It’s been about three years since Behringer had started their analogue synth adventure with the DeepMind. And although it didn’t click with me personally, it’s clear that this is not only a cheap, but also a good synth.
Since then, Behringer have followed up with lots of other synths, most of them fully analogue, and most of them inspired by/a clone of/a ripoff of classic synths, with the latest one being their Wasp Deluxe.
And with that Wasp clone, it seems Behringer have finally started to rake in the profits.
The Hypothesis – and how to discuss it
So my hypothesis is that starting with the Wasp, Behringer aims to increase its profit on synth sales. How did I arrive by that?
There needs to be a solid basis for comparison. So comparing per-voice cost of a twelve-voice Behringer keyboard polysynth with a monophonic Eurorack-mount synth doesn’t make sense. The same holds true to compare the relative cost of a Behringer Model D vs. the current Moog one with the Behringer RD-8 relative to the inflation-corrected price of an original TR-808. We’d be comparing apples and oranges (or rather, stepmothers and wasps).
The Products – an Overview
When looking at cost (i.e. what does it cost to make that synth?) and price (what are you gonna pay for it?), I will first somehow differentiate between the different groups of synths that Behringer has on offer.
Let’s start with the starting point: the DeepMind is a big analogue poly with digital effects section, available as 6- or 12-voice keyboard and 12-voice desktop versions. And while the 6-voice keyboard variant is the cheapest analogue poly right now tied with the Korg minilogue, the 12-voice desktop version is the one with the lowest per-voice cost with below €50 per voice. That is a winner by a margin.
Then, there’s what I’d like to call groove-oriented things: the RD-8 and the TB-3. With 300 bucks for the former and 150 for the latter, this is a no-brainer in comparison to both original hardware and other clones, of which there are a few at least regarding the TB-303. Are they any good? Are the prices competitive? Again, they’re cheaper than the direct competition, but with them being somewhat unique it’s hard to compare among each other.
I’ll also add the Crave to that group – also at 150 bucks, it’s a competitor to the Moog Mother at only a little more than 25% of the price. It’s not as big a difference as with the Model D (see below), but it’s still a big one. As with the RD-8 and TB-3 before, I won’t go into detailed comparisons here, simply because it can’t be properly compared within Behringer’s product line.
The Eurorack-mount family
We’ll be comparing among the things that come in an Eurorack form factor. All of them share the property that:
- they are mostly analogue synths,
- they have a similar form factor,
- similar base connectivity (MIDI, USB, 1/4” audio out/in),
- and they are all monophonic synths.
So what are the products here? Right now (checking at a large seller and as of Christmas Eve 2019), there’s (in order of their release date):
- Model D (a Minimoog clone), €299,
- Neutron (an original design), €299,
- K-2 (a MS20 clone), €319,
- Pro-1 (a Pro-1 clone), €329,
- Wasp Deluxe (a Wasp clone), €319.
Even at first sight, we can see that with 2019, prices have gone up. By how much? If you compare the Pro-1 to the Model D, it’s 10%.
A proper Comparison
To do a proper comparison, we will try to get a very basic understanding as to how those different synths compare cost-wise. We’ll be focusing on recurring costs (in a simplified description: what it costs to make the synth, as opposed what it costs to design it).
We’ll be looking at the main components in the signal path, as well as at the patchbay, and neglect everything else (e.g. digitally generated LFOs or envelopes) for simplicity. They’re pretty similar, anyway.
The Model D is the only synth here with three oscillators (saw-based), with all of the others being two-oscillator designs. Interestingly, the Neutron and Pro-1 use the same oscillator circuitry (3340), so they’re really the same. For the K-2, there’s no ASIC I know of that could be used for this – in the end, it’s safe to assume it’s in the same cost ballpark as the Model D one’s, but there’s only two as opposed to three.
The Wasp is the odd one out here. Why? Digital oscillators. That usually means: “cheaper”.
Starting with the Model D, we get a standard 4-pole ladder design. The Neutron uses an original two-pole multimode design. The K-2 has its odd two-filter (HP and LP) design, and for the Pro-1, it’s a 3320-based lowpass design. And finally, the Wasp uses a multimode design like no other – and does so based on diodes.
The fun thing is that for a direct comparison, we can simply look at Doepfer modules implementing these designs (safe for the Neutron): for suggested prices, the Model D one is €110, the MS20 one is €120, the Pro-1 is €120, and finally the Wasp is €85.
Again, the Wasp comes in as the cheapest one.
For that, we’ll be looking at the number of 1/8” connectors on the panel. Why? Because that, too, is a cost driver.
Starting with 14 for the Model D, the Neutron is the clear winner with 56. The K-2 isn’t so bad with 34, and the Pro-1 is back in the Model D region with 15 patch points.
The Wasp? Five (5).
Putting Cost together
For the oscillator section, we need to consider cost per oscillator (also based on availability of ASICs), and oscillator count. My assumption is that without any actual values, cost would be Model D, K-2, Neutron/Pro 1 and Wasp as the cheapest.
For filters, we have good indications for all but the Neutron. Leaving the Neutron out, the order is K-2/Pro-1, Model D and Wasp (the latter cheapest by a considerable margin).
Finally the patchbay is Neutron, K-2, Pro-1/Model D and Wasp in last place.
And what’s the profit?
An important thing to consider is that the profit mostly comes off the top. What do I mean by that? In a very simplified calculation, if you have two synths that cost the same to make and also to handle (due to identical package), and one is sold for 300 and the other for 330, then the price is 10% higher. However, if your profit for the 300-buck-synth was 10% (i.e. 30 bucks), then for the more expensive one it will be almost twice that.
My hypothesis was that with the Wasp Deluxe, Behringer is raking in the profits.
The price comparison and cost analysis does support that hypothesis. While the Wasp is on par price-wise with the K-2 and more expensive than the older Model D and Neutron, its manufacturing cost appears to be considerably lower than any of those.
So in conclusion, we can safely assume that Behringer makes more money in selling you a Wasp Deluxe than they make when you purchase another one of those synths (especially the “old” Neutron or Model D).
Post Scriptum: This article doesn’t say anything about my view on the end-user value of the synths discussed, nor is it a statement on Behringer’s business practices. I love my Neutron, and while I haven’t played the Wasp (neither the original nor the clone), I’m confident that it’s a fun synth.