Teenage Engineering OP-1 DEALS
Ever since its appearance in the Swedish House Mafia video “One”, at the latest, the OP-1 has been haunting the synthetic music landscape, surrounded by a slightly mystical air.
After the OP-1, which was initially produced in small numbers, was quickly sold out, it was initially difficult to acquire a copy.
In the meantime, however, the “Operator-1” of the young swedish manufacturer can be found in the assortment of most established retailers.
But what kind of device is this anyway, which inevitably evokes associations to the 80s toy keyboard VL 1 by Casio (Trio – “Da Da Da”) due to its design?
Which target group is willing to buy this supposed gadget at a price for which one can already get one or the other “full-grown” synthesizer?
To find an answer to this question, we first have to find out what the “little one” has to offer.
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Details of the Teenage Engineering OP-1
According to the manufacturer, the constant, intensive development of the range of functions is part of the concept of the OP-1.
Another update with a brand new synth engine and a new effect, has been made available for download.
Scope of delivery
The Teenage Engineering OP-1 comes in an informatively designed package with product images, on which the main features and controls are explained in advance.
The device itself is also protected by an apparently environmentally friendly “paper foam box”, which together with two included, fancy rubber bands (with company lettering and logo) should serve for further transport.
Great idea, but the part dissolves into its parts after a few transport actions, e.g. in a laptop bag.
A USB cable decorated with the company logo is also included.
The only thing missing is the water-soluble peel-off tattoo for brand binding.
The case’s upper side is covered by a labeled transparent foil, which introduces the new user to the essential operating steps as a short manual – exemplary!
A detailed user manual is only available here.
Other accessories are optional and available at truly “Scandinavian” prices, including:
- Radio antenna
- Various attachments for the encoders
- Soft case
- Strap kit (carrying strap incl. fastening)
- Display protection foil
The first surprise (if you are not prepared for it) comes right after unpacking the “pocket synthesizer”.
If I had to trust any technical device with my life, it should be processed exactly like the OP-1!
The device, which is surprisingly heavy for its size, is an impeccably crafted symbiosis of aluminum and very high-quality plastic.
According to the manufacturer, all controls are designed for a long life, e.g. the encoders are also used in aviation (high temperature fluctuations/drunk Englishmen).
Every square inch makes a more than solid impression – all buttons/controls sit tight and respond well.
Based on pictures I expected a white unit, in reality the OP-1 is painted in a matte light gray tone and looks almost serious despite the colorful encoders.
On the top left is a small speaker (1Watt/8 Ohm), which has a higher utility value than you might expect due to its small dimensions.
It is quite possible to present musical ideas to studio colleagues to the running playback without having to wire up right away.
Directly opposite, on the right side, behind four small holes, is a built-in microphone whose quality also exceeds my expectations and does surprisingly well when recording voice samples.
Directly underneath, a 5-stage LED display provides information about the battery’s level and charge status.
All other interfaces to the outside world are found on the right edge of the case next to the power switch.
An audio input and output in the form of a 3.5 mm jack socket have been provided for the device, whereby the input socket also serves as a connection option for the optionally available antenna for radio operation.
According to the user manual, a 3.5 mm jack cable is already sufficient as an antenna!
There is also a USB 2.0 port, which is also the only option for charging the internal lithium-ion battery.
Alternatively to the included USB cable, any cell phone charger (5V) can be used to charge the OP-1 – great!
This is one of the first highlights.
Besides the luxurious look, it is very useful due to the exemplary readability from all angles and in different light conditions – furthermore, it forms the basis of the “color-coded” operating concept, which I will discuss in more detail later.
The OP-1 offers 24 keyboard keys in an unusual button shape, which is not entirely dissimilar to the keyboard of Casio’s presumed forefather VL1.
The keys have no velocity and send the velocity value 100, whereby the sound generation as MIDI slave of course also reacts to velocity changes.
The arrow keys (bottom left) can be used to set octave shifts or perform pitch bending while holding down the shift key.
But what is hidden beneath the OP-1’s thoroughly styled interface? A short summary without comment:
Eleven different synth engines: the synth modes.
- Dr Wave
The engines all seem to be 6-voice, interesting that this elementary fact is not mentioned anywhere, neither on the manufacturer’s homepage, nor in any sales portals!
Each sound in synth mode has an ADSR envelope, an effect and an LFO.
Two sound generators for beats: the drum modes
- Drum Box (Synthesis)
Six sequencers for synth and drum modes
- (One effect per sound program plus one master effect usable at the same time)
The 4-track tape recorder
- Variable “tape speed
- 16Bit/44.1kHz at normal tape speed
- 6 to 24 minutes recording time (depending on tape speed)
- Overdub recording
- Various cutting and looping functions
- “Tape tricks” (Tapestop, Reverse, Loop)
The mix mode
- 4-track mixer
- With volume, panorama, three-band master EQ, master FX (see effects) and drive (compressor)
Motion sensor for controlling the LFO
This turns the OP-1 into a stylish kitchen radio. The radio program can be recorded and sampled!
Besides various detail improvements (tape effects, FM radio) and enhancements (new waveforms of the Tremolo LFO, Endless Sequencer 128 Steps), the little Swede gets a significant upgrade in the following points:
The internal sequencers of the OP-1 can be synchronized to an external MIDI clock via USB. Another mode generates a clock signal (splitted in the output) for synchronizing the in-house Pocket Operator models as well as optional 1/16 Sync for controlling devices of other manufacturers.
Presets, sounds and more
Besides a complete renewal of all preset sounds (synths and drums), the current update also delivers a new synthesizer engine called “Voltage”!
Typically, the synthesis principle “Multi Oscillator Electric Synthesis” is documented in a puristic and colorful way, which, however, encourages the play instinct all the more and animates another time to create individual sounds.
The new sequencer mode “Arpeggiator”.
One of my “weird” characteristics is a high “battery charging discipline”, therefore I follow the instruction of the manual exactly and charge the OP-1 completely before switching it on.
After an estimated three hours (I was not present during the charging process) I was finally able, consumed by curiosity, to switch on the little Swede.
Delighted that both the drum and the synth section already have some interesting sounds to offer, I try to find out as much as possible about the possibilities of the OP-1 by playing with it.
Quite quickly you realize that reading the manual is absolutely advisable, don’t misunderstand!
In my opinion, the operating concept of the OP-1 is a stroke of genius!
Considering the compact size of the device, the maximum number of controls is definitely reached, and button duplications cannot be completely avoided.
Everything is logically structured, and yet a certain amount of familiarization is required due to the variety of functions.
Especially to work in tape mode, I had to get used to DAW musician first again, although my personal “teenage engineering” began with a Tascam Porta 05 4-track recorder.
Many elementary parameters/functions, such as the preset/FX browsers, loop start points in tape and sample mode, and many more, can only be selected by holding down the shift key.
If you have realized this, that’s almost half the battle.
But what’s the deal with the colored encoders?
These always correspond to the corresponding functions/parameters of the same color in the multicolored OLED display.
It couldn’t be simpler and clearer! Furthermore, many parameters get by without concrete naming and are graphically appealing, sometimes very imaginatively animated.
Grandiose! Personally, this playfulness absolutely inspires me in comparison to the “toggle feeling” of various other sound generators and devices.
I would describe the intervention possibilities in the partly unconventional synth engines as clear, but effective.
If you want to program yourself to death, you are wrong here, the OP-1 is an instrument that primarily wants to be played.
Nevertheless, you can do a lot on the synthesis side according to the following simple principle:
Window 1: Control of four synth engine specific sound parameters via the four encoders with often effective, sometimes hard to predict sound changes. The parameters of the individual synth engines are shown in the following figures.
Window 2A: ADSR amp envelope
Window 2B (Shift): Playmode (Poly, Mono, Legato, Unison), Portamento time
Window 3: Effect
Window 4: LFO
The LFO is the secret star of the OP-1 sound generation, and the naming doesn’t even begin to do justice to the variety of modulation possibilities offered.
There are currently six different LFO types to choose from (Crank, Element, MIDI, Random, Tremolo, Value).
This results in a variety of other modulation sources besides the standard, optionally beat-synchronous or independent Low Frequency Oscillator, such as the built-in motion sensor, the audio input/mic/radio or the “cranking” on the blue encoder in Crank mode.
Any parameter of the sound generation including the effect section can be selected as modulation target.
If several parameters are to be modulated, this is possible in the LFO mode “MIDI”.
Here, up to four freely selectable sound parameters can be controlled via the MIDI controllers CC01 to CC04.
A short explanation about the effects, whose function is not clear from the name:
CWO: The new effect is creating writer’s block in me. What do you write about an effect that is graphically represented as a cow and the parameter changes affect different stomachs and apparently bladder and rectum?
I need a glass of milk first… Well, this can be used to create a wide range of wacky modulation, delay and filter effects, as the following audio example shows.
Grid: Plate effect with feedback for delay-like effects
Punch: Low pass filter with wet/dry and various parameters
Spring: The name reveals that this is a spring reverb. If you’re expecting something trashy based on its effect colleagues, you’re wrong. Can sound very big and expensive, especially as a master effect in stereo.
Phone: No, this is not a lo-fi phone EQ as you know it in abundance, a lot of other things happen here, quasi circuit bending in a phone booth, very wacky and well usable in moderation.
Nitro: Biting dual filter with low and high cut in computer game design.
Already the partly unusual synth engines and parameters show that the OP-1 does not try to be more analog than analog.
It is digital and sounds digital, sometimes cutting and hard, and sometimes warm and noble.
Although the wide sound palette and parameterization tends to have a progressive feel, it’s just as well suited to mainstream pop for my taste.
The ability to use samples in drum and synth modes also gives you the ability to customize the OP-1 to your own needs.
It should not go unmentioned that up to the mix mode the audio processing, i.e. sound generation including sampler and effects, takes place in mono!
Only in the mix window can we distribute individual tracks in the stereo panorama.
The effects Spring and Grid create a virtual stereo effect in Mix mode already with unstressed tracks – good for playing or recording a synth sound into a DAW.
SequencerThe OP-1 offers the four already mentioned sequencer types.
The most practical or musical ones seem to me to be the Finger and Pattern types.
In the former mode, alternative sequences can be triggered and even layered via the keyboard keys, whereas in the pattern mode, the pattern is triggered in the corresponding pitch of the key.
The partly already existing factory sequences can be edited at will or even completely reprogrammed.
Very quirky is the sequencer mode “Tombola”.
Here the played notes mutate quasi to balls of a lottery drum. Parameters to be set are, for example, rotation speed (alternatively cranking yourself), gravity, and so on.
Everything clear…? Interestingly, this sequencer occasionally produces musically usable, interesting results. Last but not least, the Endless mode offers a kind of step sequencer, all sequencer modes (except Tombola) have a percentage adjustable swing factor.
The most striking practical feature of the tape mode is the absence of a virtual erase head.
This means that recording on a track does not delete previously recorded material, but adds to it. In this overdub mode, you can theoretically layer an infinite number of tracks, but it’s stupid if you get lost.
In this case, you could take the precaution of copying the area where the recording takes place to another tape position, as a backup, so to speak.
It would be nicer – aha, finally some criticism! an undo option of the last recorded take.
Otherwise, the virtual 4-track recorder has a lot of features to offer that go beyond the possibilities of its analog counterpart.
Single and also all tracks can be cut, moved and copied, if the beatmatch function is activated even synchronously to the set tempo.
Furthermore, several tracks can be bounced onto one track and even into the sampler.
Rounded off by the so-called tapetricks, variable tempo, etc. the tape mode is extremely versatile.
Nevertheless, two tentative points of criticism: The playback of a clock- and tempo-synchronized loop/cycle does not always run as 100% smoothly as one is used to from a DAW. Sometimes, for example, the attack of a bass drum is “swallowed” at the beginning of the cycle.
In addition, a bit more graphical feedback about the content of the individual tracks would be beneficial for practical work, but this could only be implemented at the expense of the iconic display of the “audio cassette”.
A mixdown of existing multitrack recordings including tapetricks, playing on the keyboard and other cranks is subsequently possible in album mode.
New with OS218: Arpeggio
The new sequencer mode called “Arpeggio” is in my opinion the highlight of the new firmware and delivers exactly what the name promises.
This inspiring realtime arpeggiator doesn’t reinvent the wheel, unlike other sequencer modes of the OP-1, but delivers great results in no time and completes the Swedish mini workstation.
The USB port serves as MIDI input and output in addition to charging and data exchange.
Thus, on the one hand, control via DAW, MIDI keyboard, etc. is possible, on the other hand, the OP-1 can be used as a MIDI controller.
Especially users of Ableton Live and Propellerhead’s Reason will be pleased that the OP-1 controls various program functions as a specific controller.
For Ableton Live, this requires the installation of the OP-1 Ableton Live MIDI Script.
Unfortunately, the OP-1 is not multitimbral, only a sound or drum kit can be controlled by an external sequencer.
Would have been too good to be true! Nevertheless, I refuse to judge this point negatively, because not few sound generators of this price range (or above) also only give off one sound or tone at a time.
Furthermore, the USB port is used for simple data exchange with the computer.
In disk mode, the OP-1 appears quite banally as a hard disk on the desktop.
Sounds, samples, tape tracks and master tracks appear in separate folders and can be copied or exchanged via drag and drop.
This makes it easy to import created sequences/recordings into your DAW for further tweaking and production.
The other way around, you can copy your own drum samples from the computer to the OP-1 to use them there.
On the Teenage Engineering homepage, for example, various drum kits are available.
Self-created sounds appear in the so-called snapshot folder and can only be named meaningfully by computer.
When saving sounds in the OP-1, a randomly appearing combination of numbers is generated as name – one of my few improvement favorites of upcoming updates.
The OP-1 is an absolutely fascinating musical instrument, the “true notebook”, so to speak, for capturing, pre-producing or even generating musical ideas.
Like many other musicians by now, I am a big fan of small, mobile solutions, but even working with a “conventional” notebook has meanwhile often mutated into an official affair, with all the license dongles and other peripherals needed to make music.
The OP-1 is self-sufficient and refreshingly different at that.
To my knowledge, there is no direct competition in this price and compact class in terms of feature selection and variety.
Remotely, the OP-1 can perhaps be compared to stripped-down DAW programs on a tablet computer, though I have a hard time guessing that the OP-1 target audience is already DAW-supplied and (like me) sees the Teenage Engineering OP-1 as a creative complement.
The pocket synth “Made in Sweden” (and not: Engineered in Sweden – Made in Chile) is not a cheap bargain and yet worth every penny, as it can be used in many ways and promises to become a loyal and long-lasting companion due to top workmanship and constant further development.
- Pocket Synthesizer
- 400MHz Processor Core (800 MMACS performance)
- 24-bit 96kHZ ADC/DAC
- Rechargeable battery (Li-Ion 1800mAh) with up to 16 hours operating time
- USB 2.0
- 3,5mm jack input and output
- Built-in microphone
- Built-in speaker (8 Ohm/1 Watt)
- Radio receiver (64-108 MHz)
- Motion sensor to control sound parameters
- OLED display (60fps, 320 x 160 pixels, Color Depth 16,7M)
- Aluminum case (L 282/H 102/D 13,5mm)
- 24 Keys keyboard
- 9 Synth engines
- 2 drum engines
- 7 effects
- Virtual 4-track tape recorder
- Price: $1,299
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Teenage Engineering OP-1
- Unique concept for such a compact professional device
- Versatile musical usability
- Characterful sounds and effects
- Mobile and self-sufficient due to powerful battery and built-in speaker and mic
- Fantastic operating concept
- Accessory prices at the pain threshold
- Not multitimbral
Teenage Engineering OP-1 DEALS
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I’ve owned an op 1 for months.
Your review is absolutely excellent, describing all the features accurately and fluently.
The best review I’ve found.