Behringer Confirms Synthi VCS3 Knockoff On The Way

Behringer has shared a sneak preview of the VCS3, a knockoff of the Electronic Music Studios (EMS) VCS3.

The original VCS3 was one of the first all-in-one portable synth designs, and has been used notably used by artists ranging from Pink Floyd to Jean-Michel Jarre. It’s a three VCO semi-modular synth with an iconic design, featuring a joystick controller and patch matrix.

EMS is still around – they describe themselves as “The World’s Longest Established Synthesizer Manufacturer” – and they are still making the Synthi VCS3. They are a boutique manufacturer, though, and their production has trailed demand to the extent that used VCS3 prices push into 5 digits.

While Behringer originally announced their intent to make a VCS 3 in 2017, this is the first time the company has clearly shared its vision for their version. It looks like it will follow the pattern of synths like the Behringer Odyssey and MonoPoly, balancing closely copying the look and architecture of the original synth against against making compromises that make the design cheaper to manufacturer.

Features (preliminary):

  • Analog synthesizer with triple VCO design
  • Reproduction of original “VCS3” circuitry designed in 1970
  • Analog signal path with VCO, VCF and VCA
  • VCOs featuring multi-turn knobs for precise frequency control
  • Variable oscillator shapes with variable pulse widths
  • 24 dB low pass filter with resonance
  • 16 x 16 pin patch bay serves as signal routing matrix by inserting pins into holes
  • Ring modulator
  • Dedicated analog triangle/square wave LFO
  • Noise generator
  • Two-axis joystick performance controller
  • 42 controls for direct and real-time access to all important parameters
  • External audio inputs for processing external sound sources
  • MIDI implementation with MIDI channel and Voice Priority selection

Details on pricing and availability are to be announced. Behringer says that they expect to be able to demo the complete prototype ‘soon’.

50 thoughts on “Behringer Confirms Synthi VCS3 Knockoff On The Way

    1. Considering the original VCS3 only had three PCBs, it would have been more fun if the Cabinet, Front Panel, PCBs were available in kit form as an option, with the boards being through hole format.

      I built my version of a VCS3 using modules from Oakley Systems, but used a matrix of 9 x 13 sockets (1/4″) as the patch bay.

      If someone is going to market something with only the FP looking like the original, there hardly seems any point in bothering if the insides are SMT or ‘virtual Analogue’.

      Look at all those wonderful KORG designs that could have been made in kit-form (NOT just like the MS-20 where one just bolts together a few parts).

  1. Let’s be absolutely clear, this isn’t a copy of the EMS VCS3. Uli himself told me “if you take the time you’ll see that our design is not a copy at all. Please compare the internal PCB design with the original construction. ” So if you think you are getting a clone of an EMS VCS3 you aren’t, although it will look like one. Reference is just in case that has slipped someone’s mind.

    1. Uli Behringer says the “design is not a copy at all”, but then goes on to say that they’ve cloned the circuitry and copied the look of the original.

      So yeah – it’s not an exact clone – but it’s OBVIOUSLY a copy. It’s a knockoff that adds MIDI support – which is exactly the ‘cheap VCS3’ that a lot of people want.

      If you want an example of a synth design that’s inspired by the VCS3, but is not a knockoff, look at the Erica Synths SYNTRX. It actually a modern take on the VCS3, vs a clone/knockoff – adding features like patch memory, better oscillators, etc.

      1. it will probably use the 3340, which is probably what the erica uses, which is probably what the behringer D uses. the original 3340 debuted around 1980. meaning the original model D and synthi couldn’t have used it.

        it would be worth having someone with real electronics knowledge weigh in, but is it even possible to legitimately CLONE those instruments in numbers that can be mass manufactured, or with smt updates on those specific original parts? idk anything about the oscillators of the 70’s (were they even IC’s?), but i’m willing to bet most of what we consider a “clone” sneaks a 3340 oscillator in place of whatever the original oscillator was (with the exception of the moog reissue, which sourced NOS.)

        1. They’ll use the same circuit that Analogue Systems used for the R-95e as that was licensed from EMS and as far as I know Behringer are in-fact licensing the VCS3 from EMS also. That is what i read at least i don’t have a source though at this moment.

          1. Robert

            Behringer has not licensed any of the designs, for any of the knockoffs that they’ve made. Don’t spread BS that somebody might have heard from somebody on a forum.

            If ANY of their knockoffs involved the original creators – people like Dave Smith or Tom Oberheim or Chris Huggett – Behringer would be crowing about it, because it would give them legitimacy.

            Behringer does not care about legitimacy, though. They care about selling cheap knockoffs and f*** anything or anybody else.

            Specific to the VCS3, Uli Behringer has said that Robin Wood of EMS could get ahold of them, if he wants to work with them – which tells you that Behringer has made no effort to involve the makers of the VCS3 in any way.

          2. Unless something major has happened in the last few weeks, this has not happened. An EMS expert in the UK is mentioned but that is a modder, not Robin Wood the owner and builder of the VCS3s. Uli himself said to me “Historically we have reached out to many original designers but in general it wasn’t very successful. “. We might want to ponder on why that should be.

          3. “as far as I know Behringer are in-fact licensing the VCS3 from EMS also. That is what i read at least i don’t have a source though at this moment.”

            This is a joke, a fabrication

    2. Behringer is really only shooting for ‘look and feel’ as a design goal. There can be literally be anything inside as long as it serves a similar purpose to the original. Taken quite a few or their ‘vintage reissue/clone’ products apart already and they are consistent in their implementations. And yes, they borrow even from previous clones/reissues – it’s all ‘look and feel’. Not that that’s a bad thing. 🙂

      They’re good work, but you are getting exactly what you paid for. These products bargains, but at a cost. IF you get in there and replace the most egregious parts, the products are really “pretty, pretty cool.”

      Not sure if this is something I want though. I’m a keyboard player busy boxes are not my thing.

  2. Just came here to say I love EMS’ sooo 90’s website. Beautifully vintage. Peace to all of ye pro-Bs and anti-Bs alike.

    1. EMS has a legacy comparable to Moog and some of those early innovators, so it’s kind of sad that they don’t have the resources to do more. It seems like they’ve been on life-support for decades.

      There’s another UK company, Digitana, that seems to be doing more to keep the EMS brand ethos going than EMS itself.

    1. Behringer won’t do that, because that would be a complete redesign – but it’s exactly what Erica Synths did with the Syntryx.

    1. The originals will continue to go up in price, just like the value of all the instruments Behringer has knocked off.

      If you look at Reverb prices for things like Minimoogs or ARP 2600’s, prices keep going up on the originals. The copies get 95% there, but that just makes the real thing that much more desirable.

      The value of the originals is also not driven solely by their value as instruments, but by the fact that they are vintage and limited in number.

      What the Behringer synths will impact is interest in NI and Arturia’s software versions. Few people will want to pay $100-200 for a software synth when you can get a pretty good clone for $300.

      1. Not entirely true. I’m sick of having hardware synths taking up space and more than happy to go back in the box with the Arturia stuff.

      2. I’ve seen many high priced vintage synths on eBay and Reverb not sell. They often don’t get the money that people set as the reserve.

        In this day and age, the only reason I could see someone buying an expensive vintage synth is for the same type of reason that people buy a vintage car. They buy it for the nostalgia and historic factor and perhaps for the rarity factor. Certainly not for reliability and modern features.

        Nowadays, you have to have a very discriminating ear in order to be able to discern between a vintage synth and a modern synth in a mix. 99,999 out 100,000 average music listeners can’t tell the difference and don’t care. If you think the difference is worth $5,000 or $12,000 or even more for a decades old synth (that may need to be babied) then more power to you.

        1. TimS

          You’re missing the point – great classic instruments are a blast to play and inspire great performances.

          That’s not something that you get from a cheap copy that’s shrunk down in size, that has an octave cut off the keyboard or that just feels cheap.

          That’s why you’re 100% wrong about these knockoffs depressing used prices. Any competent player wants to have a great instrument, so the copies are actually resulting in demand for vintage and high-end gear skyrocketing.

          Just check out the Reverb trends for the Minimoog Model D reissue:

          By your logic, cheap Behringer D’s should have caused Minimoog prices to crater. THE EXACT OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Since the introduction of the Behringer D, Moog Model D prices have DOUBLED.

          You seem to bought into Behringer marketing that suggests that vintage synths are being snapped up by rich ‘cork-sniffers’ – which completely ignores the fact that musicians like to play inspiring instruments. A cheap copy just makes you want the real thing that much more, and vintage gear prices back that fact up.

          You also state that nobody is buying vintage synths for modern features. Kind of a bizarre, self-evident statement, but let’s go with it for a minute.

          Nobody is buying Behringer knockoffs for their modern features, either – because most of them copy designs from 30-40 years ago. The main update on most of them is to add an archaic MIDI implementation.

          None of Behringer’s copies support patch memory. None of them send or receive MIDI CC’s. None of them support automation from your DAW. None of them support MPE. None of them support audio over USB. None of them support aftertouch.

          They do support MIDI note On/Off, which was new forty years ago. Behringer’s MIDI implementations don’t have a great track record, though, so buyer beware!

          If you want to collect a bunch of rack-mount modules and don’t care about the playability and fun of a great keyboard, more power to you – we’re in a golden age of cheap synth modules.

          But if you can’t imagine why musicians would want more than a cheap knockoff – you need to get to know more musicians.

  3. “MIDI implementation with MIDI channel and Voice Priority selection”
    I don’t get why in all the recent clones they can’t at least have Velocity as a CV source. Can’t be that difficult or expensive….

    1. I’d agree, but it’s a feature Behringer will never do because it would take extra work & add extra cost for a feature that only power users would understand.

    2. It would be cool if they all added an assignable output like on the Neutron. The Neutron has an assignable output that can be set up to output Pitch CV, mod wheel, aftertouch and velocity.

      1. That would be cool. Just adding support for aftertouch and velocity would make their synths SO much more expressive.

        But Behringer is always going to prioritize making their gear cheap over making their gear great. Because everybody likes a bargain, but only the serious musicians will appreciate more esoteric features like the assignable output.

        That’s one of the things that makes Behringer gear so frustrating. They could have brought over a few of the features that they’ve already implemented with the Neutron, and the parts cost would have been trivial.

        My guess is that they view adding these features as a slippery slope – you start adding velocity and aftertouch support and then pretty soon you want to add a bunch of other ‘obvious’ features.

    1. That get’s my vote. I really did think the Synthi A was the way to go. Even as an 8u rackmount a la 2600 rather than as a suitcase. I worry that this will be tiny. I will still buy more than one…

  4. Ha, Ian said “Hawkwind.” I’d be amused to know that someone bought this with even that band in mind, much less Subotnick. Talk about vintage artists…

    Its an odd synth family known for *not* being good at wild prog leads. Its more like a Barron or Derbyshire in a box. It’ll do strange sequences and sing like a Martian, but don’t ask it to do Bach. Its more of a Need-To-Know-What-You-Bought instrument than most. Its a serious anti-preset item.

    One reason Bs don’t grab me: no effects, aside from the DeepMinds. Analog anything minus at least a dab of delay/reverb is missing a vital piece.

    1. i thought he was talking about the band, silver apples. i only know of 1 pic of silver apples during this period and his equipment very much looks custom made and i didn’t know they used a vcs. i don’t know of subotnick using a vcs either, in addition to the buchla, but i suppose that’s certainly a possibility.

  5. I have the iCVS3 app for my iPad. I am fascinated by this synth. Took me hours to figure out how to use it. (And I have been playing modular synths since 1973. I am old). It is very cool, and I really enjoy it, but I haven’t figured out how to use it in a musical context. Fantastic for the Dr. Who sounds. If you want to use it as a conventional synth, however, you will be disappointed.

    For me, I will continue to enjoy the iPad app. It is fantastic for sound design because of the extensive modulation.

    I really recommend the iCVS3. Of course, the app has the advantage of saving patches. This may whet your appetite so much that you will want to buy the hardware version.

  6. I hope they consider adding a switch so that the Diode Ladder Filter can be run at 18db, which is actually the “sound” of the original EMS filter. the 24db filter was only added years later when they were trying to compete with Moog.

    1. Incorrect, the original filter was 24dB/Octave, it was a 4 pole diode filter which got around Moog’s transistor 4 pole filter, EMS were nervous of litigation, so called the filter a 18dB/Octave.

  7. I truly hope it’s priced somewhere around 1500-2000$, otherwise I’ll be forced to say it sucks even though it sounds great! Also, I hope it’s not made in China because… I don’t know you guys, but I’ve never heard of made in China instruments. Now, excuse me but I’m gonna play my definitely not made in China Korg workstation.

  8. This looks like a great reproduction ! Can’t wait to try. Pretty sure the sound will definitely make it. If I have only one think to say is : Once I buy it, I will replace those coloured knobs by some refined silver or black ones…

  9. It’s going to be epic and cost 600€.
    I have no idea, just guessing.
    Uli Behringer is the Robin Hood of electronic music.
    May his tight green stockings never ladder.

  10. Couldn’t care less about legitimacy. Behringer releases products that the average musician can AFFORD and that is perfectly acceptable to me. They are prepared to fit the bill for a close approximation mass manufacturing of the original circuits that other manufacturers are not and thus bring the price down. Add to that, the synths that they are duplicating which people are bitching about are decades old and have already made there money in the pro audio world. What there doing now is absolutely no threat at all to these great manufacturers who have way better synths available now. There simply making the synths of old which are becoming collectors items and hard to get hardware available again for a market who simply wants the sounds those units generated or a close approximation of and can’t afford the astronomical cost of the originals. They should be commended especially for the marvel that is there 2600 replica as NO ONE ELSE is doing it and that’s a long sort after synth.(Even Korg couldn’t do it on the cheap.) I’d imagine this will also be a hit as the originals are insane in price and beyond what the average joe can afford. So a simple replication that people can afford is a great thing as that will allow the average user to actually use it for making music which is something that was next to impossible before(ever tried the virtual Arturia version of this synth? It’s awesome in sound but try controlling it like the original… good luck.) Huge thumbs up to Behringer for bringing this to the masses, it’s long overdue and a classic that’s simply not affordable to the beginning synth musician. Thanks to Behringer that’s no longer going to be an issue and that’s a good thing. There catering to the market without rich and shameless pockets. Stop knocking there fine work. There Model D is amazing and worth every cent, there Pro-1 is also incredible, there 2600 beyond belief and I’ll bet this VCS3 is also going to be ground breaking. Embrace the future people, without companies like Behringer these amazing synths would become merely museum pieces gathering dust. Behringer is providing a path to bring them to the future and allow a new generation to utilize them for the own creations without having to go the virtual path which removes the ‘on the fly’ usage these synths allow.

  11. I agree with Sean. At least aspiring musicians can get there hands on something affordable. And most people who listen to music cannot tell the difference between the original and the copy anyway.

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