tePO_13

“Pocket” is a term often used loosely to mean anything small. Not so the Teenage Engineering PO-12 series of instruments. They’re each literally small enough that you could put them in your jeans comfortably and still cram in your phone.

We’ve got units from TE (and collaborator Cheap Monday) here at CDM, so let’s talk about what our wacky Stockholm friends have done this time.

Remember Nintendo’s Game & Watch series? These business card-sized pocket games used crude but charming LCD animations, characters making jerky, repetitive movements for basic games. The ultra-cheap toy titles preceded the NES, the ingenious work of game designer Gunpei Yokoi. They were brutally simple, but stunningly addictive. Oh, and they also doubled as a clock/alarm clock – battery draw was so impossibly minimal, you could prop them on your bedside and count on them to wake you up in the morning.

Here’s where we enter the weird and wonderful imagination of Teenage Engineering and founder Jesper Kouthoofd – and their usual Japan fetish, down to the writing on the box. The PO cross-breeds the Game & Watch with synths and a drum machine and a step sequencer. The lab coat-wearing TE team have unveiled three models – a “Factory” melodic synth, a “Sub” bass synth, and a “Rhythm” drum machine. Each is US$59.

CDM was the first to see the PO-12 when the drum machine – sans display – showed up in a talk I hosted at Moogfest last year. Now, the Game & Watch connection is explicit: that blank space on the board hosts a gaming display. And yes, it’s also an alarm clock. And no, the TE guys haven’t come up with any housing: this is still a board with a hanger and a wire stand for the back. You pop in AAA batteries and go. There’s not even a power switch: it powers off automatically; any key brings it (nearly) instantly to life.

So, okay. It’s a cute toy, a nerdy gimmick for design lovers. It’s available in Colette in Paris. Skinny jeans maker Cheap Monday is in on it. Fine. It’s a fun hipster throwaway. It’s certainly not a musical instrument.

Wrong.

Actually, completely wrong.

I had an inkling that this might turn into something that was more than a toy when I talked to Jesper last year and he started mentioning “parameter locks.” See, Jesper hasn’t just been designing cool stuff for rich cool kids in Stockholm – his background also includes working on the first legendary Elektron drum machines. It’s a bit as if Roger Linn had done the MPC, but then gone on to work at an ad agency, but then gone on to turn Atari Tempest into a modular. Jesper’s that kind of guy. And he’s filled his lab with other similarly over-qualified music tech geniuses.

So here’s the thing – in fact, the only thing you need to know.

The PO-12 devices sound $#(*&ing amazing.

tePO_05

tePO_11

First, here’s the game-like bits: yes, you get some animations, and if you can lay your fingers on those tiny knobs and buttons, you can control things. A built-in speaker gives you the tinny reproduction you’d expect.

Inside my brain: “Hmm, cute, well, this is fun to play with … no volca or anything like that, but… yeah, let’s just plug my studio headphones in into the audio output and … gah … the $#(&*?!”

Part of why I’m impressed is that my PO units are happily playing away on my desk, perfectly loud and clear when plugged into a line or headphone, and yet … I can’t seem to kill the batteries. We’re talking just two AAA’s, not the array of batteries the volca series routinely eats through. And, sure, for your sixty bucks you get a device that has no case and no MIDI, but… well, let’s listen.

If you’re wondering about sync, there is a second minijack that allows you to chain and synchronize tempo between units. (I had encouraged Jesper to do that when I first saw these and he was already contemplating it.)

And yes, you can sync other stuff. Jesper tells me, “yes, under development we connected them to KORG volca, Roland [TR-]606 and other stuff and it works fine with units that have click tracks.
You can also create your own click track by recording the click track from a PO to an OP-1. Also works with the iPhone app SyncKontrol [for monotribe] from Korg.”

Each additionally has effects options, parameters to tweak, and 16 different sounds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but they’re voiced and designed nicely enough that almost everything is satisfying – so figure sixty bucks buys you a 16-step grid of 16 sounds with layers of parameters and it always sounds good. I’m also curious if there will be ways to hack additional functionality (syncing other gear, as I said, being the place to start).

Where things really get interesting is actually in the sequencing. You have real parameter locks and lots of access to edits for effects and grooves – yes, including swing. In fact, there’s so much there, that I have to admit I got a little muddled – I’ll walk through these features by next week with some better sound samples.

Anyway, there’s really no reason not to take these things absolutely seriously and wire them into a serious rig. I’d just get a little bag to protect them.

I’ll wait on a full review and test shortly with more sounds. But… I bet you’re already sold.

Gallery:

tePO_01

tePO_04

tePO_03

tePO_02

tePO_10

tePO_09

tePO_08

tePO_07

tePO_06

tePO_12

Updated: all three models will have accessories so they’re easier to carry around. Teenage Engineering shared some packaging illustrations of how those will work – there’s a silicon case for the unit (a prototype is at NAMM), plus a display protector. They’re not shipping yet, but we’ll watch out for them.

The “Pro Case” (hilarious name) isn’t just a cute sleeve with a neck lanyard. What’s really nice about it is that it both protects the unit and gives you easier-to-play silicon buttons. We’ll be keen to try that out to see how it feels. Of course, there’s some nerdy pleasure to the bare board in the cardboard packaging.

displayprotector

procase

  • Michael Aldridge

    Said with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, but “TE TAKE MY MONEY!!”

  • Michael Aldridge

    Said with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, but “TE TAKE MY MONEY!!”

  • Michael Aldridge

    Said with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, but “TE TAKE MY MONEY!!”

  • These look amazing. Can you “play” them, like solo/jam with them? Or do you have to use the sequencer?

    • You can play them, too – that’s actually why some of my demos sound so bad — cough, I mean, so “organic.”

      The trick is I don’t think you can trigger notes apart from the tiny buttons, so you’ll probably mostly want to use the sequencer. But for some patches, playing is fine.

  • These look amazing. Can you “play” them, like solo/jam with them? Or do you have to use the sequencer?

    • You can play them, too – that’s actually why some of my demos sound so bad — cough, I mean, so “organic.”

      The trick is I don’t think you can trigger notes apart from the tiny buttons, so you’ll probably mostly want to use the sequencer. But for some patches, playing is fine.

  • These look amazing. Can you “play” them, like solo/jam with them? Or do you have to use the sequencer?

    • You can play them, too – that’s actually why some of my demos sound so bad — cough, I mean, so “organic.”

      The trick is I don’t think you can trigger notes apart from the tiny buttons, so you’ll probably mostly want to use the sequencer. But for some patches, playing is fine.

  • Nick Shepherd

    afaik playing them via the buttons live works, aswell as sequencing them.

    really looking forward to get my hands on PO-12 Rhythm – thing looks dope and sounds awesome =)

  • Nick Shepherd

    afaik playing them via the buttons live works, aswell as sequencing them.

    really looking forward to get my hands on PO-12 Rhythm – thing looks dope and sounds awesome =)

  • Nick Shepherd

    afaik playing them via the buttons live works, aswell as sequencing them.

    really looking forward to get my hands on PO-12 Rhythm – thing looks dope and sounds awesome =)

  • olofschroder .

    I have the early version of the PO-12, without the screen. I love it, so much fun! I neeeeed to get all three.

  • olofschroder .

    I have the early version of the PO-12, without the screen. I love it, so much fun! I neeeeed to get all three.

  • olofschroder .

    I have the early version of the PO-12, without the screen. I love it, so much fun! I neeeeed to get all three.

  • Filippo Nunziale

    do they still have tempo presets? or there is a free bpm control (as I assume by the switch labelled bpm)

    • They have all three of these:
      1. presets
      2. free-dial bpm
      3. free-dial swing control

      — and sync on top of it.

  • Filippo Nunziale

    do they still have tempo presets? or there is a free bpm control (as I assume by the switch labelled bpm)

    • They have all three of these:
      1. presets
      2. free-dial bpm
      3. free-dial swing control

      — and sync on top of it.

  • Filippo Nunziale

    do they still have tempo presets? or there is a free bpm control (as I assume by the switch labelled bpm)

    • They have all three of these:
      1. presets
      2. free-dial bpm
      3. free-dial swing control

      — and sync on top of it.

  • Colaverde

    first demo sounds like a military trumpet and second demo sounds like a 56k modem….WHO will ever buy this kind of stuff ????

    • Vincent

      people who enjoy life

      • Colaverde

        life as an informatician in a military base……in the 90s

    • echolevel

      Nobody. Nobody will ever buy this kind of stuff. Thank you for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. You are truly a warrior of conscience, protecting the rest of us from having the wrong kind of fun.

    • There are some glitchy sounds in there, though I enjoyed them… I’ll have better demos soon.

      • Colaverde

        yes the new demos are better….

    • Lee Chaos

      I will buy it and I will use it on stage and on tracks and I will care not one bit about anyone’s opinion.

      But then I unashamedly have something replicating a 56k modem in my setup already…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VY63mt_pYI

    • J_

      i guess you’ve never watched a modular synth demo video, lucky you

  • Colaverde

    first demo sounds like a military trumpet and second demo sounds like a 56k modem….WHO will ever buy this kind of stuff ????

    • Vincent

      people who enjoy life

      • Colaverde

        life as an informatician in a military base……in the 90s

    • echolevel

      Nobody. Nobody will ever buy this kind of stuff. Thank you for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. You are truly a warrior of conscience, protecting the rest of us from having the wrong kind of fun.

    • There are some glitchy sounds in there, though I enjoyed them… I’ll have better demos soon.

      • Colaverde

        yes the new demos are better….

    • Lee Chaos

      I will buy it and I will use it on stage and on tracks and I will care not one bit about anyone’s opinion.

      But then I unashamedly have something replicating a 56k modem in my setup already…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VY63mt_pYI

    • J_

      i guess you’ve never watched a modular synth demo video, lucky you

  • Colaverde

    first demo sounds like a military trumpet and second demo sounds like a 56k modem….WHO will ever buy this kind of stuff ????

    • Vincent

      people who enjoy life

      • Colaverde

        life as an informatician in a military base……in the 90s

    • echolevel

      Nobody. Nobody will ever buy this kind of stuff. Thank you for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. You are truly a warrior of conscience, protecting the rest of us from having the wrong kind of fun.

    • There are some glitchy sounds in there, though I enjoyed them… I’ll have better demos soon.

      • Colaverde

        yes the new demos are better….

    • Lee Chaos

      I will buy it and I will use it on stage and on tracks and I will care not one bit about anyone’s opinion.

      But then I unashamedly have something replicating a 56k modem in my setup already…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VY63mt_pYI

    • J_

      i guess you’ve never watched a modular synth demo video, lucky you

  • Jou

    I really hope those lovely machines are capable of being clocked/sending clock…my buranelectrix lunchbeat can´t wait to join the naked party!

    • They’re seeking each other … researching this.

      • jou

        i missed the jam sync part of that orange-on-brown po-16 manual before…seems sorta promising, thanks for the coverage anyway. may we look forward to your future review?:)

  • Jou

    I really hope those lovely machines are capable of being clocked/sending clock…my buranelectrix lunchbeat can´t wait to join the naked party!

    • They’re seeking each other … researching this.

      • jou

        i missed the jam sync part of that orange-on-brown po-16 manual before…seems sorta promising, thanks for the coverage anyway. may we look forward to your future review?:)

  • Jou

    I really hope those lovely machines are capable of being clocked/sending clock…my buranelectrix lunchbeat can´t wait to join the naked party!

    • They’re seeking each other … researching this.

      • jou

        i missed the jam sync part of that orange-on-brown po-16 manual before…seems sorta promising, thanks for the coverage anyway. may we look forward to your future review?:)

  • André et Michèle

    The Rhythm sounds fun, will be curious to hear more about sync/bpm options . . .

    • Those were added to the article. Basically it can send and receive a clock in. Will do some testing on this – we’ll try to get it working with the app.

      • André et Michèle

        Thx, Peter!

  • André et Michèle

    The Rhythm sounds fun, will be curious to hear more about sync/bpm options . . .

    • Those were added to the article. Basically it can send and receive a clock in. Will do some testing on this – we’ll try to get it working with the app.

      • André et Michèle

        Thx, Peter!

  • André et Michèle

    The Rhythm sounds fun, will be curious to hear more about sync/bpm options . . .

    • Those were added to the article. Basically it can send and receive a clock in. Will do some testing on this – we’ll try to get it working with the app.

      • André et Michèle

        Thx, Peter!

  • op onme

    i cant wait to have a fourgy with these nasty sliutty sounds makers.. they look delicious

  • op onme

    i cant wait to have a fourgy with these nasty sliutty sounds makers.. they look delicious

  • op onme

    i cant wait to have a fourgy with these nasty sliutty sounds makers.. they look delicious

  • Paul Sierowski

    wtf, looks like theyd snap in half in your pocket wtf are they thinking?

    • Don’t stick it in your pocket before wrestling practice.

  • Paul Sierowski

    wtf, looks like theyd snap in half in your pocket wtf are they thinking?

    • Don’t stick it in your pocket before wrestling practice.

  • Paul Sierowski

    wtf, looks like theyd snap in half in your pocket wtf are they thinking?

    • Don’t stick it in your pocket before wrestling practice.

  • Trashes

    The pro case is so neat!

  • Trashes

    The pro case is so neat!

  • Trashes

    The pro case is so neat!

  • Foosnark

    This is the most exciting NAMM news yet, and I mean that sincerely. I know what hardware I’m picking up next.

  • Foosnark

    This is the most exciting NAMM news yet, and I mean that sincerely. I know what hardware I’m picking up next.

  • Foosnark

    This is the most exciting NAMM news yet, and I mean that sincerely. I know what hardware I’m picking up next.

  • G

    PO + OP LOL

  • G

    PO + OP LOL

  • G

    PO + OP LOL

  • Dan

    Would something like the molten voltage midi to tap tempo converter work to sync these?

  • Dan

    Would something like the molten voltage midi to tap tempo converter work to sync these?

  • Dan

    Would something like the molten voltage midi to tap tempo converter work to sync these?

  • Philippe Loiseau

    already out of stock at Colette in France 🙁

  • Philippe Loiseau

    already out of stock at Colette in France 🙁

  • Philippe Loiseau

    already out of stock at Colette in France 🙁

  • Accoun

    So, when they’ll be available from normal retailers?

  • Accoun

    So, when they’ll be available from normal retailers?

  • Accoun

    So, when they’ll be available from normal retailers?

  • robert cut off

    there is also a fun book i stumbled upon last year. also this lcd type look. http://www.gameandwatch.at

  • robert cut off

    there is also a fun book i stumbled upon last year. also this lcd type look. http://www.gameandwatch.at

  • robert cut off

    there is also a fun book i stumbled upon last year. also this lcd type look. http://www.gameandwatch.at

  • Nicholas M. Taylor

    Where would I go to purchase one of these fine machines?