Our critique of Behringer's proposed TD-3 variant with Devil Fish functionsShort version:
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.
Original date 2020-02-05 Robin Whittle firstname.lastname@example.org Latest update 2020-02-08.
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.
|Our thoughts on the proposed new Behringer product.
|Response to Uli Behringer's message to the Gearslutz thread (Feb 6).
|Links to where this is being discussed.
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.)
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Our thoughts on the proposed Behringer product depicted above:
- The "Murdered Out" title is ugly, offensive and unhinged in
numerous ways which we do not care to discuss. There is no
precedent for plastering such words on a musical instrument.
- The dark and foreboding colour scheme sucks. Who needs more
dark and foreboding? It's been done! With climate change, endless
zombie apocalypse video series, gun violence and now a damn coronavirus
threatening every person on the planet??? Also, people need to be
able to read all the captions clearly in dim lighting.
The Devil Fish doesn't need to prove anything by acting bad-ass. The sound is enough if you want it that way.
The Devil Fish's contribution to people's music is far more than
thumping bass melodies, chaotic, wrenching blizzards of noise
etc. It can also be coaxed into producing subtle, beguiling and
mysterious sounds. It would be a mistake to typecast it as
- While there probably half a dozen design principles in the Devil
Fish which could be patented, the costs of doing so for all relevant
jurisdictions would be multiples of $100k. Such patents are not
worth a cent unless they were backed up with further multiples of $100k
to engage patent attorneys to enforce them in courts around the world.
So there are no patents or any other legal arrangements by which we can
prevent anyone from copying the Devil Fish circuitry. This is
probably also true for the naming and layout of the controls.
There is no legal basis on which we could restrain Behringer or anyone else from copying the Devil Fish design.
That said - and acknowledging that some potential customers wouldn't
care a hoot about its origins - it would be hard to imagine how the
Behringer company, and Uli himself, could earn themselves greater
opprobrium, than by riding roughshod over a small synthesizer
manufacturer. This is especially so since the copied product is
The company is prepared to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars
designing and tooling up for production of this machine, but wouldn't
spend more than a pittance on acquiring both the proper, respectful,
business contract to do so and the design input to do it properly.
- We offered a way to build an excellent product and a lasting business relationship. We
think the management decisions behind this proposed unlicensed product,
of questionable quality, are completely mistaken.
Uli's Gearslutz message (Update 2020-02-06)
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
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
We really like our Behringer mixers: a Xenyx 1002B
, two QX1204USBs
and two MX802A
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
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
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.
Discussion forums and other sites mentioning this:
© Robin Whittle 2020 – First Principles and Real World Interfaces
To the main Devil Fish page.