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About the OP-Z

The Teenage Engineering OP-Z is a yet to be released portable sequencer and synthesizer. It's the successor to the venerable OP-1 with a penchant for liver performances.

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First Tracks on the OP-Z

November 7, 2018

Now that folks have had the OP-Z for a few weeks now, let’s start to listen in on what people have recorded. We’ve certainly been keeping busy exploring the workflow and the different stock sounds!

From Lymtronics, this song was completely done on the OP-Z:

From me (hisdarkmaterials) exploring 1 pattern variations, transposition, and judicious use of the performance track on the drums:

These patterns from OP-Z boy on YouTube

Another one from me showcasing the arpeggiator, mute groups, punch-in fx, and the performance track:

OP-Z Retailer ETA

November 5, 2018

We’re now about a month into sales for the OP-Z starting and different retailers have different estimates for when it will be available outside of Teenage Engineering’s pre-order. Here’s a list of stores that are accepting pre-orders and are shipping sometime between November and December.

  • Sweetwater (USA): Early November (some reported shipping on Oct 26th)
  • Moogaudio (Canada): December
  • Guitar Center (USA): Second week of December
  • Musician’s Friend (USA): Expected to ship end of November
  • Moma Design Store (USA): Expected in stock Nov 9th, 2018

Also keep an eye out for another pre-order from Teenage Engineering!

Going Screenless

October 31, 2018

Early reports from beta testers and videos from cuckoo have suggested that you can use the OP-Z entirely without a screen. For those coming from the OP-1, it might be hard to believe that this would be possible. I’m happy to report that the rumors are true, the entire experience of making music on the OP-Z is self-contained and my personal opinion is it’s even better that way.

What’s the big deal

The comparison to the OP-1 and it’s beautiful screen (which was well ahead of it’s time!) is not really a fair one. The tape based method for recording and ease of recording notes in directly meant that you need a lot of visual feedback to know where you are, where the loop point are, and to do delicate operations like splitting tracks, copying and deleting to try again.

On the OP-Z, with it’s emphasis on sequencing and patterns, you need substantially lower resolution into what you’re doing. There’s a well defined, albeit constrained, workflow that works wonderfully and provides just enough visual feedback to know where you are and what you’re doing. That’s why things as simple as say a monome’s grid of lighted pads can be all the interface you need.

Speaking of lighted pads, I find the LED feedback on all the buttons to be well thought out and mostly intuitive. Paging through encoder parameters with the lights changing to different colors is one small example that you might not even notice after awhile because it just feels right. Key combinations (i.e track + shift + some button) start to build up muscle memory and I find the need to reference the guide goes down quickly (although I understand the complaints about the sparse manual).

What do you need the screen for anyway

The iOS app does offer some non-essential perks. Seeing which synth engine you are using for example can be nice since you can better anticipate what the parameters and sounds could be. It’s also nice for looking at the current values of things like an LFO, but you also get a good amount of feedback from the LEDs like the pulsing of the LED as an indicator of the LFO modulation speed.

Finally the visualization sequencing of the OP-Z can only be done by connecting to the app. While it’s fun for a bit, I don’t find myself drawn to do that every time I use the OP-Z so it’s moreso a thing I play with once in awhile.

Overall I think Teenage Engineering made a well thought out interface and workflow which really doesn’t need any screen at creating music. The iOS app augments certain aspects of the setup, but is more of a bonus.

OP-Z Review - Part 1

October 29, 2018

I’ve had the pre-order OP-Z for over a week and, now that we’ve had time to use it at length, it’s ready to be reviewed. Does the long wait for the OP-Z live up to the ‘dream machine’ hype?

Like many others that will end up using the OP-Z, I would consider myself more of a ‘prosumer’. I’ve spent most of my early years writing, playing, and recording music. Despite having played in a band for many years and many live shows later, the thing that really gets me going is composition.

I’ve had the OP-1 for a little over a year and have used it mostly as a sketchpad for writing short melodies without the pressure of finishing anything (an important feature!). The portability and all-in-one nature has allowed me to expand where I can make music. Where before I would either need to have my laptop setup or my guitar, now I can stick the OP-1 in my backpack and that’s it.

The experience has really brought me around to the whole DAW-less jamming. While sometimes I care about perfection and audio quality (mostly while recording for reals), most of the time I don’t. I gladly will take the less powerful, but more self contained and distraction free OP-1.

As evidenced by this site even existing, the OP-Z has struck a chord (pun intended!) with me. The appeal comes from a single important truth for me. I don’t have endless hours to sit around and write music anymore. For many reasons it’s not the highest priority, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I still love writing, but now it needs to be immediate, frictionless, and forgiving.

Portability -> Discovery

People don’t tend to understand my desire for tiny things that are super functional. Every subtraction in size and weight proportionately decreases my friction to using it. I carry this thing with me everywhere. I even let it play in my pocket while I went down to the store, pressing some buttons on the performance track. Along the way I made some interesting discoveries and when I got home, I had a very interesting direction to take a few patterns. The combination of the OP-Z portability and thoughtful design opened up some new creative pathways for me.

Sequencing -> Creativity

The OP-Z is very different than the OP-1 in it’s singular focus on sequencing. As someone who spends a lot of time writing code, it feels a lot like programming where I’m playing with data, patterns, rather than notes. Building on what I said about portability, the beauty of sequencing is the ability to make quick changes and get feedback in a tight loop. There’s no fear of messing up or capturing a better performance take. In fact, you can program in the performance via the master, fx, and performance tracks. I can dive right in with minimal fuss. Lowering the barriers for creativity is noticeable especially compared to the OP-1 where I would fret about making a mistake overdubbing.

Sounds engines

The sound engines support the streamlined nature of a hyper portable sequencer. Dialing a good sound for a wide range of genres is fast, but deep enough to sculpt sounds. The dedicated high/low pass filters on each track, fx sends, and LFO are pretty much all I need. Not to mention that global reverb/chorus thing that widens sounds across the stereo field which is just amazing to combat the sterileness of a bunch of mono electronic sounds. Will I long for the sounds of some other expensive synth, of course! But given the choice I’d rather have the OP-Z. It’s better than good enough and I don’t get as distracted finding the sweet spot of some of the more lo-fi ish sounds of the OP-1.

The bad parts

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous sharp edges (another pun intended!), bugs, and shortcomings.

Battery Life

For those who have been following along with Teenage Engineering for the last 3 years about the OP-Z, you’ll be dissapointed that the battery life is only 6 hours (although reports out there are more like 3-4) compared to the 16 touted pre launch. The website has only recently been updated and it feels like a punch in the gut. Portability and battery life go hand in hand. No I do not want to take a battery pack out with me all the time, that defeats the purpose.

Midi host capabilities

In our early tests, the OP-Z acting as a midi host is buggy and barely works at syncing the OP-1. Hitting the stop button twice crashes forcing a power cycle. I even had all my patterns get erased somewhere during my fiddling. I expect this to improve and early Instagram video showing off connectivity shows there’s a lot to be excited about.

Unity 3D integration

You can get a feel for what’s to come and it’s pretty compelling, but it feels a little underbaked at the moment. I’ve also noticed that it’s really good at heating up my iPhone (and probably crushing the battery). Even as an engineer, I couldn’t really follow where to begin in creating my own Unity scenes. I’d love to dig in, but they need to spend some more time on the developer experience.

Other nits

The unit is sharp. Like uncomfortably sharp in the hand. The corners are really pointy and I feel bad for the pvc case. Speaking of the pvc case, it’s really not too bad at it’s intended purpose, but as a case for those faithful pre-order customers and a $600 instrument it feels like it should be more. The volume knob feels good, but sticking out is bound to make people feel like the unit is more fragile than it is. After going so far with the encoders (which are… simply amazing!), why let the volume stick out like that.

Closing

Ultimately the way to earn a place in my toolkit is to be unreasably useful. The OP-Z quickly established a seat at the table by helping me crank out patterns I feel pretty good about and iterate on for hours with a sound that’s fun if not good. For all the dissapointments, I think we’re still coming out ahead. No one by Teenage Engineering would even make an attempt at something like this. And for that, this is one radical piece of gear I’ll treasure.

OP-Z Video Roundup October

October 25, 2018

Now that pre-orders have shipped to most people around the globe there are lots of new videos to watch! There’s still much to figure out with this tiny powerhouse, but there’s a few really fun first videos for non beta or pre-order customers to drool over :)

Andrew Huang posted this earlier with the usual production quality. He goes over the basics of patterns and walks the creation of a beat. There’s also a comparison with the OP-1.

An excellent look at variation per pattern that can be had (one of our favorite parts of the OP-Z) from Thronn

Extended live jam sesh from Kyle Ramirez

An accessible tutorial from Brandon Guerra

Finally, a fun review of the physical unit from NomNomChomsky:

Enjoy the new videos!

Teenage Engineering OP-Z Releases Short Tutorial Videos

October 24, 2018

Teenage Engineering released some brief tutorial videos for people to get started. They’re very concise, but effective. All featuring Tobias!

An introduction (promotional video):

Building up a basic pattern:

DMX lighting (this is super cool but brief):

OP-Z Battery Life Woes and Misprint

October 23, 2018

Update 10/24/2018: People are reporting that the response from Teenage Engineering on the battery life is expected. Seems the deeper issue is the previous claims of battery life compared to what people received. A user on Reddit noted that an engineer would be ‘looking into it’. Take that with a grain of salt, unless something is clearly bad it’s difficult to make battery enhancing optimizations via a firmware update.

Folks on reddit r/opzuser, operator1, (and opzed) who have started recieving their pre-order OP-Z units have a sour taste in their mouthes. The battery life is nowhere close to the advertised spec (i.e ‘cross the atlantic twice’) and the last row of buttons (step components) are mislabeled.

Battery life is 3-4 hours not 16

Pre-order customers are noting roughtly 3-4 hours of battery life even without using a screen. In our tests yesterday we also saw the battery life quickly deplete (but also charged very quickly). There’s some obvious dissapointment for people who were expecting it to last much much longer (16 hours vs 4 hours). As it stands now, the OP-1 has much more battery life even with a built in screen. Customers are left wondering how it can be so far off since the base specs were announced about 2 years ago. The Teenage Engineering website has since been updated to remove any mention of battery life on the OP-Z.

Step component buttons misprinted

Pre-order customers have also quickly realized that the OP-Z units they received have the wrong labels for step components. One user on reddit used the app and then applied each component in order to a step and noted the OP-Z app which showed each of them on screen. When lining it up there are 4 mislabeled buttons! The backlash is understandable since we are not in fact beta customers and it seems reasonable to expect the hardware to be the production version.

Really dissapointed. More soon…

OP-Z First Impressions

October 22, 2018

We received our OP-Z pre-order today directly from Teenage Engineering! We opted in for the pvc carrying case (more on that later) and it all arrived together. Let’s check out some unboxing pics.

Peaking into the box:

OP-Z first impressions 1

Jumping right into it, we waited 4 years…

OP-Z first impressions 2

All the things in the box:

OP-Z first impressions 3

With the yellow pvc case (yes it’s that intensely yellow):

OP-Z first impressions 4

Fits right in!

OP-Z first impressions 5

Button details:

OP-Z first impressions 6

This thing is so smole…

OP-Z first impressions 7

Being a mini monololith:

OP-Z first impressions 8

Firing it up:

OP-Z first impressions 9

Jamming from the lap:

OP-Z first impressions 10

Overlay instructions in the OP-Z box:

OP-Z first impressions 11

You can see the unique plastic details:

OP-Z first impressions 12

Dog for scale:

OP-Z first impressions 13

Alex’s Quick Impressions

  • Overall, it definitely lives up to the hype. Super small with a big sound and goes all in on sequencing
  • Again, this thing is small. Hard to grasp from images and videos online, but holding it in the hand is something different
  • Sound quality is really good. To my ears the OP-1 can be very lo-fi, the OP-Z is certainly not.
  • The custom rotary knobs work well, smooth and responsive
  • The edges and corners of the unit are sharp and unforgiving. God help the pvc case when I try to stick it in.
  • The stereo effect on FX send (not sure what it is yet) expands the soundscape of any instrument. Hard to describe, but widens and livens things right up!
  • Mostly intuitive even without the iOS app (haven’t tried it yet), after watching videos and reading about the OP-Z for several years it feels pretty straight forward. I did however accidentally copy over a pattern :facepalm:
  • Most patterns I want to make are more than one bar long and it’s kind of tedious to increase the track length on each track and I forget when recording live.
  • The multiple layers of parameters per track are nicely done, the LEDs make this intuitive and fun
  • Charged the unit pretty darn quick. Oh and the battery is user replaceable!
  • The power/volume knob is nice and thoughtful (doesn’t really make sense as it’s own encoder), but feels like it’s going to get broken in a case.

More soon once we get a chance to play around a bit more!

OP-Z Modules - What We Know So Far

October 20, 2018

Details about OP-Z modules that Teenage Engineering talking up are still scarce. People are now receiving their pre-orders, but there is no new information about modules. All we’ve known is that they go underneath the unit which you access by removing the underside (check out the OP-Z unboxing video from Boe Dye on YouTube.

To be clear, there have been some videos showing off OP-Z connectivity, but we’ve only just found a picture of a module in the wild from @anfim on the Elektronauts forum.

The OP-Z ZM-1 module has both midi, cv, and pocket operator interoperability. You can see it closer in this link here taking advantage of all 4 expansion ports in the back of the OP-Z.

OP-Z ZM-1 module

It’s pretty cool that you will soon be able to extend the OP-Z beyond what the factory included. What other modules do you think are in the works? A sampler? Combine this with firmware updates and software updates, the OP-Z is already showing off that Z dimension in an X, Y world.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z Official Guide, Unboxing, and More

October 19, 2018

Just as many people are starting to recieve their pre-order OP-Z, Teenage Engineering has released the full guide and manual on their website.

As the lucky few have gotten their OP-Z, we’re starting to see more pictures of the packaging and full unboxing videos. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones from around the internets so the rest of us can drool and cross our fingers we will get our’s soon!

Unboxing Pics

Detailed OP-Z unboxing pictures from @metawops on imgur:

Unboxing Videos

From Boe Dye, part 1:

From Boe Dye, part 2:

Listening notes:

  • John takes apart the back to reveal a replaceable battery
  • Module slot in the underside is revealed by removing the back
  • Talks a bit about the plastic color

From Somnambule: