Sonic LAB: Teenage Engineering OP-1 Review

Hand-held music machine from Sweden      18/08/11

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12:34 mins    

Hard to beleive I am finally holding this in my hands - I must confess, when I first saw the projected features of the OP-1, I was sceptical - thinking perhaps that this was a design punt to get some work from an undoubtedly talented team, but I was of course wrong and thankfully so, its always good to see instruments with character and personality.
In the Hand
Firstly, you’ll be surprised at how well built this is - CNC machined case (think unibody) massively over specified buttons and four, rotary encoders (industrial grade avionics quality) and a gorgeous AMOLED 360x120 LCD display.

The 24-key keyboard is just switches (think well built nanoKey) and does not transmit velocity, but the synth will respond to it via MIDI over USB. A tiny but surprisingly loud built-in speaker as well as stereo output, built in mic and line in complete the connections. The unit is battery powered, with up 16hrs from this non user removable Li-ion cell. Charging is handled via USB.

What Is It?
So the Teenage Engineering OP-1 (Operator 1) is a synth  wirth up to 6 voices, with eight synthesis engines which can played one at a time - its monotimbral.
Synth Engines:

Cluster - Multi layered oscillator cluster
Digital - True digital synthesis
String - Waveguide String Model
Pulse - Dual Pulsetrain Oscillator
FM - Four operator FM synthesis
Phase - Phase Distortion
Dr Wave - Frequency Domain Synthesis
Synthesizer Sampler Engine - Teenage Sample Player

Each engine has a single VCA envelope ADSR, single effect and an LFO for routing and modulation - sources include - LFO, FM radio - yes there is one built in, and G sensor - that’s gravity - shake it and modulate baby.

Additionally there are three sequencer types - pattern - like a basic one bar drum grid, endless  - 256 steps and tombola - a kind of random note generator that is really quite random. These can be used on drum sor synth patches and are transposed via the keyboard with tempo set form the master tempo.

Tape Baby
Additionally, we have the four track digital recorder - with a kind of tape paradigm, but with some additional functions - tempo follow (time stretch) and cut and paste, you can do quite a lot in the six track minutes you have available.

Mix 2 Taste
the four channel mixer allows basic level and pan control of the tracks,plus there an effect insert on the master bus with the same selection as the synth engines - incedentally, the Punch effect is a kind of LowPass filter with a resonance effect - though Moog it aint.
Additionally, there’s a master compressor which you can really cane to pump the ouput should you wish.

Interface- USB
The mini USB connection lets you browse the OP-1 as a disc - the 400+MB storage means you can pull the tape tracks or album recordings into your DAW, or indeed, create drum sample files to use in your creations on the OP-1. MIDI control means the OP-1 will transmit note and CC information, the knobs sending fixed cc and the buttons also  - there is no editing of the CC assignments whatsoever, all theat can be changed is the MIDI ch and wether the knobs are absolute or relative in operation.
The OP-1 can also recieve MIDI including velocity which the synth engine does respond to.
I also hooked up the OP-1 to the iPad via the camera connection kit and that worked like a charm, although there is no clock or tempo sync eith in or out of the OP-1.

Interface - Human
Quite simply, its gorgeous the AMOLED screen combined with the brilliant interface design and colour coding makes it simple to use and a joy to tweak - the display has a lot of feedback including the way things ‘wiggle’ in repsonse to the audio signal, its beautiful frankly.

Need Or Want
Here’s the thing - the OP-1 is a very desirable object, it does a lot of stuff given its size and simplicity, but not nessecarilly things that cant be done by other gear - iPad, laptop etc.
The synth engines do offer a fairly wide audio pallette though again, nothing remarkable,  and its great fun to use. But if I was to be asked the question, “Do I need this to make better music?” the answer would probably be no. Do I want one? Hell yes!

Available as stock allows via
Price €799 Euros.



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16 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Brian from USA    Said...

The pricing reminds me of Tenori-ON...something I really wanted but couldn't justify because of the high price. As an engineer myself, it's always exciting to see a product that's so well designed. The graphics for the OS are really brilliant.

18-Aug-11 09:24 AM

Fred67    Said...

Wow. Better sounding than I first thought...!

18-Aug-11 10:20 AM

WalkMount    Said...

It seems to have those annoying computing sounds that result in a hi pitched sound when you press the keys, am I right? Did I hera them correctly in the video? Otherwise it's a really good looking device.

19-Aug-11 02:28 AM

Lenore Dane    Said...

Why does the author write and punctuate at a 4th-grade level?

19-Aug-11 05:42 AM

Alex Juno    Said...

I thought that the OS looked amazing, especially the boxer that comes on the screen when you select the PUNCH effect.

This is truly a piece of imaginative and useful hardware put together in a beautifully small package, if i bought one myself, i'd probably not only use it on-the-go for compositions, but i'd also use some of it's quirky synth sounds live, controlled from a full sized synth.


19-Aug-11 08:59 AM

I Don't Like Music    Said...

Lenore Dane said: "Why does the author write and punctuate at a 4th-grade level?"

Enthusiasm. All good authors know that a compelling story should be told with the breathless urgency of a fourth grader telling you about their day.

19-Aug-11 02:02 PM

Lenore Dane    Said...

I -- don't ---think i've seen -- so many --- of these --- and so little -- of these....

19-Aug-11 03:14 PM

xyzzy    Said...

This seemed more like a feature overview rather than a review, but thanks as always for the detailed video. :-)

Nick, how did you find the interface? Did it take a lot of getting used to?

I'm not sure I'd enjoy navigating through all those functions without any labels to read. IKEA assembly instructions, anyone? I'm sure this becomes easier with time, but I'm curious what your initial experience was like.

Also: no comments about the character of the synthesis engine(s)? It does rather sound like Amateur Night at the DSP Club, like the Gotharmann deMOON. Not a bad thing at all; I'm just curious what your reaction was.

19-Aug-11 06:02 PM

Oper-8    Said...

@xyzzy : as a happy OP-1 user, I can tell you that the interface/navigation/use is pretty straightforward. You'll need to dig into the manual (available online at TE's site, in the Library section) for advanced tape operation, synth engine details, etc. But it really doesn't take a long time to know what you're doing. And yes, it becomes easier with time :)

19-Aug-11 09:10 PM

Louis F.    Said...

Hello Nick,

You are wonderful to share your reviews with us musicians. Many thanks from U.S.A. Louis

20-Aug-11 03:55 AM

Synth_fan    Said...

While I accept Nicks points that its cool and desirably; I find it incomprehensible that Teenage Engineering spend all that development money on giving military grade knobs - and no velocity sensing on the keys, or no clock sync. That just about eliminates the device, in every practical way, of interfacing live with the rest of the studio or live setup in any meaningful way.

Furthermore, while it is I accept tan intriguing little device, there as iPad apps costing one hundredth the price, sounding arguably better (accepted you have to buy an iPad).

I'm sure this will sell relatively well because of its desirability - but those design oversights - and others (such as the button keys), poor memory, a measly 4 tracks suggest to me that Teenage Engineering are not even thinking like musicians - they are very clever design engineers, but they are NOT musicians.

This is a rich kid's toy with enough desirability for a niche market among some synth lovers; but it is not a serious musical making device; and those design oversights or poor decisions would worry me - both for trying to using it now and for the prospect of any serious upgrading.

Finally - the price is frankly outreagous. I would not be surprised to see a version of this repackages for about $150 in a year or two.

21-Aug-11 10:55 AM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

These days I'm caught by surprise every time I watch an internet video and don't have to sit through an ad. Excellent

From what you've shown us, it sounds great but I can't figure out what it's for or who would use it. Making tracks while you're out and about? Without MIDI editing, the limitation of the keyboard would get to me (but I'd still love one too!).

I'd rather pay twice the price and have full-track-making features. (Oh wait.. laptop.)

I'm hope this isn't the last we'll see of Teenage Engineering :)

21-Aug-11 11:29 AM

FatGuysSays    Said...

That is one well designed toy. It seems people will ignore the retarded limitations as long as it looks great. Waste of money.

22-Aug-11 06:11 PM

Psymon    Said...

You know what would be great? If you could plug a USB-memory in it and export song directly to that and not have to go via a computer. That way you could make tons of song sketches and save all as long as you brought an usb memory. =)

23-Aug-11 04:07 PM

GNeuman    Said...

When I first saw this and the price attached I thought it was an April Fool's joke but two factors negated this observation;

1) It wasn't April

2) The Swedes are not renowned for their sense of humour

Then I thought, surely there was a typo with where the decimal point was placed on the price tag? Surely they meant 7.99Euros and not 799Euros??

But no, alas, it was a pukka review............

Consequently, I am totally bemused as to why anyone would fork out such serious dosh for this FisherPrice/Casiotone lookalikey/soundalikey....

For this kind of money you could buy;

1) A decent laptop 2) Decent sequencer software 3) A proper full size controller keyboard.

Catch my drift?

If the sound engine had been something extraordinary then I would not be so harsh, but sorry this synth is SERIOUSLY underwhelming in the sound department..

Talk about Design Over Function; another overated Scandanavian designer of musical equipment also springs to mind, not mentioning any names but sounds like "P & O"

31-Aug-11 06:45 AM

Sam    Said...

So I just bought one of these used today. The verdict: AWESOME! Sure, even used it was ridiculously expensive, but if you factor in the build quality of, say, a Korg ESX-1 (horrible) or an Akai MPC (there's a reason exists) you'll understand why supporting a weird little company like Teenage Engineering is acceptable. I started out with cassette 4-tracks and drum machines without velocity-sensitive pads (I've been gigging on and off and making sub-par bedroom recordings for over 25 years). The cool thing about the OP-1 is that it forces you to focus on creating music rather than burying yourself in endless parameter tweaks. My only wish is that I could figure out how to create mute groups on the hi-hats!

01-Jun-12 09:17 PM

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