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Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Teenage Engineering OP-Z  ·  Source: Teenage Engineering

Teenage Engineering announce that the long-awaited OP-Z is available for pre-order ahead of its release in October – that’s just a few short weeks away!

OP-Z

I’ve been hearing about this thing for years without ever really understanding what it does. It looks like some kind of Philips-head screwdriver operated calculator. However, Teenage Engineering insists that it is, in fact, a very cool audio/visual music making device. They know it looks weird and that it’s very small, they also know that this will piss off a lot of people who like their gear big, flashy and obvious. They did this to some degree with the OP-1 because it looks a bit crap and had a toy-like quality. Having played with one I have to say that I was very surprised by its usability, sound and the awesomeness of the little screen. This time with the OP-Z they have removed the awesome screen and replaced it with another level of blankness.

With the OP-Z they plan to push more boundaries, annoy more people and reach new levels of hipster smugness. It’s smaller than the OP-1, has more DSP power but consumes less energy. They say you can fly across the Atlantic 8 times and keep on sequencing on the OP-Z, and it will easily fit into the security X-Ray machine tray.

The heart of the OP-Z is the 16 track sequencer. All tracks are independent in time and space and every step can have its own unique behaviour. There are 14 different “components” that can be applied to steps taken from triggers, note variations and what they call “specials”. Each component has 10 values and so you end up with 140 possibilities that can be applied to 1 step. That would have been more impressive a couple of years ago but these days per-step modulation is very common.

The business with the lack of screen is addressed by suggesting you bring along another device. We’re all rocking iPhones right? Then just use the app for a more graphical approach to the features.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z with optional iPhone app

Teenage Engineering OP-Z with optional iPhone app

Z – the other dimension

The “Z” in OP-Z is all about that other dimension – the visual dimension. It can kick out all sorts of graphics, animation and videos. This is a completely unexplored combination of audio and visual in the same device. Although again we have to bring along our iPhone in order to run the graphics engine. I had foolishly expected a video output on the OP-Z itself. It can then access your camera roll or your camera and use them as the basis of video displays. There’s also a Unity 3D engine in which you can create motion graphics on-the-fly in sync with your audio. This is potentially very cool indeed. As someone who pours hours into creating video projections for my own performances having something more organic and “live” definitely appeals.

Other features…

… include DMX light sequencing, MIDI, CV and trig track sequencing. It has 6-axis motion sensors assignable to any parameter, a 2-octave button keyboard and an integrated microphone.

For me, at the moment it’s a very confused device. The 16 tracks of sequencing is actually a bit misleading. It only has 8 tracks of musical sequencing and the first one is purely “kick” and the second “snare”, then the third is “percussion”. So that leaves us 5 tracks of melody, one being a “sampler” then we have bass, lead, arpeggio and chords. It seems awfully restrictive for something that pushes “individual” and “independent” so heavily. Maybe they are just serving suggestions? The other 8 tracks are to do with effects, mixing, MIDI output, CV, light and motion graphics. So plenty of cool things to play with, just a bit confused as to what you actually get.

So yeah, I’m a bit hard on the OP-Z. I find it difficult to grasp and so difficult to get excited about. The reliance on an iPhone for a large section of its functionality is a bit galling and other than the visual aspect it already feels dated. If they had released it after NAMM 2016 when we first saw it then it would have been completely awesome. Over 2 and a half years later it just feels a bit dreary and the quirky marketing language seems tired. They are going to need some killer demo videos to get this thing going again. However, it will definitely appeal to some musicians looking for a portable and creative music and visual making device and who enjoy fiddling with small buttons. And, apparently, they have already sold out of the first batch.

The OP-Z is a reasonable $599 and should be available in October.

More information

  • Teenage Engineering OP-Z webpage.
  • More from Teenage Engineering.

Video

This video has a good go at unpacking the functionality and also shows exactly how small and fiddly it is.

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That was an honest review, but TBH it doesn’t help explain this piece of kit – the OP-1 seems much more approachable, and is a great device for music on the move, despite its fiddly & extremely limiting 4-track recorder.