Behringer Neutron

Bruce Aisher gets patch­ing with Behringer’s lat­est con­tender for the af­ford­able semi-mod­u­lar crown

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Ayear and a half since Behringer first plunged into the ana­logue syn­the­sis pool with the Deep­mind 12 they’re back with a (UK-de­signed) dual os­cil­la­tor mono­phonic/ para­phonic semi-mod­u­lar synth, that can also be mounted in a Euro­rack case for in­te­gra­tion with an ex­ist­ing mod­u­lar setup. A year and a half is a long time for a com­pany, like Behringer, with such a large range. In that time, there’s been much spec­u­la­tion aris­ing from some of the craftily spun ‘leaks’ that an­nounced its in­ten­tion to re­visit a whole host of clas­sic synths and drum ma­chines, and reimag­ine them for the 21st cen­tury. The first fruits of this were the Model D, based on the leg­endary Min­i­moog. Of course, Behringer are no strangers to con­tro­versy when its comes to look and func­tion­al­ity (and its ap­par­ent re­sem­blance to other com­pet­ing prod­ucts). How­ever, like the Deep­mind, the synth on re­view here is orig­i­nal in both look and feel.

The Neutron’s front panel is of a dis­tinc­tive red de­sign, and ap­pears to have been in­flu­enced (for bet­ter or worse) by syn­the­siser aes­thet­ics of the 1990s. It fea­tures vin­tage Moog-style knobs with a 56-point mini-jack patch­bay to the right. The rear panel hosts 1/4” jack sock­ets for line level au­dio in and out, and an as­so­ci­ated head­phone out­put. A USB socket is in­cluded for two-way MIDI com­mu­ni­ca­tions, though pa­ram­e­ter values can nei­ther be trans­mit­ted or re­ceived. The MIDI THRU on the rear can, how­ever, be pressed into ser­vice for cre­at­ing multi-unit polyphony via the Poly­chain fea­ture. There is also a MIDI in­put on the front panel, im­por­tant if you wish to mount it in a mod­u­lar Euro­rack sys­tem.

The Neutron fea­tures two sim­i­lar os­cil­la­tors based around the V3340 VCO chip. This is a recre­ation of the famed CEM3340 found in a host of clas­sic synths (see box­out). Both os­cil­la­tors have a sim­i­lar set of con­trols. The Range but­ton switches be­tween three dif­fer­ent oc­taves. The Tune con­trol pro­vide +/- 1 oc­tave of

ad­just­ment, but when all the Range but­tons are lit, switches to a +/- 10 oc­tave (with both low and high ex­trem­i­ties in­audi­ble to any­thing ex­cept a sub-bass lov­ing mouse). This mode is per­fect when us­ing the Neutron as a stand­alone sound­ef­fects gen­er­a­tor. The os­cil­la­tors can gen­er­ate five dif­fer­ent wave shapes, but there is more flex­i­bil­ity here than is first ap­par­ent. As you’d ex­pect, Sine, Tri­an­gle, Saw­tooth and Square (with in­de­pen­dent Width con­trol) are all present. How­ever, an ad­di­tional ‘Tone Mod’ set­ting al­lows you to dial in some ad­di­tional, har­mon­i­cally in­ter­est­ing, son­ics. Here the Width con­trol ap­pears to ad­just some kind of wave-shap­ing cir­cuit. This isn’t quite the full pic­ture, as the Shape con­trol also al­lows you to move smoothly be­tween ad­ja­cent wave shapes. This can even come un­der ex­ter­nal con­trol via the patch­bay. Com­bined with os­cil­la­tor Sync, a White Noise gen­er­a­tor, and the abil­ity to freely mix be­tween the two sound sources, there is quite a bit of flex­i­bil­ity on of­fer. Use­fully, you can also add an ex­ter­nal au­dio source to the os­cil­la­tor mix by plug­ging in to the rear panel au­dio in­put.

Once com­bined, all th­ese el­e­ments are routed through the fil­ter sec­tion. This has three pri­mary fil­ter modes all based around a 12dB/oc­tave de­sign. Fed by a sim­ple square wave, I tested the fil­ter in low-pass mode, and it shaped the sound in a largely sat­is­fy­ing way. Although a lit­tle less abrupt than most 24dB/oc­tave de­signs, it pro­vides quite a bit of bite. Turn­ing the res­o­nance up pushed the fil­ter into self-os­cil­la­tion which, with key­board track­ing en­gaged, gen­er­ated a tone that was in tune across the key­board. There is a sec­ondary fil­ter out­put on the patch bay which al­lows the cre­ation of a notch fil­ter along­side the switch­able band, low and high-pass types. As the Neutron is a semi-mod­u­lar de­sign, there is a nor­malised rout­ing for the var­i­ous mod­u­la­tion sources. In this case the LFO is routed to con­trol fil­ter cut­off, and a Mod Depth con­trol in this sec­tion de­ter­mines its over­all strength. At fast LFO (au­dio) rates this cre­ates some fur­ther in­ter­est­ing tones. The

An ideal tool to get the hang of the ways in which user patch­ing can be har­nessed

patch­able na­ture of the synth comes into its own when mod­u­lat­ing the LFO rate and depth to con­trol the strength and tonal­ity of th­ese newly cre­ated side-band fre­quen­cies. En­ve­lope 2, a straight­for­ward ADSR, is also routed to con­trol fil­ter cut­off (via the En­ve­lope Depth con­trol). For fast to medium sweeps this works well, though it would have been nice to have longer max­i­mum at­tack, de­cay and re­lease times. One is­sue that was par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing was the way in which even small amounts of res­o­nance pushed the fil­ter into sat­u­ra­tion ter­ri­tory. It’s great to be able to ac­cess the dirt­ier side of things, but this shouldn’t be to the detri­ment of more con­ven­tional tones. Even with the over­drive sec­tion di­alled down com­pletely, the level from the os­cil­la­tor sec­tion was hot enough to ruin the tonal­ity of some sounds. In fact, it re­quired rout­ing the sig­nal via one of the at­ten­u­a­tors in the patch­bay to bring it within a sen­si­ble range. A ded­i­cated level con­trol for each os­cil­la­tor would have been ben­e­fi­cial here.

As men­tioned briefly above, the Neutron has a (bi-po­lar) LFO, and like the main os­cil­la­tors, has mul­ti­ple wave shapes that can be blended seam­lessly from one to an­other. With a high­est fre­quency of 10kHz it is ca­pa­ble of au­dio rate mod­u­la­tions that cre­ate the afore­men­tioned side-band fre­quen­cies. Key Sync re-trig­gers the LFO cy­cle with each new note, and turns it into a pseudo en­ve­lope gen­er­a­tor if re­quired. My only dis­ap­point­ment is that there aren’t two in­de­pen­dent LFO gen­er­a­tors on Neutron. Per­haps I’m just be­ing greedy, but I’m sure space could have been made by em­ploy­ing a smaller LFO Shape con­trol.

Hav­ing passed through the VCF, the sig­nal en­ters the over­drive sec­tion which adds vari­able amounts of dis­tor­tion. The man­ual states that the tone con­trol shapes the sound of the over­drive, but this tilt-style EQ/ fil­ter also af­fects the sig­nal with over­drive at its min­i­mum set­ting, which makes it use­ful for gen­eral tone-tweak­ing du­ties.

Af­ter this sec­tion’s level con­trol, the au­dio pro­ceeds into a VCA con­trolled by En­ve­lope 1 (an­other four-stage af­fair), and then into an ana­logue de­lay sec­tion. This em­ploys a ‘new’ old-style chip us­ing a se­ries of ca­pac­i­tor el­e­ments in so-called Bucket Brigade con­fig­u­ra­tion (with 8192 stages). De­lay lines such as this are ex­em­pli­fied by a some­what noisy, lo-fi sound – and this one is no ex­cep­tion, with char­ac­ter trump­ing fi­delity at lower de­lay times and with the feed­back (Re­peats) pushed to the max. This is a great ad­di­tion to the synth, putting dubby squelches, Ital­ian retro hor­ror sound ef­fects, and mod­u­la­tion treat­ments such as cho­rus and flang­ing within easy grasp. How­ever, there was one sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem on the re­view unit. Even with the mix con­trol twisted firmly to its min­i­mum, the de­lay out­put could be heard bleed­ing into the dry sig­nal path. Hope­fully this will not be a prob­lem on full pro­duc­tion units.

That takes care of most el­e­ments in the au­dio sig­nal path, though there are a few ex­tras in terms of con­trol pa­ram­e­ters. It’s nice to have a ded­i­cated Sam­ple & Hold sec­tion (for cre­at­ing ran­dom stepped mod­u­la­tions), and two Slew Rate Limiters. Th­ese slow down the rate of change of any in­com­ing con­trol sig­nals, and the Neutron has two onboard. One is ded­i­cated to por­ta­mento slid­ing of legato notes, and the other can be ap­plied to any sig­nal via the patch­bay. Two sig­nal at­ten­u­a­tors are an­other nice ad­di­tion. By de­fault, the LFO is routed through At­ten­u­a­tor 2 and then on to the pulse width of each os­cil­la­tor. How­ever, the at­ten­u­a­tors would ben­e­fit from greater res­o­lu­tion at the lower end of their travel range (like when fine tun­ing vi­brato).

The fi­nal, and ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant, piece of the Neutron equa­tion is the patch­bay. This isn’t some cur­sory nod to mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion, but an ex­tremely use­ful ad­di­tion to a ca­pa­ble synth. In fact, it goes quite a way be­yond most of its com­peti­tors in terms of the sheer num­ber of patch points. This makes it an ideal tool to get the hang of the ways in which user patch­ing can be har­nessed in the pur­suit of orig­i­nal and en­gag­ing sounds.

The Neutron has its flaws, and there are some frus­trat­ing de­sign is­sues. How­ever, it does sound good, and in terms of bang-for-your-buck, it’s quite a steal. While it does a very good job at cre­at­ing more sen­si­ble sounds, it also ex­cels at the weird and won­der­ful. Ini­tially, I tested it on its own, and had a lot of fun with­out a key­board or MIDI cable in sight. Behringer might just have a win­ner on their hands.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.