Due to its compact size, cute design, and unusual layout, one may almost mistake the OP-1 Portable Synthesizer for a toy upon first glance. But, once you start to explore the depth of functionality that this piece has to offer, you begin to realize that phrases like “mini workstation,” “powerful synthesizer,” and “beast” are far more descriptive terms.
Brought to us by Swedish manufacturer Teenage Engineering, the OP-1 combines multiple synth engines, sampler, four sequencer types, tape-style 4-track recorder, motion sensor, and an FM radio to offer a truly unique palette of tools. It’s also equipped with a 3.5mm headphone output for monitoring, a 3.5mm line input to connect audio gear for sampling, and a USB 2.0 port.
The USB 2.0 port can be used to transfer files back and forth between the OP-1 and your computer and also for using the unit as a MIDI controller. Authentically portable, the OP-1 also features a built-in speaker and a rechargeable Li‑Ion battery with up to 16 hours of life. On top of all that, it’s housed in a rugged gray-finished aluminum chassis, making it just as suitable for live gigs as it is for studio production or bedroom beatmaking.
A few of the first things you’ll notice about the OP-1 are the four industrial-grade rotary encoders, the color of which correspond to the color of the graphics displayed on the sharp 320 x 160 pixel OLED screen, according to function. This color-coded graphical system is designed provide an intuitive means for finding your way around the OP-1 even when navigating complex functions such as effect parameters, sequencers, or envelope controls. The OP-1’s 24-note keyboard is laid out like a piano but with a unique design, featuring unusual rounded keys. To the left of the keyboard are transpose arrows for changing octaves, as well as transport controls with standard Record, Play, and Stop buttons.
Moving on to one of its more advanced functions, the OP-1 features a sampler with two distinct modes of operation: synthesizer mode and drum mode. Synthesizer mode gives you 6 seconds of sample time and is great for creating synth-style patches using your own samples. So for instance, let’s say you find a great violin sample that you want to incorporate into your own production.
Using the sampler in synthesizer mode, you can record the sound by connecting your sound source to the OP-1’s 1/8-inch input, or you can simply drag and drop the sound from your computer to the OP-1 via USB. Once you’ve captured the sample, you can edit the stop and start points and then map a different pitch of the sound to each key of the keyboard. You can then save your new synth patch for use any time in the OP-1’s 512 MB of flash memory. Using the sampler in drum mode, you get 12 seconds of sample time and you can map different sections of the sample to each key, instead of mapping pitch variations like you can in synthesizer mode. This is great for chopping up and rearranging drum fills and breaks, as well as making kits of individual drum hits. You can also manipulate the ADSR envelope of each key individually for getting that perfect attack on your snare, or tightening up the decay of your kick. In addition to being able to record through the OP-1’s 1/8-inch input, both synthesizer and drum sampler modes allow you to sample the internal microphone as well as the onboard FM radio.
The "String" Synth Engine Panel
The OP-1 also boasts seven unique synthesizers, which include the Dr. Wave, FM, Pulse, String, Digital, Phase, and Cluster sound engines. Ranging from gritty 8-bit dirtiness to pristine physical modeling, each engine brings it own tonal qualities that can be processed and modulated using the OP-1’s effects, LFOs, and ADSR controls. To make things even more interesting, the unit allows you to map any of these parameters to its built-in motion sensor for interactive tweaks that can be expressed through shaking, spinning, waving, or slow dancing with your OP-1. Although the OP-1 is not multi-timbral, the different sound engines can be played together through the process of sequencing and recording parts on top of one another, which we’ll get into in the next few sections.
The "Digital" Synth Engine Panel
The OP-1 features four different sequencer types for creating patterns using the sampler and synthesizer sound engines. The “Endless” sequencer provides a quick way to get your musical ideas down by allowing you to program each step of the sequence by simply holding the SHIFT key and playing a combination of notes on the keyboard. Each time you release a key, Endless moves to the next step of the sequence automatically. This mode can be useful for quickly turning phrases that you play on the keyboard into looped patterns.
The “Pattern” sequencer is a more traditional 16-step grid sequencer that can be used to program chord progressions or drum patterns in a linear manner. This mode allows you to edit your playing after it’s been programmed to fix mistakes or to enhance the timing of the performance by adding swing.
The Tombola Sequencer
The “Tombola” offers a more unique method of sequencing by allowing you to create random patterns of notes to help inspire new creations. Once you play a few notes into Tombola, you can manipulate velocity, timing, echo, and other parameters in strange and exciting ways. Color-coded graphical representations of each parameter are displayed on the OLED screen, corresponding to the colors of each encoder. This provides a quick and easy way for you to see what parameter is controlled by which encoder.
The Tombola Sequencer
Lastly, the “Finger” sequencer provides a graphical interface for playing two patterns in combination with one another. Complete with animated graphics of a gorilla playing a drum set and blue-haired pianist with sunglasses, this mode allows you to mix and match patterns to create new combinations of notes in a fun and different way.
So now that you’ve got your sequence programmed and sounding great, how do you record it? The OP-1 makes it simple with its built-in 4-track “tape-recorder” function. Through the process of recording and overdubbing your sequences onto the four available tracks, you can create elaborate multi-layered productions. Using simple, straightforward tape-style transport controls, you can record up to 6 minutes of audio at 44.1 kHz/, 16-bit quality.
As you may have guessed, the tape recorder also features some strange and unexpected functions to spice up your recordings. Create abrupt stops, set loop points and chop up your sequences on the fly to create realistic tape effects while recording. Once you’re finished recording, you can mix and master your production using the mixer function and export a summed stereo mix to your computer via USB transfer. Or, if you’d prefer to mix using your DAW software, you can also export the tracks as separate audio files.
’might just be the most anticipated synthesizer in the history of mankind.’ –ENGADGET
’it's slick, occasionally innovative and, above all, uncluttered. there's a real feeling of restraint, of limiting the tweakable parameters only to the essentials so that you're never diverted from what matters — making music’ –SOUND ON SOUND
’this is simply great’ –TRENT REZNOR, NINE INCH NAILS
’endless enjoyment out of this machine’ –ELIJAH WOOD
’it’s been a long time since i’ve seen something as interesting, flexible and creative as this. after my tour in sweden, the whole team came back-stage and we jammed together.
I chose this synth to show that any instrument, from no matter what time, can have a completely timeless value. i’m sure that musicians will still be using the OP-1 in 50 years.
Input / Output
USB: 2.0 high-speed (OTG)
Line In/Out: 3.5mm jack
Speaker Mini: High output, 8 Ω, 1 W
Motion Sensor: 3-axis accelerometer (G-force) Assignable to any synth, envelope, effect parameter, or to pitch
Radio: FM Band Support: Worldwide (64 to 108 MHz)
Type: AMOLED display running in 60 fps
Resolution: 320 x 160p
Color Depth: 16.7 million
Contrast: 10,000:1 (good for outdoor use)
Viewing Angle: 170°
Lifetime: 30,000 hours
Design: Low-profile keyboard module Scissor-switch ultra-low-profile design Expected lifespan of 10 million keystrokes per key
Type: Industrial-grade incremental encoders
Life: Rotational: Up to 1,000,000 revolutions Good indexing feel (remains consistent over life)
Material: Zinc die-cast and fiber-enforced, high-performance plastic (used in Avionics)
Battery Type: Li-ion 1,800 mAh
Battery Life: 16 hours (active)
Charging: Via USB port
CPU: 400MHz core processor (800 MMACSS performance) 64MB low-power SDRAM (12ns) 512MB NAND flash storage 24-bit 96kHz ADC/DAC
Body: Advanced CNC 1-piece aluminum design 2 x M6 Mounting holes for accessories 2 x Cuts for strap accessory
Operating Temperature Range: -40 to 185°F (-40 to 85°C)
Dimensions (LxHxD): 11.1 x 4.0 x 0.5" (282.0 x 102.0 x 13.5mm)