Teenage Engineering announced two new pocket operators at this year's NAMM: the PO-35 Speak, a vocal synthesizer and sequencer, and the PO-33 KO!, A sample. Both models are part of the Metal line, which previously only included the PO-32 Tonic drum machine.
Pocket operators are small devices, the size of a hand, to make electronic music and below $ 100, are relatively cheap. I heard rumors that Teenage Engineering was going to be at NAMM, but I did not find them on the floor of the showroom. Instead of a position, the company had camped in a white Ford Expedition in a parking lot near the exhibition halls. We were greeted by a lanky representative of pineapple-colored Hunter S. Thompson sunglasses who escorted us inside and climbed into the back seat. Once the doors slammed shut, I looked down and saw three Bag Dealers framed in an orderly presentation table. The first pocket operator in the chain that I recognized as the PO-32 Tonic drum machine. The other two, they said, were completely new. In total, the three complete the Metal line of the company.
The PO-32 Tonic drum machine had some scoops for pocket operators, including the ability to load new sounds into the device through a program called Microtonic. These two new models, the PO-33 KO! and PO-35 Speak, also work with Microtonic and have another scoop for the company: built-in microphones that allow you to record audio samples. This ability makes the PO-33 KO! and PO-35 Speak act more like drum machines, since you can play and put layers of preset sounds or record in your own samples to distort and add characters.
The representative of Teenage Engineering popped the PO-35 Speak in my hand and told me to press the record button, then I selected which of the 16 pads my sample would assign to it. When playing the record, Speak has played a click track (a metronome form). Then I held the device the size of a calculator on my face and spoke with him. Once this was done, it was incredibly easy to adjust and play with the sample that I just recorded. I shaved the dead space recorded at the beginning, adjusted the tone and assigned a vocoder effect, which made it sound dark and robotic. The result was crispy, dirty and sounds more professional than you would expect from such a small and unpretentious piece. In total, the PO-35 Speak comes with eight different effects, eight voice characters and can hold up to 120 seconds in the sample memory.
The next one was the PO-33 KO!, Which can take samples from any sound source using the line input or the built-in microphone, but has a smaller memory: it can store up to 40 seconds of recorded audio. This unit has preloaded battery presets, but the microphone option encourages easy sampling. Like other pocket operators, once the sounds are decided, the interface can be used as a sixteen-step sequencer to program sounds into a rhythm or melody. Then, there are 16 effects that can be drilled at the top to add extra depth.
I have always loved the direct simplicity of the Pocket Operators, as well as their small size. In a matter of minutes, squeezed in the passenger seat of a truck, I could record and adjust a vocal sample, chain the three to synchronize each other and make changes to the loops that were playing. The PO-33 KO and PO-35 Speak are a bit more expensive than other pocket operators (usually $ 49- $ 59), but the built-in microphone, the accompanying Microtonic software and other new features make the Metal series much more versatile than other models, which are blocked with stock sounds. The PO-32 Tonic, PO-33 KO!, And PO-35 Speak cost $ 89 each.