Changing the length of attack and decay also changes the rate of repetition. Independently altering the mod rate of the LFO and two envelopes allows you to create uniquely complex effects.
The VCA Envelope section has an a toggle switch for Hold, which is necessary because a 3.5mm audio input lets you pass external audio through the filter, so you’ll want that to work continuously. The oscillators have an Enhanced setting alongside the sawtooth and square waveforms, for a thicker, buzzier variation of the square-wave sound. Oscillator 1 has pulse-width control (though without a control input for pulse-width modulation), and Oscillator 2 has a detune control.
On the top panel, you’ll find a 3.5mm main audio output and a 3.5mm headphone output with its own level control, as well as high- and low-level quarter-inch outputs on the rear. In addition, each oscillator has its own 3.5mm audio output. A USB connector and MIDI In and Thru on 5-pin DIN connectors are also on the top panel. You set the MIDI channel using DIP switches on the rear panel. And yes, the whole thing can lift out of its chassis to mount in a Eurorack case (in just 70 HP).
Sound of the Crowd
So how does the Wasp Deluxe sound compared to other “analog revival” synths? Well, it sounds exactly like the original Wasp, but does a bit more, and one significant change results in an improvement over the original.
Wasp Deluxe is an odd new name to choose, because EDP made another instrument called the Wasp Deluxe, a rare version of the Wasp with a three-octave mechanical keyboard and audio input. I suppose you could regard this new design as a Wasp Deluxe simply because it has an audio input. Although you’re now denied the experience of sliding your finger across a touch keyboard that doesn’t move, the Behringer’s glide effect is very convincing, and it plays just as the original did: the oscillators glide at fractionally different rates and detune from one another as they’re gliding.
Although the four filter modes—lowpass, bandpass, notch, and highpass—are all useful, the filter does not fully soft-oscillate. The white noise on the original Wasp was quite loud compared to the oscillators, making it useful for percussion sounds, and the Wasp Deluxe is much the same. Random modulation and other parameters make the Wasp Deluxe capable of sound effects you’d associate more readily with an ARP Odyssey or early Oberheim synths. Enabling Glide affects notes played by random modulation—the equivalent of the lag function in the ARP Odyssey’s sample-and-hold section.
The Wasp Deluxe is handy for lead lines—particularly when you enable Glide—but it’s a killer for bass lines, with 32-foot settings that generate almost subsonic sounds. It’s ideal for sequencing from an external MIDI source, too. That’s one big difference from the original Wasp, which was no good for sequencing. The audio envelope just didn’t attack quickly enough, so snappy percussive notes always sounded too soft, flabby, and flattened out. This new model is a tremendous improvement over the original.
Behringer must have put considerable thought into whether or not to “correct” this parameter. The current fast-attacking envelopes make the new Wasp capable of handling tasks the old Wasp couldn’t touch. Combine this fact with Hold and Enhanced mode on the oscillators, and you have a beast that sounds quite different.
Once again, Behringer has once come up with an instrument that’s difficult to criticize, given its scarcely believable price point. At $299, no one can say the Wasp Deluxe is too expensive. Apart from the audio input and notch filtering, you won’t find any major additions like the Behringer Odyssey’s effects or even patch storage, but what do you expect at this price point?
The Wasp Deluxe reproduces the old Wasp’s sound nearly perfectly and makes one major improvement. It offers external audio in for anyone interested in exploiting the Wasp filter’s distinctive characteristics, and it’s flexible enough to work as a continuing sound source or filter processor, or as a compact desktop synth with MIDI. You could even integrate it into a Eurorack system, if only for its filter processing because it doesn’t have CV/gate in for playing notes from an analog control source. To play polyphonically via MIDI, the Wasp Deluxe has a 16-unit Poly Chain mod, too; Behringer’s SynthTool app helps you make the appropriate settings.
The Wasp Deluxe will probably be most popular in the U.K., where its predecessor was born and where it remains most widely known (with secondhand prices between £1000 and £2000). The Wasp Deluxe is by no means suitable only as a source of analog nostalgia, however. It can produce some terrific, powerful basses and lead-line sounds, as well as more delicate, abstract timbres and a huge range of crazy semi-random textures. The Wasp Deluxe will very economically cover a tremendous number of roles on stage, in a Eurorack setup, or in any studio.