For lovers of the simplicity and fun of the Casio VL series, a successor seems is finally here. The Operator-1 (OP-1), even in prototype form, has us hot and bothered more than anything we’ve seen recently. We’ve been able to snag some additional details.

MusicRadar got a video with the creators, though you won’t learn anything new from that. In the interview, Teenage Electronics are just as tight-lipped as they were on the website, and the video “demo” is basically watching the OLED screen light up inside a glass case, with no sound – the prototype just isn’t ready to do more out in public yet.

However, our friend Nostromo did manage to get some other details.

  • Swedish All Stars: The team includes veterans of Elektron, the ACNE design firm that worked on MachineDrum and MonoMachine packaging and UI, and Johan of LSDJ fame.
  • Casio love: The inspiration is, not surprisingly, hardware like the Casio VL-1.
  • Pricing: It’s unofficially expected to be “under the 1000 Euros mark." Note that the target price is EUR600, which is pretty far under EUR1000. Anywhere near that, and it’s a steal.
  • Production: They do plan to put this into production. (I believe that, despite my awesomeness vs. shippingness graph – I’d love for them to be the exception.)
  • The “mystery” sequencer: It sounds as though it won’t have a tracker as a sequencer, but may bring other “Swedish surprises” as Nostromo puts it.

Back from the messe [nostromo@noisepages]

And a friend of ours also sent along some impressions from the booth (with an even more encouraging target price, if they can pull it off):

The Operator-1 was under glass, so I couldn’t touch it. It is made of solid aluminum, and about an inch wider and longer than a nano controller (have you gotten yours yet, btw?). The OLED [Organic LED] screen is predictably gorgeous, and you really have to be off-angle for the contrast to be affected. It has a USB-rechargeable battery,

It has a rechargeable battery, but no real indication of what battery life is yet.  There’s a 1/8” in, and I was told It will apparently have sampling “in the future.”  They’re looking to hit a price of around 600 Euros, but who knows.  They’re currently working very hard on the sequencing bits.

Also shown by Teenage Engineering are these concept alarm clocks. When they’re not just empty boxes, they’ll have 16×16 LED displays, and the internal synth workings of the Operator-1. Wake up each day to a different synthesizer sound! This would last 10 seconds in my apartment, before I throw it across the room in a groggy haze.

Keep in mind, nothing here should be considered official or on the record. This is stuff that was overheard in the booth, and for a design that’s in-process. I can tell you from having worked with designers that finding price points is incredibly hard, so I feel their pain – even if you want to charge x amount, you may have to balance that against other design compromises you don’t want to make, to say nothing of scale.

Official information from their blog on the beta:

The Beta sign-up is non-binding and all of you who has signed up, will get a confirmation email when the time is right.  • The Beta release is scheduled (very) late this year.  • The hardware dev. is on schedule and will be finalized before summer.  • 4 synth modules are completed and 4 more are under dev.   • We will mail more information next week to all Beta prospects.

But I can certainly say, the thousands who signed up for the beta and I are very, very eager to watch this evolve.

And I want to wake up to those alarm clocks.

  • Hmm, not sure about the alarm clocks, but the Operator-1 still has me entranced. VLT-1 homage of course, but with that inbuilt mic, it should also be a 21st century SK-1 as well.

    Why is it that so many soft/hard samplers make it so cumbersome to load your own samples? Press button, make noise into mic, you're done. Something Toshio Iwai did with Elektroplankton for the DS, but not (why?!?) with the considerably more expensive Tenori-on.

    Otherwise, I'm dreaming (and downloading Ableton 8…..)

  • gearlust. i want one.

    @sarmoung i think most samplers rule out using a built in mic for quality concerns…still, slick idea.

  • TGAA

    It looks awesome, and they have certainly included the kitchen sink, but how does it sound?

  • @cynic. Yup, using an inbuilt mic certainly has some quality concerns. Never mind all that spittle and the rest…

    But the SK-1 (and Fairlight for that matter!) encouraged the player to record their own samples. Aside from the many objects in my reach at the moment that can be hit, blown and otherwise struck to make sounds, probably the best synth that I'll ever experience in my life is available to me in the form of the human mouth and voice.

    If the OP-1 can replicate the immediacy of the SK-1's approach to sampling, that would be great. Having to record a sound in one program, save and then import it into another lacks the immediacy needed in creative experimentation. Samplers have become bloated librarians.

    Need a snare or drum sound? The quickest way for me to create that is my voice. There's a lot of sound I can't make this way, but it's neverthless a great starting point.

  • I was expecting this kind of instrument since a long time.

    I'm happy because guys from our generation (30-35 years old) begin to build something that talking to us. We have seen the birth and the evolution of the demo scene, chiptune, techno, video games, virtual studios, computer… we are the generation who knows how to make a new kind of instruments. Think Elektron (by the way, where they are ???), Ableton… they push things forward.

    Roland, Yamaha and Korg are a way behind this "spirit".

    I'm sorry Novation but the OP-1 definitly steal the show.

  • B.C. Thunderthud

    This thing is super cool and ambitious and I definitely want one but I'm skeptical. I don't see how they can hit either of those price points with all the features intact and that design.

    On the plus side, if they do manage it they should probably produce a fair number of units, either that or there will be a couple dozen $2500 synths and a garage full of empty cases.

    If they have the capital to build this in Korg or Novation quantities it could work but who knows if a thousand dollar Casio would sell enough to make it worthwhile.

  • @B.C.: You might be surprised. That gorgeous OLED is not the out-of-reach component it once was. And talking lots of features isn't all that crazy – once you have the brains to do one of those tasks, you very often can do the others. I think it's more about caring to do it than just cost alone.

    I think it's *not* a thousand-dollar Casio – I meant the Casio comparison, as they did, more about the ethos of the device.

    @sarmoung: well, I'd say there's a lot you can squeeze out of a built-in condenser mic, but there is that audio port, too. So I'm with you – making it easy to sample is the name of the game.

  • B.C. Thunderthud

    Yeah, I meant the small-C, generic casio as well.

    My concern is more the case than the OLED but both are relevant. What would a MicroKorg with an aluminum case, an OLED, USB, etc. cost? Likely something near the 600 Euro/800 Dollar mark, right? But this thing is closer to a Monomachine (in the super-cool boutique way, not the particulars), but not as well suited to that kind of cottage-industry production. It's just a hunch but it seems like a design that would be cheap (but not all that cheap) in bulk but expensive in smaller runs.

    The fact that they're at the Messe is a good sign, hopefully they're lining up what they need to get this done whether that's money or partners or just public interest.

  • Alejandro

    1 year???


  • HomeTown

    The new VL tone? That's like saying the new McDonalds hamburger or the new car from Yugo. Not impressed or interested in toys. This should go with a 'Tickle me Elmo' review. Under $600 is a steal? HAHA it look s like a toy, those keys don't really lend themselves to making music.
    They should put a real keyboard on it. Not Nano keys or minikeys real keys. If it sounded good, then is might be worth $399 – $499.

  • Right, but it's a 21st Century VL-Tone made by Elektron veterans.

    And the hardware design is beautiful.

    I think the assumption of what may or may not lend itself to making music is indeed in the eye of the beholder. The supposedly non-toy gear we see at a lot of these trade shows to me is overdesigned and dated.

    I guess you either get it or you don't.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    I dunno. I suspect that the world really could use a VL-Tone filtered through an Elektron-like eye – but at a price rather closer to the VL-Tone's than the Monomachine's (something around the $150 mark would be just lovely).

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's a wonderful piece of design, I'd love to have one, and I'm now going to sulk for a year about never being able to afford one… or something 😉

  • poopface

    why do you even visit this blog, hometown? i would say the majority of the posts here feature keyboardless electronic musical instruments. you don't need a kb to make great em. who uses a kb to make em, period? or are you just trolling. wtf?!

  • Johan (one of the teenage engineers developers) prooved already that you don't need more than a few little buttons to make em! And that even in a quite comfortable way.

    btw, i was at the Musikmesse and the OP-1 is very impressive and promisig. For sure the most interresting product at the Musikmesse this year!!!

  • Beltazor

    Hello ,I think that the OP-1 is a great piece of design and a great instrument… unfortunately 600$ are many, I believed that an instrument of this type could be between 250 and 300 euro but not more. with this money you can buy a micro korg used or micromodular or… (others) … I know that is not the same thing but … and then, in a period of crisis such as this, are likely to make a hole in the water and sell a few pieces … Remember the end of the neuron, very promising but very expensive …

  • bri

    yeah… but its so beautiful =D

  • gwenhwyfaer

    It is beautiful. However I just noticed the built-in speaker… uh-oh; people are going to note the price tag, note the horrid tinny speaker (sorry, but it's impossible to create a decent one at that size), and think it's reflective of the sound in general… ouch.

    Please, guys, remember the Wasp and rethink the speaker! Supply it with a decent pair of earbuds (maybe even offer a choice), if you want people to play out of the box – it'll fit better with the iWannit image anyway.

  • HomeTown

    I think in this form factor, if it was $199 or less, it would be cool. But at the prices they are talking, it is just silly. That's my opinion. This is blog that is loaded with opinion. Some you will agree with, some you won't. That should be OK and not trolling.
    I like keyboardless products too. I just don't like keyboardless products that then put a crappy form factor keyboard on it. Make it keyboardless and do something like a Serge or Buchla touch sensor pad or that thing with the hexagonal buttons, or a x/y pad like a Kaos pad or something, do something that lends itself to a different type of data input. But to put something on that is no more than a bad keyboard design makes no sense unless the price is such that the limitations are worth the money. That's my opinion.

  • Wilbo

    Considering how hyped that thing already is without anyone actually HEARING it…they've got their work cut out for them to actually live up to it.

    I'm assuming the keyboard is designed that way because it looks cool and fits with the overall design of the synth. I'm also assuming its just a way to simply input notes for the onboard sequencer, and isn't really meant for people to play like a standard synth, kinda like the TB-303 I guess. Very cool looking indeed, but I'm not going to get excited about it until I hear it. And even then, methinks it will be well out of my price range anyways.

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