2600 Blue Marvin and Gray Meanie
A Volks-Synthesizer made by Behringer
This new interpretation of the ARP 2600 by Behringer is really terrific! Of course, it's different from a 50-year-old ARP - and in my opinion, that's not even a bad thing! It's not like the ARP 2600 was perfect. Years ago I had done a comparison of different 4072 filters together with Eric van Baaren. The filters were put into different ARPs and sounded different in each ARP (one and the same filter!). I.e. the filter previously identified as "best" sounded mediocre in another ARP (this is due to large component tolerances in discrete construction). Exactly this is a thing of the past with the Behringer 2600 - as is the Pratt Read keyboard. Although it felt much more direct when playing than a MIDI keyboard, it was very susceptible (glitches / contacts). Also, the instruments are additionally "individualised" by the Pratt Read keyboard, since all the individual contacts naturally do not behave identically. Significantly tighter value tolerances for today's components make everything more precise. Until now, I had perceived SMD construction in synthesizers as rather negative, but the Behringer 2600 has changed that all of a sudden.
The sound of the Gray Meanie is tidier, less "exuberant", and altogether more delicate - and the individual Gray Meanies are now hardly distinguishable from each other. Perhaps the 12 V now used (instead of 15 V in the ARP) also plays a role in the "more restrained" appearance. The more differentiated transmission also applies to the signals that go via the preamp directly into the VCA. I was very surprised how similar the ARP Little Brother sounds when I loop it in and compare it with the Behringer VCOs (via the Behringer VCA) - the Little Brother has the VCO of the ARP 2600 and brings more "vintage 2600 washiness" and is a bit stronger in the bass register. I honestly didn't expect the close sonic resemblance of the Behringer 2600. Really impressive!
Due to its low weight, the Gray Meanie is easy to integrate into existing setups. Here it (and above it the Little Brother) is held by a double monitor arm - and this is good without compromise (not wobbly) - but the 2600 unfolds its strengths above all in direct playing and full attention. It was designed as an instrument. Most of the sounds of the 2600 gain enormously in liveliness when one or two sliders are moved for modulation while playing. Therefore, like an instrument, it should be central and close in front of you (I prefer at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees) - ideally with a keyboard in front of it. I will therefore continue to experiment with the set-up - and get it on its "own feet".
The old ARP 2600s are now quite overpriced, with prices sometimes well over €10,000. Maintenance and fragility of the 40-50 year old instruments are not everyone's cup of tea - as is the transport of the two big boxes - and many original spare parts are difficult or impossible to get. The Behringer 2600 - especially as Blue Marvin and Gray Meanie - is THE synthesizer I recommend to anyone who (still) wants to buy a synthesizer - especially if it is to be their first synth. Gray Meanie, Blue Marvin or simply the Behringer 2600 for € 619 definitely have what it takes to become the people's synthesiser.
Behringer Gray Meanie Website: Behringer 2600 Gray Meanie
Behringer Blue Marvin Website: Behringer 2600 Blue Marvin
In the second attempt, Behringer seems to have made the right corrections ( in my opinion): After a few things were "a bit unfortunate" with the "Behringer 2600" (late 2020) - technically: a "problematic" digital reverb instead of a spring reverb (as in the original), aesthetically: the ARP black/orange design with colour-coded LED sliders in "Christmas tree look" - a few things have been changed in the follow-up models "Blue Marvin" and "Gray Meanie" (picture), delivered since March 2021, which fix or at least reduce exactly the (to me) annoying aspects - and that for a measly € 4. - (four euros) upcharge (€ 619.- instead of € 615.-)!
The names "Blue Marvin" and "Gray Meanie" were the nicknames of the first two pre-series of the ARP 2600 from 1971 (photo: ARP Gray Meanie).These originals differed from each other only in colour and the better organised production of the Gray Meanie - there were only about 25 of the Blue Marvin and 35 of the Gray Meanie. However, both models had better components (e.g. Teledyne VCOs), which were not used in the later ARP 2600 series due to cost reasons.
The two new Behringer models also differ from each other only in colour and, unlike the "black/orange" Behringer 2600, are equipped with "carefully selected, high-quality components for improved performance, a mechanical spring reverb and single-colour fader LEDs". Hopefully, these "high-quality components" will have their effect - it is, after all, a generally welcome statement - and hopefully the Teledyne VCOs of the "ARP Gray Meanie" also received the attention they deserved. But I can't compare all that. The monochrome design and monochrome LED sliders calm the visuals immensely - and when it comes to bad reverb, then rather Spring Reverb.
I was immediately impressed (already with the first model) by the re-design of the panel of the Behringer 2600. Although there are some changes to the original ARP 2600, the character has been completely preserved and this is immediately recognisable, especially for former ARP-ists. The layout clearly shows how carefully "the spirit" of A.R. Pearlman has been carried forward here, because the "great" ARP synths not only sounded good - they also captivated with their unique panel layouts - even before the first power-up! And, thankfully, Behringer didn't add any useless sequencers or other gimmicks to the 2600. The 2600 was downsized to 19 inches, 8U, lightened to 5.1 kg, keyboard, speaker and case omitted, and instead the LFO and controllers of the ARP 3620 keyboard were placed on the 2600 panel - a really good decision, because otherwise one of the three VCOs would have been required to do the job of the LFO.
The changes / additions to the Behringer 2600 point, like the re-design of the panel, to great sensitivity and a lot of ARP 2600 experience, because exactly those points have been improved that (at that time) were desired by many ARP 2600 owners. Especially the "Time Factor" switches were probably the most common modification of the original ARPs - because the envelopes were neither short nor long enough. But some things were (for most people) unchangeable - and here Behringer intervened as well. But first to the very beginning: in the following picture I tried to point out the differences to the historical original and (especially) make them visible for non-experts of the ARP 2600. I have adjusted the proportions of the two models to make them easier to recognise. The elements outlined in red on the Behringer are extensions by Behringer. (Attention: the first [green] block of the ARP 2600 has moved to the bottom row of the Behringer!)
The most welcome differences (to me) to the historic ARP 2600 start with the reduction in weight and size - despite the sliders remaining the same size! 5.1 kg can be moved even in old age - and the omission of the loudspeakers almost deserves its own celebration day. The speakers were on board because it predestined the instrument for schools and universities. Fifty years ago, it was sometimes quite complicated to find a suitable amplifier/speaker system for a synthesiser in educational environments. Today, the situation is reversed: better loudspeakers can be found in a few minutes.
Especially useful and very important is the timefactor modification (often done on the original), which allows you to make the envelopes half or twice as long (3-position switches with *0.5,*1.,*2.). Very, very good!
VCO1 and VCO3, which were "slimmed down" in the original, have been expanded in the Behringer: VCO1 has got a "Pulsewidth" slider, which removes the limitation to Saw and Square and changes it to Saw and Pulse (a pulsewidth of 50% produces a Square). VCO3 has got the additional waveforms Tri and Sine and also a pulsewidth modulation - so there is also one more slider. Now VCO3 is identical to VCO2 - and both (VCO2 and VCO3) have also got a sync switch. Cool.
The modulators of the 3620 keyboard on the 2600 are a real blessing! As mentioned above, it makes modulated three-voice sounds a possibility - normally a VCO would otherwise be required to serve as an LFO. Alternatively, two LFOs are available for two-voice sounds. These modulators, "ported" from the 3620 keyboard, therefore make an enormous difference! In addition to the LFO with speed, delay and depth sliders, there is also portamento - including an on/off and momentary switch. Furthermore, there is a trigger mode switch (single/multiple) and a repeat mode switch (keyboard/auto/off). Also crucial is the last switch, "Voice Mode", which allows you to switch between monophony and duophony in the 2600 itself (and no longer only on the keyboard). I, for example, had an early ARP 2600 with the 3604 keyboard - and the 3620, which made the 2600 duophonic, remained an unfulfilled wish for me, since it was practically no longer available individually after the end of the ARP Instruments company in 1981.
MIDI, CV and Connectivity
The MIDI implementation is as simple as it gets. The Behringer 2600 understands NoteOn / -Off and Pitchbend. That's it. Fortunately, there is a software (app) that allows you to adjust the two extremely important parameters "PitchBend Range" (max. 12 semitones) and "Key Priotity" (Low/High/Last). I can live with that quite well. Of course, the app would be desirable as an app for mobile devices - i.e. on iOS and Android.
The other tab of the software is also interesting: this seems to be where the calibration for the second voice (upper voice) is done. I will have a closer look at it soon.
I did some MIDI performance tests: there were no note hangups and also no other problem, everything worked fine. Pitchbend works properly - and due to the 14 bit resolution it is perfectly suited for microtunings! The historical "ARP Little Brother" connected to the "KYBD CV" was tracked identically - even with inverted CV..
I was really surprised that the Gray Meanie delivers 14V Trigger and 10V Gate. What a surprise! ARP triggers are 15V and are accepted from about 13.6V as "full" by the instrument. Nevertheless it can be triggered by the Eurorack, because the Clock has to be >6V, the Gate 4V and the Trigger 5V to be triggered on the Behringer 2600.
On the back, besides USB and MIDI In and Thru, there are two more Pedal Inputs, one for activating Portamento ( by a sustain pedal, which works like the red Momentary Switch). The other pedal input is the "Interval Latch": here the duophony can be used to fix an interval when the pedal is activated (toggle or sustain). The dip switches can be used to set the MIDI channel on which the 2600 should receive. With the remaining wheel the light of the LED sliders can be dimmed. The visual display of the S&H position and the LFO speed remains excluded. These optical controls are also a welcome innovation.
The Behringer 2600 is not a clone. It is a reinterpreted 2600. My directly perceived enthusiasm for this "conversion" of the ARP 2600 was strong - I consider this conversion to be the most successful. It has something fresh and many truly useful improvements. In addition, it is compact and has nothing 70s-like anymore - also not "the behavior".
Sonically - and I'm talking about "moving", not static sounds - I wouldn't actually associate the (modern) Behringer 2600 too close to the historic ARP 2600, because a synth discretely built 50 years ago simply behaves quite differently than a modern synth in SMD design due to significantly higher component tolerances (electr.). However, the modern SMD construction ensures that the individual instruments can hardly be distinguished from each other - which is basically good, because it eliminates a "lottery factor" (or existing unfairness). The sound of the Behringer 2600 Gray Meanie surprised me throughout positively and exceeded my expectations by far - however, it sounds much less attractive via the headphone output, but this is the fault of the headphone amplifier.
Overall, it seems a bit more precise and refined when playing (due to the fine sliders) - perhaps more contemporary? I was very surprised that the ARP Little Brother also sounds more "well-behaved" when I feed it in - it sounded more brutal in the ARP Odyssey - which may have to do with volume and the poor VCA of the Odyssey. I also like this change. In direct comparison, the sounds of the oscillators are amazingly similar, almost identical - and in context, it's hard to determine whether it's Behringer or ARP you're hearing now (i.e., ARP VCO played through the Behringer VCA). The Behringer sometimes has a bit more "peak", the ARP seems a bit "rounder" (fuzzier) and has more powerful bass. In fact, the Behringer VCO shows some nice details in the sound that the ARP VCO is not showing. Several times now I have thought that this or that would have surely pleased Alan R. Pearlman. As a reminder, the original ARP 2600 Gray Meanie had "finer" parts built into it that were replaced with cheaper (inferior) parts in the later series for cost reasons. But these parts also made the 2600 fuzzier, rougher - and Pearlman had nothing to do with RocknRoll, rather with classical music.
For the 2600's sound characteristics, the composition of the modules and the type of operability due to the (panel) layout is more decisive than the basic sound, which of course is consequently not insignificant. "The package" is right with the Behringer 2600 and is without a doubt 100% ARP 2600. The components are (now on one PCB) coordinated with each other and sonically aligned after the ARP 2600. The re-interpretation has been successful - and the Behringer enhancements are a perfect response to the musicians' demands.
For sure, experienced technicians can always find something that could be improved - and, the more complex the modulations, the stronger the differences to the ARP 2600 will become - this is where the Behringer 2600 is weaker. It's sad that such instruments are mostly not built in "maximized quality" today, but that's another, political topic. However, it is also political that this Gray Meanie for € 620.- stands next to more than 20x more expensive synths without attracting negative attention - on the contrary: it celebrates its strengths sovereignly. I don't think there has been anything like it so far. It is probably the best existing school instrument for electronic music - and you can play music with it perfectly well. This instrument deserves a future.
Unfulfilled Fears and Minor Adjustments
In advance, I had some concerns about the playability and the tighter spacing between the sliders. In fact, it seems to me, on the contrary, rather better playable! No cramped feeling. The Sliders are very comfortable and accurate to adjust. I did not expect this level of quality. And I don't mean the technical goodness alone, but the "overall standing" of the Gray Meanie. This instrument can easily hold its own!
Really unpleasant are the sharp-edged Slider tips. I had already developed calluses on the index finger and thumb after three days. This is something that pianists do not love at all. That's why I put on the "WMD Clear Caps". 63 sliders means seven bags á 10 pieces for 8 euros (€ 56.-) - also painful - for a few plastic caps - but just for once. About 1/3 has to be cut off before putting on. I'm not a fan of soft plastic, it feels a bit "sticky", but the unpleasant stinging of the edges is a matter of the past.
On occasion, I will also try the "SIFAM SLIDER CAPS". They are available in white, cream, gray and black, as soft and hard touch. In the center is a translucent strip that allows the light from the LED to pass through. They are significantly larger and quite tall. Although the "SIFAM SLIDER CAPS" are a bit cheaper than the WMD caps at €0.71, shipping from England is still very expensive and knocks the price through the roof. I will try to find another shipping solution.
Another thing I didn't like - and already changed - was the piddly headphone volume control. It is very small and slick, and - because of the size - felt "heavy" and unpleasantly fiddly to adjust. In addition, the position bar is almost invisible. Here Sifam has already brought a significant improvement, since I have exchanged the knob cap against a larger "Sifam/Selco Large Skirt" (with D-Shaft). This way it has not only "more grip" and (because of the size) is easier to regulate - the position is also immediately recognizable. I have chosen deliberately a "slightly too large" knob. That' s much better! As I think, also visually.
As you will also see in the photos, the gray of the Meanie is much brighter than in the "official" promotional photos. Also better than expected. I believe, however, that the paint is quite sensitive. That a giant company of all ("cheap“) things comes up with a product that is so excellent (at a price like that!) and also communicates very openly with it's customers, makes me think a bit.
One slider does not work as intended: The ADSR slider in the VCA controls between inaudible and maximum only on the last 5mm. Trimming does not help, it only changes the maximum volume. Meanwhile a Blue Marvin owner emailed me that it's the same on his instrument. I.e., it remains the hope for an electronic solution.
These are all little things that do not spoil the pleasure.
The "ARP 2600" package
I like the "semi-modular" concept of the 2600, but "semi-modular" should more correctly be called " one and a half modular": it makes the 2600 much faster to patch, because after disconnecting a cable, the standard connection is re-established - and that is especially valuable on stage. The patch sheet "Normals" shows how extensive the basic wiring is for such a beast. The basic cabling - that is the one that exists when all cables are disconnected - would consist of 33 patch cables.
Another advantage of the ARP 2600 package, especially for the trainees, is that there is one of the most enjoyable manuals in history for it, which at the same time is a profound introduction to electronic music and is focused on this instrument: the "Arp 2600 Owners Manual"! The manual is freely available - Behringer now gives us the lab for it. Absolutely recommendable. The combination (ARP Manual/Behringer 2600) has what it takes to learn electronic music already in school. After all, nothing changes in the behavior of pulse or sawtooth waves and their control by Control Voltage. It is the foundation. I hope for the widespread use of this appraisal and hope for a great future.
For schools and universities, for the home and the stage, for young and old. A teaching, learning and performance instrument, just as A.R. Pearlman once envisioned. Behringer has expanded this beautiful instrument, brought it into the 21st century and made it affordable!
With the 2600 Blue Marvin and Gray Meanie, Uli Behringer has scored a big hit! I hope that there is enough resonance so that these models remain in production. I also think it's good that Behringer didn't use - or possibly couldn't acquire (?) - the name "ARP". "2600", "Blue Marvin", "Gray Meanie" and the clear layout says enough. Let's just call it "Behringer 2600". Honour to whom honour is due.
My Gray Meanie
Side panels and positioning of the instrument
We've arrived at customization: the Gray Meanie is for being screwed into place and, if not screwed in, it calls for side pieces (to make it look nicer). I have made two pairs at once - one for lying and one for upright standing - since the Gray Meanie is so lightweight and small, it can easily change places - unlike its neighbor in the picture, which weighs about 10 times as much.
The side parts are made of 1.5cm thick multilayer plywood, sanded, stained and oiled - and to ensure that it is no wobbly affair, I have used threaded screws. This makes it easy to attach and detach the side panels. In the meantime, the wing screws have given way to black lens head screws. A little DIY effort for the instrument makes a good bond. Of course, the synth immediately sounds much better with pretty side panels.
However, vertical positioning requires too many muscles and for sliders to be moved vertically, the shoulder has to bear too much - which leads to cramps. That's why I see vertical positioning as primarily good for teaching, as it gives those present a better view of the panel. With a more horizontal positioning of the sliders, I prefer a 135° tilt, more work can be done from the wrist, which is much more relaxed. I think it is better with this instrument (as with the ARP 2600) to make it a "complete" or central instrument, where all the concentration is (as is usual with instruments). To put it in an optimized angle, a table or stand is needed.
Most keyboard stands are not suitable for this, so I decided to use a small mixer stand (width 43-66cm, depth 35-44cm). For the table, I use the width for the keyboard in the front and the depth in the back. Actually, I wanted to attach 135° metal angles with an extension, but I was lucky enough to find two different pairs of parts in my arsenal of disused keyboard tables and stands that form the right angle, can be put on top of each other and screwed to the mixer table. For transport, they are easily detached by a wing nut. It fits so well that I will probably leave it like this.
The 48cm narrow Gray Meanie rests with the top of the case on the rubber nubs I put on the angles to prevent damage. Downward it is padded by the rubber rings that were already on the table.
This is my favorite configuration - I especially like the slanted layout of the table, and it also creates a few more inches of space for my large feet. The whole setup is incredibly light (despite the table) and easy to transport. Thus, the ideal positioning of the instrument is always guaranteed. The pedals are Volume and Portamento (sustain pedal). In the meantime I have added a second swell pedal for the filter frequency of the Equalizer on my Pedalboard.
The side panels are "free-floating" (do not rest). I have attached a hook-in cable holder to the right side panel. Very convenient!
For the keyboard I chose a Novation Launchkey 37 MK3 and I like this keyboard a lot. I like the smoothness - I find that good for synthesizers. The rattling is also kept within limits. Unlike my old keyboard (which I never liked), you can't feel or hear the springs that push the keys back up.
2600 Gray Meanie, Novation Launchkey 37 and Table combined cost 820.- Euro. I think that's incredible! A super cool setup that is great to make music with!
My expansion to the 2600
The 2600 is a complete instrument. However, a few additions made in the form of stompboxes are ideal to customize it a bit in terms of sound. The most important part first: a mono Volume Pedal. It doesn't change the sound, but it allows for a much more complex way of playing. In my case, the Volume Pedal is not behind the stereo Main Out, but between VCF and VCA. Here the 2600 is still mono and it has the advantage that the sound comes back before the Reverb (where the 2600 becomes "stereo"). I.e., if the pedal is closed, the Reverberation does not tear off with it, but fades out naturally.
On the picture the In and Output are marked. The label "FX" (Effects) indicates the direction in which it continues: Here I not only have the Volume Pedal, but the pedal first passes through my Pedalboard before returning. On the picture two channels are marked at "from FX", but only one channel comes back. I actually always use the left input (VCF), because 1. it gives the VCF another VCA through the pedal and 2. the right (VCA) channel becomes a " dry" channel. If the pedal is opened and the FX stompboxes are put into bypass, the normal circuit of the 2600 is restored.
One pedal that is important to me, and this was the case on the ARP 2600 40 years ago, is an analog delay, because I'm not a fan of the small spring reverbs. They don't sound good and leave "pitched" flags. Reverb can be important in productions, but, once there is a natural room echo, the reverb destroys or swallows valuable components of the sound. A short (and quiet) delay, in my opinion, helps better to take away the "unnatural dryness" that is unique to electronic sound generators.
This actually already explains the FX insert. Which stompboxes are on my pedalboard and which pedals I use to control them can be discovered in detail on my Pedalboard/FX-page.
More about ARP Instruments and also the ARP 2600 on my website: ARP Instruments