Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 synthesizer: from cult to classic

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Final 12 months on the music gear buying and selling website Reverb, the most sought after instrument (each new and used) was a bit white synthesizer known as the OP-1, made by the Swedish tech developer and design home Teenage Engineering. It was the second year in a row that this honor belonged to the OP-1, which debuted a decade in the past and stays Teenage Engineering’s centerpiece product.

The OP-1 put Teenage Engineering on the map in music tech circles, and gross sales of the machine powered the corporate’s transfer into an array of different extraordinary devices, together with a minimalist home speaker, a sequence of “pocket” synthesizers, a Bauhaus-inspired modular speaker-and-light system (in collaboration with Ikea), and the Playdate handheld gaming machine, which it designed for Panic.

In the meantime, musicians started catching on to the OP-1’s audio and design aesthetic–together with such famous ones as John Mayer, Thom Yorke, Deadmau5, Skrillex, and Trent Reznor.

What’s it in regards to the diminutive keyboard that’s pushing it quickly from a cult merchandise to a classic?

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The OP-1’s seems are deceiving. Its dimension and ease of design make it appear toy-like, comparable to the little Casio VL-1 keyboard-calculator combos that arrived from Japan within the Nineteen Eighties. (Really, certainly one of Teenage’s cofounders, Jesper Kouthoofd, has mentioned the VL-1 had influenced the design of the OP-1.)

[Photo: courtesy of Teenage Engineering]However similarities between the VL-1 and the OP-1 finish on the floor. Teenage Engineering borrowed new, miniaturized {hardware} developments from the cellular and gaming industries to squeeze a robust synthesizer contained in the OP-1–really, 11 completely different synth engines, every with its personal distinct character. The synth sounds are something however toy-like–they’re prime quality and production-ready, ok to be utilized in business recordings.

‘As a result of we wished one’

The OP-1 was a kind of particular tech merchandise that the world didn’t realize it wanted till it arrived. Teenage Engineering held no focus teams earlier than committing to constructing and advertising and marketing the OP-1. They only had a hunch.

David Möllerstedt [Photo: courtesy of Teenage Engineering]“Again then, there wasn’t actually a marketplace for these sorts of merchandise,” says Teenage Engineering cofounder, VP, and software program lead David Möllerstedt. “Small, moveable synthesizers didn’t actually exist.”

“I feel we very a lot did it as a result of it was one thing we wished ourselves, after which we hoped there can be another comparable folks on the market,” Möllerstedt provides. “I imply, we actually hadn’t any clue what number of we might [sell] and what would occur.”

Teenage Engineering, which was based in 2005, initially introduced the OP-1 on the Frankfurt Musikmesse present in 2009. The next 12 months, the corporate confirmed off a prototype of the machine on the NAMM Present in Anaheim, California. Pleasure over the product started to construct. On the time, Engadget said the little OP-1 “may simply be essentially the most anticipated synthesizer within the historical past of mankind.”

The OP-1 was lastly launched the next 12 months, when Teenage had all of 9 staff. To start with, Möllerstedt tells me, the corporate assembled and packaged all outgoing units at its workplaces in Sweden.

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Because the order numbers grew, it turned clear that the “hunch” of Möllerstedt and his cofounders (Kouthoofd, David Eriksson, and Jens Rudberg) had been appropriate. Even after the OP-1’s launch, folks in contrast it to a toy, they usually nonetheless do. However Möllerstedt and firm hardly take this as an insult–fairly the alternative.

“I feel that’s nice, as a result of toys are enjoyable, but it surely’s severe toys which you could create severe stuff with, they usually’re well-built, and constructed to final,” he says. The primary trace customers bought that the OP-1 was not a toy was its $849 price ticket at launch.

[Photo: courtesy of Teenage Engineering]The worth of the machine would stay a difficulty. Teenage Engineering had to cease making the OP-1 in 2017 as a result of it was having hassle acquiring the element elements. Rumors unfold that the OP-1 was gone for good, at which era resale costs shot up. There have been reviews of OP-1s being bought for $8,000. Teenage Engineering was horrified that folks had been having to pay a lot to get an OP-1, and resumed manufacturing in 2018. However by then, the elements prices had elevated, and Teenage had invested in revamping the OP-1’s software program. So the price of the machine increased to $1,299, and has since elevated to $1,399.

Even nonetheless, the marketplace for the OP-1 continues to thrive. A gadget launched greater than a decade in the past that also stays so related–technically and musically–is a rarity.

A creativity machine

Greater than anything, Teenage Engineering, which now has greater than 50 staff, meant the OP-1 to be a creativity machine, a tool musicians and producers can seize to rapidly seize musical concepts. In an age when virtually all music is recorded utilizing software program on computer systems, the OP-1 lets musicians carry out and report on a single self-contained machine. It even has its personal speaker.

It’s nonetheless wonderful to hear the music individuals are making with our devices.”

Teenage Engineering cofounder David Möllerstedt

To many musicians, this was a novel and interesting thought. As transformative as music packages akin to Avid’s Professional Instruments and Apple’s GarageBand have been, they convey their very own points. In case you’ve ever used GarageBand, you recognize which you could spend hours taking part in with its loops, results, amps, and digital devices. The menus and presets are so dense with choices as to be overwhelming. It might probably really feel like there are one million issues to do aside from really performing and recording music.

For many individuals, the OP-1 offered a refuge from the sensory overload of computer-based music. “There’s an actual feeling of restraint, of limiting the tweakable parameters solely to the necessities so that you just’re by no means diverted from what issues–making music,” wrote Paul Nagle on Sound On Sound in a 2012 review.

The machine’s recorder perform–offered with a cool “tape reel” motif within the show window–affords 4 tracks, and solely 4 tracks, to report the OP-1’s drum, bass, and synth sounds. (You possibly can see the essential course of on this video.) Every key performs one tone and one tone solely, they usually’re not contact delicate. And going again and endlessly attempting to enhance on that first take will not be simple to do on the OP-1–so musicians are compelled to get mentally targeted on making that first “within the second” take a winner. The OP-1 isn’t computer-friendly: There’s no MIDI port. And whereas there’s a USB port, it’s meant primarily to export complete multi-track recordings performed on the OP-1.

This was all by design. “We wished to push choices and transfer folks ahead,” Möllerstedt tells me. “We spent lots of time pondering [about] what’s the proper field to give folks to mess around inside–to give folks simply the correct quantity of freedom.”

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[Photo: courtesy of Teenage Engineering]Those self same notions drove the outward design of the OP-1. Möllerstedt says that he wished musicians to have a look at the machine and instantly have a way of what they had been going to get, in the identical means the looks of an acoustic guitar suggests they means it’s going to really feel and sound.

However he provides that the {hardware} and software program design isn’t precisely the top product.

“The dream, I feel, is at all times to do the instrument after which hear the creations different individuals are doing with it,” he says. “I feel it’s nonetheless wonderful to hear the music individuals are making with our devices.”

Tech merchandise that gracefully unite wealthy performance and funky design are at all times welcome: That’s the large cause Apple is essentially the most useful tech firm on the planet right this moment. The OP-1 embodies that type of concord, too, however for musicians it affords one thing past that–a means of working that has a standpoint. Possibly its success is an instance that makers of all types of tech merchandise can take a lesson from.