Making music on a TV remote – full review of Teenage Engineering’s OP-Z

After years of speculation, teasers and delays, the world has finally been introduced to Teenage Engineering‘s latest wonder device, the OP-Z.

The Swedish company’s OP-1, has already gone down as both a synth and design classic, and was a genuinely revolutionary product on its release, packing incredible power into a tiny case – with a focus on fun, portability, and also productivity.

Read More

New Gear Warning – Akai Professional MPC Live

It happened again…

Here at GBM Music we love to create background music as varied and interesting as possible, and to keep doing so on a consistent basis means we have to keep adding to our arsenal of music creation gear that we can call on.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about shelling out on some exciting new gear that we could probably survive without.

The truth is that there’s nothing more inspiring than discovering a new piece of equipment, and new ways to work and create music. Especially if things ever feel a little stale.

We’ve opted to purchase this new piece of gear from Akai as it offers a whole new workflow – combining the best of standalone work with the best of computer-based work.

The Sampler can be used in a completely standalone state and includes a hefty battery. While the cliche of playing and composing on the bus or in the park is even less applicable to this unit than usual, there’s no doubt that being able to leave the studio or the computer and crash on the sofa or bed with a device can be really great.

Equally, being able to throw an entire project in your bag and take it to a different studio or a collaborator is very appealing.

With a massive memory, and what looks like a buttery smooth touch screen interface to boot, the MPC Live is causing a lot of interest for music geeks, and MPC fans.

At £800, this is no small investment, but a device that’s being effectively marketed as a DAW in a box is potentially worth that level of investment, if it’s going to result in an improved workflow that results in more musical output.

We were tempted to hold out for the Elektron Digitakt, which looks like great fun, and perhaps even looks a little more adept at sample mangling, but the sheer workhorse nature of the MPC Live, and the smooth integration of the workflow from head, to MPC Live, to computer, made this device irresistible.

We’ll be sure to let you know how we get on with the new device once it’s arrived, and we’ve had a chance to test it out. But what do you think – did we make the right choice?

Review of Teenage Engineering’s Latest Pocket Wonder – the PO-12

I’ll make no bones about it, this ‘review’ is going to be incredibly biased, because I am in love with Teenage Engineering’s OP-1, which is a miracle mini synthesizer/sampler/recorder with killer looks to match.

The main criticism of Teenage Engineering’s hit of a synth from 2011 was simply its price tag – even now, they’re selling it for a hefty 849 euros.

So the Swedish company has responded by going the other way, and creating a set of three synths for the lowest price they can. What’s more, they sound great.

What are they?

In short, you’ve got:

The PO-12  -a drum synth

The PO-14 – a bass synth

The PO-16 – a melody synth

The small team at Teenage Engineering has been swamped with orders for their credit card sized synths, ever since they displayed them at the NAMM show in Las Vegas. They come without a case – which can be purchased separately – meaning the device is simply a strong circuit board, with the components attached. This obviously lends them a minimal, industrial design.

The calculator-style LCD screens have graphics on them – a sewing machine for the PO-12, a submarine for the PO-14, a factory for the PO-16 – and while some people have complained that this causes the devices to lean towards ‘toy’ territory, I like them. There’s plenty of musical info – like BPM and swing levels – on the screens, and watching the little man beat the drums as you play is a fun touch, and typical of Teenage Engineering’s light-hearted approach.

Each one has a 16 step sequencer on it, as well as the ability to play sounds live.  They can all be synced with each other, as well as external gear like Korg’s Volcas.

The PO-12

The drum machine has 16 sounds laid across it, with two tweakable parameters for each one. So there’s everything you need for a nice kit – a thick kick, snappy snare and a host of bells and bloops. Punching in a decent sounding sequence is effortless.

The real genius of the step sequencer is the ability to motion sequence each step, however. So you can change the sounds in real time. This adds a great deal more versatility to the on-board sounds and samples.

Slowing samples right down can create some incredibly weird and wonderful noises. The inclusion of two rudimentary synthesizer sounds means you can also add melodies to the pattern using the motion sequencing knobs. Obviously, it’s a little tricky to input precise melodies and bass lines using this method, but the sounds are a great addition, and with a little practice, it becomes surprisingly intuitive.

And I almost forgot to mention the effects. Sure, they’re basic, and can’t be adjusted, but the ability to instantly punch in – and remove – delays and filters at will makes performing with these a great deal more fun. I particularly love the bit-crusher, which distorts and breaks apart the sounds beautifully.

The Verdict

If you know what the limitations are, are ready to embrace the fun factor of their design, and have found that apps just don’t have the same appeal for you as hardware, you’ll find it hard to resist at least one of these three devices.

The fact that they play well with external gear is an added bonus, and at the low pricepoint of €59, there’s really no reason to resist.

Keep your ears peeled, and you’ll be able to hear the blips and beats of these beauties in our new background music very soon!