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Behringer Beat: 960 Sequential Controller Review

Mark Jenkins

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Behringer’s love affair with classic synths now focuses on the Moog modular system. How does its sequencer shape up?

R.A. Moog Co. introduced the 960 Sequential Controller in 1967 as part of the Moog Synthesizer IIc modular. It later appeared in 1969 as an option for the Synthesizer 1p and subsequent modular systems. In its earliest days, an analog sequencer consisted of a short, simple row of variable resistors standing in for keys on a keyboard. They automatically connected one after another in order, playing notes in an entirely robotic manner. On the pioneering Switched On Bach, Wendy Carlos made little use of the sequencer. Others such as Keith Emerson, Klaus Schulze, and Tangerine Dream absolutely leaped upon the device. Single or dual 960s drive along the pounding bass patterns of Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon, Klaus Schulze’s Body Love, and other seminal albums.

Moog developed the device as rather open-ended, calling it a Sequential Controller rather than a sequencer. That’s because it could handle all sorts of parameters—filter cutoff, modulation level, and so on—rather than just notes. Perhaps inevitably, the 960 fell into a certain role. After a short time, though, sequencer users started experimenting with alternative applications.

Behringer’s 960 welcomes this process. It offers all the original 960’s flexibility with only minor changes in panel layout to accommodate the smaller Eurorack format. It arrives “naked” with just a connection cable, though Behringer is starting to offer a range of suitable Eurorack cabinets, too.

Don’t Label Me

The Behringer 960 is labeled with Moog’s original nomenclature. For anyone who began using synthesizers after the ’70s, that could be momentarily confusing. The first thing you’ll want to see on most sequencers is the Start/Stop button, but you won’t find one here. The tempo control, then? Nope, also absent. But something must make it go. What is this oscillator on the panel’s left? Does that make a noise?

All that’s happened here is that Behringer has stuck with the original Moog terminology. The oscillator is simply a built-in clock that makes the sequencer run. When you vary its frequency, you aren’t changing the pitch of a sound but rather the speed at which the sequencer runs. To play, you push the Oscillator On button. To stop, you push the Oscillator Off button. Simple enough?

You may be equally baffled looking for the CV outputs. They’re not labeled at all other than as A, B and C, in pairs at the end of each row, while the gate output is labeled Oscillator Output. Since I didn’t have a matching modular system on hand, I tested these out with Behringer’s Model D version of the Minimoog. Everything worked perfectly. Other than the archaic labels, the entire setup is quite conventional.

Three in a Row

As on the original Moog sequencer, the 960 offers three rows of eight variable controllers with a flashing LED above each step. You could use these rows in parallel to generate three-note chords if you have enough synth voices. Or you could play three different monophonic patterns simultaneously. You could use them, as Klaus Schulze did, to play one high-pitched pattern, one low bass pattern, and one set of filter levels, creating little tonal patterns within your melodic sequences.

To play 16- or 24-note patterns, you’ll need to add Behringer’s small 962 Sequential Switch module ($60). It switches from one row to the next as each comes to an end.

Three-position switches under each step allow a note to play normally, skip, or mark the end of a pattern. Gate outputs under each step can send instructions as to what to do next—start playing again or trigger a gate or sample perhaps in another part of your modular system. A final Step 9 with its own Stop option effectively offers a one-shot-only mode.

Did I Repeat Myself?

Improvising with the Behringer 960 then—skipping, varying, and repeating notes—is a straightforward and exciting prospect. What you can’t do is play patterns backwards or in a ping-pong manner, though more complex patches within your modular system would allow one pattern to transpose another.

A simple switch under the third row of controllers allows the 960 to variably control the speed of its own clock. That means you could have one or two notes play slowly, then two or three quickly, then a few more in between. This is the way to make patterns with little trills within them (ratcheting) despite having only eight notes to play with. That would also allow it to play patterns with some swing or built-in variation. You can control the master clock speed from an external source, divided down by its own clicker for speeds ranging from very lethargic to hyperactive.

Clicker switches also set the voltage output range for each row. Inevitably it’s easier to tune each note if you accept a limited octave range; wider octave ranges quickly become hypersonic. If you have problems getting your 960 to play other elements in your modular system, the instruction leaflet offers various tuning, setup, and testing routines.

Apres MIDI d’Un 960

Unlike on other Behringer re-creations such as the Wasp Deluxe or the Model D Minimoog tribute, you won’t find MIDI here. Consequently, you may confine your 960 to the strictly analog sections of your modular system for a while. At 56HP in size, it only consumes 100mA of power at +12V and 50mA at -12V. No doubt some friendly clock-to-MIDI modules can offer to take the 960 into the MIDI world, and existing quantizer modules can make it faster to get new patterns tuned up.

However, the 960 imminently will have many friends of its own, comprising a whole range of Moog-style modules from Behringer. And here’s the kicker: the price is stunning. The 960 sells in the UK for £135; that’s 40% of the price of the similar A-155 from Doepfer (though it looks like that’s had a price cut this week). Behringer’s matching Moog-style oscillators, filters, and complementary utility modules will be pleasantly affordable any day now.

Build Your Dream System

Classic Moog modular systems have become massive collectors’ items or museum pieces, and Moog Music’s full-size reissues remain reassuringly expensive. Rough lookalikes in the 5U format aren’t exactly inexpensive, either. Synthesizers.com offers a Moog 960 lookalike for $880. The recently announced Synth-Werk 3P-2020, a re-creation of the Moog IIIP, costs 19,500 €.

The price for which you’ll be soon able to build a comparable Behringer system is simply ridiculous. Though slightly miniaturized compared with the original, it appears that you could build a mighty, six-oscillator Behringer system with all the power of the classic Moog for less than $2,000.

My advice? Start clearing your workbench, keyboard stand, and kitchen table. Behringer’s “Moog” modulars, with the 960 Sequential Controller at their heart, are about to start popping up everywhere.

Price: $140 (U.S.)/149 € (Europe)/£135 (U.K.)

Website: behringer.com

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