Behringer 2600 Gray Meanie
The Behringer reinterpretation of the ARP 2600 is really terrific - so good that I acquired a second Gray Meanie after nine months!
Of course, a single B-2600 is absolutely sufficient, but, after I had rebuilt my setup from 1983 (ARP 2600 & stompboxes) with today's devices and am absolutely thrilled by the transformation, I finally want to realize my (then unfulfilled) wish of using a second 2600.
The Gray Meanie appears sonically a bit tidier, less exuberant than the ARP 2600 originals, sometimes even more nuanced, overall a bit more delicate. The "tidier" transmission also applies to the signals that go via the preamp directly into the VCA. I was very surprised at how similar the ARP Little Brother sounds when I patch it and compare it to the Behringer VCOs (via the Behringer VCA). The Little Brother has the VCO of the ARP 2600, adds more "vintage 2600 blur" and is a bit more powerful in the bass register. The tonal differences when inserted into the ARP therefore have a lot to do with the VCA - and, especially the VCA wasn't exactly among the ARP 2600's strengths! To be honest, I did not expect the great sonic similarity of the oscillators of the Behringer 2600. Really impressive!
And: fortunately this one is different than a 50 year old ARP - after all, it's not like the ARP 2600 was just perfect. The Behringer Team has taken virtually all typical modifications done subsequently to a great number of ARP 2600s into the instrument (e.g. time-range for envelopes and LFO)! This is an upgrade!
The Behringer 2600 - especially Blue Marvin and Gray Meanie - is THE synthesizer I recommend to anyone who (still) wants to buy a synthesizer, and especially if it is to be the first synth. Gray Meanie, Blue Marvin or simply the Behringer 2600 has what it takes to become the people's synthesizer.
Behringer Gray Meanie Website: Behringer 2600 Gray Meanie
Behringer Blue Marvin Website: Behringer 2600 Blue Marvin
In the second attempt, in my opinion, Behringer has made the right modifications, because a couple of issues seemed "a bit unhappy" to me with the black/orange "Behringer 2600" (late 2020). Technically this is shown by a "problematic" digital reverb (with phase cancellation) instead of the spring reverb (as in the ARP), and aesthetically I felt the black/orange design with color-coded LED sliders in its " Christmas tree look" was somewhat troublesome. Even with ARP, I felt permanently yelled at by the black/orange design - together with the color-coded sliders, it's clearly an overdose for me. Both has been changed for the 2021 models "Blue Marvin" and "Gray Meanie", available since 2021. One cannot stop being amazed at the prices for these three excellent instruments!
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. It is also this assembly from the 3620 keyboard that enables duophonic playing.
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.
Certainly, skilled technicians can always find something that could be improved - and, the more complex the modulations, the stronger the differences to the ARP 2600 become. But I think it's the stronger "characteristic" of the old instruments that makes everything seem more special. It's amazing: in contrast to Moog (with its, by overdriving created, straight harmonics) ARP used to be considered as "HiFi" (= clean signals) - and the Moog followers found the ARP therefore "cold" or "sterile". I think, according to these criteria, the old ARP, when compared to the B-2600, take the Moog position today.
Sometimes it saddens me that instruments are not built in "maximized quality", but in the best economic ratio - 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 confidently celebrates its strengths. I don't think there has been anything like it before. It is probably the best existing school instrument for electronic music - and you certainly can perform music with it. This instrument deserves a future - and at least one should be available in every school.
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.
The"SIFAM SLIDER CAPS" also come into consideration. They are available in white, cream, gray and black, as soft and hard touch. In the middle is a translucent strip that allows the light from the LED to pass through. They are significantly larger and stand pretty tall. However, I assume that these slider caps only make the instrument a bit chunkier and make it rather difficult to operate.
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.
Vertical or Horizontal?
Vertical positioning requires too many muscles and for moving sliders vertically, the upper arm and shoulder have to compensate too much, which leads to cramping. That's why I see the vertical positioning as primarily good for teaching, as it gives those present a better view of the panel. With a slightly more horizontal positioning of the sliders, I prefer a 45º or 135° tilt, you can work more from the wrist. It's much more relaxed. Also, with this instrument (as with the ARP 2600), I think it would be better to make it a "complete" or central instrument, with all the concentration on it (as is common with instruments).
With the second Gray Meanie a housing became due. This instrument (even individually) deserves its own case! My choice fell on light poplar wood, which was very popular for instrument cases in the past (because of weight and shock resistance).
During the making of the housing I noticed how well the new shape of the 2600 was chosen - and again Behringer convinces me all the way down the line! If you simply follow the shapes of the B 2600 when designing the housing, it becomes a really beautiful instrument! (Of course, this is purely a matter of taste.)
Although the 2600 has two audio outputs, it is actually mono. Only from Reverb it becomes two-channel (not stereo), thus Synth (mono) goes into Reverb (2x mono) went into Output (L/R). But it is a truly excellent option of making the sound travel, or to position it in the panning.
Also, in this configuration, both 2600s don't have to be picked up in stereo ( that is 4 channels). The second 2600 can be routed e.g. behind the VCA via a patch cable into the VCF mixer of the first 2600 and output through the two channels of the first one.
The rear view shows an important detail of the housing, which is the open rear panel. All connections are easily accessible.To complete it, I built a whole table to it, To complete it, I built a tabletop for the (modified) stand, in order to make everything as simple as possible and identically mountable (this is important to me). The power supplies, multi-sockets, pedalboard, etc. will create a nice cable and equipment mess if you don't organize it well beforehand. I chose a LaunchKey61 Mk3 keyboard, which is almost the same width as the case. The pedalboard (essential for me) is placed underneath the keyboard, for me the ideal place. Those stomp boxes are controlled by foot pedals, the „Looper" (audio send/return) and the Equalizer are controlled via MIDI (presets by the mini drum pads of the keyboard and variable parameters by a Lehle expression pedal with USB/MIDI).
I' m using a 20 year old Ultimate column tripod as a stand, but I shortened it by about 30 cm.
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