Teenage Engineering OP-1 Synthesizer Review – A ‘Tour de Force’?

The Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer has been one of the hotly anticipated and discussed new synths since it was introduced.

The quirky portable synth offers an unique range of features:

  • Midi Controller with Transport and Four Endless Encoders
  • Fm Synth
  • Sampler with mic or line in, built in speaker
  • FM Radio that allows you sample Young Jeezy.
  • 8 synthesizer models, 8 samplers and effects like Delay, Flutter, Filters and EQ all built in.
  • Step sequencer/arpegiato
  • Built in Motion Sensor

The OP-1’s $799 price, though, left a lot of Synthtopia readers thinking the synth is an over-priced toy.

Here’s a full Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer review, via Nick at Sonic State. He calls the OP-1 synth a ‘design tour de force’ and sums his thoughts up on it by saying “Do you want it? Hell yeah!”

The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is a niche, high-end product – one that we think it going to continue to be met with a lot of skepticism, even while early adopters sing its praises.

Check out the OP-1 review video – and then let us know what you think!

54 thoughts on “Teenage Engineering OP-1 Synthesizer Review – A ‘Tour de Force’?

  1. No kidding. I can't stand the way this product is commented upon on this blog. Yes, it's expensive. No, it doesn't have every feature imaginable. It's an amazingly beautiful piece of design/hardware and if I had the cash I would own one too.

  2. They're up to $850 now. Also, if you live in the US there is another $50 for shipping and $54 for import fees. My bank also charged $25 for the international money transfer, so it ended up over $975 when I bought mine a few weeks ago.

    It's really fun, but that was also a lot more money than I expected.

  3. Skeptic to Champion.

    Yes, I know the price tag appears to be the largest bane to the OP-1, but I have not regretted my purchase once, and would only encourage the skeptics to reserve judgement until you can play one for just a few minutes. In all truth, the value of the OP-1 does not become realized until you are holding it in your hand. It's been said many times, but the heft and solidity of this tiny block of metal begins to slowly justify it's higher price tag. I've grown disdainful towards lightweight, plasticky machines at lower costs and feel (right now, at least) that I have invested in a music maker and a MIDI controller that could last for quite some time.

    More than anything, what I've enjoyed from the OP-1 is it's size; I leave it on my nightstand to jam a little bit before going to bed or can sit in a comfy chair and tinker around. In that regard, the synthesizer can come to me, I don't have to go to it. That may sound lame, but it can be a powerful shift in how one interfaces with technology and music: to see people able to throw the OP-1 in a bag and take it with them on a vacation is brilliant and for me personally, the OP-1 allows me to capture more thoughts with its form factor than my other synths. You could make the same argument for tablets vs. computers, portable media players to stereos, but mobility has become an important tenet to many, and this is where I think Teenage Engineering was brilliant with their approach. I can take a standalone synthesizer with me anywhere, and I can play at any time.

    On a more practical level? Diss on the onboard sounds and it's limits all you want; the OP-1 as a MIDI controller and its sequencer modes have added a more "impulsive" level to my computer music. Again, the form factor is wonderful for recording a few quick sequences on the go, but the endless step sequencer and the grid sequencer's are very intuitive and allows me to create complex patterns almost instantly.

    Just adding my thoughts.

  4. nice products tend to be expensive and polarizing ๐Ÿ™‚ I must say that while I wouldn't buy one, I find the device quite fascinating! I mean if I were rich I would totally buy one just for the look of it.

  5. That machine is made for people who want it. It's a luxury item (and the price reflects that). The design is noteworthy. But it sounds pretty average to crappy at best, and all it's positive elements can be gained from an iPad, which gives you more capabilities and better sounds by far. I personally have absolutely no interest in one of these, but I will admit that Nick's review is the first time I've seen this device in a positive light.

  6. Sorry but critics aren't haters perse. And well; I'm a critic; IMO this is kinda overpriced. Esp. when looking at the "competition" in the field of hardware synths and the estimated manufacturing costs.

    Yet that doesn't mean I hate the product, it has a nice touch to it and the sound is also not too shabby. Still, for what it can do I think it has a rather heavy pricetag. Too heavy for me.

  7. Yeah, I was less than thrilled when UPS pulled up and demanded $54 to let me have the package. It has soured my attitude toward it somewhat, as was the $50 price increase. I do enjoy playing it, though, and it makes a great little controller for my iPad into the bargain. It's built like an aircraft carrier. The display is fantastic and the tweaking you can do with it is spectacular.

  8. It’s not powerful – compared to what? Are there any other portable workstations of comparable size?

    Also – why do people diss the sounds when it’s a sampler? You can sample any sound you want!

    If this were $400, i don’t think anybody would be criticizing the OP-1. $800 is just out if a lot of people’s price range, though.

    1. My sampler (Yamaha C24) doesn't have keys, doesn't have an LFO, no step sequencer and no radio or motion sensor. It does have several filters HPF and equalizer, 2 microphones (stereo recording), a tuner, mic in & headphone support (AND its own speakers), metronome, and it can sample up to 24bit / 96kHz. True; I can't play stuff in different tones but only record stuff.

      Still… Is this really a sampler? Then its even worse than I thought. Go to the main website, here:
      http://www.teenageengineering.com/products/op-1/

      Ok, better, go to the specs, here:
      http://www.teenageengineering.com/products/op-1/s

      Like what is the frickin' sample rate?

      I know; under CPU it says "24-bit 96kHz ADC/DAC".

      Doesn't cut it for me. I mean, MY 'sampler' allows me to chose. It can also operate under those conditions yet I chose to save space; I normally operate under 16bit/48kHz.

      SO I look under "sampling engine".. 6 seconds sampling for a synth slot, 12 seconds for a drum slot and that's it ?

      So its a sampler where you cannot even setup the sampling rate?

      For the record… Here are the specs for a sampler which is approx. 1/8th of the price of this critter:
      http://usa.yamaha.com/products/music-production/r

      Please note how they include recording time vs frequency response / sampling frequency. 55m on 24bit/96kHz and 3 HOURS on 16bit/44.1kHz.

      vs. …what? 6 sec. sampling for a synth slot?

      SO like how much how much sampling capabilities do I have with this ?

      Sorry but if you call it a sampler I think its getting worse considering the lack of specs on how much material I can actually sample and process.

      64Mb sdram and 512Mb flash storage. MY sampler (1/8th price) ships with 2Gb out of the box.

      (for the non-technies: That's 4 times as much storage)

      And you wonder why people turn to critics?

    2. My sampler (Yamaha C24) doesn't have keys, doesn't have an LFO, no step sequencer and no radio or motion sensor. It does have several filters HPF and equalizer, 2 microphones (stereo recording), a tuner, mic in & headphone support (AND its own speakers), metronome, and it can sample up to 24bit / 96kHz. True; I can't play stuff in different tones but only record stuff.

      Still… Is this really a sampler? Then its even worse than I thought. Go to the main website, here:
      http://www.teenageengineering.com/products/op-1/

      Ok, better, go to the specs, here:
      http://www.teenageengineering.com/products/op-1/s

      Like what is the frickin' sample rate?

      I know; under CPU it says "24-bit 96kHz ADC/DAC".

      Doesn't cut it for me. I mean, MY 'sampler' allows me to chose. It can also operate under those conditions yet I chose to save space; I normally operate under 16bit/48kHz.

      SO I look under "sampling engine".. 6 seconds sampling for a synth slot, 12 seconds for a drum slot and that's it ?

      So its a sampler where you cannot even setup the sampling rate?

      For the record… Here are the specs for a sampler which is approx. 1/8th of the price of this critter:
      http://usa.yamaha.com/products/music-production/r

      Please note how they include recording time vs frequency response / sampling frequency. 55m on 24bit/96kHz and 3 HOURS on 16bit/44.1kHz.

      vs. …what? 6 sec. sampling for a synth slot?

      SO like how much how much sampling capabilities do I have with this ?

      Sorry but if you call it a sampler I think its getting worse considering the lack of specs on how much material I can actually sample and process.

      64Mb sdram and 512Mb flash storage. MY sampler (1/8th price) ships with 2Gb out of the box.

      (for the non-technies: That's 4 times as much storage)

      And you wonder why people turn to critics?

  9. Never has their been more hype for an overpriced piece of intelligencia gear than the OP-1. Fuck. Makes us Apple Fanboys blush.

    Of course it's beautiful. The designers of the products crawled as far as they could up Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive's arsehole.

    Beautiful in it's Appleness, lol.

    ffs

    I'm still waiting for the $10 iPad version, thanks.

    But by all means, let's keep praising this thing as the be all end all.

    For pasty white dilettantes, anyway. lol.

  10. The price really isn't something that can be ignored though, is it? This isn't some unobtainable, expensive supersynth that we can admire from afar as a piece of historical/technological importance. And it's not an inexpensive tool that makes music fun and accessible to everyone.

    It's a small digital gadget, with about the same functionality as one or two phone apps, designed for a consumer culture where people will pay ridiculous money for anything that looks obnoxiously apple-ish. If it were £250, it would be a fun little dooda. At £650 (or whatever it is converted), it's a product deliberately aimed at people who have bought into a certain aesthetic, with plenty disposable income. I don't partcularly hate the OP-1 (though the design repels me a bit), I hate what it represents and the reason it exists.

  11. My first synth, in about 1986, cost exactly $800 – a Korg Poly 800 mk2. I washed dishes at a pizza restaurant for a year for that thing. I loved it. I still use the little sequencer. $800 in 1986 dollars is what, $1200 now? At least. All the op-1 haters because of the price, GET OFF MY LAWN!

  12. I just think it sucks. The synth engines aren't that deep. I'm not terribly impressed by the sound of it either. i guess it's a niche product. not that it's all that similiar, but I'd rather have a DSI tetra for less money, or a monome. i dunno…the price for this thing is a bit much for what it's capable of doing and how it sounds…to me at least.

    just sayin'

  13. For 1986 you were getting rather a lot for your money, and technology not really available for much cheaper. There's a reason they're now about £100 on ebay. People will pay $800 for an OP-1 because it's shiny and white.

  14. I agree with Nick Batt – it's beautiful; it reminds me of the fun I had with the first synth that I ever used, a Casio VL-Tone (which featured multiple waveforms, an ADSR volume envelope, and a sequencer, all in a nifty handheld package.) Oh, and you could also use it as a calculator. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. The Apple hate is quite laughable and humorous – 10 years ago people laughed that Apple was a "dead" company – now they are shat upon for being successful!!!

    While this seems to be a "boutique" product give credit to the designers – so many arseholes want the sky and the moon for Wal-Mart prices and spend too much time littering the net with their irrational wish-lists!!! I applaud T.E. for creating something clearly unique (eff you if you want to pull out the VL reference – this is not that)

  16. I still haven't heard any demos of this that make me want to buy one. Your ears may differ, of course.

    Having said that, the design work is breathtaking. I've said elsewhere that a large company (Korg, Roland, Yamaha, et al.) should scoop these guys up to engineer better cases and more intuitive interfaces and controls for them.

  17. an expert reviewer said hell yeah he wants one. all in one portability is the big factor here and thats why i will soon purchase 1 of these. Its not about sample specs or comparing it to what other synths samplers can do, its the whole package that makes this thing great and i can wait to be playing it outside on my porch while the sun sets.

  18. 112 –

    "all in one portability is the big factor here" – that's an important point.

    The OP-1 suffers in comparison to full size, dedicated devices, as a synth, sampler, MIDI controller, DAW even FM Radio.

    But there's very little that competes with it as a piece of mobile hardware. You can compare it to the iPad and some apps – but you'd have to add a Camera Connection Kit and MIDI controller to get similar hands-on knobiness.

  19. I don't like using iPhone apps for music.
    I don't care that you might be able to get an OP1 app for pennies.
    I don't want comparably powerful gear for a fifth of the price.
    I don't care about the better specs of other gear.
    I don't care that it's overpriced.

    I want the OP1 because I like it.

    I've been making electronic music for 20 years and I've never been as interested or intrigued about a piece of musical gear like this one since the SidStation.

    I'm not a trust-fund, "Mummy and Daddy paid for my studio" hipster, either and I don't have much disposable income. Me? I'm going to get it on my credit card and live with the consequences.

    Because when you want something, you want it and no amount of bleating from nay-sayers is going to change my mind.

  20. There's something to be said for be passionate about gear – even other people can't make sense of it.

    I felt the same way about building a large-format modular synth.

    Sure – it's expensive and can't do half of what Reaktor can do. But what it does do, it does very well – and it's a blast to use.

  21. There's something to be said for be passionate about gear – even if it seems completely pointless to others.

    I felt the same way about building a large-format modular synth.

    Sure – it's expensive and can't do half of what Reaktor can do. But what it does do, it does very well – and it's a blast to use.

  22. There's a thin line between passion for gear and mindless consumerism. Judging by the design, marketing and the price relative to functionality, I'd say the OP-1 is made to appeal to the latter mindset.

    Obviously it's up to the user to determine what it's worth, but it saddens me that manufacturers can make something arbitrarily expensive, and people will buy it, and condone that. It's not good for creativity when the tools of a trade become exclusive and subject to petty fashion more so than the art itself.

  23. I think people have to realize that they did not sit around and choose a high price as some sort of way to add to the "appleness" of the product. These things are not being built in a mega factory alongside my iPhone. The OP-1 is priced based on what it cost to make + a profit. I am sure if they were able to sell it for half the cost they would. This is not some deliberate marketing strategy. Like some of you have said, you would buy it if it was half the cost. I think they are perfectly aware of that. I recall buying my Sid Station. It looked like it was built in a garage! Oh, wait.. it was. It cost a bunch, and it was not the sexiest design. The Sid Station launched that company, and the profit that was made off that product is why you have the products made by Elektron today. A start-up company where I am confident everyone involved has spent their last coin banking on it's success cannot compete with the big guys nor should be compared when price is involved….

  24. to my ears…it sounds….not so hot. if you think so, that's fine. sound/beauty is in the ear/eyes of the beholder. it's all a preference thing. even though i'm not into the sound considering it's price, if i had some cash to throw around – I'd probably get it for fun. it does look fun and the style and build quality look fantastic. i don't think the h8ters or the praisers are wrong…they're both right! personally, and again this is just my opinion…i'd rather have something that looks dog shit ugly and makes the most fantastic sounds for that money than the opposite. btw…it looks like my last comment was removed for expressing my dislike for the sound quality? interesting.

  25. What an odd rant.

    Did Nick or anybody else ever praise this thing 'as the be all end all'? No.

    Does this look at all like anything Apple would put out? No.

    Is it one of a handful of hardware synths introduced this year that are actually interesting enough that musicians want to debate its merits? Undoubtedly.

  26. As for the price complaint, you get what you pay for. 800 bucks for a decent synth/sampler/drum machine/sequencer/workstation is really not very expensive at all. How much are ipad apps again? A few bucks? It's really no mystery why. Except, of course, you will ever only own a licence to use them, and probably had to sign a 3 year contract, on top of the pad's actual price, just to use it. And forget monthly data charges.

    Oh well, it really is a disposable world, for the mediocre masses, that helped blindly destroy the following greats, just so they could think they look cool, while touching their vapid little glass screens : libraries, books, CD's, records, the print industry, the music industry, your job, my job, our pensions, freedom of civil liberties and of course, most importantly, the chance of getting laid, while everyone neurotically hovers over their social media experiments instead of actually being social. All because they chose cheap convenience over quality at cost.

  27. I guarantee if this thing was designed aesthetically to appeal to any other audience, a la Beat Kangz Beat Thang, everyone would be foaming at the mouth to take the piss out of it. I really can't believe this (or Beat Thang) cost anything near its price to make, or that they couldn't have been manufactured in a way that could have cut costs without compromising much in terms of noticable quality.

  28. I have been one of the naysayers. After watching a few more video demonstrations of it, I have to say that this thing is really ingenious. It represents out-of-the-box thinking in so many different ways. There is so much power in this beautiful little gem. Is this worth at least as much as one would pay for a Dave Smith Tetra or Slim Phatty? Hell yes!

  29. omfg.

    I know two cats who have bought this thing, played with it for about a week, haven't picked it up since. After the *costly* novelty factor wore off, and they had taken it to Starbucks for the umpteenth time, they realized what a vast mistake they had made.

    True story, that.

  30. lol. you've got to be kidding. there's no way this is worth a DSI tetra or slim phatty, in terms of sound. it's pretty cool but ehh. there's a lot of buyer's remorse going on with this thing…no one wants to admit paying $800 for a dud.

  31. I'll never forget, as long as I live, how TE would take this thing to trade shows and the fucking prototype wasn't even WORKING but the bloggers and musicTech press were already praising it as a MASTERPIECE, lol.

    It's THE PENULTIMATE SYNTHESIZER THAT'S GOING TO BE A GAME CHANGER.

    lol.

    Dizzying.

  32. It's just really not that expensive. a monome is a $599 (minimum) empty box
    that controls free software on a computer(not included) and I am willing to bet some
    of these OP-1 haters are monome users. A Korg ESX or EMX is $499 and aren't made nearly as well and "benefit" from assembly line production and cheap Chinese labor. I don't get all the hate.
    If it's not for you than move on and find something that is.

  33. What sites are you reading, dude?

    I've never seen a synth site talk about it like that.

    All anybody seems to care about on this thing is that it's $800! Like people have never paid $800 for a synth before.

  34. is there really a $50 import fee? im gonna purchase this probably from the TE website but cant find anything about import fees, thats a bummer considering its already a $50 charge on shipping.

  35. It's not a synthesizer that will do everything, I don't think they every advertised it as that. Music should be about all the things that you have the technical ability to do. Music should be about expression and free form sound. This thing opens up many of those doors with it's intuitive interface and ease of use. I've already found myself writing weird trip hop songs, which I would have never come up with in Ableton's step sequencer. Instead of spending hours audition sounds in the hundreds of VST's I've accumulated, I quickly choose a sound and get to writing on the op-1. And with it's advanced midi generative functionalities, I use it with the iPad all the time, and even my laptop when I travel. It's a creativity monster, not a synthesizer. That's why I bought one.

  36. He probably read the youtube comments for that music video that had it as a product placement. All the comments were like "dude omg i want one so bad!". I never really saw any hype for it anywhere else other than the standard "here's some new gear in the pipeline" type articles here and there.

  37. Completely predictable posts here! If you like your "innovation" to be hardware based, you probably love the op-1. If you prefer your innovation to be software based, you will think it's overpriced and prefer an iPad.

    Easy stuff, that.

  38. I’ve owned a shitload of synthesizers from 1986 to this day and had completely lost my interest in new products until the OP-1 came out. I have many of the Korg and Roland classics from 1970’s and 80’s at my disposal, but none of them can do what this piece of equipment does. It inspires to make music anywhere at anytime. It’s not meant to be a all in one solution for making complete productions, but rather it’s a musical toy that challenges your imagination. 800โ‚ฌ is a bit steep, but I’d much rather have this than a tablet computer with softsynths.

  39. Has no-one made the connection that the “OP” in OP-1 could stand for “Over Priced” lolz.

    Seriously this looks well thought out and the demos look great. I do think the sound quality needs to be better on the demos though. is noone capturing the line out directly?

    Also, I have never heard anything rich and melodic coming out of this. yet.

  40. Well, 800$ is either the price of a midrange (aka shitty) guitar, a midrange synth or a very bad violin.
    Instruments are expensive, that’s the way it is.
    I own an op-1, and it’s a very good intrument.

    I think people are despising it because it’s small, for that price they want a big and heavy plastic box with a lot of buttons on it.

    Oh, and btw, Apple is not involved in the making of the OP-1, at all.

  41. “Oh, and btw, Apple is not involved in the making of the OP-1, at all.”

    Of course not, but Apple has been ripping off / been inspired by northern european industrial design for gadgets (stuff like Braun, B&O, FACIT, etc) for so long that a lot of people think they invented that style (including lots of people working for Apple, apparently).

  42. (and yes, Tandberg, of course. the keys on the OP-1 are lifted directly from the Tandberg TDV keyboards from the late seventies…)

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