November 24, 2020

Ten Ways Behringer Could Have Improved on the KeyStep

An illustrated guide

Behringer, the German audio equipment giant, is no stranger to controversy, especially surrounding its practice in recent years of cloning popular vintage synthesizers. This week, however, the company may have courted its fiercest backlash yet, with what can only be described as a brazen copy of the popular KeyStep keyboard controller by French company Arturia.

It is a genuine head-scratcher – how a company that clearly has the capability for original product development, given critical successes such as its Neutron semi-modular synthesizer or its Wing mixing console, could veer to such an unimaginative extreme. Behringer now claims that the firmware will differentiate the Swing, but how hard would it have been to think of something – anything – to differentiate the hardware? Could they really not come up with a single idea?

Well, here are ten of them.

1. Add a step sequencer

Korg’s Logue series proved that a modern step sequencer on a keyboard can be a great combination. Why not add one to the Swing?

2. Add a grid controller

Electronic musicians love grid controllers. Why not add one to store and trigger sequences? As a bonus, it could output chromatic notes on a second MIDI channel.

3. Add a touch-plate keyboard

You know the “great artists steal” line that Picasso probably stole himself? The Swing may merely be copying the KeyStep, but if it were to also steal the MicroFreak’s funky and expressive keys, Behringer could actually have something great.

4. Add generative and random elements

While we’re creatively stealing from the MicroFreak, why not grab some of its generative capabilities? Be the unpredictable alternative to the KeyStep.

5. Make it tiny

The KeyStep is portable, but it’s not that portable. Make a KeyStep alternative that will fit in a laptop bag, and maybe borrow the Korg NanoKey layout while you’re at it.

6. Make it huge

Some musicians don’t like mini keys. Some want more than two and a half octaves. Make a KeyStep for them!

7. Build it like a tank

The KeyStep may be reasonably well-constructed, but it’s not the most premium-feeling device, either. Put it in a metal chassis with wood end cheeks like Behringer’s own semi-modular series, and you can charge a premium.

8. Add a joystick

It worked on the Prophet VS. Why not on a modular controller keyboard?

9. Add some pots

A complement of knobs could output CV or MIDI CCs for more hands-on performance of modular or other synthesizers.

10. Ditch the flashing octave lights

Arturia, love ya, but if Behringer fixes this distracting design flaw, I might just have to go with their alternative.