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Our critique of Behringer's proposed TD-3 variant with Devil Fish functions

Short version: It sucks.

Medium length version:

("Our" means my wife Tina and I. Real World Interfaces is our partnership.)

In November 2019, just after the announcement of the TD-3, Uli Behringer approached me about collaborating on a Devil Fish for his company to design, produce and sell in large quantities.  We were keen to proceed, but Uli's commercial requirements were not compatible with ours.

There the matter would have ended, with no-one else knowing about these negotiations, which were by email over a week.

In early February 2020, two days after we received our TD-3, Uli posted a CAD-generated mock-up image of a proposed future Behringer product on the Behringer Facebook page.  This was called the "TD-3-DF", with further words* you can read below.  The image depicted a TD-3-like machine, somewhat larger, in a dark colour scheme, with the Devil Fish controls, sockets and LEDs.

There has been controversy of Behringer's copying of some other synthesizers, especially the Minimoog.  Without any announcement to the contrary, many people might have assumed that Behringer had licensed the design from us, while others may have suspected that they were planning on using the Devil Fish design without our authorisation.  So I wrote the first two sections of this page, describing the background and our thoughts about the proposed product.

Uli then posted to a Gearslutz forum what he claimed was the complete correspondence between us, but this was only a subset. His message has now been deleted by the moderators.  #ubgs below is an edited version of my response.

* Googling, on February 8, I found that "murdered out" is a term for a blacked out paint job on a car or suchlike. 

Long version: Read on.

Original date 2020-02-05  Robin Whittle  rw@firstpr.com.au   Latest update 2020-03-03.
To the main Devil Fish page which includes an appreciative initial assessment of the Behringer TD-3.

At 2020-02-08 17:00 AEDT this page has been accessed 21,691 times, but some of these would be from search engine spiders, and others would be multiple accesses for the one human reader.

2020-03-03 update:

It appears that the events described on this page are part of a larger pattern of questionable decisions at Behringer.

Four weeks after this fuss over the proposed Behringer Devil Fish, Uli Behringer backtracked on some actions targeted at Peter Kirn, a widely respected musician, instrument designer, educator and technology writer, who writes at Create Digital Music https://cdm.link and who manufactures and sells electronic musical instruments at: https://meeblip.com . A video and an insulting rendered image of a supposed musical instrument were withdrawn after social media protests, and Uli Behringer announced that his company would be canceling the trademark they obtained some time ago for Peter's name, as KIRN.  MusicTech report on these developments with three stories, so far, in chronological order:

https://www.musictech.net/news/is-this-how-behringer-responds-to-criticism/
https://www.musictech.net/news/behringer-pulls-mocking-video-following-public-outcry/
https://www.musictech.net/news/behringer-issues-official-response-regarding-the-kirn-corksniffer/


Contents

#intro
Introduction.
#background
Background.
#thoughts
Our thoughts on the proposed new Behringer product.
#ubgs
Response to Uli Behringer's message to the Gearslutz thread (Feb 6).
#links
Links to where this is being discussed.


#intro

Intro

On 4th February 2020, a customer and friend of ours sent us a screenshot from the official Behringer Facebook page - featuring a CAD-image of what we assume is a proposed new product:




The post's text was:

Bad Ass TD-3-DF "Murdered Out"

What do you think?

The image shows the name of the proposed machine at the top left of the front panel:

TD-3-DF   Murdered Out Analog Bass Synthesizer

The image depicts a TD-3 layout expanded to include all the controls of the Devil Fish modified TB-303.  (The toggleswitch and button on the left are unlabeled and are probably errors in the CAD layout.)


#background

Here is the background to this surprising development:


I have been modifying electronic musical instruments since late 1980, with particular Casiotone digital keyboards, and then TR-808s, TB-303s, DX7s, MT32s and others.  In 1993 I developed the Devil Fish modifications for the Roland TB-303 Bassline, which went out of production in the mid-1980s.  In 1996 I began the version 2 Devil Fish mods for the TB-303, and the current version 5.1 mods are a development of this. 

Over the years, I have installed the Devil Fish modifications in 306 TB-303s to machines - serial numbers -01 to 304.  In 2004 I married Tina, from Texas, and we have been working on the machines together since then.  I introduced further modifications - extra memory, MIDI In and MIDI In and Out with Dynamic (memory) Bank and (MIDI In) Channel Switching.  The v5.1 PCBs are surface mount.  We had a batch assembled in late 2019, and are catching up on a backlog of TB-303s.  We will also be using these boards for Cyclone Analogic TT-303 (v1) Bass Bots, and for RE-303 replicas.

I also modify TR-606s. TR-808s and TR-909s.  In addition to this electronic work, I work for my family's mining consulting business, Whittle Consulting, developing the industry-leading schedule optimisation program my father Jeff created.  Tina and I work from home, in Daylesford - an old gold mining town north-west of Melbourne.  We really like it here.

Behringer, as everyone knows, is a powerhouse of design and production, in mixing desks and numerous other products.   The overarching company Music Tribe, which includes Behringer and other brands, is owned (as best I understand it) by Uli Behringer.  Production is done in a massive, purpose-designed, factory  in Guandgong, China (video) just north of Macao.  

In the last year or two Uli Behringer and his teams of designers have propelled themselves into a series of projects creating clones, copies, functional workalikes or whatever you want to call them, of some classic, no-longer-produced, electronic musical instruments.  Korg, Roland and I think Yamaha have also been creating new products based on their excellent products from the 1980s.

Behringer encountered some criticism when the company released what is effectively a clone of the MiniMoog.  The Behringer Model D was not authorised by Moog Music.  Furthermore, it competes with the  MiniMoog, while its design is a copy  most or all of the aesthetic, mechanical and electronic details of a product which is currently in production.  One of the forums in which such criticisms were made was Peter Kirn's Create Digital Music:

https://cdm.link/2019/11/behringer-all-the-clones-2019/

Tina and I were excited that there was to be a TB-303 clone from Behringer.  I hoped that we would be able to fit circuit boards inside it to give it the full Devil Fish modifications, and now we have one (2020-02-04) it looks like this will be possible.  See the main Devil Fish page for some notes on the TD-3.

On 10th November 2019, shortly after the TD-3 was announced, I was surprised and initially excited to receive an overture from Uli Behringer:

Hi Robin,

My name is Uli Behringer, leader of Music Tribe and Behringer. We have just launched our TD-3 version, which is our Homage to the much loved 303.

We would love to design a Devil Fish Version and reach out to you to see if you are interested to collaborate with us. That would be awesome.

Uli.


In the week which followed, we corresponded by email, but my proposal did not meet Uli's requirements.

I proposed to work with his design team on a machine, based on the TD-3 design, to include all the Devil Fish modifications, with the final design and component selection being subject to my approval, with full Devil Fish branding, acknowledgment of Real World Interfaces etc. and my involvement in promotion, marketing and writing the user manual. 

I insisted on sealed tact switches and some other requirements about the feel and longevity of knobs, pots and switches.  (The little RK09K ALPS pots we use in the Devil Fish are excellent in every respect.  Not one has failed or even become noisy, as far as I know, since 1993.  Behringer used the same kinds of pots, with knobs, in some of their 1990s mixers.)

It was obvious to me that the TD-3 was priced to the bare-bones level, to cover production costs, with little or nothing left for R&D or profit.  Uli's passion for this instrument revival / cloning / copying project seemed to be enough for him to proceed, which is fine.

My commercial arrangements were to be that the proposed machine have a retail price about twice that of the TD-3 (which would make it still much less expensive in real terms than the TB-303 was in 1982) so his company and Tina and I would profit from each machine sold.   There was to be no up-front design fee or expenses, unless I needed to fly to the UK or wherever. 

The licensing of the Devil Fish design, name and reputation was to be by royalty arrangement, identical to the standard book publishing model for hardbacks:

https://www.alanjacobson.com/writers-toolkit/the-business-of-publishing/
  "Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000
copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for
all further copies sold."
I was keen to proceed, since Behringer could produce a good instrument, en-masse, and sell it globally, at a price far below what we can do from home - and so bring Devil Fishes into the hands of tens of thousands of musicians.

However, Uli was unable to accept these commercial terms.  It emerged that he expected me to help with the design, endorse their product, and effectively license his company to produce it, and any variations, without limit, without royalties and in perpetuity, for a one-off payment of USD$15k.

I rejected his offer for a number of reasons - not least because USD$15k would be a small fraction of what we would have earned with the royalty arrangement..


#thoughts

Our thoughts on the proposed Behringer product depicted above:



#ubgs

Uli's Gearslutz message  (Update 2020-02-06)

Many people assume that products they purchase from substantial manufacturers are not the subject of legal or moral disputes. 

The product depicted in the above CAD-generated image would be a second-rate implementation of an unlicensed copy of a highly regarded original, with crapped up aesthetics, poor usability in the dark, adorned with words which would draw gasps from the real bad-asses who guard the gates of Corporate Reputational Hell.

Tina and I are not inclined to read all the discussions, but we might be lending credibility to misinformation if we don't respond to it.
 
We were alerted to a message from Uli Behringer on Gearslutz: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/showpost.php?p=14513109 .  This appeared as message 4579 in page 153 of the TD-3 thread, but was deleted by the moderators because it violated a rule about posting ostensibly private emails.

Above, I reproduced Uli's initial email and described the substance of my proposal, which he declined.  This does not amount to "publishing a confidential email exchange" as Uli suggests.  Nor is what he wrote our "full correspondence".  I quoted his first, gracious, email, to give some background to how keen I was to work with him and his design team. 

The challenges we face in manufacturing a complete Devil Fish, rather than modifying existing equipment, are due primarily to the up-front costs of design and toolmaking for the case, knobs and buttons so they can be just the way we want them. AUD$200k or so would probably solve these problems, but ours is a small business and we have never had this. There are ways of fabricating cases without injection molding, but this is very expensive per unit, and still involves significant design and tooling costs. 

Behringer's resources for design, toolmaking (die sets for injection molding costs many tens of thousands of dollars), manufacturing and distribution network are second-to-none. 

I knew that quite a few people criticise Uli and his company's products on grounds of performance, reliability and sometimes ethics.  However, many appreciative customers defend the company and its products.  I was also aware - with some concerns - of Behringer's Model D copy of the in-production Minimoog. 

We really like our Behringer mixers: a Xenyx 1002B, two QX1204USBs and two MX802As.  (Though one of the MX802s has about a hundred bad electrolytic capacitors which I will replace.  This is the nightmare of electronic manufacturing: selling lots of machines built with a bad batch of some component which is likely to fail in the months or years to come.)

I was keen to work with Uli and his team on a mass-production Devil Fish.

The primary purpose of the Devil Fish is to be an enjoyable instrument to play.  Whether or not anyone is listening, whether or not the sounds it makes bring joy, fame and fortune etc. is beyond the scope of what we  provide.  We need to make robust, serviceable, attractive, compact, lightweight electronic devices which have very particular ergonomic, touch-and-feel, characteristics.

I have been searching for buttons and knobs since 1993 and those of the TD-3 are the best I have seen, though ideally they would be chrome plated so they survive decades of intensive use.

Uli didn't mention that he had ever seen or played a Devil Fish, so I suggested that he send me three TD-3s, with schematics, and I would send him two (one for him and one for his design team) back with the Devil Fish mods, implemented with the current circuit boards in a separate box mounted on the back of the machine.  Then, although the ergonomics would be all wrong, he could feel and hear something like what he was proposing to produce.  Listening to a recording of the Devil Fish is not the same as playing one.

The following part of our response is edited now that his Gearslutz message has been deleted.

I wrote him a description of implementing MIDI In Filter frequency control with a PWM pin, two resistors and a capacitor in the hope that it wasn't too late to include this in the TD-3. 

Tina and I envisaged a Devil Fish, based on the TD-3, with changes regarding robustness, tactile feel and aesthetics (though I think the TD-3 aesthetics are great), priced not to the bone, but to make money for us and for Behringer, selling 10k or more initially, and remaining in production for quite a few years.

Since customers generally buy music and books with the royalty rates we proposed - and would expect at least such a percentage if they licensed their music to a record company - I was sure that the proposed retail price would be fine.  This would separate the proposed machine from the line of copies.  It would not be cheap in terms of price, quality or in terms of providing inadequate profit to the designers and manufacturer.

The Devil Fish is a modification we do to the TB-303 (and soon TT-303 and RE-303) - not a x0xb0x. More broadly it is the name we will use for standalone machines we produce or license the production of. There's nothing to stop other people copying the circuit principles, but such machines should be called something other than a "Devil Fish".  Uli is mistaken if he thinks that anyone else does this, that schematics are available, or that the component cost is USD$3. 

There is a lively discussion thread on modifying the TD-3 - and some of what these folks have been doing is based on the Devil Fish mods.  Also, Daan Doeleman modifies the TT-303, with some changes inspired by his best understanding of the Devil Fish, and with many more changes which seem like good ideas to me: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/midnightengineering/  Daan has never seen a Devil Fish in the flesh, and as far as I know either have Maffez and colleagues who are working with the TD-3.  I think it is more interesting to be inspired by something to and create something fresh, than to simply copy.

Uli is entitled to price his products as he pleases, to make as much profit or loss as he chooses.  However, his concerns about affordability make no sense to me.  The TB-303 was AUD$395 in 1982, when the Australian male average total weekly earnings were AUD$339.  The proposed machine would have sold for about AUD$550 and the MATWE now is AUD$1,460.  I don't recall anyone complaining about TB-303 prices then.  Many musicians bought them, and this was a decade before the wave of interest regarding Techno drove second hand prices from AUD$150 to AUD$2,000.  Now a good one is worth about AUD$5,000.

The proposed machine would have been more than twice the fun of an RD-3, but I am not sure that Uli understands this, since as far as I know, he has never played a Devil Fish.

Uli and team may want to develop their own souped up TD-3. 


#links

Discussion forums and other sites mentioning this:


This Google search finds some other websites, but most of them are Twitter mentions or copy-and-pastes: https://www.google.com/search?q="Murdered+out"+Behringer+Devil+Fish&lr=&hl=en

© Robin Whittle 2020 First Principles and Real World Interfaces
To the main Devil Fish page.