Sonic LAB: Teenage Engineering OP-Z

US Wireless 16 track synthesizer and sequencer      21/01/19
    MP4 25:15 mins    

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Teenage Engineering's latest instrument is even smaller than the highly successful and somewhat controversial OP-1. The OP-Z packs an incredible amount of features and functions into an object that is smaller than many TV remotes.

With 16 discrete tracks: four drums, 8 synthesis/instrument tracks, two FX tracks (on sends) and two video/image tracks. The complexity of the sequencer is certainly very impressive with per step transformations, individual sequencer length and resolution, plus parameter recording per step.

The instruments themselves don't offer the same amount of tweakabillity as the OP-1 but still have character, and a wide scope of sonic possibilities. The low end is impressive and we can hear that the D to A is of a decent quality, even if its only a 1/8th stereo connector

Each of the internal tracks also sends out via MIDI - which primarily works over Bluetooth. The only actual connectors are Audio (stereo) which happily sounds nice and punchy, plus a USB-C connection.

We were hoping that any class compliant MIDI device would connect over USB, but sadly this is not the case, we tried a few, but the only ones we could get to work were the Arturia Keystep and the OP-1 which both worked flawlessly. We hope that more class compliant devices will become usable as then we could see this being a decent, if tiny sequencer for external gear.

There is no screen on the OP-Z and this might initially seem ridiculous, but TE have designed a very informative language using the multi-coloured LEDs on each button to make it usable. Though you will most definitely have to learn the OP-Z, don't expect it to be simple. Hooking up to an an iOS (only, Android is promised) editor requires the Bluetooth connection and the OP-Z editor and this does help significantly especially while learning the OS, but after an initial period, you should be able to work without the editor. It also makes the visual tracks - the image sequencer (photomatic) can display full screen out of your iOS device with the right adapter and could certainly be useful for live visuals. There's also the Unity 3D engine which gives animation control for moving graphic effects and creating your own 3D animations wth the Unity Engine and the Videolab application from TE - though we don't really feel qualified to tackle this, its pretty cool and something that with a projector could spice up your live.

As we mentioned, drum sound sets are samples similar to the OP-1. A single file with multiple sounds within, each sound refers to a pointer in that file. The only way to get these into the device is to hook up a computer and drag and drop to the OP-Z as a USB drive, bizarrely you cant do this - or indeed access any date for backup using the iOS editor.

The OP-Z is powered by a replaceable Li battery, plus inside there's connectors for some to be announced connection accessories, the first one is rumoured to be a CV/ gate kit. We think this would really open up the OP-Z to the modular crowd, hopefully other MIDI devices such as the Expert Sleepers FH-2 USB host to CV/Gate. This would really open it up.

We cant pretend the OP-Z is for everyone, but its a fascinating and complex device that will keep you busy for hours - we can see the appeal of this to those of you who might be video gamers, there's a parallel in there somewhere, but it is also capable of some lovely and complex compositional work, once you are able to operate it. It is also, like many of the Teenage Engineering products, a beautifully designed and made item, very aesthetically pleasing.

However, despite its size, the OPZ is not cheap and does represent a chunk of change, but it is a desirable object for sure.

Teenage Engineering OPZ is priced at £529/€569/$599

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