The world is full of a wide range of electronic music gear, from the simplest battery-powered devices to high-end gear accessible only to studios or professional producers/composers/engineers. And while there's no doubt that it can be fun and exciting to make music on "fancy" gear, or to find inspiration in devices that might otherwise be out of reach. However, we're also inspired by devices on the other end of the spectrum—deceptively simple, portable, and affordable instruments that force you to make the most out of your own creativity.
In that arena, Teenage Engineering's Pocket Operator series are no doubt some of the most interesting electronic musical instruments presently available. Each focused on a single, basic perspective on electronic instrument design, these (literally) pocket-sized devices make it simple to make music wherever you go: and their price point (each under $100 as of the time of publishing this article) puts them within reach of most electronic musicians. So if you need a sequenced bass synthesizer, a voice synthesizer, a sampler, or a drum machine...you might be surprised just how much these unassuming devices can offer.
Today, we're focusing in on one of our favorite members of the Pocket Operator family—the PO-33 K.O., a sampler that packs a surprising punch and capabilities well beyond its weight class. If you ever thought that getting into electronic music production was too expensive, we ask that you watch Wes's tips above and read on...because this amazing little device just might change your mind.
PO-33: Absolute Knock Out
The Pocket Operator PO-33 K.O. is a surprisingly capable sampler in a literally pocket-sized package. Containing a powerful melodic sampling section, a drum/percussion sampling section, a 16-step sequencer, and a a variety of performable effects, the K.O. can do an awful lot. Capable of sampling via its 3.5mm external input jack or the built-in microphone (yep, there's a built-in mic), it allows you to get started working with sound without needing any additional gear: just simply find a cool sound, capture it, and get to work sequencing!
As I mentioned above, there are two sampling sections on the K.O.: a melodic sampler and a drum sampler. The melodic sampler is designed to capture a single recording and allow you to play it chromatically—re-pitching it in order to turn simple recordings into sequenced, playable melodies, basslines, pads, and moving textures. The drum sampler, on the other hand, takes an incoming recording and chops it into sixteen segments which can be triggered on any sequencer step. The "chopping" happens instantaneously via transient detection—making it super simple to turn incoming audio into "intelligently" divided individual samples. This can lead to awesome results with almost any incoming material: it's easy to play individual sounds from any other device for use in the drum sequencer, or even to bring in external tracks for creating breakbeats/etc from the auto-sliced material.
What's particularly interesting about this is that you can actually use the melodic section and drum section simultaneously—so it's fairly straightforward to use the K.O. to create full tracks worth of sound. What's even more interesting is that you can store eight melodic samples and eight "kits" internally and even sequence them all simultaneously. Yep, that's right—you can go absolutely wild doing multi-track sample playback. The only catch is that there's a limit of four notes of polyphony, and each individual instrument/kit is monophonic—so if you need to layer sounds to be completely simultaneous, those sounds need to come from different instruments/kits, and you just need to keep in mind that you can't produce more than four notes all at once.
That all might sound crazy...I mean, managing that many sonic resources in one instrument in a gratifying way would have to mean including utility functions for sample trimming, filtering, re-pitching, copy/pasting sounds between kits, etc. right? Well yes—and amazingly, the K.O. can do all of that and much more. I'll spare you the finer details about button combinations/workflow here—but again, check out Wes's awesome video with his favorite tips/tricks for an idea of some of the wild things you can do with this device. Performance recording, step sequencing, performable effects, recordable effects, and much more—this sampler is far more capable than a lot of devices many times its price.
And while it's not something you're likely to see listed on a spec sheet, one of the most striking aspects of K.O. (and the other Pocket Operators!) is that they are dead simple to use—taking even just a few minutes to glance at the manual or skim a YouTube overview, you'll be more than equipped to have a rockin' good time play this thing. That type of immediacy is a rarity, especially with a device capable of so much...so our thanks and praise goes out to Teenage Engineering. Given all of this, the Pocket Operator K.O. is one of our favorite music-making devices altogether. Sure, there are flashier things out there—but something that packs in this much power and pure fun while remaining affordable and easy to use is a rarity, and well worth praise.
So, if you're looking to pick up a fun new toy that can do way more than any toy should be able to...or if you're looking for the perfect gift for a music-minded friend, a Pocket Operator K.O. comes highly recommended.