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From Behringer and Dubreq: Micro Instruments, Mini Reviews



We won’t give away the prices, but… wait: these are all under $100?!

Who doesn’t like a powerful but pocket-sized instrument? Korg and Roland both offer instruments of very modest sizes in their Volca and Aira Compact ranges, but all these are made to look positively galumphing by the latest from Behringer.

Of course the company’s had its problems in the last couple of years alongside all the others that suffered from a worldwide chip shortage. Behringer announced many major products – a PPG Wave 2 clone, an Oberheim-style analog polysynth, even an EMS VCS3 lookalike, which are still to reach the market.

But finally some smaller products like the Pro800 desktop clone of the Sequential Prophet 600, and the Edge percussion synth that resembles the Moog DFAM, have started to hit the stores.

Even tinier are Behringer’s Pro VS Mini, a 4-voice clone of the Sequential Prophet VS with a 2-1/4 octave touch keyboard, and the JT-8000 Micro, a 4-voice clone of the old Roland JP8000 virtual modelling analog synth, with a tiny 1+ a bit octave touch keyboard.

To give you an idea of the size, these arrive in boxes a spot larger, and a spot smaller than those of an 8HP Eurorack module.

In fact it’s a shame the instruments can’t be turned lengthways and used in a Eurorack, as it would be endlessly entertaining to have a fully polyphonic synth in between your other modules. But you can’t have everything, and both these instruments have MIDI via USB ports, while the Pro VS also has a full size 5-pin DIN MIDI input.

Will you play these instruments by hand or from a small MIDI keyboard like the Behringer Swing or something else? That’s entirely up to your individual style.

If you like a desk covered with tiny synths all mixed together, then you might use the internal keyboards. If you’re just looking for a great sound source and are happy for the actual module to be hidden away, you certainly won’t notice the difference (apart from the restricted polyphony) when playing these from a much larger keyboard controller.

Pro VS proves itself

The Pro VS first. The original Prophet VS dates from towards the end of the original Sequential company. It had a major sonic innovation: Dynamic Vector Synthesis. This offers a joystick to mix between four waveforms – up and down, left and right – and then animates this movement during the course of a note using familiar envelopes.

There was an analog filter too in order to smooth the overall sound, but within that sound an unexpected shift of tone could be taking place. 

It was a combination of analog and digital techniques the competed with the PPG Wave’s wavetables and the Korg Wavestation’s wave sequences.

Not many Prophet VS models circulated, though, as it was relatively expensive, and released just a year before the company closed. Brian Eno was one enthusiastic user.

On the Pro VS Mini, the mushroom-like joystick is present and correct. There are 12 tiny rotaries (in fact the shaft of a potentiometer with no knob cap) to vary aspects of the envelopes and filter, and almost as many illuminating pushbuttons to select programs, keyboard octaves, and so on.

Changing octaves isn’t as fast as it could be since it needs three button presses, but that’s an argument for slaving the synth to a larger keyboard.

Select A, B, C, or D for the oscillator you’re editing (each has 128 different waveforms available) and mix between them with the joystick or envelopes. You can also record and replay movements of the joystick for a constantly fluctuating tone.

The presets are very snappy indeed, with some tough basses, slow sweeps of digital-sounding waves, squelchy pads, and much more. What you won’t find is a piano, choir, or acoustic guitar – this is a synth specifically for synth lovers.

A sequencer/arpeggiator with metronome controlled by Shift functions from the keyboard notes is a great bonus. While it’s absolutely tiny, the LCD display gives plenty of feedback about what’s going on. 

Lacking on the Pro VS: there aren’t many memories, no battery power option (though you can use a USB power bank), only one audio output for line or headphones, and nothing like delay or reverb – though there is a basic chorus. 

But did we mention the price? (No – I kept that for last.) In the UK it’s 87GBP, which is insanely affordable, while in the US it’s $99. For that price, purchasing anything that makes such a huge sound and takes up so little desktop space is a no-brainer. 

JT-8000 Micro – JT into the future

Now you’ll just be wondering what the price for the JT-8000 Micro could possibly be. But wait until you hear the spec.

It’s a 4-voice synth based on Roland’s JP8000, which was an analog modeling design. Like the original, the Micro has a Supersaw waveform, which means sounds are already fat even before you start to fatten them up.

There are no effects or DIN MIDI socket, but the JT-8000 does have a 3-pattern arpeggiator, as well as an extremely smooth and highly resonant filter. Its 32 memories come full of basses, pads, sweeps, and analog percussion sounds.

With only four knobs (one of those for volume) and six buttons, and no shift functions on the keyboard, the JT-4000 isn’t the most rapidly tweakable synth in the world. But all the envelope, LFO, and other functions are there in the tiny but bright display, so you may get faster at making those sonic variations.

Once again, however, the focus has to be on the price. The JT-4000 is selling at $49 in the USA (45GBP in the UK) and that’s just not funny anymore – you can hardly buy a single Eurorack module, let alone a MIDI-controlled polyphonic synth for that price.

For those who have been saving up to buy a big analog polysynth, particularly something along the lines of the now highly collectable Roland Juno 60 or 106, this is an utter game changer. And these are only the first in the Behringer Mini and Micro lines.

Stylophone: Dubreq and roll

Now in the area of electronic percussion comes something new from Dubreq, makers of the Stylophone. These days the Stylophone could be seen as somewhat ahead of its time, comprising a monophonic “synth” voice with not a touch keyboard but a stylus-operated keyboard. It’s famous for being used (with a bit of reverb) by David Bowie on “Space Oddity.”

The Stylophone’s percussion accompaniment, the “Beatbox,” was much less well-known. But the new version simply titled “Beat” seemed destined for wider popularity. With the same circular stylus-operated circle of pad sections it can play 12 sounds in four different kits – rock, techno, hip-hop, and beatbox – and any of four bass synth sounds.

A simple sequencer can play a metronome and arrange your beats into quantized 4/4 patterns, change their tempo, and if a bass synth sound is playing, you can transpose it from the pads.

Patterns can be saved away in memory, there’s an audio output socket, and of course the instrument does work on batteries.

As for the sounds: though you can’t mix and match from one kit to another, the “Techno” set passes well enough for Kraftwerk, and the other sets offer reasonable variations with some nice metallic cymbal sounds. Of course everything would be vastly improved with a little external reverb.

And once again we’re looking at an amazing price – 30GBP in the UK, and though the instrument seems to have launched at $80 in the USA, that will most likely come down.

For 30GBP what are you lacking? Well, any method of sync in or out, which would be a lot to expect for that price. But I’m betting on a hack being published soon, which would make that possible.And so the march of the micro instruments goes on. Having this much musical power in your pocket is always guaranteed to be great fun.

Click here for info about the Behringer JT4000 and Pro VS

And click here for info about the Stylophone

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