Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering (stylized teenage engineering) brings yet another edition of its quirky Pocket Operator drum synthesizer series to the world–the PO-32 Tonic–with the award-winning manufacturer claiming that it is their best one yet. I got my hands on one to see if there is truth to this rare outburst of Scandinavian pride.
teenage engineering is known to bring together retro elements with the minimalistic Scandinavian design ethos of its products, willing to break conventions in terms of appearance and operation, exemplified by its critically-acclaimed flagship OP synthesizer series.
With this in mind, the PO-32 looks like a cross between a Casio calculator and a Nintendo Game & Watch, sans plastic covering. If you don’t get the referenced items, the aesthetic may be lost on you. It is so beautifully bare, with just an electronics board and exposed components. You can see the soldered pieces, pins and all. A “pro case” is available for a considerable amount more, but why cover up all the awesomeness?
Each button (23 in all) is clearly labeled, with the action on each as tactile as can be. The two parameter knobs turn finely as well, for better control on the tone of each sound. All in all, the PO-32 exemplifies the simplicity of Swedish design with every element having a definite purpose, while looking so darn cool.
Compared to the 10 and 20 series of Pocket Operators, the PO-32 provides better flexibility for musicians. teenage engineering fitted it with a microphone for data transfer, a lock tab for pattern protection, and unlimited sound customization via the company’s micro tonic VST (sold separately on the website). The company also updated the LCD graphics to fit the “tonic” theme, and it’s really cute to look at while you’re designing your beats.
Everything else is just carried over from its predecessors—if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? The PO-32 uses real synthesizer engines for all of its sounds, giving high quality beats and sound effects every time whether you’re just connected to a pair of headphones or playing live through professional audio systems.
User Experience 4.5/5.0
And just like a Game & Watch, the PO-32 is fun to use out of the box. The amount of customization allowed off the bat gives the synthesizer a level of depth that you rarely find in such a tiny device. Every sound from the kick drum to the cymbals is so clean and crisp, reminiscent of iconic 80s drum machines.
The buttons, while in live play mode, are very responsive, clicking at every press: so satisfying. The knobs offer the right amount of resistance to be able to tune each hardware-generated sound’s pitch and morphing.
The 16 percussion instruments are transformed into a linear sequencer at the press of a button, where you can edit and save drum patterns which you can still edit in real time afterwards, a very useful feature for live performances. Tempo can be edited with the press of a button and a turn of a knob.
The only issue that people might have at the start is figuring out the commands. Since there is a limited number of buttons compared to the amount of stuff you could do with the PO-32, learning how to operate it may be a bit challenging at first. And the small buttons maybe a challenge for people with chunky digits. But once you get the hang of it, the PO-32 is a great addition to any musician’s rig.
At USD 89, the PO-32 currently is the most expensive of all the Pocket Operators, but it’s still quite cheap considering what you’re getting. teenage engineering ships to the Philippines for an extra nine bucks (plus customs tariffs). Combining all of that, you still wouldn’t be breaking the bank on such a powerful device.
The PO-32 is the best of all the Pocket Operators currently on offer and blows any competition within the price range clean out of the water.
Also published in Gadgets Magazine December 2017-January 2018 issue
Words by Robby Vaflor