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Behringer pins its hopes on its VCS3 synth clone: “we’re getting close with this beauty"

Behringer VCS3
(Image credit: Behringer)

Behringer has been banging out the synth announcements at a rate of knots recently, but if you were starting to get the sense that the company might be prioritising quantity over authenticity - see the recent glut of affordable mini synths being launched - these shots of its prototype VCS3 clone might be enough to convince you otherwise. 

This one definitely looks suitably ‘vintage’, and Behringer says that the mechanical construction of the familiar pin matrix - plus the rest of the analogue circuitry - was very complex.

We’re told that UK analogue expert John Price has spent two years working on emulating the sound of the VCS3, adding some new functions along the way.

The original VCS3 was created by EMS (Electronic Music Studios), which was formed when pioneering musician Peter Zinovieff partnered up with electronics boffin David Cockerell and composer Tristram Cary. Released in 1969, it’s often considered to be the first truly portable synth.

The VCS3 is a three-oscillator instrument, with the third oscillator intended as an LFO. Each oscillator produces two waveforms, and other sound sources comprise a noise generator and a pair of audio inputs.

A ring modulator and an 18dB resonant filter are onboard, the latter based on an unusual (but cost-effective) array of diodes and lending the VCS3 an instantly recognisable character.

A spring reverb adds a little ambience (and a lot of noise) to the signal, and there's a four-stage "trapezoid" envelope generator with knobs for Attack, On, Decay, and Off. Setting Off anywhere less than fully clockwise makes the envelope retrigger.

What makes the VCS3 so special is its patching system. Unlike cable-laden semi-modulars such as the ARP 2600 or Korg MS-20, the VCS3 uses a 16x16 matrix into which pins are inserted to connect sources to destinations. The pins themselves have varying tolerances, making the process beautifully, astonishingly unpredictable.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that, in common with many of its other proposed synths, Behringer’s take on the VCS3 - which we first heard about in 2019 - doesn’t currently have a release date, and we don’t know how much it’ll cost, either. It’s going out to beta testers now, though, so hopefully won’t be too much longer in the pipeline.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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