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The Best Pocket Operators For Getting Creative On The Go

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

23.9.2022

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Have you been wondering if it is possible to create musical patterns from a portable, inexpensive device you can always use on the go? Enter the pocket operator. What exactly is a pocket operator and how do they work? Read on to find out more.

What Is A Pocket Operator

Pocket operators are tiny battery-powered sound modules, ultra portable music devices,with studio quality sound and the flexibility to make music on the go. They are affordable for everyone and compatible with all other music gear. 

There are different symbols and numbers on the keypad, which makes me think of a calculator, but then once you have an idea of what every one of them does – maybe watch some videos online – then it becomes highly addictive and you won’t be able to stop making music. 

Being able to create 16 beat musical patterns, and then string those together into longer sequences to make songs is undoubtedly an ingenious invention. 

Sync Pocket Operators

The unique feature of these little sound modules is that you can sync pocket operators together and to other external devices, but you do not have to use a USB. Pocket Operators use a trigger based control voltage signal called PO-Sync. This signal is made up of electronic pulses with evenly spaced time intervals. The time interval between each pulse determines the tempo at which the Pocket Operator plays. 

A ‘Master’ Pocket Operator will generate a PO-Sync signal using its own internal clock. This can also be generated by other external devices. When you set the tempo on the ‘Master’ device, it generates a PO-Sync signal at the same relative speed.

The ‘Master’ Pocket Operator outputs PO-Sync signal, and a ‘Sync’ Pocket Operator will receive it. The pulses from the signal trigger the ‘Sync’ so it runs at the same tempo as the ‘Master’.

There are two 3.5mm stereo jack sockets on the back and then A ‘Master’ will output PO-Sync through the output, and the ‘Sync’ will receive it through its input. Then all you need is a regular stereo 3.5mm jack to jack cable (aka Aux Cable). Teenage Engineering – we will come back to them later – have created some smaller in length cables to use and you can buy them from Amazon. A pack of 3 for £15.00, so a bargain. 

Types of Models

There are three types of models that you will typically find for pocket operators, which are mainly used for generating electronic music and favorable for those just starting out. 

  • The Rhythm model is a drum machine. 
  • The Arcade model has classic video game sounds
  • The Sub model gives you bass notes and so on.

There are pocket operator cases to go with them if you feel like you need one, but they can be used without just as well. The computer-1 is a pc case made for all your needs, taking up little desk space, made of lightweight aluminum, with chrome handles. It comes in a range of 5 different colors. It fits a dual slot graphics card up to 180mm and costs £195. 

Pocket operators can become quite addictive as they do not need much to get you started, and you may spend hours on the device. Of course that is what they want you to do. 

There is the option to delete everything you have created in one session or over the whole day if you are not happy with the sound. The pocket operators can be connected to an external speaker or a laptop so you can get the full experience of listening to your work or save it for later.  

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators 

Teenage Engineering made these devices and there are plenty of them on their website, so let’s delve deeper into what each one does and how much it costs. 

Pocket Operator 33 K.O!

£99

The pocket operator ko is a micro sampler with up to 40 sec sample memory and built-in microphone, making it easy to make music on the go. Pocket operators are small, ultra portable music devices. Each model can be used individually, together or with other compatible gear. In this pocket operator, scales are available for you to play on the device. 

  • studio quality sound
  • microphone for sampling
  • 8 melodic sample slots
  • 8 drum slots
  • 40 seconds sample memory
  • 16 effects
  • step multiplier

OP-1 field

£1,999

The evolution of the OP–1 synthesizer, inspired by a decade of technological advancements, ideas and improvements. The OP–1 field features a new low aluminum frame, field color palette, glass screen and is packed with 100 new features, including; new hold sequencer, smooth knob interpolation and screen brightness control. 

This is louder, thinner and an upgrade from the old OP-1 field. There have been many tweaks made to this device, such as; stereo throughout the whole signal chain, bluetooth midi, usb type-c, a new speaker system with a passive driver for detailed, fat and loud sound,

a massive 24 hour battery life, multiple tapes and recording formats, new great sounding reverb and the ‘dimension’ synth engine, an all glass, flush, high resolution display. It really is a pocket operator knockout for what you get!

Pocket Operator Megaman

£89

The Mega Man pocket operator is a live synthesizer and sequencer with parameter locks, glide control and punch-in effects. This special edition comes with 16 Mega Man sound tracks based on the original Mega Man video game by Capcom.

  • based on playful PO–28
  • real 8-bit synthesizer engines for making live and sequenced melodies and * bass lines
  • 15 sounds + micro drum
  • 3 track sequencer
  • 128 pattern chaining
  • step multiplier

Tx-6 

£1199

TX–6 is the powerful 6 channel stereo mixer with built-in equalizer, filters, compressor, aux send, cue and digital effects. This ultra-portable mixer can also be used as a multi-channel usb-c audio interface. constructed in anodized aluminum with pu leather backing.

  • 3.5 mm mini jack to 6.3 mm jack adapter
  • compatible with iOS devices (MFi)
  • rechargeable battery
  • casing: aluminum 6063 with pu leather back
  • multichannel for Mac OS, currently only 2 channels for Windows.

OB-4 Magic Radio 

£649

  • Speaker principle – flow optimized bass reflex duct and semi unified chamber.
  • Frequency range – 52 – 25000 Hz
  • Dimensions – 232.5 x 284 x 57.5 mm
  • Weight – 1.7 kg
  • Materials – amorphous polymer glass fiber reinforced pc and milled aluminum.
  • Design features – fine pitch tweeter grille, gel dampened handle, custom direct drive volume knob and tape dial.

OP-Z 

£649

The OP–Z is a portable 16-track multimedia synthesizer and sequencer with a range of sample and synthesis based sounds. sequence music, visuals, lights and more, all from your OP–Z. iOS and android companion app available.

  • preloaded with 16 sample packs, each containing 24 samples
  • 12 synthesis based sound engines, for a wide range of sound
  • 2 separate fx-buses, shared across all instrument tracks
  • fx include delay, reverb, chorus and more
  • image, 3D graphics and DMX light sequencing

TE PO-12 Rhythm 

£51 

The Pocket Operator Rhythm has all of the following features; 

  • 16 Step pattern sequencer
  • 16 Sounds
  • 16 Patterns
  • 16 Pattern chains
  • 16 Global effects
  • Swing
  • Parameter lock (2 parameters per sound)
  • Sync
  • LCD display
  • Built-in speaker
  • Line input and output: 3.5 mm jack
  • Integrated clock and alarm clock

Final Thoughts

I think we have covered all the basics regarding pocket operators and I hope you enjoyed this article. There are so many pocket operators being made by Teenage Engineering it is hard to keep up. It is clear that technology has changed in recent years, so the way we make music has also changed. It has become more accessible and you don’t always have to pay a lot of money to create some interesting sounds. There are some great gadgets out there to make music on the go, so get creative and have a go.

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