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 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.
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!