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Teenage Kicks

Teenage Kicks

Get your kicks with Teenage Engineering's OP-1 do-it-all synth station

DJ Mag can’t begin to describe the excitement we felt when we finally got our hands on an OP-1. We’d been following the development of this crazy, retro/futuristic electronic music gizmo thingy for years. The OP-1 is the brainchild of Swedish tech company Teenage Engineering, and is quite literally a handheld, all-in-one music production machine. Some of the elements, such as the synth engines are mind-warpingly futuristic, whereas other areas such as the sequencer are so retro, it is quite literally an emulation of a four-track reel-to-reel tape deck.

Let’s start by looking at how to go about writing a little ditty with this badboy! The OP-1 has four primary modes: synth, drum, tape, and mixer. With the synths there’s a selection of eight different sound engines, from traditional FM to futuristic phase distortion, each coming with a selection of presets and a unique way of visually representing the sounds on screen. These can then be manipulated using the intuitively colour-coded knobs. Once happy with the sounds created, they can then be stored into any of the eight banks for easy access.

Next come the drums. There are two options — sample-based or generated. The generator has a surprising depth of sound, offering two oscillators with all the usual adjustable sound parameters, and the ability to map each sound created to a different key on the keyboard. The second option is the sampler. Operating much like the traditional hardware samplers of the ’90s (think Emu/Akai), the unit comes loaded with preset drum kits, pre-mapped across the keyboard ready for use. Even though this is labeled as the drum section, this is a fully working sampler. Users can import any audio they wish to manipulate, including vocals, which can then be chopped and mashed to their heart’s content.

So the beats, bass, and lead sounds are ready to go. On to section three: the tape sequencer. Sequencing could have been VERY complicated and fiddly on such a small device with no traditional mouse, and relatively tiny display, so the Teenage Engineering guys opted to go back to the old school with an emulation of a multi-track tape recorder.

There are four tracks to record onto, with the option to infinitely over-dub onto any of the tracks. This makes recording a performance as easy as punching record and playing in beats/melodies as the hypnotic reels spin in the visual display. From here users can copy, paste, move or delete sections. Many elements of a traditional tape deck have been preserved, such as the satisfying tape-stop and audible fast-forwards and rewinds.

DJ Mag has got to stress this is a very brief overview of the functions available on the OP-1. To go into full detail, we could have filled the whole magazine, and even after having the unit for nearly a month, we’re uncovering new features even while writing this review, such as the ability to manipulate sounds by physically moving the unit (thanks to its built-in accelerometer), to listen to FM radio on it... or even use the FM radio to manipulate the sounds. This unit really is an amazing feat of engineering.

The build quality is second-to-none. It’s around the size of the various nano MIDI controllers on the market, reassuringly heavy, and all the buttons and knobs feel very solid and durable. The unit has a real retro feel to it, reminiscent of the classic Roland TB series boxes, but then this old-school charm is offset with the vibrant colour-coding system and crisp OLED screen, and with a 16-hour battery life users are sorted for long-haul flights or live performances without looking for (yet another) plug socket.

Unfortunately all this does come at a price, and not a cheap one. For such an amazing piece of technology, the price is more than warranted, but what users will get from the device for the price is going to vary drastically from person to person. The main competitor for the OP-1 is going to be iPhone/iPad apps, which for the average person just wanting to have a fiddle and make a few simple tunes is going to be a much better deal for a fraction of the cost. Equally, for a superstar DJ, for whom money isn’t an issue, then this is a must-have. Then the middle ground is serious enthusiasts, which we’re sure is where the OP-1 is targeted. It will reward them with many enjoyable late nights figuring out new, weird and wonderful ways to make bizarre sounds and beautiful music.

Price £699.00
Contact teenageengineering.com
Build Quality
Ease of Use 8.0
Features 10
Value for Money 6.0
Sound Quality 9.0
Hype Perfect balance of retro nostalgia and cutting-edge technology
Gripe May be out of the price range of many people
Conclusion The perfect toy/toy for serious sound enthusiasts but you will have to be serious to get your money's worth
Overall Score 9.0/10