Review – Behringer VC340

B VC340

Last week I received a Behringer VC340 that I ordered a few months back.  This is a recreation of a classic synthesizer, the Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus, which was made in 1979 and 1980.  Although the production of this synthesizer was short, it, along with the rackmount version, the SVC-350, is found all over music of the early 80s, including artists as far apart as Vangelis and Laurie Anderson.

The VC330, like the original VP-330, instead of being a general synthesizer is divided into three main parts: a string synthesizer, a “human voice” synthesizer and a vocoder.

The string synthesizer is just what it sounds like, a synthesized string ensemble sound that uses simple analog technology of the day.  String synths were very popular in the late 70s and the Roland version can be heard on a lot of music by a wide variety of artists.  It offers a simple tone (brightness) control, attack (how quickly the sound starts) and release (how quickly the sound fades after you take your hands from the keys).

There are two basic “voice” sounds, an octave apart, which can be combined so both are heard.  By itself the voice sounds a little cheesy, even when both of them are playing at once, but there is an ensemble effect that can be turned on.  This uses the same bucket-brigade chorus that is always on the string sound and does greatly enhance the sound. Attack can also be changed and the release is tied to the same control as the string ensemble release.  There is also a “vibrato” section (LFO) with controls for rate, depth (how much vibrato effect) and delay before the vibrato starts.  The same vibrato is used on the vocoder section.

The string ensemble and voice/choir sound can be combined, which Vangelis is famous for.

The final section is a vocoder.  Super simply described, this can allow you to talk through your synthesizer.  It is not to be confused with “Talkbox”, which was also popular in the 1970s.  The Talkbox is a pure physical device that literally pipes sound into the user’s mouth who can control the sound.  See this Stevie Wonder video for a great demonstration.  Some people may also remember Peter Frampton and his talking guitar.

A vocoder can sound similar, but it is pure electronics.  Simplified – The incoming signal, say a word from a microphone, is “analyzed” at specific frequencies.  These frequencies can then be changed to match on a synthesizer sound.  Got it?  Well, it doesn’t matter how it works, just know that a player can use their voice (or anything else) to shape the synth sound.

The vocoder on the VP-330, though relatively simple and offering few controls other than tone (brightness), the same ensemble effect as the other sounds and the same “vibrato” as the voice synthesizer, had a great sound and was used by many artists in many genres of music.  In fact, it became a bit of cliché, particularly the “robot” talk sounds, particularly in dance music.

The vocoder can also be mixed in with the other two sounds.

So that was then, what about the Behringer VC340?

First, and most importantly, they did a great job recreating the sound.  It sounds great, and can recreate “that” sound that was so hot back in the day.  The trick is that they tried to recreate the same circuits, not a digital emulation, so the sound has the same quirks and “flaws”.

The instrument itself is compact, having a three-octave keyboard, though there is an octave switch so there are four octave easily accessible.  It also uses the same strange (to me) “pitch shift” control as the original.  This can easily be set an octave lower, giving it five useful octaves.  If you need to play more than three octaves at once, it does have a MIDI input and a USB for MIDI.  The keyboard itself is fine, about what you’d expect in this price range and better than some.

There is a key split, so different sounds can be used on either side of the split, which isn’t quite as useful in a three-octave keyboard, but is nice for live performance.

I tried to find a limit in the number of “voices” I could play at once, and couldn’t.  I thought it was four per split zone, but I was playing 8-note cluster chords within one key-zone and didn’t notice any drop-outs.  However, it is paraphonic instead of polyphonic.  With this instrument that means that if, for instance, you set the strings to slowly swell in, it will do great when you play block chords, lifting your hands between – you will always get that swell.  If you play a chord and keep the keys pressed, but change one note, that note will change instantly, not start over again, so no swell.  With the attack of the “human voices” set at fast, there is a “ha” at the beginning.  But if you have notes pressed and play another note, you won’t hear it (the “ha” is all volume, not an actual change in timbre). This was true for the original as well.

To me the most exciting difference with the original is that Behringer added an input for an external synthesizer.  That means you can plug any instrument in and “make it talk”.

As you might guess, the vocoder section is the greatest fun.  Sure, it is cool to have “that” sound with the strings, but I could spend all day playing with just the vocoder.

The Behringer VC340 is, in ways, very limited in what it can do, but it does what it does very well.  The sounds are a bit dated, but can be used to great effect both to get that classic sound and to add a new (if old) color to modern music.  And, of course, you can do “modern” things to the sound to make it up to date. To some ectent the vocoder is limited by your imagination.  The VC340 is relatively inexpensive, though there are low end polyphonic totally programmable synthesizers in the same price range.  I recommend it, but only if you have a good use for it.  To me the vocoder makes it totally worth the price and the rest is just frosting on the old-school analog synth cake.

*

Over the weekend I recorded a “demo”, a piece of music to demonstrate how the VC340 sounds in different contexts.  All of the sounds use the VC340, but a few also use an external synth being “processed” by the VC340’s vocoder.  I used a Behringer Model D, a small clone of the Moog Minimoog (the B. Model D is often referred to as the “Boog”).  You can hear the “Boog” sound near the beginning on the bass (not the string bass), on the “percussion” (didn’t work as well as I’d wished), the whispering or noisy voice saying “I find myself at a loss for words” and a lead sound in the second section.  There are four sections to this piece with transitions between.  I used a little analog delay as I was playing and a little reverb in the mix down – I’m looking for musical uses of the sounds, not the pure sounds themselves – you can find that elsewhere.

Oh yeah, the title is a joke – so many people don’t know what to do or say when confronted with a vocoder.  “Test, test – this is a vocoder!”  Yeah, right…  If they’re creative they may do silly robot voices, “we are the robots!”.  So the title “(I Find Myself) At a Loss for Words” is a joke.  I also wrote a little love song using that phrase.  The last section of this music is me singing that song through the vocoder.

I hope you enjoy (and make it to the end ;)):

(Click here if you don’t see the video)

(I Find Myself) At a Loss for Words

I find myself
At a loss for words
When I see
You

I find myself
Troubled once more
Because I don’t
Know what to do

I find myself
Thinking of you
When I am
alone

I find myself
Writing this song
But it’s out of
Tone

*

Oh, how I wish
My tongue would Fly!
So you’d know how
I feel

But I can’t
Express myself
To allow my broken heart
To heal

*

I find myself
At a loss for words
Because I love
You

22 thoughts on “Review – Behringer VC340

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      lol – With these reviews i try to walk the thin line of making them readable for people who normally read the blog and keyboard players who want a review – I may have gone to far towards the keyboard player on this one ;) Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Yes, very. Did you (and/or “Oannes”) pick one of these up? From your comments it seems that way, or you are just basing it on your experience with similar instruments (perhaps even the original VP330 in the studio!) Anyway, yeah, I think I’m lucky to able to have these “techno toys” to play with :)

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
          1. marina kanavaki

            Back in 1999 while I was recording my first solo album, my sound engineer lend me this [I hope you can see the image] which I think is very much like yours, only more octaves. I remember having hours of fun with it! In our recordings though we haven’t used it much and as far as I can recall it’s a plugin, not the real thing! ;-)

            Liked by 1 person

            Reply
            1. trentpmcd Post author

              That looks like the original Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus, so, yes, more octaves. It is tons of fun! For a while I used plugins, but got tired of them and enjoy “the real thing”. More than that, I have been getting more into old-school analog. Today is the best time ever for analog because there are so many inexpensive instruments out there.

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              Reply
              1. marina kanavaki

                I agree with you! Quite some time now we look back with fondness of the good old 4-track recording! No computer! To an amateur it’s bliss, to us it’s a hindrance. For example, you know exactly what sound you want to use, and unless you’ve been through the odyssey of listening to hundreds[+] sounds and even more samples and clever enough to mark them[!], you end up spending hours finding it and by that time you may have lost the momentum! Not to mention the crashes while recording your ‘finest’ moment!!!! 😱 Anyway, we’re also trying to find ways to record with as minimum use of the computer as possible!

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                1. trentpmcd Post author

                  I loved the immediacy of tape. My music computer is over 10 years old and runs XP. When recording the VC340 demo it kept crashing, which is one reason for the number of mistakes – if something worked, I kept it! (Also I wanted to do the entire thing over the weekend even though I had a lot of other things to do…) Oh well, there is good and bad in every technology.

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                  Reply
                    1. marina kanavaki

                      A ha ha haaaaaaa…. too familiar!!!!!! ;-) One more downside [a huge one actually] would be losing most of our sound banks/plugins [won’t work with the new system], not to mention that if we ever wanted to edit any ‘old’ tracks, it wouldn’t be …’easy’!!!! Oh, well!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. trentpmcd Post author

                      There are a few VSTs that I would miss, but for the most part I don’t use them. But I have worried about the old music – First, can upgrade from Cubase 6 or would I have to start over? And would the new version read the old files? Some of my earlier projects are from v4 or 5….

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. marina kanavaki

                      I’m not sure about the Cubase upgrade and I doubt that importing projects from older versions will work. We still use 5!!!!! and the newest is now 10! If it’s similar to apple, upgrading isn’t possible [too many versions up to 10]. We’ve purchased mainly classical instruments [EWQLSO PLATINUM COMPLETE] and guess what, they won’t work and when I contacted them they said that they can’t upgrade but we’d have to buy again -not exactly cheap appx $900- 🙄 and that’s for just one of the banks! 🤔

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. trentpmcd Post author

                      I used Garritan Personal Orchestra and later bought a few other Garritan products. He later got bought out, so I don’t know if there is anyone who could answer those types of questions for me…. I occasionally still use some of the sounds, btu what I would want it for would mostly be to do new “masters” of some of the music I did before – I’m not a very good engineer, but perhaps I could improve it I took more time….

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