After releasing their cult classic OP1 portable synthesizer workstation, it was quiet around the crew from Teenage Engineering for a while. Then they released the first entries in their unique, credit card-sized Pocket Operator synth range and got the attention of industry heads and home studio producers looking for affordable quality outboard sound sources. Today I’m holding the newest addition to their already impressive lineup of Pocket Operators in my hands.
Meet the PO-32
The PO-32 Tonic is a drum synthesizer and sequencer with the same form factor and interface of its other siblings, but otherwise differs from them considerably in a few ways.
You still interact with the device via its grid of buttons. Each button has a few different functions based on what modifier buttons you press. It’s fun to see how deep a simple interface can go and you end up with a punchy, groovy drum track in no time! Select a sound, then punch in a pattern. Rinse & repeat for the other 16 parts. Choose the tempo, add accents to notes and swing to patterns. All in a matter of minutes.
What I love most about the PO-32 are the punch in effects, like stutter, morphing, reverse and pitch bending. You can even record the effect punch-ins as part of a pattern. I wish you could route audio through it in a live performance setup and have it effect not just the sounds within the device. I can totally see myself using such a tiny unit to spice up my beat sets and say goodbye to my trusted SP404. Maybe with the next Pocket Operator?
Other than that, the unit has a built-in speaker for making beats on the go. It’s battery powered and features a little stand mount on the back of the device. If you are planning to throw the Pocket Operator in your bag, you might want to shell out some more money and get the optional case for additional protection.
Big Sound in a Small Package
The internal sounds pack a huge punch considering how tiny the machine looks and they can really shake your speaker. They are heavy and punchy with a distinct chiptune character. You can definitely use them for production or live performance, if they fit your aesthetic. Furthermore, you can create and load custom sounds through the drum synthesizer plug-in Microtonic. With this seperate purchase you can greatly expand its sonic palette – something that is not available on other Pocket Operators. Quite amazing for such a little device!
The only gripe I have with the PO-32 is not being to able to transfer my own sampled drum sounds. This would have made it a runaway success and definite keeper for me. Coming from a 90s hip hop aesthetic, it’s mostly about sampled drum hits for me, so the device unfortunately doesn’t resonate with me as much as it could have.
Some people will write the Pocket Operator off as a toy, but the device is a fun noise generator, even if just as an inspirational source to sample from. I’ve never heard an affordable drum machine sound this good. Plan about an hour to getting used to the device and its interface if you haven’t worked with other Pocket Operators before. Check Teenage Engineering’s website, which offers some really helpful information and will speed up your learning process.
Price: $103 / £85 / €99
- Chockful with quality, punchy drum synth sounds.
- Performance effects give you a fun, old school workflow.
- Sound transfer capability massively expands sonic palette.
- Very affordable.
- Workflow can be a little fiddly at times.
- Microtonic plugin costs extra (there’s a bundle deal tho).
- The case costs extra.