I used to have a SH-101 from Roland. I loved it. I traded it for my n0nx0x x0xb0x, which was an awesome trade. The guy who got the old SH-101 got kinda shafted though. The SH-101 was begging to be reissued, and Behringer of all people have done exactly that… For under 400$, with a metal chassis. Fuckin a, man. I guess that’s what buying a whole city in China to do your fabrication results in: low cost high quality product. Behringer should be proud of itself for creating such a huge line up of re-issued hardware from Yesteryear. Roland, Korg, and the other companies fucked up: they could have re-monetized their old designs again, and pleased fans. Instead they said “no, we’re doing different stuff now.” Oops. Uli Behringer might be kind of a ruthless corporate cut throat, but he’s not stupid. He did what Roland, Korg, Dave Smith, and the rest wouldn’t: apply modern fab techniques and MIDI technology to old synthesizer designs. And honestly? I applaud him. The vintage synth market needs to be annihilated. Most vintage gear is not well made. In fact, most of my favorite gear is badly (cheaply!) made. Having Behringer release these new devices, with MIDI and USB capabilities, for dirt cheap is going to be good for synth innovation in the long run.
People have not been innovating in the synth realm, for the most part. It’s a copy and paste world where schematics are cut into constituent circuits and pasted together to form new products. While this is totally fine, and occasionally produces awesome results, there have been few breakthroughs in new synthesis technology over the last 20 years of increasing synthesizer popularity. Granular synthesis is now possible with hardware. Chowning’s through zero FM synthesis was accomplished with analog circuitry (See the MacBeth synthesizers or Cynthia’s through zero FM module.) There is innovation, but not in big new ways. It’s mostly re-hashing of older concepts in synthesis with new software, or maybe a few analog re-issues with more interfacing. The cutting edge, like a MacBeth analog, or a Cynthia designed through zero FM analog oscillator, or Dave Rossum’s Assimil8or are all state of the art and innovative, but very expensive.
My personal hope is that as Behringer makes the technology of the Curtis ICs and their sounds available again, the numbers of boutique copies of the SH101, TB-303, and similar old products will decrease as users turn to Behringer gear over boutique re-issues at much higher cost. The good news is that designers for these audio companies will have to become more creative about new products instead of re-hgashing old concepts to death.
I love the purely analog. There is something elegant at the electron level about a system kept in near perfect balance by proper analog engineering. Reaching that point in a design can be maddening, or even impossible without elements of digital control introduced into the system. Such is life. Digital control architecture is mostly superior to analog control and routing, although it lacks some of the weird-ness produced by using analog control circuitry. I also love the digital- the ability to save patches, the ability to do sequencing, complex sequencing (like recording parameter changes), the ability to route Control Voltages almost anyhere (like in the Moog Sub37 for example), and so much more is possible with digital architecture piggybacking on the analog circuitry.
I am getting distracted! This is supposed to be a review! I’m going to uscientifically rate between 0-10 some of the immediately noticeable things about the MS-1:
MIDI implementation: 3/10. MIDI implementation in the MS-1 sucks. Why is that NOT a big deal? MIDI implementation, the sequencer, etc. can all be updated with a new FW update down the road. Bahringer! Fix the MIDI note implementation. The notes just go “off” seemingly at random.
CV implementation: 10/10. All CV functions work properly as far as I can tell. I’ve tested the CV I/O with my Eurorack sequencer, an ARP Odyssey re-issue, and my MS-20 desktop.
Sequencer implementation: 5/10. The sequencer is not as easy to use as the former SH101 sequencer, which is legendary for being easy and also just working. Since my MS-1 had no manual with it, I don’t know how the sequencer is supposed to work. Mine does weird shit; but I assume if it doesn’t work, the next FW update will fix it (or attempt to.) I really need a manual.
Keys: 10/10. HUGE improvement over SH101. Semi-weighted. See below.
Panel: 11/10. HUGE improvement over SH101. The Behringer engineers just included the mods that end users usually did to their SH101 as a standard featureset. Love it.
Chassis: 10/10. Metal and injection molded plastic. Far superior to old SH101 chassis.
Warrantee: 0/10. I can’t figure out how to even sign up with Zendesk or whatever their terrible customer service app is. Irritating too because I could give Behringer’s engineers bug reports and tell them how to reproduce the problem I’m seeing if they’d let me register my product.
Sound: 10/10. And then some- the addition of the oscillator wave to filter modulation with the “amount” knob adds radically different realm of sound to this instrument’s palette.
All and all, even with the midi, manual, and warrantee issues, I’d give this product an overall 7/10, as long as you aren’t relying on MIDI. Why not a better score? The customer service is so confusing- I can’t even start my warrantees because I can’t figure out their registration system. The addition of some Firmware Fixes, a manual, a working warrantee system, and a clearer way to interact with the sequencer would make this product a 10/10. For the sound palette, and for what it is, it’s an impressive product for 300$ or so. Pretty dope!