Pocket Operators are miniature, portable music production devices from Teenage Engineering. These tiny synths, drum machines and samplers pack powerful features into low-cost, pocket-sized instruments perfect for on-the-go music making. This comprehensive guide covers everything about Pocket Operators – how they work, types available, tips for using them, and the best models to choose in 2023 based on your musical needs.
What Are Pocket Operators?
Pocket Operators are tiny handheld electronic musical instruments, each with a specific function:
Synthesizers – Generate and manipulate sounds using oscillators, filters, sequencers
Drum machines – Create/arrange drum patterns and rhythmic sequences
Samplers – Record and loop external sounds through built-in microphone
Mixers – Combine and process signals from multiple Pocket Operators
Despite being only 5cm x 8cm in size, Pocket Operators pack an impressive array of pro audio features comparable to much larger hardware. They are powered by a single AAA battery and controlled fully via the built-in buttons, knobs and touchpads.
The Pocket Operator series was designed by Teenage Engineering to make dynamic sound creation accessible in a highly portable, affordable package.
Key Features of Pocket Operators
Here are some of the core features found in Pocket Operators that enable music production on-the-go:
Synthesis engines – Analog modeling, FM synthesis, noise generation
16-step sequencers – Program patterns and rhythms
Effects – Delay, reverb, compression to add texture
Touchpads – Intuitive performance controls
OLED display – Clear visual feedback
Microphone – Self-contained sampling
Headphone output – Sound previewing
Sync in/out – Tempo sync with other units
Punch-in effects – Real-time manipulation
This compact hardware puts a full production studio at your fingertips, incorporated into devices lighter than a smartphone.
Table of Contents
PO-33 KO Sampler/Sequencer
- provides 40 seconds of sampling memory - the teenage engineering PO-33 has a built-in microphone for you to record 40-seconds of samples directly.
- plays your samples chromatically or as one-shots - the 8 melodic slots let you play your own samples chromatically while the 8 drum banks play your...
- adds percussion to your performance - the PO-33 is a 4-voice sampler. Its built-in micro drum machine allows you to layer more drum sounds over the...
The Pocket Operator PO-33 KO is a unique mini sampler with a sample memory of 40 seconds and an inbuilt recording microphone that you can carry around with you. To generate stunning sounds, the operator has 8 drum banks and 8 melodic slots. You can restore and backup all of your settings using the sample memory. Overall, the operator offers a safe learning environment as a noise generator. With PO-33 KO, the step multiplier and 16 mode effects are incredible!
The playing hardware board is made of a durable substance similar to that used in other variants. PO-33, on the other hand, has unique features not found in other models. The built-in microphone is modest but powerful, and it may be utilized to record fantastic samples and a micro drum kit with drum samples from sound sources. Tempo, Record, Play Indicators, A, B parameter levels, the current time, and the ultimate weird scenario would all be displayed on the screen. Two sample kinds for playback of recorded content are one of its well-liked features of these pocket synths along with battery life. Teenage Engineering PO-33 KO is the best Pocket Operators in 2023.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator PO-133 Street Fighter Micro Sampler and Sequencer
- PROVIDES 40 SECONDS OF SAMPLING - The teenage engineering PO-133 is a micro sampler equipped with 40-second sample memory. Create all-new music using...
- OFFERS A CUSTOM LCD SCREEN - Watch your favorite Street Fighter game characters move in tune to your beat with PO-133's animated LCD.
- CREATE NEW BEATS WITH PO-133 - You get 8 melodic sample slots, 8 drum slots, and 15 punch-in effects in the PO-133 Street Fighter. Enhance your beats...
The PO–33 K.O.!, a popular micro sampler with 40 seconds of sample memory and a built-in microphone for rapid sampling, is the basis for the Street Fighter pocket operator just like the mega man pocket operator. 16 Street Fighter sound tracks, as well as actual samples from Capcom’s original Street Fighter arcade game, are included in this premium edition for music production.
PO-35 Speak Vocal Sampler/Sequencer
- CREATES UNIQUE VOCAL SOUNDS - The Teenage Engineering PO-35 offers 8 voice characters: Neutral, Autotune, Retro, Noise, Robot, Fifth, Vocoder, and...
- PROVIDES 120 SECONDS OF SAMPLING MEMORY - The Pocket Operator Speak features a built-in recording microphone that allows you to record up to 120s of...
- LETS YOU FINE TUNE YOUR SAMPLES - The transpose and change scale functions enable you to play your samples musically and to fine-tune the sounds...
The PO-35 Speak is the most recent model of a vocal sampler. Autotune, Neutral, Robot, Retro, Vocoder, Fifth, Noise, and Synth are among the eight main voice characters in PO-35 Speak. The 120-second hardware sample memory is more than any other pocket operator model. To create new sounds, combine this operator with MicroTonic AU/VST transfer synth engines.
PO-35 Speak is mostly used to synthesize sounds, as the name suggests. It aids in the creation of both beautiful and strange voice noise styles. You may sample vocals with the built-in microphones and choose from eight vocal types and eight built-in effects. You’ll also learn how to use scale and transpose capabilities to compose music.
This unit has a change scale and transposes feature, as well as 8 effects and 8 voice characters. The sequencer incorporated within the device can create and evolve intriguing beats, full melodies, and basslines from bass synth. You might be confused about the work of the PO-33 and PO-35, but keep in mind that the PO-35 is a synthesizer, while the other is a sampler. As a result, whatever you capture will be synthesized into a recognizable voice.
PO-32 Tonic Drum Synth
- OFFERS A TWEAKABLE DRUM SYNTH - The teenage engineering PO-32 is an advance drum synthesizer that features 16 preset sounds, which you can swap out...
- SUPPORTS MICROTONIC VST/AU TRANSFER - You can combine PO-32 with a MicroTonic Plug-In (sold separately) to create new drum sounds. Easily transfer VST...
- REPEATS SELECTED SOUNDS - The built-in step multiplier enables you to repeat selected sounds. You can also create a whole full song with the onboard...
The PO-32 Tonic Drum Synth is a powerful drum machine with a plethora of controls. It’s a noise-maker that’s both motivating and amusing. It includes MicroTonic compatibility, much like PO-35, to provide you with a complete quality product. 16 performance effects, sounds, and a 16-step sequencer are included. Because it was created in partnership with Sonic Charge, a Swedish company, the instrument is far more versatile. Furthermore, PO-32 is ideal for users who want to tweak and overwrite their audio palette by using the plug-in to create patterns and new sounds.
Its built-in speaker produces a lot of loudness for live sound. As a result, the gear also aids in data movement between units. The 16 span sounds are incredible, producing bass-heavy kicks, crunchy snares, fizzy white-noise hats, and a variety of other percussive and unusual synth sounds. Each sound can also be tweaked using a pair of parameter knobs. The parameter lock function also enables for per-step automatic movement of two knobs. Teenage Engineering PO-32 is the best Pocket Operator in 2023.
PO-12 Rhythm Drum Machine
- PRODUCES 16 DIFFERENT DRUM SOUNDS - The teenage engineering PO-12 Rhythm uses real synthesized drum sounds to recreate drum and percussion sounds like...
- OFFERS 16 BUILT-IN EFFECTS - The Rhythm Pocket Operator has 16 onboard FX including distortion, delay, stutter, and vibrato.
- LETS YOU CREATE A WHOLE SONG - The 16-step sequencer and step-multiplier allow you to chain up to 16 patterns together. You can also insert a re-trig...
PO 12 Rhythm Drum Machine is the sequencer and drum machine you’ve been seeking for. With a combination of sequencer and drum machine, the operator is a perfect approach to generate beats. You can have 16 punch-in effects and parameter locks on display in addition to distinctive beats that sound fantastic. It also has the ability to save and apply effects to patterns.
Delay, vibrato, distortion, and stutter are just a few of the built-in effects you’ll enjoy. The bpm tempo can be changed from 60 to 240, which is a significant difference. After plugging in two batteries from behind, you’re ready to go. Also, tapping and playing your favorite tunes is a breeze with the smooth buttons. The ‘patterns’ button can be used to record and replay the effects you’ve produced. You may need to use your speaker, as it has an internal speaker that is a hidden engineering gem. You can listen to what you’ve made by plugging in your headphones!
- PROVIDES MULTIPLE LEAD SYNTH TONES : The Teenage Engineering PO-16 Factory provides 15 assorted synths ranging from FM, wavetable, subtractive...
- OFFERS A MICRO DRUM MACHINE SAMPLE : Aside from lead and chord synth tones, PO-16 also has a cool micro-drum machine in the manufacturer sound preset...
- LETS YOU EASILY PROGRAM CHORDS : The 16 punch-in play styles enable you to programs chords, transpositions and arpeggios
The PO-16 Factory is the closest PO to a true synth for beginners. This is the only game on the list that can be played with the buttons like a keyboard. The factory’s major concentration is on delivering outstanding melodies and songs, while the arcade and rhythm concentrate on the background tracks. The Factory Play Styles button adds to this by providing access to chords, arpeggios, transpositions, and more. The fifteen sounds connected with the Play Styles button generate a plethora of diverse sounds suited for a wide range of genres. Factory, of course, has a drum machine mic in the 16th position, so you can record an entire song with it. Factory, in general, has a lot of versatility and can cater to a wide range of musical needs.
PO-20 Arcade Synthesizer
- PRODUCES RETRO AND MODERN SYNTHS - The teenage engineering PO-20 Arcade offers 16 synthesized 8bit video game-style tones like chiptune-style sounds.
- ALLOWS YOU TO CREATE A WHOLE SONG - The 16-step sequencer enables you to create sophisticated arrangements and make an entire song with the help of...
- DELIVERS HIGH-QUALITY SOUNDS - The Pocket Operator Arcade uses Silicon Labs EFM32 Gecko MCU and Cirrus Logic DAC chip to produce excellent sound...
The PO-20 Arcade is a synthesizer and sequencer that has chord control, parameter locks, and punch-in effects. It’s designed for quiet beat production and chiptune improvisation, as opposed to devices like the PO-12. It’s a lot of fun to have melodious tunes and beatmakers even when you’re on the run using Po-20. It includes a diverse range of 8-bit gaming sounds, as well as modern, nostalgic, musical, and even ultra cool tones. The Arcade, on the other hand, is utilized for considerably more than just sound effects. Bass sounds, drum kit sounds, chord drones, arpeggiation, effects, and more are all included.
This pocket operator is noted for producing top-notch style sounds and playing beats with very soft buttons. Overall, it features 16 tones and a 16-step sequencer, allowing you to create a tune with 128-pattern effects. Because the PO-20 employs a Cirus Logic DAC chip and a Silicon Labs Gecko MCU, the sound quality is exceptional. You may also admire its wonderful LCD screen, which contributes to the device’s excellent sound quality. To record using the device, you must simultaneously hold the Write and Chord buttons. Techno is played at 140 bpm, Hip Hop is played at 80 bpm, and Disco is played at 120 bpm. If you enjoy chiptune music, this is a must-have.
teenage engineering Pocket Operator PO-24 Office Percussion Drum Machine and Sequencer
- BRINGS THE BEATS TO YOUR OFFICE - The teenage engineering PO-24 produces quirky mouse clicks, computer keys, PC beeper, and matrix tractor-style...
- ENHANCES YOUR SOUNDS WITH EFFECTS - Aside from the 16 office sounds, you can add 16 lucrative punch-in effects like overdrive, distortion, and noise...
- MAKE A NEW SONG FROM SCRATCH - The Pocket Operator Office features 128-pattern chaining. You can create a whole song on this 16-step sequencer.
Sounds from an office atmosphere are literally sampled in The Office. We’re talking about floppy disks, keyboards, and everything else. Its sophisticated sequencer also lets you to add more drum and synth sounds to create unique, organic-sounding patterns. There are a total of 16 sounds, 128 patterns (including chaining), 16 built-in effects, and a unique solo feature.
The Teenage Engineering PO-24 Pocket Operator Office Synthesizer is small enough to fit in your pocket and runs on two AAA batteries. It sounds like office equipment and has 16 punch-in effects like aliasing, overdrive, repetition, filters, distortion, glitches, and noise. A 16-step sequencer, which retains 16 patterns in memory, can be chained into a song with up to 128 patterns, and the synthesizer parameters can be locked. The instrument’s creative potential are expanded by an inbuilt clock and alarm clock. Multiple synthesizer units can be linked together using a jam-sync mechanism and 3.5mm audio in and out connections.
The synthesizer is smartly constructed with a Silabs EFM 32 Gecko CPU, a Cirrus Logic DAC, and a Knowles speaker put under a revolutionary animated LCD on a single circuit board using high-quality components with low-power consumption. A foldout stand makes it simpler to play, and solder connectors on the back panel allow you to connect it to a bigger sound system. A custom-made silicone pro case (available separately) adds anti-slip feet, battery protection, and professional-feeling buttons to this one-of-a-kind music-making instrument.
Pocket Operator Buying Guide
When shopping for Pocket Operators, keep these key factors in mind:
What do you want to use it for – live performance, mobile beatmaking, sound design? Match the PO to your goals.
For live use, prioritize playability and effects. For production, focus on synthesis capabilities.
If new to hardware, simpler units like drum machines are more accessible starting points before complex synthesizers.
Type of Sound Engine
Synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines excel at different tasks. Select the specialty suited to your musical needs.
Know the specific type of synthesis used – analog modeling, FM, additive, etc. This affects the sonic character.
Samplers allow capturing any sounds in your environment for creative manipulation.
The length of sequencer steps affects rhythmic complexity. 16 steps enable intricate patterns.
Sequencers that allow parameter locks or per-step tweaks create evolving, dynamic sequences.
Some units have multiple separate synthesizer tracks to build layered compositions.
Effects and Manipulation
Built-in effects like delay, reverb and compression add crucial sonic polish.
Punch-in effects let you manipulate sound in realtime for dynamic performances.
CV/Gate connections allow integrating pedal controls for effects and parameter adjustments.
Sync in/out ports enable connecting multiple POs together into a cohesive workflow.
MIDI sync compatibility allows integration with DAWs and MIDI controllers.
Global tempo adjustment possibilities speed up or slow down all synced POs instantly.
Most POs range from $59-$89 making them very affordable and low risk.
Start with 1 or 2 versatile units. As skills progress, build up incrementally to more complex POs.
Thoroughly examine the specific features and capabilities of each Pocket Operator model to make sure it aligns with your musical needs and budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Pocket Operators?
Pocket Operators are small synthesizers – literally pocket-sized — with tactile knobs and small screens. Each model has 23 buttons, 2 knobs, 3.5mm in/out connections, a folding stand, and even a built-in speaker, and is powered by two AAA batteries. The knobs regulate volume, sample length, mode selection, and other parameters, while the buttons control sounds, effects, and sequence steps.
The audio in/out ports can also be used for synchronizing, as they accept most universal clock signals, just like most hardware synths. This means you can easily sync modes them with other synths and with each other. The buttons can be used for a variety of functions, including built-in effects. Overall, these devices are designed to be enjoyable to use – live, in the studio, at home, and throughout your commute!
How do Pocket Operator effects work?
All of the Pocket Operators, as noted above (in several places), have a variety of effects built in, ranging from delay to distortion and everything in between. Some of the POs let you to apply effects to specific sounds, while others just allow you to apply effects to the entire mix.
By holding down the FX button (typically the second button below the second knob) and tapping one of the 16 numbered buttons, you can apply these effects. Each of these buttons will be assigned its unique effect. If you do this when the Write button is toggled, the effect will be applied at the point in the sequence where you tap it. This enables you to develop beats and concepts that are really dynamic.
Which pocket operator to start with?
“Which pocket operator should I get first?” is a frequently asked question on the pocket operator forums, especially among novices. “Which pocket operator should I get for my boy/girlfriend?” and “Which pocket operator should I get for my boy/girlfriend?”
Choosing your first pocket operator, whether for yourself or a loved one, might be difficult. The PO-33 Knockout! appears to be the greatest pocket operator for both beginners and expert musicians, according to the forums. This is due to the fact that it is a full-featured sampler that fits in your pocket, allowing you to sample any sound source and then create music with it. This provides it a lot of versatility.
If the person you’re purchasing for is like synths, they’ll probably enjoy the PO-32 Tonic, which uses Microtonic software to allow you to create your own synth patches. If the person you’re purchasing for enjoys chiptune or retro games, the PO-20 Arcade is likely to appeal to them because it’s designed to sound like old-school game systems. The PO-24 office, PO-28 robot, and PO-16 factory are the next most popular pocket operators, each with its unique set of sounds.
Are Pocket Operators beginner-friendly?
Pocket Operators can be used by beginners, but there is a learning curve to using the sequencer and understanding the different sound-shaping options. However, Teenage Engineering has made efforts to make the devices more accessible to beginners with features such as easy-to-read LED displays and built-in tutorials.
Do Pocket Operators have built-in speakers?
Yes, Pocket Operators have built-in speakers, which makes them great for portable music-making. However, they can also be connected to external speakers or headphones for a more immersive experience.
What kind of batteries do Pocket Operators use?
Pocket Operators use two AAA batteries, which provides several hours of use. Some models also have a low-power mode to conserve battery life.