The Behringer Pro-800, an affordable polyphonic synthesizer

Dec 1, 2023 | Review

Programming the Behringer Pro-800

When Behringer announced their Pro-800 a few years ago, we were pretty excited. This was on paper a recreation of the Sequential Circuits Inc. (SCI) Prophet-600 from the 1980s, but significantly upgraded in specifications. We took the time to dig deep into the interwebs to find a lot about these old stories and try to combine them here in one review with some tips and audio examples.

Our Pro-800 at full glance!

Some history

At the end of 1982, the Prophet-600 was available for the musicians as a low-cost alternative to the Prophet-5 from 1978. The ‘polyphonic MiniMoog’ was the synth everyone dreamed of in that age, but it came at a price. So Dave Smith and John Bowen from SCI invented the Prophet-600, and it was the first commercially sold synthesizer to feature MIDI – a real game-changer if we look back at it.

Unfortunately, SCI had to take some shortcuts to make it affordable for the average Joe. For example, the LFO and envelopes were made digital, linear, and a bit slow. All of this was computed in a manner similar to a Prophet-5, with a Zilog Z80A microprocessor running at 4MHz instead of a Z80 running at 2.5MHz. For a complete review visit the warp zone mu:zines here.

Detail of Prophet-600 by SCI

New players in town

Fabrice – GliGli

Around 30 years later, a former Xbox 360 hacker named Fabrice took the synthesizer route and created a DIY hack for the Prophet-600, known as the Prophet-600 GliGli Firmware mod. His motivation for starting this project was described as:

Fabrice said:

“I love vintage analog synthesizers, and to be honest, my dream synth would be a Prophet-5, but when I heard what the Prophet-600 was capable of tone wise, I immediately thought its major weaknesses – the lousy computer part, software envelopes and LFO – could become its strength with a remake; basically the whole internal synth in voltage-controlled from a nice 14bit DAC, so with a fast modern micro controller, it could become awesome, maybe even better than a Prophet-5!”

So, by replacing not only the Z80A CPU with a Teensy++ 2.0 chip but also rewriting the firmware to add all kinds of goodies, he reworked the Prophet-600 to create his dream synth – a sort of Prophet-5 on steroids. The new features include:

  • A faster CPU (Teensy++ 2.0) to increase the resolution of the modulation sources for smoother cutoff movement, for example.
  • Four faster and smoother amplifier and filter envelope types:
    • Slow linear.
    • Fast linear.
    • Slow exponential.
    • Fast exponential.
  • More LFO shapes with a wider range:
    • Sine.
    • Random stepped.
    • Noise (Like on the Prophet-5 but non-periodic).
    • Saw (Ramp Up).
  • Mix/VCA Overdrive.
  • Synchronizing the arpeggiator to MIDI clock.
  • Improved SysEx import/export.
  • Dedicated Vibrato.
  • Modulation delay.
  • Unison detune.
  • Chromatic and free oscillator pitch control.
  • New and improved tuning procedure.
  • Full MIDI in control with VCA and VCF velocity sensitivity.
  • Continuous controller (CC) support for all sound parameters.
  • Program change support.
An installed Teensy++ 2.0 instead of the Zilog Z80A – right under the yellow battery

This opened up the possibilities by loads and loads, as you can imagine. Even some synth friends of ours did the upgrade. The best part is that you can always revert back to the original if you want.

Behringer

Fast forward 10 years from here, and walk into (basically) any music shop, and you will find a Behringer Pro-800 to play with since this year. Behringer claims they worked together with GliGli to recreate this classic poor man’s Prophet-5, but we can’t find that confirmed anywhere on the net.

All we know is that the GliGli firmware/software is open source and the original project is now in the hands of a guy called Imogen Synth. If someone knows the official story, please get in contact.

When we started, there wasn’t much available in the city we lived in. Being young at the time, we didn’t have the funds to buy a synthesizer as nice as the Prophet-600, not to mention the fact that we didn’t even know it existed. In other words: we think it’s great that various companies are introducing more and more affordable synthesizers.

Particularly fun for young people who are considering venturing themselves on a musical journey and don’t want to break the bank – you can pick up a Pro-800 for around € 350 to € 400. So what Behringer did here is pretty special when you take the features and price into account.

So what does the Pro-800 have to offer? Well, basically the same as the Prophet-600 with all the extra functionality from the GliGli mod and some nice extra goodies both in hardware, firmware and even software from the folks at Behringer:

Connectivity

  • USB MIDI (USB 2.0, type B at the back)
  • MIDI Thru, available on the same DIN-socket as the MIDI out (at the back).
  • Sync and filter CV inputs (3.5 mm TS on the front)
  • 2 line outputs (6.3 mm TS at the back and 3.5 mm on the front)
  • Headphone output (stereo, 3.5 mm TRS on the front)
  • Footswitch input (6.3 mm TS at the back of the unit)
Connections at the back of the Pro-800

Furthermore

  • 2 extra voices, resulting in a total of 8 voices.
  • Dipswitches for manual MIDI-channel configuration.
  • Positive and negative envelope amount settings for filter and Poly-Mod.
  • Bigger display.
    4 number 8 segments display instead of 2 numbers.
  • White noise generator with a dedicated mix knob.
    as found on rare Japanese SCI Prophet-600 models.
  • Modulation wheel amounts: Min, Low, High and Full.
  • Modulation targets: Vibrato and LFO.
  • Modulation Delay
  • Keyboard tracking reference note options: C1, C2, C3 or C4.
  • Pitch wheel interval selection of plus/minus two octaves or everything in between in semitones.
  • Pitch wheel assignment to the VCO, VCF, Volume or Off.
  • Aftertouch modulation of VCA, VCF or LFO.
  • Voice Spread
  • The Synthtribe app – that also works for other synth from the tribe.

Layout

The main panel is logical and easy to use, with synthesiser programming sections clearly marked, from left to right, for Program Display, Program Select, Settings, Poly-Mod, LFO-Mod, Unison Track, Oscillator A, Oscillator B, Noise, Glide, Filter, Amplifier, Master Tune and Volume.

Program select section

When you power on the Pro-800, you will see – for a brief moment – the currently loaded firmware in its display on the left of the module: [U1.4.3.] at the time of writing. Below and on the right of this, you can use a num-pad and buttons to navigate to presets or access different sections and options of the synth. At the end of this review there are some shortcuts and tips.

The [0 to 9] buttons of the num-pad select sounds and other parameters. The other buttons on the right of the keypad can bring you into preset mode or fully manual editing mode, change settings, and start/stop the dual real-time polyphonic sequencer or activate the arpeggiator, change timing, and select the sync sources for these aforementioned sequencer and arpeggiator.

Furthermore, this section provides you with a tune button for the real analog oscillators, envelopes, and filters. There are two tuning modes, a fast one and a slow one. There is also a continuous rotary controller to go through the patches and menu items/parameters. Our rotary controller is working slow when looking for a preset. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.

The sounds are organized into four banks labeled A, B, C, and D. Accessing these banks is done by holding the preset button and pressing 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. Within a bank, you can select sounds by turning the value rotary encoder or by entering a number from 0 to 99.

The touch-programming section

Oscillators

The Pro-800 features two oscillators, A and B, based on the CEM-3340 VCO’s by Coolaudio. Each oscillator offers the option of a solo saw, triangle and square wave, either individually or in combination (duo or trio). The square has pulse-width control of 1 to 99%. At 50% it is a perfect square wave at the other values a pulse wave.

Oscillator A can be synchronized to oscillator B. And oscillator B has a dedicated fine-tune knob. Both oscillators are equipped with knobs for tuning (in octaves, chromatic/semitones and free), pulse-width adjustment and each has an individual level knob.

Mixing it all together

As said, the oscillators both have their own level control, and the ranges have been stretched a bit as well to drive the filter a bit harder. From 50% and onwards this brings more sonic character possibilities than on the original.

Unfortunately, there is no patch volume control to level out a patch, but this wasn’t available on the original as well. For our Analog Wonders sound bank we tried to strike a good balance between the presets by adjusting the individual levels on its own.

The white noise generator has a dedicated volume control, which is a nice surprise. If you combine this with a DAW with CC control, like Bitwig Studio, for example, you can add even more modulation. This also counts for all the other parameters. We’ve tried this, and the CPU seems to handle this really well, although the CPU seems a bit sluggish by judging the screen of the Pro-800.

Filter

The filter of the Behringer Pro-800 is a classic 4-pole low-pass filter (24 dB/oct). In addition to controls for frequency, resonance, and envelope modulation, there is a switch for keyboard tracking with the options Off, 1/2, and Full.

Off suppresses the harmonics on higher notes, Full means classic filter key tracking, and the 1/2 setting creates an effect in between. If the standard keytracking settings aren’t sufficient, you can set its anchor point with the reference note options to: C1, C2, C3 or C4.

With increased resonance, the filter also manages to oscillate itself, and when the filters are correctly tuned and keytrack is set to Full, it can track and you can play with solely the filter. The sound is soft and creamy, but when resonance is increased to between 50 and 100%, it can get gnarly as it screams.

Basic but mature modulation

There are two modulation sections called, Poly-Mod and LFO-Mod. If you are familiar with the Prophet-5 and the modern Prophet-6 you feel right at home with this analog FM / Poly-Mod invention of John Bowen.

A dedicated vibrato LFO has been added as a welcome bonus, which can be dialed in via the mod wheel or via aftertouch or both!

The LFO ranges from 0.08 Hz – 20 Hz according to the website. But the manual tells you 0.25 Hz – 20 Hz. The GliGli mod provided a max of 60 Hz, so to us it is a bit of a mystery why this was changed and what the correct values are. The LFO has a useful delay option and it can modulate destinations frequency A/B, pulse-width A/B and filter. The A/B options can be A or B only as well, neat!

So don’t expect a deep modulation monster here like the ASM Hydrasynth with 5 LFO’s and 5 envelopes, or the huge matrix of an Arturia Polybrute where you can route almost everything to everything as well, but just decent modulation that is upped a bit with the help of 4 extra LFO waveforms for the LFO-Mod section and the ability of bipolar (filter) envelope control for the Poly-Mod section. Together with the help of oscillator sync, you can create really piercing sounds.

Switches for the frequency of oscillator A and the filter are used to set modulation targets. Soundwise you can think a bit of ring modulation and basic (analog) FM-ish/metallic sounding sounds via oscillator FM and Filter FM, but with the help of the fast envelope modes, you can create some very nice electronic sounding percussion. So not a gazillion options, but some modest ones and they work really well.

Once we started sound designing with all the real-time knobs, switches and minimal menu diving, our appreciation for the synth grew. Just the synth, some keys a headphone or speakers can at times be really rewarding. Especially the extra goodies as bipolar control of certain parameters and the extra LFO waveforms like noise and random are really a joy to work with.

But also things like the mono, poly, unison and chord modes is really cool! Some stuff needs to be setup via the settings menu for example the extra modulation control:

  • Pitchbend can be used to control pitch bend or VCA or VCF
  • Mod wheel controls vibrato or VCF or LFO
  • Aftertouch can control LFO, VCA and VCF

Envelopes

The filter (and Poly-Mod) and amp envelopes provide the common Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release (ADSR) parameters. As mentioned earlier, you can use not only the slow linear or exponential envelope but also two fast editions of these, which, depending on the sound you are looking for, are a real bonus.

Putting things in musical motion

For this, the Pro-800 has, just like the Prophet-600, two polyphonic sequencers with a total of 400 notes and an arpeggiator. The BPM can be set between 50 and 400 and the 400 notes are shared between the two sequencers.

We must say that we didn’t really play that much with the sequencer as it’s a global feature, but the arpeggiator is really nice to get some inspiration quickly. However, with DAWs these days, you can sequence whatever you want; you just have to multitrack it all, and then you can get stuff like this:

There are 4 ARP modes available and those are accesible by holding [ARP UP-DN] (although it looks more like [ARP UP-ON] – perhaps a GUI bug?) and pressing [1..4] results in:

  • 1 – Arpeggio Up
  • 2 – Arpeggio Down
  • 3 – Arpeggio Up and Down
  • 4 – Arpeggio Up then Down

To assign the arpeggiator hold the [ARP ASSIGN] button and
use the keypad to select:

  • 1 – Played order
  • 2 – Random order

Holding [ARP] button and pressing [REC] holds the current notes played. The foot switch input can also be used to hold the arpeggiator.
Holding a note or chord then pressing the [ARP UP-DN] button holds the note/chord in a drone without arpeggiation.

Some final critical notes

We purchased our unit at the end of April, and it was delivered in the first week of June 2023. It would be a credit to Behringer if they announced the synth when it is actually available in stores.

The firmware updates are nice, but it seems that early adopters are being used as beta testers. We had to rework our sounds three times because of firmware updates (v1.26 in June, v1.27 a couple of weeks after that, v1.37 in September, and finally v1.41 and v1.43 somewhere in October). Normally, this would be something you let your internal beta team do, not the customer. We hope they will learn from this.

If you are looking for a Prophet-600 GliGli Mod and are a purist in sound, get that one, as it is more buzzy and gnarly than the Pro-800.

Are these aforementioned aspects really problematic? Well, not if time passes by, especially in the case of firmware updates, and not if you aren’t a sound purist. After all, it draws inspiration from a GliGli-modded Prophet-600, and Behringer has never claimed it to be an exact 1:1 copy. In fact, it sounds reasonably good to be honest. When considered independently, without comparing it to the Prophet-600, its sound is more than satisfactory!

Regarding availability, it’s not a significant issue, but addressing these aspects for future releases would be a positive move. We hope Behringer is listening so far.

The price-performance ratio is really good and world-class, so to say. For beginners, this is a great way to start, you only need to add keys or a sequencer or a DAW. But funny enough, there are no keys!

So, Behringer, if you are reading this, please consider creating a version with keys – including poly aftertouch. Since it is an evolved clone, explore options like adding a highpass filter, some analog distortion, a second output to create a stereo synth, a second LFO, a third envelope.

Lastly, dedicated controls would be appreciated, eliminating the need for menu diving altogether.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Our unit is well-built and feels sturdy.
  • It is a excellent price for an 8-voice poly with VCO’s!
  • It has mono, poly, chord, and unison modes.
  • The sound is good.
    but don’t expect it to sound like a real Prophet-600.
  • It boasts even more features than those found in the GliGli mod.
    But for how long? 😛
  • An analog poly finally available for everyone.

Cons

  • A tuning reference note would be extremely welcome.
  • Recalibration of the knobs would be handy.
    Our master tune always has to be around 11 o’clock, for example. It would be nice to have this back at zero.
  • At this price, some shortcuts had to be made.
    So how durable will it be?
  • A program volume parameter would be nice.
  • Increase of hiss with the USB connector.
  • Combining different languages in one PDF manual, where you have to go back and forth to read one language, is truly inconvenient!

Sound Examples

Here are a couple of sounds that we made during writing the review. The sounds are recorded dry and are played twice. The second time some of our favourite effects – TAL-Chorus, Bitwig Delay+ and Valhalla Supermassive – are applied:

The membrane touch interface from another angle.

Some Tips

  • Long Press (approx. 3 sec) [Tune] results in a quick tuning process.
  • Short Press [Tune] results in a full calibration.
  • Holding [Preset] and press [0] results in an init patch.
  • Holding [Preset] and pressing [1..4] selects Bank A, B, C or D
  • Holding [Preset] and press [5] copies the current loaded patch
  • Holding [Preset] and press [6] pastes the current copied patch. A second press is needed to confirm.
    You can also do this after switching from Bank A to C and this means you can copy sounds from one bank to another.
  • Holding [Preset] and press [7] results in random patch.
  • Holding [Preset] and press [8] copies the current loaded bank
  • Holding [Preset] and press [9] pastes the current copied bank. A second press is needed to confirm.

    As previously stated, reiterated here for your convenience:
  • Holding one note and flipping the unison track switch will get you a monophonic (chord) synth. You can also use this technique for octave stacking or for chords.
  • Holding a note or chord then pressing the [ARP UP-DN] button holds the note/chord in a drone without arpeggiation.

Synthtribe app

The SynthTribe app is a robust application that makes adjusting parameters much easier than navigating through the menus.

Synthtribe App – Starting Screen

The app is divided in two main sections ‘General’ and ‘Update’.

General

The general section is then consists of five sections:

  • Preset
  • MIDI
  • General
  • ARP/SEQ
  • VCF
Synthtribe App – General Tab

In the “Preset” section, you can view the current preset, set the mode (manual, loaded, or edited), view and select the active bank, view and enter a preset name and access basic import and export functions. For additional functions, we highly recommend the fully fledged Swumpf editor and librarian. There are some more options in development and those will be added later to this review.

The “MIDI” section allows for setting the receive and transmit channel configuration (1 to 16 or dip switch), setup of receive and transmit CC, and program change. It includes options for Local on/off and soft thru on/off.

The “General” section offers voicekill per voice, screen brightness adjustment, which is particularly useful in dark environments, the choice between displaying patch names or the value (with hold-time) of the current parameter, and tuner precision adjustment (0.5, 1.0, 1.5, or 2.0 cents).

The “ARP/SEQ” module covers sync mode (internal, MIDI, USB, external), PPQN resolution and sync settings, note length, arp swing, aftertouch VCA and VCF polarity (Low, High), and transpose (+/-12 semitones).

In the “VCF” section, you can adjust the External CV Amount setting (0 to 65535).

Update

The app also facilitates firmware updates, allowing you to check for updates and easily update your firmware. However, downgrading to an earlier firmware or accessing a earlier releases and releasenotes seems unavailable, which could be convenient at times as mentioned earlier.

More Information

For more information about the Pro-800, please visit the product page on the Behringer website: https://www.behringer.com/product.html?modelCode=0718-ABF

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