Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-20 Arcade
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-20 Arcade
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Arcade synthesiser and sequencer, with parameter locks, chord control and punch-in effects.
- Rapid beat making and chip-tune improvisation
- Synthesised arcade sounds
- 128 chord chaining
- 128 pattern chaining
- 16 sounds
- 16 punch-in effects
- Step multiplier
Since the launch in 2015, Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators have had a big impact in the world of electronic instruments. A series of pocket-sized synthesizers and drum machines, representing the bare essentials of what you need to create electronic music. To keep cost down they've even left out the casing, exposing all the components and PCB. Their affordability and simplicity make them so accessible, especially for those venturing into electronic music for the first time and therefore don't want to drop big money on hardware.
POCKET OPERATOR 101
Each one is a miniature programmable sequencer with a bunch of built in sounds and effects. They are all the same physical size, shape and layout. The colour scheme and unique display assigned to each one is what sets them apart. Despite differences in their functionality, the general workflow of every Operator is very similar. The thinking is, if you learn how to use one Operator, the rest should make a lot more sense.
Pocket Operators are very much the bare essentials of an electronic instrument. Each one is a PCB board loaded with buttons, knobs, and a screen. They have no outer casing as standard, but you can purchase the silicone pro case for an added layer of protection. The DIY vibe keeps cost down, and also encourages experimentation (especially for those handy with a soldering iron). The packaging is an eco-friendly card wrapping with a hanger built into the PCB. They also come with a kickstand to keep them well balanced on surface-tops.
Pocket Operators are very efficient and only require a small amount of power to run. Snap 2 x AAA batteries into the back of the unit and you're ready to go. You could leave one playing constantly and it would take up to a month to run the batteries flat. When in standby, the batteries should last for up to 2 years. 2 years! This is pretty handy, as the only way to fully switch off a Pocket Operator is to take the batteries out (and those batteries are in there very securely/).
Audio I/O + Sync
There are 2 x 3.5mm stereo jack sockets on the back of every unit. As you look at the front of an Operator, the socket on the left is for sync / audio in and the one on the right is for audio ouput to headphones or other ?devices. Behind the screen there is also a tiny speaker, so you don?t even need plug it in to jam. The PO-30 series Operators also have a built in microphone. This is located on the front of the unit above the screen. On the K.O! and Speak models these can be used to capture audio. The Tonic only uses the mic for data transfer (which we will cover later).
You can tempo sync Operators by connecting the output of one unit to the input of another. The synchronisation settings allow you chain together as many as you like (configurations can be found in the Pocket Operator guides on Teenage Engineering?s website). A stereo cable between 2 Pocket Operators carries 2 signals. The sync signal flows through one channel, aligning the tempo of each connected unit. The audio passes through the other channel and travels through to the output of the last Operator in the chain. Pocket Operators can also be linked up with other hardware that outputs sync signal, such as the Teenage Engineering OP-1.
At first glance, there are quite a few buttons and controls to get to grips with. So here are some general tips and important bits that you should know:
There are 16 key buttons, labelled 1-16. These act as sequence steps, notes and pattern slots depending on how you use them with the function buttons.
There are 7 function buttons. As standard, every Operator has 'sound', 'pattern', 'bpm', 'play' & 'write'. The other 2 buttons vary from unit to unit, but are normally used for 'fx' / 'style' and another special function. These buttons are usually pressed in combination with others to change the behaviour of the unit.
2 parameter knobs, A (left) & B (right) are located below the screen on the right of the unit. They are used to modify parameters such as pitch, decay, bpm & swing etc. The targeted parameters depend on the mode that you're in or the sound you have selected.
The screen sets a scene with animations that move and groove to your sequences. It also displays some useful parameter information. The write mode indicator is one of the most useful items on your display. It's worth noting is location, as this changes from unit to unit. Other than looking at the manual, the best way to find it is to toggle the 'write' button and observe where it appears / disappears from. Knowing whether you're in 'write' or 'perform' mode will always be useful, as you don't want to accidentally overwrite your work!
There is no dedicated volume control! To adjust the output level of a Pocket Operator, you need to hold bpm and press any button between 1-16, with 1 being the quietest and 16 being the loudest.
Patterns, Sounds and Sequencing
The structure of patterns and sequencing on Pocket Operators can be broken down as follows:
- On every Operator, there are 16 patterns. To select a pattern hold pattern + press button 1-16.
- Within a pattern, you have 16 parts or sounds, each with their own sequence. To select a part, hold sound + press button 1-16. You can play the sounds in real time when you are in performance mode.
- To sequence a selected sound, press write to put the Operator into write mode. Each step of a sequence is represented by button 1-16. When you press a numbered button, it will light up, indicating you have entered a note into the step. To playback your sequence, simply press play.
- Once you have created several patterns, you can chain them together. Hold pattern and press the pattern numbers you want to play in order. For example, 2 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 3 will play pattern 2 twice, then pattern 1 once, pattern 2 once and pattern 3 at the end. It will then loop this pattern order back to the start.
- All patterns play to a global tempo and swing. To set this, hold 'bpm' and turn knob 'A' for & tempo and 'B' for swing. If you press 'bpm' you can cycle between 3 preset tempos - 'Hip-Hop' is 80bpm, 'Disco' is 120bpm and 'Techno' is 140bpm.
Once your patterns are taking shape, you can spice them up with some audio effects. These are activated by holding 'fx' + holding buttons 1-16 while a sequence is playing. The range of effects on each Pocket Operator is slightly different. Typical effects that crossover include retriggers, filtersweeps, bitcrush and distortion. All of these effects apply globally to your sequences and can be automated on/off.