Behringer has introduced the B-Control series, a line of MIDI hardware controllers with capabilities and pricing that positions them as price/performance leaders.
The devices are: the BCF2000, a MIDI controller with motorized faders; the BCR2000, a MIDI controller with dozens of rotary controls; and the BCA2000, a multi-channel Audio/MIDI control interface. Each of the units in the B-Control series has a different primary purpose. The BCF features faders; the BCR features rotary controls; and the BCA features an audio interface.
The units share a consistent design & size, and together make an impressive control center. Multiple units can be interconnected and share a single USB port, making them modular building blocks for the virtual studio. Each B-Control is well spec’d out, but most impressive is the units’ pricing. Behringer again has pushed the envelope, pricing the B-Control’s hundreds of dollars below their competition.
This review takes a look at the BCR2000, a USB MIDI control surface with three banks of eight rotary encoders, eight rotary switch/controllers and a complement of buttons. It’s a very inexpensive way to control virtual gear, and is compatible with Cubase, Cakewalk Sonar, Logic Audio and other major music applications. It can also be connected directly to hardware gear, making it ideal for adding knobs wherever they are needed in your studio.
Each member of the B-Control shares many traits, including size and shape, construction and documentation. The BCR is all about rotary encoders. This member of the B-Control family has twenty-four rotary encoders, and eight more across the top that are combination rotary encoders/pushbuttons. This is a great feature, because it gives you twice the number of controls without requiring additional space.
As you can see from the photo, the BCR lights up like a Christmas tree. Hundreds of LEDs provide excellent visual feedback, so it’s easy to tell what your current settings are. The controllers are continuous, so the lights let you know the current “position” of each knob.
In addition to the full complement of knobs, the BCR2000 has a double row of push-buttons switches along the top. A four-digit LED display in the upper right shows the current values of controls and other messages, and there is a set of configurable switches along the right-hand side.
The four-digit display shows the value of the parameter that’s being edited, and is also used when assigning MIDI functions to the controllers. Like the other lights on the BCR, it uses an LED, which makes it bright and readable in all sorts of lighting. The four digits mean that some messages can be cryptic, though.
Around the back, the BCR2000 has three MIDI connections, a USB connection, two jacks for footswitches and power.
Overall, the construction of the BCR is solid, and should hold up to normal use/abuse.
The BCR is easy to hook up to a computer or other hardware. A USB cable is provided, and current drivers can be downloaded from the Behringer site. The controller has three MIDI connections, which can be used to connect MIDI devices to your computer or to control MIDI equipment directly. MIDI cables are not included.
The BCR2000 has seven options for how it operates. There are four USB Modes and three Standalone Modes. This seems a little confusing at first, but the manual has excellent illustrations that show how each Mode is used.
The various Modes control how the MIDI connections work, so just about any MIDI configuration that you may need is possible. The BCR2000 can be used as a USB MIDI interface, with either one or two MIDI outputs. It can also be used as a standalone device, where the MIDI connections are changed directly by the BCR’s controls.
One MIDI connection can also be used to connect multiple B-control units together. When configured like this, the slave controller sends its signals to the master controller, and the master controller connects to the computer via USB. This means that you can hook several B-Controls together to make a custom mega-control unit!
The BCR is easy to use, and provides a wealth of knobs and controls. The knobs are well spaced, the controls seem solid and the dozens of LEDs provide good visual feedback. We tested the BCR with several hardware and software synths, and were impressed by its options. The B-Controls let you get up and running quickly, but offer enough power to provide room for growth. Presets are provided for popular software, and more are available at the Behringer site.
The only significant problem that we encountered with the BCR was confusion. With all the switches and knobs, and multiple presets, it’s easy to lose track of what a particular control does. This seems to be more of an issue with the BCR2000 than the BCF2000 Fader Controller, simply because the rotary controller has so many knobs.
This really isn’t an problem with the B-Controls, though, as much as a side effect of the complexity that accompanies a powerful tool like this. Behringer does provide white strips by each control that can be used to label their function. While it’s a nice feature, it doesn’t help people that use multiple presets.
In practice, most users will probably use only a few presets, and the layout of the controls should become second nature with use.
Documentation & Programming
Many users will stick to the presets that are provided, or use the MIDI learn function of their software to map controls to function. However, the B-Controls lets you change the function of nearly all the switches and knobs, to customize the controller to your needs.
B-Control owners will want to check out the Behringer site, which features the latest version of the B-Edit software, updated drivers, firmware updates, presets and additional documentation. There is also a Behringer B-Control Programming Guide, which is very useful for getting started with creating presets. There are presets available for Native Instrument’s B4, Pro 53, Spektral Delay & Xpress Keyboards; multiple Reason presets; setups for Cubase, Logic, Sonar; and for Steinberg Groove Agent and Halion.
Programming the controller will require referring to the documentation. The manual is well-written and illustrated. Nevertheless, MIDI is fairly complex, and creating a custom setup for the B-Controls will require a bit of head-scratching. Controls can be assigned to just about any MIDI function, including MIDI notes, performance continuous controls, NRPNs and even SysEx strings.
To simplify this, Behringer offers B-Control Edit, a Java-based editor/librarian for creating presets. Because the editor is written in Java, it should run on any platform that supports Java.
Writing this in Java makes sense. While Java applications typically aren’t quite as fast as programs compiled for a specific computing platform, they should be easier to maintain and use on multiple platforms.
Overall, the BCR documentation is very good. The User’s Manual packs a lot of information into 20 pages.
It would be great, though, if Behringer provided a document that walked users through setting up some common MIDI configurations, with examples of configuring a B-Control to work with older keyboards, samplers and even drum machines. Including more and better examples of how a setup like this can be configured would be useful, and would help users and potential users find more ways to use the B-Controls.
The B-Control family puts Behringer firmly into the MIDI/computer music business. The Behringer BCR2000 offers thirty-two rotary encoders and an array of switches that can be configured to work in almost any MIDI/computer music setup, and does it very inexpensively. At their prices, the B-Controls put hardware MIDI control within reach of most musicians.
In short, we’re impressed. Given the value that Behringer is offering, we expect the BCR2000 to be popular, and expect more B-Controls to come. We’d love to see Behringer expand the line to include a dedicated mixer/DAW controller, and a keyboard/synth controller with knobs for the most common functions, plus a set of assignable knobs.
If you’re looking for hardware controller for computer music or MIDI gear, the B-Controls should be on your short list. And if you’re still using a mouse to control your music software, it’s time to start asking “Why?”