Priced at $59, inspired by vintage Nintendo Game & Watch, and looking like calculators, the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator line was a runaway hit. So, just adding three more of them seems a no-brainer.

Then again, with drum machines, bass synth, and lead synth covered, the next three might easily have been an anticlimax. Good news for Teenage Engineering fans: they aren’t. The Stockholm designers have managed three retro-tinted follow-ups that might easily make as big a splash the originals.

po2series - 1

The trick here was, the character of the new models – PO-20, PO-24, and PO-28 – manages to go a different direction than the original PO-12, PO-14, and PO-16. The funny thing about the original trio was that the little toys made a really big, surprisingly clean sound. This year’s line are big but tilt vintage.


All of the Pocket Operators feature a lot of mobile power. There are parameter locks for advanced sequencing, LCD displays with animations, a built in clock and alarm clock (because Nintendo), absurd long battery life on a couple of AAAs, built-in speakers so you can hear what’s happening without headphones handy, and the ability to chain the units together for sync.

The big 2016 feature is a new step multiplier, which saves some tedium in programming patterns.

po2series - 2

The standout for me in brief usage was the PO-20 arcade. While Roland tied itself in knots trying to describe its new Roland A-01 8-bit virtual analog synth, Teenage Engineering cut right to the chase. This is an “arcade” model meant for chip music. And it’s instantly insanely fun. The key here is, the compact step sequencing and parameter lock features from the original Pocket Operators apply easily to the tightly-sequenced sonic acrobatics of vintage game music. I couldn’t turn this thing on without smiling. (And that’s nothing against the A-01, which is very cool and which I’ll cover soon – but you have to hand it to Teenage for making their sales pitch so much simpler, for a tiny gadget that costs about as much as a carry bag for the A-01.)


rapid beat making and chiptune improvisation
synthesized arcade sounds
128 chord chaining
128 pattern chaining
16 sounds
16 punch-in effects
step multiplier

The other models are appealing, too. The “Office” is initially a little confusing – with cutesy pics of office equipment, it first recalls those online videos of sequenced office gear making rhythm. But the sound sources here are in fact a combination of samples and virtual synthesis. They’re noisy as heck, in a delicious and intentional way, so if you found the previous drum machine offering too vanilla, this is rougher and more original.

sampled vintage hardware and real synthesizer engines
solo control
128 pattern chaining
16 sounds
16 punch-in effects
step multiplier

po2series - 1 (1)

The “Robot” is perhaps the most versatile (even if the “Arcade” is the most fun). It’s both an 8-bit virtual analog synth and a micro drum, and you can chain up to 128 patterns. That combined with the step multiplier makes this a powerful single instrument for live use, even without any other Pocket Operators to go along with it.

real 8-bit synthesizer engines for making live and sequenced melodies and leads
15 sounds + micro drum
live play + sequencer combo
128 pattern chaining
step multiplier

Of course, my favorite way of exploring these by far is with the incomparable Cuckoo. Watch his video:

All in all, you get the same “I want to collect the all” feeling the originals gave. It’s insanely genius stuff. I just hope those carry cases stay in stock this time, as it makes a lot more sense than carrying around bare boards (even if that has some charm).

There’s lots more to explore. These things have so many hidden features, we could practically do a series on them. And it’s definitely time to pay Stockholm a visit again.


  • Peter

    I dunno im starting to get toy fatigue, maybe you want to collect them all because you think 6 would be enough 🙂

  • Jaybeeg

    They’re a riot to play with, but instead of having to buy six different devices with exactly the same control layout, processor and I/O it would be nice to have them combined in a single slightly more expensive unit. Of course, perhaps the device that I’m dreaming of will turn out to be the OP-Z.

    • Yeah, if they were slightly more and maybe still available in multiple colors, but you could upload any of these sets of samples and engines to them I might personally be more interested and might get a couple (I still might end up getting a couple at some point). The question is whether they sell more and make more money with the current “collect all 6” model? I kind of bet this model sells more. It’s also simpler, since they’re always what they are, no confusion that the red one isn’t what you thought you had used it as last time.

  • Office FWIW

  • Ed Emberly

    I gave my brother the PO-12 for christmas. These devices are cool but are very fragile.

    These are a great business model for instrument makers though. It’s a few dollars worth of parts that one can sell for $59.

    If someone made the exact same things in iPhone app form, people would be complaining about how the dev had the audacity to charge 99 cents…

    • Freeks

      You get these for $59?
      It’s $89 in Sweden with postages.

      • Jaybeeg

        The original three are available on Amazon for $59 with free shipping. I suspect that the new models will initially cost $69-$79. Plus $39 for the silicone cases.

      • Ed Emberly

        ya i paid $59 at foxtone

        haven’t seen price for the new ones yet but am assuming it will be the same

  • Freeks

    Pro tip: It’s a bit cheaper to order from Cheap Monday site than TE site.