Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000 by Enlightened Hand
Behringer has a reputation in the audio production community as being sub-par equipment that is terrible for your sound quality and even worse for it's reliability. I happen to think some of that reputation is deserved. But most of it is exaggeration usually brought on by those that don't know any better or those that have an axe to grind against a company like Behringer that copies the designs of others and releases them at cut rate prices.
Perhaps somewhat ironically almost everyone that has been recording on a less than "high end" budget in the last decade seems to have some experience with Behringer gear. That's fortunate for Behringer because they seem to always have a market for their product. Whether or not it's unfortunate for the sound of record productions is a debate that largely depends on which exact piece of "B-word" gear you have in your signal path (and of course how you use it). But since the company has such a broad swath of possible gear to choose from, that seems to cater to every aspect of modern record production, it's almost hard to avoid using something from them at some point, even if it's a piece that has nothing to do with touching the actual signal. The BCF 2000 is such a piece. It never touches your sound, but it can be heavily involved with how you work with your sound.
The BCF 2000 is a relatively small, plastic, midi-based hardware control surface that has a primary function of being able to allow one to have tactile control over the software "virtual" mixer in their typical sequencer (DAW) program. This is useful because IMO there is little less inspiring in the process of navigating or mixing a project than using a mouse and keyboard exclusively. There's something immediate and satisfying about being able to reach for a fader or knob, grab and go. It's a more natural control experience and it can go a long way towards putting the engineer in the right state of mind to mix a record.
With that control in mind the BCF comes with a compliment of 8 motorized faders that typically control the virtual mixer faders and 8 endless rotary encoders, that are also buttons, near the top that make quick work of controlling panorama controls in a sequencer. It also has two buttons per fader strip that can be mapped to a user's preference or used in one of a few standard, pre-mapped modes that usually correlate with basic channel strip function keys on a virtual DAW mixer. The upper right hand side of the unit contains a simple digital display that is really only helpful once you can decipher the rather cryptic abbreviations that are offered as a user cycles through different operating modes. Underneath that display there is a quartet of buttons that to be honest with you I'm not even completely certain of all the possible functions of as they are completely not labeled (I've only needed to use the one in the upper left of the group as a "shift" key).
Immediately underneath the group of four buttons is a row of 6 LEDs that give a continuous status update of what attachment mode the unit is currently configured to be in with the user's computer or other BCFs which can be linked together via MIDI cables, with the appropriate system configuration. In the section underneath those LEDs is another quartet of buttons actually labeled clockwise from the upper left: "store", "learn", "edit" and "exit". Having set up my BCF years ago and having never needed to change anything I can't be certain how those buttons work without consulting the manual. But I'm pretty sure they are for customizing various functions of the unit's various buttons, knobs and faders. For someone needing more of a customized control experience I'm sure that section has most of what they need. I however have always been a default user of the "Nuendo, Cubase control" mode, so I never had to fiddle with that section at all. Below that section however there are the two buttons that control scrolling throughout the virtual mixer's channel faders in groups of 8 at a time with a single button press left or right, or one at a time when the shift key is engaged simultaneously. This allows navigation through the entire virtual mixer while retaining use of the faders and knobs for tactile control. The final set of control buttons is the transport section. It is also unlabeled but the top two transport buttons are FF and REW and the bottom two are the play and stop buttons. The rear of the unit contains the power button, the power plug jack, a usb jack, MIDI in, out, thru jacks and two 1/4" jacks for foot switch controls.
I must admit that I'm not a serious, customize my approach to the fullest, deep understanding of BCF user. I just wanted something to control the pan knobs and faders in Cubase and provide me with a few useful function keys and a basic transport section. For that purpose most control surfaces can get the job done quite easily. But only the Behringer could get it done at $200 (US). But that kind of price point has it's draw backs. For one thing the unit is fiddly when it comes to having to know what you're doing while you're setting it up. There are instructions in the manual about how to configure it for your specific sequencer program and/or configure it to operate in "Mackie Control Mode". But I find the way everything is done is rather unintuitive, especially given the generally unlabeled nature of the buttons and the very limited display. If you come in cold and don't have the unit set up to work with your sequencer you will most likely have to consult the manual. That's not a problem but intuitive set up can be a deal making issue for some people.
Also, with the somewhat limited compliment of function keys available the BCF relies heavily on the use of a "shift" key. That's fine, but it does cut a bit into the experience of one hand operation in moments of wanting to make a quick change. I found that when I wanted to quickly solo a channel I had to use the "shift" key first and then press the upper of the two unlabeled channel strip buttons. That's fine for one channel but what if you want to solo 5 at a time that are in different places on the mixer? That means that you might have to solo them one at a time. That's not a huge problem. But again using two hands to press a single button (in this case the "solo" button) is a bit fiddly and can get a little annoying. Also with the lack of labeling it's sometimes a bit of a challenge to remember exactly what each button does, given they can do different things depending on the mode you have selected and whether or not you're using the shift key.
For me I decided that such a beast as the BCF was best used as simply and as consistently the same configuration as possible. So I deliberately didn't get deep with trying to control EQ (a feature it can do with it's knobs) or trying to control plug-ins (a feature I'm not sure it can do). I don't like having to "learn" a control surface. I like to see the button I want and press it and have it be there the next time I look for it and eventually it's always where I expect it to be. To do that with the BCF requires consistent configuration and elimination of the inclusion of some of it's extra capabilities. However, using it in such a spartan manner I find very rewarding. The most useful controls on any control surface are arguably the faders, pan knobs and transport section and with those specific functions I never felt I was left wanting for much in terms of basic control on the BCF. After a while one can get very comfortable with it's workflow and just grab and go to balance levels and pans and scroll around a project.
Having motorized faders is a useful feature as well for traditional, fader controlled automation. The faders follow the automation you write in just fine. The are a bit clumsy looking in their movement and their motor is audible. It's not anything that I would call loud. It's just audible and mechanical like a little toy. But the fader movement for me has never proved a problem for dialing in smooth automation. It just happens to not look and sound as pretty as it could. Being that the faders are not touch sensitive might be a turn off for some people. But I'm always thinking that a fader is only useful if you move it and the Behringer does respond the moment you actually move a fader, which for me is all that really matters. Automation with the BCF is a very standard, non-problematic affair in my experience.
There are several other things that can be done with the BCF such as linking it to other units to create a larger control surface, or using it simultaneously with other manufacturer's units. I happen to frequently use mine with another control surface that expands my customized function keys and allows me more flexible transport controls. The BCF certainly doesn't seem to mind being used at the same time with that in Cubase and I've had no problems with using it in that capacity. As far as linking to other BCFs goes I have not done it and I have no need to do it so I can't comment on the ease or usefulness of that particular feature, nor can I comment on using a foot switch with the unit because I have also never done that.
On the whole the BCF is a bargain deal of a control surface that does basic fader, pan and transport controls well and has other features that make it quite useful for those willing to explore it's fullest potential. As control surfaces go it's a steal at it's current price and for a first controller or a controller for someone that just needs the basics I do recommend it. It won't outdo the best. But for $200 it's more than better than it's closest competition in terms of value.
By the way I gave this unit a "10" in sound quality because I couldn't not give it anything with the website's current configuration and I didn't want to give it a "0" because that would dramatically lower it's overall rating, which I didn't think was fair.