Teenage Engineering OP-1

Hi all,

Wanted to start a thread to get people’s thoughts / experiences wirh the TE OP-1. I’ve owned one before and gave it up simply because it did not fit with my workflow at the time. I am now venturing into modular and have noticed folks here that successfully incorporate it into their systems. I am also just a lot more open to new ways of making music than I used to be.

I should also note that one of the primary reasons for inquiring is that I am seeing tons of people (like me) that have owned one (or more) and have sold them. I just want to be sure this second time around that I am not giving into the design aspect of the OP-1 alone.

Questions:

  • Is the OP-1 a worthwhile investment?
  • Is it more of a toy or a instrument?
  • What does it do best / worst?
  • What’s the best way to use it with modular aside from midi and filtering sounds?

What I want to use it for:

  • Midi into my modular (instead of getting a touch sensitive module like Pressure Points)
  • Sampling and routing through my modular
  • Ocassional sequencing

I know this is subjective, but anything you could contribute would be greatly appreciated. The community has never steered me wrong!

Best,
Ignacio

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For what you say you’d like to use it for, I can’t imagine a simpler all-in-one solution to those problems. If you do get one, it’ll probably end up doing many more things in your rig than are on this list.

Your questions, on the other hand, are (as you say) a bit subjective and tough to answer without knowing you.

  • Worthwhile investment: I mean they’re fucking expensive, so this kind of hinges on your current financial comfort level. I was lucky enough to be able to afford one a while back, and am very glad I pulled the trigger. I can also imagine an earlier, more broke version of myself thinking that if a $900 instrument didn’t move heaven and earth to change the very core of my being then it was a complete rip off.
  • Toy or instrument: It’s an instrument that’s really, really fun to play with.
  • Best/worst: everyone will have a different answer to this, which kind of hints at what it does best - being a multifunctional tool. It’s “pretty good” at a lot of things, and only genuinely bad at things it’s not really designed to do. Most of its engines have very specific limitations.
  • Uses: There isn’t a “best way”. I use it with my skiff in the three ways you plan to use it with yours, but once you understand it, it becomes an improvisational problem solver as well. Maybe you’ll want to sample the current state your modular into the 4-track, then alter your patch as the op loops? Maybe you want to add in an op kick drum? Maybe you want to wash the whole thing in a weird drone? There are a ton of possibilities.

Hope this helps.

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Disclaimer: I’ve never even touched an OP-1…

Seems like an OP-1 would be a rather expensive way to achieve these three. If you really wanted them in an all-in-one solution, perhaps an Electribe Sampler would work at less than half the price.

If you’re willing to go with two or more devices to fulfill that needs set, you can probably still come in less than the OP-1. Consider an Aurturia sequencer w/CV (KeyStep soon to be out, too…), KMI QuNexus, any number of smaller samplers… just some ideas

I love the op1. For me, its easily the best small synth/instrument of the decade, so my review is probably very biased.One of the best things about it, is the tape recording aspect and its simple workflow. If you don’t like that workflow, then you definitely are cutting out a huge part of the op1.

For you questions:
The first two are completely subjective. imho, its very worth it, and not a toy.

What it does best:
I would say that the 2 biggest strengths of the op1 are:
a) its tape workflow. Simple cut/paste operations and a visual interface that shows you where audio is on what track, make for very effective ‘quick and dirty’ workflow for editing. You can make whole tracks inside the box.
b) it fully supports an unquantised workflow. There are sequencers that play to the beat, but imo, recording unquantised to tape is what sets it apart from groove boxes like the elektrons etc. You can make any loose style of music very easily this way, without shifting trigs, or other post operations.

What it does worst:
I would say its not a good controller. If you want a midi controller, there are better cheaper options. Using the op1 mainly as a controller is (imho) a real waste of the machine. Rather use an iPad where you have many many advanced apps that can do way more in terms of sequencing and pattern recoding etc etc etc.

As far as using with your modular:
I think simply playing along with the modular is its strength, chords and the like. If you want to sync up completely, there are options. USB midi into your modular is possible, as is a click track output from the beta OS.

For sampling and routing… it really depends on your workflow. Yes you can sample in easily and output back into the modular (will probably need something to boost the audio signal). But it doesn’t have a specific internal mixing/sampling workflow like the way you can use the Octatrack to sample while playing other material and flip over with the fader. If you want to do those kinds of things, you will be disappointed in the op1.

I think its been made pretty clear over the years that the op1 has quirks with its workflow and you either LOVE it for those, or you don’t. If you used the op1 before, I think you know in your gut already if you like or dislike the machine. Its still the same machine and the same hiccups and oddities are there.

There are no shortage of videos on youtube, but here is one of mine where you can hear its unquantized and scratchy resampled nature, that I love about the op1. There is a keyboard part recorded in (the same way you could use the modular if you wanted) but the rest is all op1 and the track is heavily edited and resampled all inside the op1.

That’s my 2 cents, lots of people use the machines in different ways, and I am sure there are other perspectives and cool ways of working.

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i’ve found it the most worthwhile when i want to get away from the computer. op-1 solo on a hike is ace. sunset arpeggios!

op-1 + op-lab (or any usb midi -> cv device) can be the “daw” for your modular. sampling, sequencing in sync with a 4-track recorder, tempo synced delays, eq, etc. really extends the modular in a fast, loose, muscle memory kind of workflow.

one thing i’ve discovered is that you get an audible ground loop when you have the op-1 connected to the modular via cv and the modular feeding sound into the op-1 line-in. disabling op-1 usb charging will not fix it. it’s a high frequency digital whining that is really hard to eq out of recordings. i bought a usb isolator and the problem went away.

http://us.hifimediy.com/HiFimeDIY-USB-Isolator

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I recently arrived to the OP1 party, and whilst I cant give any feedback on its use within a modular setup I would recommend the OP1 cookbook which is on iBooks. I have found this invaluable as I get to know it. Waaaaaaaay better than TE’s manual (or lack thereof).

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-op-1-cookbook/id806259708?mt=11

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If you’re a minimalist who likes mono and lo-fi and digital noise maybe you’d like it better than I do. If you want to slave it to a more competent MIDI device maybe it won’t feel as bad.

There’s a mild cult around it, and I realise I’m at odds with the lore ;; Hope this helps you anyway.

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My perspective is that the OP1 is invaluable. It’d be the last piece of gear I’d ever sell because its incredible range of uses. That said, I feel like the challenge is that it’s better as a self-contained box and doesn’t play as easily with other instruments. That’s why sometimes I don’t use it as much as I might, but it’s still amazing and more than worth the cost to me.

C

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I was an early adopter of the OP-1 (bought it when it first came out).

Had it for years, and ultimately sold it mainly because of how frustrating i found my attempts at having it work well with my modular. The OpLab might have been a single most frustrating and (in my case) disfunctional interfaces, eventhough it was supposed to “connect everything with everything”.

Anyway: I sold it all a few months ago, and am feeling a weird sense of relief. :slight_smile:

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I appreciate your blunt appraisal. I kinda suspected a lot of this might be true. Strange how hard it is to find anybody willing to say it in such clear terms.

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Oh yeah: the noise was really bad too.
I forgot all about it, because I conditioned myself into thinking that it was the “character”…

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^ this

If you have a full studio and need to pick and choose your pieces, the ~$900 OP-1 is difficult to justify

If you can pick one up more cheaply [have seen go used as low as ~$450]

Or borrow one indefinitely [strangely common with this piece of gear, in my experience]

Or don’t have an extensive studio beyond it…

it seems like a fantastic piece.

Ultimately at the end of the day you do what you need to to spend a not-insignificant-amount-of-time with one, and decide if it makes sense for you.

It’s a divisive piece of kit for a reason.

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To expand just a bit – what if I make a piece of music on the OP-1 that I’m happy with that isn’t perfect –––

or I don’t make a piece of music at all?

Maybe this is the question/tradeoff we need to ask ourselves/make at times.

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Practically why I’ve kept mine.
But thin grounds if you asked me to justify it.

I bought one in 2012, and sold my 256 to buy it. I’ve had a few phases where it’s sat in its case, untouched, sometimes for more than a year at a time, but after revisiting it this last time, it’s been out and in use somewhat regularly. Even with the downtime, I don’t think there’s ever been a point where I’ve regretted that decision.

It’s definitely a very particular instrument, that I find to be well-designed, and very self-aware. It’s also very constrained in ways that may not make sense with your musical goals or perspectives.

The one aspect of the hardware that I find immensely frustrating is that they keys are just switches, with no velocity sensitivity, which makes playing it a bit of a frustration point. I’ve been able to work around that a bit recently with an iOS app I’m developing that uses 3D Touch to send velocity and aftertouch, which opens up a whole new world on the OP-1.

And every discovery I have about ways to use the device seems to do that – there are many worlds within that box, and many that I haven’t explored, or am not even aware of. In that sense, it’s a wonderful instrument.

From a financial investment perspective, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the best way to spend the same money. An iPad with apps, a camera connector kit, a compact audio interface like the GuitarJack, and a compact controller like the QuNexus may run you about the same cost, and be just as flexible, if not more-so, but it may also require more mental energy to set up and explore (depending on how your mind works). The downside of that approach is that you run the risk of getting caught up in Apple’s release cycles, and their supposed planned-obsolesence – new iOS updates may brick older apps, and new apps may not run on the old OS, so while the firmware updates to the OP-1 are few and far between, they’re not iterating hardware regularly, and any new features (like the “fucking finally” arpeggiator/sequencer) will definitely work on your OP-1 without breaking anything else. There is also potentially a stability issue with the iDevice approach, since the OS handles memory management, and Weird Shit™ can always happen and crash any app at all…

The things that really Bum Me Out about the OP-1 are:

  • Fixed-velocity keys, as mentioned.
  • That MIDI CC inputs eat up your LFOs
  • Lack of a real sequencer – The Sequence arpeggiator is one of the more frustrating interfaces to use in terms of musicality… It feels worse than programming drum loops into Ableton with a mouse. I have no idea what the fuck they were thinking with the etch-a-sketch sequencer, or how to make it more than a one-trick-pony.
  • The input and output jacks are tiny, and unbalanced, and therefore subject to more noise. Obviously this is a tradeoff made for portability, which is something I can live with, but it puts the machine into the lo-fi category that was mentioned above.
  • The crazy ground-loop hum that @shellfritsch mentioned – though it seems to go away when I plug my iPhone into the wall. I’ll also look at picking up that USB isolator, which looks super handy.
  • The mixdown capabilities are severely crippled since there’s no real way to automate a mix inside the box, and since the MIDI CC inputs are severely limited (to only controlling the active instrument), you can’t even do this with an external knob/fader controller.
  • The USB Disk mode is brilliant, but I wish there were a way to put all of that into a DCIM folder so that I could trick my iPhone into mounting the drive so that I could back the OP-1 up without a laptop.
  • Lack of quantization as an option – I know this is “part of the character” of the machine, but my rhythmic timing is generally horrible. I understand why they omit this from the “cult” perspective, since the songs that come out of the device are less generic without quantization, but I find it to be frustrating, since there are ways to lay down quantized things (holding the record button, and pressing a key with an arpeggiator on, for instance, will give you a purely quantized thing. I realize this is also a design issue, since quantizing live input is difficult to illustrate, and will prompt people to want to go in and edit what they’ve just done. So while it bums me out, it’s at the bottom of the list.

Hope that helps a bit…

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Thanks, everyone, for your input. Many of your thoughts align with mine, most notably the limitations - e.g., sound issues, glitchy software, etc. I do think that it’s possible to make interesting tracks on it, though, if you’re willing to put in the time to work through the kinks. And I think ultimately this is what it boils down to for me: the ease of making music. With my first OP-1, I realized I was spending too much time trying trying to find workarounds / fixes instead of dedicating that time to composition. Also had this experience with the Octatrack - although the OT is a much better product in terms of build and sound quality.

In conclusion, I think I will hold on purchasing a second unit. I will stick with my MPC and SP-1200 for sequencing for the moment and buy a MN Pressure Points as a simple controller module for my modular system.

Thanks again!

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I think it’s nice. Nice industrial design, great sound quality and its designers clearly have a lot of humour. Included features are sufficient to make small tunes.

However, the user interface could have been better designed. It’s too modal.

The comment about spending a lot of time finding workarounds/fixes is interesting because I think it is one of the most intuitive devices there is. I guess life would be boring if everyone agreed or experienced reality in the same way! :slight_smile:

As for the sound quality criticisms, it definitely isn’t perfect, but the workflow and feeling of inspiration while working within its limitations outweigh the loss in fidelity. Again, for me. I’m a huge believer though…it doesn’t do anything perfectly, but it does a lot pretty dang well I think, which is what I think it was shooting for. Definitely agree with a comment above about the OpLab being a case of overpromised/underdelivered. I wish they had spent more time developing that as a tool for interfacing the OP1 with other devices.

C

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Sold my OP-1 months ago, thinking about getting another one. I agree with the general comments, and feel the lack of quantization/a-real-sequencer is a great let down, but somehow I feel emotionally attached to the experience of playing it.

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I really loved the OP-1 as a standalone instrument for jamming with buddies but ended up selling it because it didn’t play well with my other gear that I had invested so much more in. If you are going to use it with a laptop or something it may still be worth it.