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Retro 8-bit sounds are all the rage, but in modern music, old school synths can sometimes sound dated and limiting. Teenage Engineering brings that vintage synth flavor in a new form for you to make interesting music. Enter the Pocket Operator PO-28 Robot, and cue the Kraftwerk references.
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Battery-powered, it looks like a gutted 1980s calculator, with the rubber buttons sitting on the exposed circuit board, plus the icon-laden monochrome LCD display. It looks more like the trigger for an explosive device than a pocket synth – but regardless of looks, it’s an interesting machine and can be linked with other TE Pocket Operators such as their Arcade and Office versions. A separate silicone case cover is also available, bringing protection from any accidental drops. There is an internal speaker, but even at max volume levels, it can be tough to hear. Bummer.
The Robot PO-28 is a bit more advanced than the other offerings from Teenage Engineering, as this one features a 16-step programmable sequencer and drum machine, which features hip-hop, disco and techno variations. There must be something with the number 16 at Teenage Engineering, as there are also 16 sounds, and 16 effects to choose from.
Making your own beats and sequences is super easy, and the 8-bit sounds have a distinct video game flavour that’s quite cool. In a live situation, melodies can be played in real time via the buttons, without a standard keyboard; it’s a bit unusual, but not all that difficult to get used to. Really, it’s just another controller. There are even glide (portamento) controls, allowing extra expression.
Overall, it’s a really interesting and fun device that’s not locked into the usual way of making beats or sequences. As we’d hoped for such a small device, it’s not overwhelming to sit down and really develop new musical ideas. The only bummer is that while it can be heard at a low volume, via its small internal speaker, using headphones or an amp is a much better solution. At a $59 street price, it’s a neat and inexpensive way to dabble in retro synthesis, without having to get into a full-on keyboard unit or MIDI hardware controllers, or read a manual that’s as thick as a brick.
Unique sequencer and drum machine, easy to program, interesting sounds.
Internal speaker isn’t that loud, really requires a set of headphones or external amplification.
Manufacturer Presets: 15 synth sounds + 1 mini drum machine
Sequencer: 16-step sequencer
Analog Inputs: 1 x 1/8″ TRS
Analog Outputs: 1 x 1/8″ TRS
Number of Effects: 16
Effects Types: Delay, distortion, filters, stutter, bit crush, vibrato
Power Supply: 2 x AAA batteries