Teenage En­gi­neer­ing PO KO! & PO Speak £85 each

Teenage’s lat­est Pocket Op­er­a­tors step things up with sam­pling and vo­cal syn­the­sis ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Si Truss gets groov­ing…


KO! and Speak are the eight and ninth ad­di­tions to Teenage En­gi­neer­ing’s Pocket Op­er­a­tor range, join­ing last year’s PO-32 Tonic to com­plete the ‘metal’ se­ries, the uni­fy­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of which is the ad­di­tion of a small mic to the top of each unit. While the first two batches of POs were ef­fec­tively sound play­ers – pre-loaded with sam­ples of synth tones – this lat­est trio use their up­graded hard­ware to add an ex­tra layer of flex­i­bil­ity to the PO for­mula. How­ever, where the Tonic used its mic purely for data trans­fer – al­low­ing pre­set im­port and shar­ing – these two new in­stru­ments both use their mics as a proper au­dio in­put, al­low­ing KO! and Speak to func­tion as a sam­pler and vo­cal synth re­spec­tively.

As with pre­vi­ous POs, each in­stru­ment fea­tures 16 sounds laid out across its main 4x4 but­ton grid. In the case of the KO! these are 16 sam­ple tracks, with a shared sam­ple mem­ory of up to 40 sec­onds. These come pre-loaded with a se­lec­tion of sounds, but each can be eas­ily over­writ­ten by record­ing via the mic or mini-jack in­put. The sam­ple tracks are di­vided into two banks for eight, la­belled Melodic and Drum, which be­have slightly dif­fer­ently when played via the pad grid or se­quencer. In melodic mode, the PO’s 16 ‘keys’ func­tion like a chro­matic key­board, al­low­ing the sam­ple to be trigged at dif­fer­ent pitches. For Drum tracks, how­ever, these 16 keys be­come a sam­ple slicer, al­low­ing longer record­ings to be chopped up into mul­ti­ple chunks, with ed­itable lengths and start points. This ef­fec­tively al­lows a sin­gle sam­ple track to trig­ger mul­ti­ple sounds across its 16 se­quencer steps, although the KO! is four voice in to­tal, so it can trig­ger a max­i­mum of four sounds from across the 16 tracks on any one step.

Each sam­ple track has six ed­itable pa­ram­e­ters: pitch, vol­ume, fil­ter cut­off – con­trol­ling a sin­gle bi-di­rec­tional low/high pass fil­ter, fil­ter res­o­nance, sam­ple start point and sam­ple length. For the Drum tracks, each of these can be ad­justed in­di­vid­u­ally for each of the 16 slices. Along with these pa­ram­e­ters there are 15 global punch-in ef­fects which range from fil­ter sweeps to stut­ters, rolls and a re­verse ef­fect. All pa­ram­e­ter set­ting and ef­fects can be recorded into the se­quencer as pa­ram­e­ter locks.

All told, there’s a sur­pris­ing amount of func­tion­al­ity to the KO!, given its size and sim­plis­tic look. That said, ac­cess­ing a lot of this func­tion­al­ity via the PO in­ter­face is fid­dly. As with all the Pocket Op­er­a­tors, both KO! and Speak fea­ture LCD screens, but these func­tion mostly as fun, largely aes­thetic graph­i­cal dis­plays, and only of­fer min­i­mal amounts of pa­ram­e­ter feed­back. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the sound qual­ity is fairly lo-fi too, though this does lend a nice crunchy, old-school qual­ity to the KO!. It’s fun to mess around with though – while it can be tricky to get su­per pre­cise with sam­pling and se­quenc­ing, record­ing a few clips and hap­haz­ardly mess­ing around with them is a great way to cre­ate spon­ta­neous lit­tle hooks, loops and un­ex­pected sounds.

For my money, how­ever, Speak is the stand­out of these two new POs (and pos­si­bly the whole range, to date). Cre­ated with Sonic Charge’s Mag­nus Lid­ström, who also de­vel­oped the PO-32 Tonic, Speak is a vo­cal synth that lets users sam­ple short chunks of au­dio and process these via one of eight ‘voices’. The setup is slightly dif­fer­ent to that of the other POs – where pre­vi­ous in­stru­ments in the se­ries have con­tained up to 16 sounds that can be se­quenced si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Speak is only two-voice, al­beit with 15 sam­ple slots avail­able to the vo­cal synth voice. Each of these slots can

be filled with up to eight sec­onds of au­dio, which can then be played back at dif­fer­ent pitches us­ing the PO’s se­quencer grid, in a man­ner sim­i­lar to the KO!’s melodic sam­ple slots. Again, we have sev­eral pa­ram­e­ters that can be ad­justed and au­to­mated for each sound – sam­ple start point, play­back speed, root pitch and for­mant char­ac­ter­is­tics.

The eight Voice modes then of­fer dif­fer­ent man­ners in which these sam­ples can be pro­cessed: Nat­u­ral mode plays the sam­ple back with min­i­mal pro­cess­ing; Au­to­tune ap­plies a pitch-cor­rect ef­fect sim­i­lar to the plugin of the same name; Retro adds an old-fash­ioned ra­dio-like qual­ity; Noise im­parts white-noise like char­ac­ter­is­tics; Ro­bot adds a digi­tised ‘speech’ ef­fect; Fifth plays the sam­ple back as a two-note, fifth-spaced har­mony; Vocoder pro­cesses the sound via a clas­sic vocoder ef­fect; and Synth blends it into a full synth tone.

There’s lots of fun to be had when try­ing out these Voices on dif­fer­ent snip­pets of vo­cal, spo­ken words and found sounds. As with the KO!, Speak can sam­ple both from the mic and via its au­dio in­put, the lat­ter of which is great for grab­bing quick sam­ples from sources like YouTube, TV shows, ra­dio or au­dio­books for slic­ing up and ma­nip­u­lat­ing. Changes in Voice mode can be recorded into the se­quencer too, so you can build up some cool ef­fects by chang­ing mode mid-sam­ple, and chain­ing mul­ti­ple sam­ple sources to­gether into one sin­gle se­quence.

Speak’s other voice – al­lo­cated to sound slot 16 – is a sin­gle chan­nel of drum sounds take from the Tonic. This is a nice lit­tle tool for adding ba­sic grooves un­der se­quences. As with the Tonic, these sounds can be re­placed with pre­sets cre­ated in the Mi­cro­Tonic plugin. Again, there’s also an on­board bank of ex­cel­lent on/ off global ef­fects, al­beit trimmed down to just eight va­ri­eties here, as the other slots are oc­cu­pied by the voice modes.

While, de­spite their lim­i­ta­tions, all the POs are fun noise gen­er­a­tors and great for in­spir­ing in­ci­den­tal sounds, Speak is prob­a­bly the most use­ful Pocket Op­er­a­tor we’ve seen so far. Its abil­ity to sam­ple, trim and process vo­cal sounds make it a great lit­tle tool for cre­at­ing lit­tle one shots and vo­cal hooks – we can see users cre­at­ing whole tracks based around the ef­fects it cre­ates.

SE­QUENCER Both POs in­clude 16-step se­quencers which can copy and chain pat­terns to cre­ate full ar­range­ments SAM­PLE MODES The KO!’s chan­nels are di­vided into Melodic and Drum, han­dling sam­ples slightly dif­fer­ently SCALES Speak fea­tures a scale mode,...

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