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We were first introduced to Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator series of mini synths at last year’s NAMM show. Now they’re packing in more functionality and adaptability into the small form, with the PO-32 Tonic.
Like the other Pocket Operators, the Tonic looks like a homemade calculator made by Kraftwerk, with a monochrome LCD display, and only two simple function knobs, that act as parameter controls for the 16-step sequencer driving the 16 preset sounds/patterns embedded in this tiny device. Keeping with the 16 idea, there are 16 fx versions that can be applied as well – distortions, reverse, among others. It’s driven by a pair of AAA batteries, and can be synced up to another Pocket Operator (such as the PO-28 Robot) via a 1/8” cable.
There are Techno, Hip-Hop, and Disco versions of the beat patterns that can easily be altered, or used as the basis for beat creation. It’s not hard to figure out the basic functions and build on things relatively easily. There is the ability to modify patterns and accents on the fly, as well.
The big difference here between from the other units in the lineup, is the ability to take the beats and sequences out of its own world into your computer. This can be done with either the built-in speaker (which is much louder than previous versions) or a wired connection into Sonic Charge’s Microtonic plug-in for further editing. This allows a more contemporary editing format to be applied here, and then exported for playback or live use. This feature makes this a more expandable unit. The built in mini microphone allows data to be swapped between Tonic units; it sounds like a dial-up modem in the process, but even more retro is the Lock tab, which echoes back to cassette tapes. Breaking it off locks out editing, however there’s not a lot of info as to if it can be “taped over,” like an old tape for allowing editing later on.
It’s nice how Teenage Engineering breaks out the various “flavors” into their models. The principles are the same for programming and beat creation. It keeps things from getting overwhelming to choose from, and gets the user to create, not sift through sounds and on-screen menus. In fact, you can just pick this little unit up for the first time, start tweaking and come up with some creative beats without really understanding how it works. And that’s totally part of its charm and appeal. Now they have a unit that can extend well outside of its little self. At just $89, it’s a no brainer for those looking for a neat little gadget to inspire some creative, interesting rhythmic patterns and sounds.
Great form and format drum machine and synth, cool for live applications and recording.
Lock tab functionality is a little sketchy.