Behringer is well-known for its ability to manufacture music technology inexpensively. Behringer gear often beats the prices of competitors by as much as 50%. They do this by focusing on the most important features, and designing their products to be inexpensive to manufacturer.
Until recently, though, Behringer did not have much of a presence in the area of MIDI and computer music. Mackie, Encore Electronics, Novation and other companies had introduced specialized controllers & brought hands-on control to MIDI and computer music.
Behringer must have seen the writing on the wall, because they have released three new B-Control devices with capabilities and pricing that positions them as a price/performance leader. 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 B-Control’s hundreds of dollars below their competition.
This review takes a look at the BCF2000, which is a USB MIDI control surface with eight motorized faders, eight rotary controllers and a complement of switches. 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, offering flexible hands-on control.
At just over $200 street price, how good can the BCF2000 be?
The standout feature of the BCF2000 is the moving faders. In addition, the BCF2000 has eight rotary encoders that double as push-button switches and a double row of push-buttons switches. A four-digit LED display shows the current values of controls and other messages, and there is a set of configurable switches along the right-hand side.
When powered on, the BCF2000 makes an impressive display. Each of the rotary encoders is ringed by a set of LEDs that indicate the current position of the controls, and the moving faders come to life.
The eight knobs across the top are endless rotary encoders. Their position is virtual and indicated by the LEDs that encircle each encoder as shown above. This helps eliminate the issue of knobs not matching virtual knobs on-screen. When you switch between banks of controls, the lights change to represent the current values of the controls.
The eight encoders have another function that’s not immediately obvious – they double as push-button switches! This is a great feature, because it gives you twice the number of controls without requiring additional space.
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. The display is rudimentary, and four digits mean that some messages can be cryptic. On the positive side, all the LEDs light the BCF up like a Christmas tree, making it very cool visually and usable in all types of light conditions.
Around the back, the BCF2000 has three MIDI connections, a USB connection, jacks for footswitches and variable pedals and power.
The BCF has a very good collection of controls. The biggest selling point of the BCF, though, is the moving faders. It’s fun to watch the faders jump into position, and moving faders help ensure that the position of the controls will represent the value of the software that you’re controlling.
It’s worth noting that the motors on the faders are fairly loud, so if you want to record in the same room as your computer, the BCR2000, Behringer’s rotary knob controller, may make more sense for you.
Overall, the construction of the BCF is solid. They should stand up to normal abuse with no problem.
The BCF 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 BCF 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. It 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 BCF’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. If you want to have 16 moving faders, you could get two BCFs and connect them together!
The BCF2000 proved easy to use and a powerful tool. The knobs are well spaced, the controls seem solid, the faders jump into place impressively and the dozens of LEDs provide good visual feedback.
We tested the BCF 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 biggest problem we encountered with the B-Controls was simple confusion – with all the switches, faders and knobs, and multiple presets, it’s easy to lose track of what a particular control does. This really isn’t an issue with the B-Controls, though, but more 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. However, the B-Controls lets you change the function of nearly all the switches, knobs and sliders 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 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 offer cross-platform compatibility.
Overall, the BCF documentation is good. The User’s Manual packs a lot of information into 20 pages.
Behringer may miss out on some business, though, because potential users may not even know that what a tool like the BCF can do. It would be great 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.
If you have a synth that doesn’t have many knobs on it, a B-Control could dramatically simplify programming and performance. A B-Control could also be integrated into a hardware or software performance setup, triggering samples or sequences, adjusting levels and controlling effects. Including more and better examples of how a setup like this can be configured would be helpful.
The B-Control family puts Behringer firmly into the MIDI/computer music business. The Behringer BCF2000 offers a compelling array of switches, faders and knobs, 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 BCF2000 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?”