I have to admit to having been rather astonished when Behringer launched their mass attack on the guitar pedal market a couple of years ago. Their range of pedals was unmistakably inspired by some long‑established designs — both in terms of the compact format and the models available — but the sounds and construction were different, and the pedals were significantly cheaper than any serious competitors' designs. It was the first time you could get brand-new effects pedals for such a pittance (I picked up a brand-new phaser pedal for £12 from a shop in London).
There was a problem, though, in that some of the range reflected the price. Despite one or two hidden gems (such as the acoustic modeller, and a couple of the distortion pedals) that were genuine bargains, on the whole the imitations fell well short of the more expensive and robust pedals from which they drew inspiration. The plastic cases felt cheap and were rather flimsy; there was no way to access the battery compartment without a screwdriver; and the sound of many of the pedals — including the phaser I mentioned earlier — really 'wasn't all that'.
So, all things considered, when Behringer brought out their new RSM range of digital stomp-box effects, I can't say that I was expecting great things. Nonetheless, when sent 16 of these new pedals for review, I dutifully played and stomped through all the usual suspects (delays, reverbs, flangers, an octave divider and phasers), as well as some slightly more exotic models such as a bass synth, dynamic wah and a pitch-shifter/harmoniser. Notably, there are no overdrives or distortions in this new range, except where incorporated into another effect such as the rotary speaker emulation — but then the distortions weren't a weak point of the earlier range, and they remain available.
On first glance, the new pedals appear very much the same as their predecessors: the cases are still plastic; you still need a screwdriver. Retailing at £41.40$74.99 each, they're slightly pricier — although still very much wallet-friendly — but closer inspection reveals a fair amount more functionality for this extra money. For example, many of the pedals have stereo inputs, expression pedal or footswitch inputs, dedicated inputs for both guitar and bass, or a direct output alongside the wet. The configuration of these inputs and outputs, which varies from pedal to pedal, promises versatility.
Once I got over the budget feel of the plastic casing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the effects sounded very good for the money — and some of them very good per se. While the RV600 Reverb might not replace your Lexicon in the studio, it offers a good range of reverb models and plenty of control over the crucial parameters. Nor will the various delay pedals set your heart racing — but they sound every bit as good as some pedals that are two or three times the price and give you all the options you need, from ping-pong to reverse delay, from tape emulation through analogue to pure digital delays. My favourite was the EM600 echo machine, which appears to be inspired by the legendary Roland Space Echo. If you're looking for an accurate model of the Space Echo you should look elsewhere — but Behringer make no claims that this one is, and taken on its own merits it's a great-sounding echo that's capable of much the same sort of results. Another highlight was the CD400 Space Chorus, which offers a good range of lush-sounding chorus effects. The phaser is a vast improvement on the previous model and I'd be happy using it, although I'm certainly able to coax much richer sounds from the Boss and EHX phaser pedals that currently adorn my pedalboard.
There's also a number of useful effects that could serve well in some live situations but which I wouldn't choose to use in the studio. The AM400 Ultra Acoustic Modeller, for example, does a dependable job of delivering an acoustic-like sound where you need to use an electric guitar, but like other such pedals doesn't come close to a real acoustic; and the RM600 Rotary Machine offers a great range of rotary speaker emulations, complete with overdrive and speaker speed variations. The one criticism I'd have of the RM600 is that the otherwise useful flashing light that denotes rotation speed was so bright that it proved a real distraction when I was reading the legending in order to change settings.
The only pedal that really failed to enthuse me at all was the FL600 Flanger Machine. The claim printed on the back of the box that it offers you 'flanging sounds you've never heard before' may be true, but it just didn't give me the depth of texture I'd usually want from this kind of effect. The other flanger in this range, the SF400 Super Flanger, though, actually sounded rather nice.
I have a few more general criticisms, although they're all pretty minor. I wasn't a huge fan of the rotary knobs used to control the various parameters. They felt nice and firm, making it difficult to change settings accidentally, but at times this also made them difficult to set accurately. That's partly a trade-off, though, a result of cramming so much functionality into one hardware control is that it can leave you with too little range to make fine adjustments; and the delay pedals, in particular, suffer from this.
I've heard some people express concern about build quality and consistency of Behringer products in the past, so I should spend a moment to consider that here. Although they're still made of plastic and may not be the sturdiest pedals in the world, they seem reasonably durable — enough that they should stand up perfectly well to average gigging and studio use. I don't know about the quality assurance procedures, but Behringer are confident enough to offer a no-quibble replacement policy in the event that anyone buys a faulty pedal, which is reassuring.
So would I recommend buying these pedals? What you get is a terrifically broad, and for the most part good, sonic palette for what is a very low outlay — and I suspect that for many people these are going to be the two most significant factors at the end of the day. So if you have a bit of change kicking around or a birthday coming up, I'd say these are worth a speculative punt. Matt Houghton