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 teenageengineering.com
Price €799 Euros.

 

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