Teenage Engineering Intros “Poor Man’s Modular Synthesizer”

Teenage Engineering today introduced a new line of “poor man’s modular synthesizers”.

The line features three pre-configured chassis and 15 sound modules. The modular synths are shipped flat-packed and you assemble them yourself:

The Pocket Operator Modular 400 is the top of the line.

It’s an analog synthesizer that offers:

  • 3 oscillators
  • Noise
  • Random generator
  • 2 envelopes
  • 2 VCA’s
  • Filter
  • Mixerr
  • Speaker box
  • 16-step sequencer
  • Power supply

The system comes as a complete kit, with chassis, 16 modules and 15 patch cables and is priced at US $499.

The Pocket Operator Modular 170 is an analog monophonic synthesizer, with a built in step sequencer.

It comes as a complete kit, with chassis, 9 modules and 8 patch cables. It’s priced at US $349.

Finally, the Pocket Operator Modular 16 is a control keyboard. It features individually tuneable keys and a programmable step sequencer.

It’s designed to control the Modular 400 or other modular synthesizers, via pitch and trigger CV signals. It’s available for US $149.

Here’s the official intro video:

More information is available at the TE site.

Check out the video and let us know what you think about an inexpensive ‘flat packed’ modular in the comments!

78 thoughts on “Teenage Engineering Intros “Poor Man’s Modular Synthesizer”

  1. Sort of takes the buzz of the korg volca modular.

    This looks like they managed to make it cheap and fun, without the compromises you get from shrinking something down to volca size.

    1. yeah, it looks cool but considering that you can get the volca for $199 at launch and behringer is supposed to be launching low cost $49 modules it may be better to go those routes – though the keyboard might be cool

      1. I think the Behringer modules are 49 and 99. And while still very affordable I suspect the majority of sexy Oscillator and filter modules will be in the 99 bracket .
        And the 49ers will be things like the 173 Quad signal gate/patch bay, and the dual portamento.

        Of course that’s still a great bargain. But my point is that I think most modules will probably be 99

      2. I think the Behringer modules are 49 and 99. And while still very affordable I suspect the majority of sexy Oscillator and filter modules will be in the 99 bracket .
        And the 49ers will be things like the 173 Quad signal gate/patch bay, and the dual portamento.

        Of course that’s still a great bargain. But my point is that I think most modules will probably be 99

      3. Modules starting from $49 – all modules will not be that price and none of them are actually be currently available. Those points would factor in for many people too considering the Volca is available very soon whilst the Behringer modules aren’t a physical reality yet. One could also look at the AE Modular from Abused Electronics which gives you a fairly complex system on a budget too or a Neutron which would be another viable option and could be expanded later.

  2. The “keyboard”

    exaclty what i ever wanted: touch pads with individual voltages to dial in!

    … perhaps some individual modules are interesting too.

    (also the yellow one seems the perfect system for learning synthesis if you are new.)

    1. Except it is not capacitive touch as Iexpected too, but resistive touch, so you need to press hard to even register the key, THE KEYBOARD IF UCKING ABOMINATION, I expect this resistive keybord costed $1 so it was clear decision for TE to go with that instead of $2 capacitive touch keyboard that would be actualy usable. Otherwise they would not get any profit from all the $479 price… Fuck this gimmicky company, ony good thing on they product is that their are nice to look at for visitors as topic for conversation about what is the pretty red thingy on you shelf that is collecting dust…

  3. I’m an advanced modular “user/fan” and I would love to have all these. If I was a painter I’d be the one with every different shade of yellow just in case..

    On a side note, what a great entry modular system for schools or other educational entities that have electronic classes and or are looking to teach a music classes with hardware modular synths but cant afford them.

  4. Looks very very flimsy and breakable. And too expensive for my budget. Maybe if the yellow one was 300$ I might begin to consider…

    1. I completely agree with you. These are a TE bridge too far. PO’s were fun, they are semi powerful, but mostly a toy, at an almost a throwaway price. Anyone who would buy the 400 system for $500, needs to scrape together $200 more and get an OP-Z.

  5. Not actually poor man. Actual systems are $400 and $500 and it simple doesn’t worth it.
    Doesn’t have anything over what Behringer Neutron and others can offer.

  6. Not that I’m offended but in today’s climate, officially calling a $500 synthesizer a “poor man’s” version seems pretty stupid. According to some high profile economists, if an unexpected event that costs $400 happens to you and you can’t afford it, you are in very precarious finacial trouble, i.e. you are probably poor. A $500 synth would never be an unexpected cost.
    I also second the opinion that this is not worth it as they appear cheap and flimsy and likely to break.

  7. Help myself! Cool looking and inspirational. Don’t worry, prices will drop, if not, all these OP-1 user will buy them. All poor man then. 🙂

  8. Their catch phrase is bad, poor man’s modular. Ok, $500, for $100 more you have a Mother 32, for the same price you have a Minilogue, I know not ‘modular’ but you can sculpt your own sounds, sequence and play poly. So I think these are very cool and TE always has beautifully designed products but it’s not the poor man’s modular, for $169 that is definitely awarded to the new Volca.

    1. yeah, and it eats 8 AA and 4 AAA batteries to run! If buying it is not cheap, using it will not be cheap either, you’d better start investing in duracell stocks..

    2. Product page says it works with a standard 12V 1A adapter, 4.75/1.7 mm center negative plug.

      Hm, I have two of these in my junk drawer, but they are center positive.

      1. It’s hard to believe for the cost of the “top-of-the-line” 400 kit, they couldn’t include a $5-10 power adapter. That turned me off right away.

  9. If more people are introduced to modular, then more products will come which are hardware synths without fixed architecture. This and the new volca are great, for everybody.
    People simply need to get used to seeing all of the wires.

  10. wow very impressed by everyone’s very logical takedowns of “poor man’s modular” ?

    “high profile economists” ???

    it is a comparatively cheap. no its not volca cheap, but price out the 170 using eurorack modules (and case)… honestly getting the functionality of that touchplate keyboard alone would probably run you $349.

    and yes, it is compatible with eurorack voltages.

    but yes, its TE so haters gonna hate.

    also, they are BEAUTIFUL.

  11. As I look at this, the $500 model lacks a keyboard. Otherwise it looks to be a basic, two oscillator mono synth.

    The little keyboard/sequencer thing is another 150 bucks.

    For the same money you can have an Arturia MiniBrute 2S, with a sequencer, keyboard and 48 patch points. You can also plug it in to a wall.

    Sorry. I don’t get this at all. Unless you just want a little red, open sided synth for some reason. Even if size is the factor, the Tangible Waves stuff is very affordable, has a lot more modules to chose from and it comes in a proper case.

    1. The Tangible Waves, while cool, come in an acrylic and fiberboard case. I think the plan for TE is to have more modules and they may even eclipse Tangible Waves in the next year. The setup you mentioned is great, but these TE modulars are battery powered and can be plugged into a wall.

  12. Quick observations – a) have a MIDI in option to avoid having to use that keyboard module when you want a traditional set of keys; b) some sort of DC power option would be nice to avoid using up your paycheck on batteries. But its an interesting idea, and clearly opens up modular in new ways. I wonder how it will fare against Behringer’s low-cost modules when they arrive?

    1. Went to the website…there is indeed a DC Power option. It states “there is no power supply included. if you want to run the CH-400 or CH-170 on wall power you need an adapter with the following specifications:

      AC/DC adapter
      12V, min 1A (12 watt)
      polarity: center negative
      plug: 4.75/1.7mm”

      That’s good… now, for an after-market MIDI in kit?

  13. Behringer Neutron seems like a better deal. Love the industrial design…very cute, but not at this price point. And, yes, I understand that they don’t have manufacturing capabilities like B does, but maybe they could partner with someone to bring down the cost of mfg.

    1. A modular synthesizer is basically a luxury good. Nobody actually „needs“ it for any rational reason. So it’s sort of pointless to compare them and look for the better „deal“. If you want a Bentley and have the spare change, then you will get one. Even if the Hyundai is the better deal.

  14. nice little toy. makes a cool gift idea for a synth fan.

    i’d personally rather save up for big guys’ synths (DSI/Eurorack)
    [or go El Cheapo with Beringer],

    than throwing away cash on these junks. (Modal CRAFT, Korg boxes)

    + any brand with the name “Teenage” can not be taken seriously for anything beyond hipster noodling.

    a hard pass for me.

    1. Don’t understand the fascination with expensive ‘big guys’ toys vs cheap tools.

      Most of the important electronic music of the last 50 years – from Eno to Numan to Kraftwerk to dub to techno – was made with gear that was affordable then and dirt cheap now.

      If you can’t do something interesting with a Casio and GarageBand, having a gear fetish isn’t going to help.

  15. I think a lot of people are missing the point of these systems. They appear to filling a niche few others are. There is so much competition in the eurorack scene, it makes sense to make something that doesn’t really compete with much else out there.

    I can’t think of one battery powered modular system that contains a sequencer, speaker, metal case (tangible waves is not), and standard cables and not those mini ones like the Kastle or Volca Modular. Throw in the fact that more modules are coming, connection with the OP-Z an Pocket Operators, and these are much welcome.

  16. If it sounds incredible then I’ll consider it a nice addition to the synth word. Right now looking at it I feel like it’s a marketing ploy for hipsters.
    Some companies do certain things well and other things are marketing gimics to make money.
    The op-1. Modal Skulpt, and Korg minilogue Xd are all synths I own and use or plan on owning soon. I don’t really think stuff like this is aimed at people who write music on a semi professional level with external gear.

    1. „Marketing ploy for hipsters“ – Why? Because it doesn’t look like crap and the commercial won’t give you brain damage? What makes this a „hipster“-thing for you? What is that even?

  17. I think these are interesting as a concept and I am sure they will sound good and they appear to be well designed in terms of usage. Personally though I question the price and would probably rather have a Volca Modular.

  18. That modular 400 looks very nice, the same form factor of the Fusebox by Analogue Solutions. An instant classic imo. And that keyboard is also very nice. Probably also an instant classic.

    Well done Teenage Engineering!

  19. i wonder why they would not just build a euroack module at a cheap price point. this way you can be poor or rich and it all fits in the case. regardless looks cool .

    1. So much competition with Eurorack, and this way when they start selling individual modules and an open-ended chassis, they will have no real current competition when it comes to battery powered modular systems.

  20. If you like these, start with a Volca Modular for $200, then save your money toward The Behringer modue series,, or something else. You will have more function, for less $$$ in the longer run.

    Oh yes, and notice the red unit, can contain the keyboard, but the yellow one can’t .. and … the red unit doesn’t have enough space for all the modules.. So in the end you end up buying all 3 .. Nope .. a Bridge too Far!

    1. that was quick … actually more interested in the individual modules – seem perfect if you need something simple.

      +more colors plz

  21. This is not a modular synth since you cannot chose your modules. The design may have modules underneath the hood but without being able to buy them separately and without their own faceplate how can you build what you want instead of what you get?

    1. TE has stated on their website that individual modules, as well as an open-ended chassis will be available. So its chosen for you for this first series. To be fair, many of the semi-modular synths people bring up in alternative to these you can’t choose your own modules either, still considered modular though.

  22. Wonder if you could build the 400 so that it becaomes a “Tabletop” unit more then the “Tower” design.
    (Analog solutions fusebox can be swapped between Tabeltop/Tower)

  23. Brilliant idea. Anyone comparing this to a Korg Volca with jumper wires for patch cables is missing the point. TE made a genius end-run around the Eurorack makers and introduced their own low-cost modular format. You can spend $500 in Eurorack and only end up with an empty case and no patch cables. Bold move by TE and future additions to their lineup will help them sell a lot of OP-Z units and satisfy a large percentage of the market who doesn’t want to play the Eurorack game.

  24. What is it with Scandinavians and flat packs? It seems to be an almost pathological drive for them. Anyhow, it certainly looks interesting and I think that it would really take off when they eventually sell the individual modules along with their relevant Euro Rack face plates.

  25. Arturia Keystep keyboard costs about one twenty US dollars. Has CV/Gate output. Has 32 keys. Has velocity and aftertouch. Has arpeggiator. Has sequencer. Unless you are really pressed for space on your desktop, the Keystep would be the “poor man’s” way to go. Not the one fifty keyboard.

  26. I cannot get past the name of this company or the toy-like look their products have. I am guessing this is inexpensive to people in TE’s home country. Not the rest of the world.

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