Pros: Cheap cost full feedback MIDI control surface
Cons: Feels cheap, lack of display or proper labels makes use hard
Why The Need For Motorised Faders?
Because motorised faders look cool and you can impress all the ladies with your high tech studio… Erm, no. Not with a BCF2000. But there are good reasons for getting a controller with feedback. When I first started looking at MIDI keyboards I wanted one with as many mappable controls as possible with the thought that I would map everything and tweak my heart out. This proved not to be the case for 2 reasons. The first was the fact there was no real way to tell what control was mapped to what function and second when you open a project you really have to set your controls up before you tweak. This proved to be quite tedious and most of the time I just thought “I probably don’t need to tweak that control so I won’t bother”.
When I started working in Cubase I fell in love with the mixer layout. It just seemed so easy to mix the audio get a good feedback of how the mix was sitting. As my mixes became larger it started to get more difficult to mix them with just the mouse. I really wanted to access the controls from a mixing surface but the cost of these seemed unreachable for a small time beginner. Enter the BCF2000
- Unique, total-recall, cascadable desktop MIDI controller with analog feel and intuitive user interface
- 8 ultra-precise, 100-mm, motorized faders for ultimate control of virtual mixers, organ-drawbars (inverse mode) or virtual synths and samplers
- 4 virtual groups with 8 dual-mode, high-resolution encoders that feature LED rings and an additional push function
- 16 + 4 illuminated buttons freely assignable to all types of MIDI functions from note on/off, control change and program change to MMC and system exclusive data
- All panel elements freely assignable--manually or via user-friendly learn mode
- Additional multi-function foot switch and foot controller connectors can be used to address all types of MIDI data
- 32 user presets each with 4 encoder groups
- Configurable MIDI and USB modes for ultra-flexible system integration
- 1 MIDI In plus 2 MIDI Outs, usable as an additional USB to MIDI interface
- Multi-function, 4-digit LED display with real-time parameter indication plus write-in fields for your own labeling
- MIDI input with merge function for cascading several control units
- Easy connection to any computer/expander, etc. using standard MIDI In/Out connectors
- Generic USB MIDI support with Windows XP and Mac OS X operating systems
- Additional drivers and editor/librarian software available for free download at www.behringer.com
- High-quality components and exceptionally rugged construction ensure long life
- Conceived and designed by BEHRINGER Germany
Right away the price seems to be one of those "too good to be true" prices. While doing research at the time, the BCF would cost me $270 delivered! The next best deal I could find was a used Mackie MCU for around $600 delivered. For just under $300 I could have an automated mixing console to control the mixer functions in Cubase & Ableton.
Out of the box it was a good size. Not huge but not too small it felt cramped. For the price I was not expecting a great deal. I mean, 8 motorised faders for under $300 was a good deal. It requires a power lead because of the motors so this needs to be considered. It is suited much more for studio use than DJ use but being quite compact it could easily be used as a DJ surface. The faders and buttons are laid out in an easy to use fashion and it depends on the software as to how the buttons function. Each button has an LED indicator that will normally display the status of the mapped control.
The faders are 100mm so have a lot of fine control in them and there are 8 endless rotary encoders that also have click buttons when you press down on them. You can connect a couple of foot switches and an expression pedal and having the USB port means there are no drivers. Just plug and play. Out of the box it will operate in MIDI Map mode meaning you setup presets and map the controls to your software OR use a preset in the software to handle it automatically. The more ideal solution though is to switch the MODE of the controller to a control surface mode (Such as Macki MCU Emulation) where the controller will act as one of the industry standard styled controllers. It does a pretty good job in this setting and ties in very well with Ableton and Cubase with no setup other than the control surface settings in the program. In this mode though you cannot switch to another preset without resetting the controller and loading to the preset option.
Getting going is pretty straight forward when you decide how it will operate. Connect the USB (no drivers required) but you can install a driver for the device that will label the MIDI input which is great because otherwise it's just a "USB Audio Device" on XP and Win7. Once connected and going there are different Modes of operation. The default one is as a MIDI controller. You can switch between presets for different tasks and there are preset files available for Cubase and Ableton but there are some limits with these. You can also boot the BCF into "Mackie or Logic emulation mode" which will make the BCF act just like a Mackie MCU controller. This is great because any software that works with a Mackie MCU will then operate with the BCF in a similar way. In this mode though you cannot switch presets and the LCD display does not show ANY controller data feedback which is a bit of a let down.
Operating software with this controller is easy. The mixer of the software appears on the faders, the buttons above the faders control Mute, Select, Solo, Arm. Because the BCF has only half the controls of a Mackie MCU, there are 2 SHIFT keys which when held will switch buttons to different functions. This is acceptable but then requires 2 hands to operate the mixer as you have to hold the shift button. With the 8 faders you can press a Bank or Channel button to switch through more channels in your project (pretty much endlessly) and the faders and levels will set accordingly. There are also functions (in Ableton at least) that allow you to switch the Encoder knobs or faders to plug-in control for tweaking plug-ins without any mapping required. I found this cumbersome though for the reasons explained in a moment.
The first time you get it all setup and working is great. The faders move into position on their own, the LEDs display what is on the screen and any tweak you make on either the controller, software or on another control surface is reflected. Opening a new project and all levels are just where you left them. Just seeing this happen and picking up right where you left yesterday is instantly satisfying.
Overall Feel and Quality
To me you cannot decide on this until you have used it for a while. If you compare it to, say, a Mackie MCU then it appears as a cheap plastic knockoff. And, well, it is really BUT it then offers this at a very good price. If we look at just how the thing is built it's quite solid and doesn't slide around. It feels like it could take a few hits but isn't what I would call "road tough". I wouldn't be gigging with it that is for sure. The fader knobs feel like they would lift off easy and the encoder knobs already feel like a wobbly tooth waiting to be pulled out. They really do wiggle quite a bit but work just fine.
The faders are quite noisy and clunk when they hit the top or bottom of travel and when an automation envelope moves the faders (especially real slow) they seem to vibrate causing an awful rattle. Someone that didn't know would think they were about to shatter. Also, they don't have a touch sensitive override like the bigger boys so you don't want to grab them AT ALL when they are moving or you will hear its complaints to get your hands off. There is an "automation mute" button in MCU emulation mode which allows you to stop the faders moving and while this isn't ideal it does address the issue of having no touch sensitive faders.
Moving to the buttons, the click and button feel is the same you would get on an old 1980 VCR front panel. That cheap plastic with a distinctive "Click" when you press it. Because the plastic button sits just a little loose on the button it does make a little rattle sound that just reminds you that this is a cheap controller but they are solid to the feel and work just fine. Then there is the lack of any display that again, reminds you of the cheap controller. To overcome this downfall you can get a small app from the Behringer site that creates an LCD strip on your PC screen that display the controls and values in the same way the LCD woould on a real MCU controller. It's a good workaround and works well but defeats the purpose of having the controller if you are constantly looking at the screen.
Reliability & Value Holding
Again, think of the cost of this thing. You could destroy 4 or 5 of these to equal 1 new Mackie MCU Pro mixer. Reports I have read say that these are actually long lasting units when cared for (years and years). I had mine for about 1 year without a single issue so for me it seemed pretty good. If it was purely studio use and not hammered too much it should be a long partnership.
Most good music gear holds value well. I sold my BCF2000 after 1 year on ebay for a little less than what I paid so was happy about the resale. This type of controller can be a hard 2nd hand sell because it is mechanical and many are wary about the use and abuse the faders have received. Personally, I would not buy one second hand.
A control surface adds a great amount of freedom. It can take a LOT of hassle out of automating a mix and ads a lot of fun as well as productivity. I was impressed enough that I decided to upgrade to a Mackie MCU as soon as I had the money. The BCF2000 is definitely a good controller for the cash and if that is your price bracket or you are unsure if you want to commit to more, then it is perfect to get started without a doubt. When trying to use this as a substitute for a Mackie controller though I was constantly reminded that this was a cheap knockoff. All the unlabelled buttons, noisy faders, lack of display, lack of useful controls, having to use 2 hands just to solo a track... All these little niggles that kept reminding me that this was a cheap controller had me wishing I had the real thing especially since I accessed so many of the functions that were quite hidden in the BCF2000.
Bottom line is that if you need some basic controller feedback for your software this is a great start. If you need more advanced functions for your surface such as plug-in tweaking, FX send and return tweaking or just more hands on and eyes off the screen then I would look more at something like a Mackie MCU just because they do so much more so much better. For the $$$ though, you just will not find anything else so there is no competition unless you want just 1 fader control (Alphatrack or faderport).
One last thing to add would be that this is not a controller one "needs" in a home studio. It won't make a production sound better, wont improve your skill level and wont offer a new way to produce your tracks. For a beginner this would be one of the LAST things I would recommend because you can do everything via a mouse and keyboard. This is certainly for the more experienced and hands on artists to assist in what they already know how to do. It is the kind of controller you decide you need rather than wondering if it would be useful.