Teenage Engineering designed a set of unbelievable pocket synthesizers that value $59 every

Swedish {hardware} designers Teenage Engineering have made a reputation for themselves by constructing a few of the most original and inventive musical gear in the marketplace. However units just like the beautiful, retro-futuristic OP-1 synthesizer and OD-11 “cloud” music speaker come at a value. Till now, you wanted comparatively deep pockets to choose up Teenage Engineering gear — the OP-1 prices $849, whereas a single OD-11 speaker will set you again $899.

However that each one adjustments with the launch of the Pocket Operator synth and drum machine sequence, a set of three calculator-sized music-making instruments that may be yours for lower than $200 complete. “Our aim was to make a synth that value $49,” says CEO and head of design Jesper Kouthoofd, earlier than pausing a bit sheepishly and admitting: “however we failed on that, so it will be $59.”

The PO-12 “rhythm” drum machine, PO-14 “sub” bass synth and PO-16 “manufacturing unit” melody synth can all be ordered as we speak, with supply anticipated quickly. Although they’re extra easy, stripped-down merchandise than the OP-1, that low value means Teenage Engineering can now goal an entire new class of music fan — those that could have fallen in love with the corporate’s merchandise however can’t justify dropping $800 on the corporate’s flagship synthesizer.

“We actually wished to make a [Nintendo] Sport & Watch, however for the synth world.”

Certainly, the very first thing you discover in regards to the new PO sequence is simply how minimalist the design is. “We eliminated the whole lot that does not have one thing to do with the way it sounds,” says Kouthoofd. “That left us with a super-thin circuit board; all of the parts are underneath the show.” Consequently, the PO sequence — with its segmented, black-and-white LCD show — seems to be and feels classic, nearly like an outdated calculator prototype. “We actually wished to make a [Nintendo] Sport & Watch, however for the synth world,” Kouthoofd says. “So we used the identical know-how as they did within the ‘80s. We wished to make use of the outdated stuff.”

Every of the PO units has its personal graphical theme on the show — a nod to the gaming methods that impressed the challenge — with animations that sync to your compositions. It’s pure enjoyable, nevertheless it’s the form of enjoyable contact that Teenage Engineering builds into all its merchandise (the OP-1’s extra superior display options an entire host of advanced visible animations).

“After we did OP-1 we discovered it was form of good to have graphics transferring in tempo with the music if you compose, like a companion,” says Kouthoofd, “so if you get tired of the music you’ll be able to watch slightly animated story.” However the animations additionally serve to visually differentiate the three units, which, apart from slight coloration variations, look an identical. Lastly, constructing these screens helped Kouthoofd test one thing off his bucket listing. “You’ve your guidelines in life,” he notes, “and I’ve simply at all times wished to construct a customized segmented LCD.”

Regardless of their spartan design, the synths have a number of sensible options that make these units way more highly effective than they may seem. Every gadget has two 3.5mm ports, which helps you to output audio to a mixer in addition to chain all three units collectively, with a grasp unit setting the tempo and patterns for the opposite “slave” models to comply with. One other low-tech (however no much less helpful) design choice is the small wire stand on the again that allows you to prop up the units for simple use on a desk. Even the facility supply is intelligent — the PO sequence runs on two AAA batteries, one thing I haven’t used outdoors of remotes in years. Due to the essential display and processors, Kouthoofd says that the batteries ought to present a superb two years of standby time (how lengthy they’ll final in heavy use stays to be seen).

After spending only a few minutes taking part in round with the PO sequence, I can positively say that these toys are way more advanced music-making instruments than their minimal design would possibly lead you to imagine. They’re extra meant for sequencing repetitive patterns than composing melodies on the fly, however you’ll be able to construct out some fairly difficult songs nonetheless. Customers can file 16 completely different patterns (every with 16 customizable steps for various notes or drum hits), and play them again in any order you select. Sixteen is the magic quantity all through: there are additionally 16 completely different preset sounds (that you may tweak with the 2 coloured knobs) and 16 results you’ll be able to apply to any sound.

It’s actually not as advanced and open-ended because the OP-1 — there is not actually an ordinary keyboard structure so that you can make music on, for instance, so full chords aren’t actually an choice right here. However with a comparatively low-cost entry value, these units provide informal digital music composers an limitless quantity of enjoyable. “In these machines, you get part of the OP-1 however in a very reasonably priced means,” says Kouthoofd.

A “again to the roots” challenge for teenage engineering

This might be seen as Teenage Engineering’s first mass market play, nevertheless it stays to be seen whether or not these considerably cheaper tasks will develop consciousness for the corporate, which to this point has primarily been a boutique model for designed-minded music followers. The PO sequence continues to be much more costly than iPhone music-making apps, for example. But when nothing else, creating the PO sequence was a means for Teenage Engineering to get again to its roots. Kouthoofd says that these synths are the results of an effort “to get our creativity again.” Judging from the time we’ve spent with the Pocket Operator sequence to this point — mission completed.

The next photographs come courtesy of Teenage Engineering and present some early prototypes and the design course of behind constructing the Pocket Operator sequence.

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