Back in January, around Winter NAMM 2015, Teenage Engineering surprised us with the Pocket Operators (PO). The Pocket Operators are a set of 3 handheld analog micro synthesizers designed for the geeky synth nerd in your life. The 3 devices are PO-12 (Sub), PO-14 (Rhythm) & PO-16 (factory). in more familiar terms, there are the Bass synth, Keys / Lead synth and the drum machine synth.
Sync and more sync…
Some may liken the Pocket Operators to products like the Korg Volcas or the Korg monotribe and such. The fact of the matter is that you can sync the volcas and the POs by way of a simple click track. From that perspective you can synch the POs to your DAW, iPhone or other drum machines with a basic stereo audio cable. Synch, Synch and more synch… you’ll see in the video how one would go about syncing the Pocket Operators.
It is worth noting that getting them to sync together can be a bit finicky in some instances. So, I addressed my concerns on this to the good folks at Teenage Engineering and their advice is as follows; “It is indeed possible to sync all three in a chain. Remember to press play on the two slaves before pressing play on the master, as they will not auto start.”
Indeed, as simple as that and they were off to the races.
Also while syncing the 3 units I noticed that the first in the chain would sometimes be lower in volume than the others. Why? Well, again I asked the good folks at Teenage Engineering. Here is what they had to say, “Regarding the volume, when chaining multiple units there is a limiter on the input to protect the circuits. If you reduce the main volume on the units the volume will be constant.”
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Fair enough. So you’ll need to pay particularly close attention to the order of things when setting these up to synch with one another. I suspect that given a bit of time getting to know them better you’ll be accustomed to these small quirks in operation.
The sound of the Pocket Operators are pretty distinctive. It’s an acquired taste indeed. I did sample a bit of the PO-14 and put it the sounds through their passes via the MPC. The sound is definitely all its own. It lies somewhere between speak and spell in synth form and lo-fi 8-bit gaming sounds. So, you have to know what you are getting and you must have a particular want for this sound. If it’s your flavor you will love it.
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The Sub, the blue and black one, a.k.a PO-12 is the bass synth of the bunch. It sounds surprising decent. It has 15 sounds (not 16), 16 patterns and 16 effects. The 16th sound back is reserved for the onboard Micro drum machine. So, you don’t want the drum machine model? No problem. You wish to only have one PO and still have drums that you can program in your sequence? No problem. Micro Drum machine to the rescue. But bear in mind its a much more simplified drum machine than the PO-14 (Rhythm).
The PO-14, the green and black one, a.k.a. the Rhythm is drum machine of the bunch. It has 16 sounds, 16 patterns and 16 effects.
Finally the PO-16, orange and black, a.k.a The Factory is the lead synth of the bunch. Is as advertised, works accordingly and in concert with the others pretty well. It has 15 sounds, 16 patterns and 16 effects with the 16th sound also reserved for the on board micro drum machine.
The effects are all the same across each of the units. They are; low sample rate, distortion, bit crush, delay, lowpass filter, lowpass sweep, hipass filter, hipass sweep, stutter 4, stutter 3, repeat 8, repeat 6, note shuffle, feedback, parameter lfo and vibrato.
Common features for the Sub and the Factory are;
- multiple real synthesizer engines, including fm, subtractive synthesis, wave table and physical modeled string.
- 16 punch-in effects including delay, bit crusher and filters.
- 16 punch-in bass oriented play styles
- parameter locks
- auto compressor
- hardware limiter
- 16-step sequencer
- 16 patterns
- 16 pattern chaining
The hardware is pretty simple. All of the electronics are behind the screen so don’t bother worrying about ruining the circuit board by simply holding it in your hand. Not gonna happen. There is a 3.5 MM AUDIO OUT / HEADPHONE SYNC OUT, SYNC IN / AUDIO IN, a built-in speaker, folding wire stand and a bottle cap opening – oops I mean a break away hanger. On the techy-mod side of things there is a JTAG PROGRAMMING PORT which looks like 8 brass dots on the back just above the batteries. Finally there is the EXTERNAL SPEAKER SOLDERING POINT for those of you that would like to try your hand at modding it for output to the big boy speakers.
Take a peep at the video review
My impressions? I think they are cool devices for those of us with an unyielding knack for gadgets and tune making. I did enjoy them on my trip to London. They are perfect travel companions for beat geeks. I do however think they are rather small for my tastes but I am aware that this is a major selling point so I don’t think this is a major issue for most folks that may be interested.
Also, of note, is the fact that you will have to come to terms with the functions of the buttons. This can be particular brow raising when creating sequences and switching between sounds. I mean, its simple enough but it does take a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, you’ll likely get used to it pretty quickly. Overall, this joints are pretty much as advertised. They are little micro synths with limitations as described and expected. Toyish, indeed but great fun on the go. If you are into this sort of device (small, twiddly gadgets) you’re inner geek will be delighted.
So I’ll give these a 3.5 to 4. The 3.5 mostly because I don’t know that I am a great fan due to their sound and itty bitty controls. But because I know that they target a certain gadget freak and beat geek with just the right amount of function and limitation, I’ll give it a 4.
For more info go to https://www.teenageengineering.com/products/po