Pocket-Sized Synth Mastery: Teenage Engineering OP-Z Review
When it comes to innovation, Teenage Engineering have a reputation for pushing boundaries well beyond preconceived expectations. From the outstanding OP-1 all-in-one portable synthesizer to their range of Pocket Operators, every product harnesses intuitive control with limitless potential for sonic creation.
Now, the OP-Z 16-Track Synthesizer with Sequencer is the multimedia device that is the stuff of legend. Filled to the brim with features that allow you to go from burst of inspiration to finished product without the need to include additional hardware, the OP-Z sets the benchmark very high for others. However, it also boasts a plethora of connectivity options that goes to show that it plays well with others too. Whatever your setup, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, the OP-Z opens up otherworldly dimension of musical creativity for you to explore.
Pocket-friendly and primed for action
At first glance the OP-Z is remarkably compact with a footprint of only 212.5 x 57.5 mm and 10mm depth (add 6mm in length for the volume knob). Slip it into your pocket and take it with you for beat and track creation on the move. Battery-powered and hosting a built-in speaker, you can make music anywhere. The unusual marble textured surface of the OP-Z is actually a result of the ultra-durable injection moulding process in its build, which actually makes this pretty little thing highly resilient.
Those four-wheels aren’t just there to look pretty. The colour-coded endless dials enable control over everything from synth parameters, filters, effects, levels (you get the idea). For those unfamiliar with previous Teenage Engineering products, the interface may initially seem somewhat daunting. However, with a little practise you will be up and running in no time, as the video below cleverly points out.
The OP-Z is as advanced as they come with a 16-track stand-alone sequencer that allows you to sequence music, visuals, lights and so much more. The LED backlit interface keeps you from getting lost, and if you want further real-time visual info then you can integrate your iOS device.
At the core of the OP-Z’s framework lies the ability for each of the 16-tracks to run independently from one another at differing speeds, lengths, and loop points. You can randomise tracks to input dynamic pattern shifts during sets. When creating your composition each track is built from scratch using sequencer steps, standard practise. However, Teenage Engineering applied their out-of-the-box thinking to the track-building approach, and created what they dub “step components”, which gives you the ability to add extra flavours and layers to each track.
Deep-level editing allows you to manipulate quantization, transpose whole sequences in different scales across a whopping six octaves, and generally tinker with your sound in any way that you wish. Across a single track on the step sequencer you can effectively craft an entire song that runs through a myriad of randomised pattern shifts and never loses its ability to surprise you. Imagine what you could do with the other 13 thrown in for good measure. As you can see, the only limitations here are your own creativity.
Teenage Engineering didn’t just send the OP-Z out into the world unprepared. Oh no. You get 16 sample packs that each include 24 samples across basic configurations set out into kicks, snares, percussion, and effects. As well as that, you can readily add you own samples, and let’s face it, we’re all going to want to do that!
As well as the sample packs, there’s 8 synth-based sound engines to play with and they sound just as glorious as you’d expect. If you’ve got the free OP-Z app on your iOS device, then you can download more sound engines to bolster your creative arsenal. Two separate FX buses are shared across all instrument track and offer delay, reverb, filters, tremolo, bit-crush, distortion, and more. Thanks to the upgradeable design of the OP-Z, Teenage Engineering plan to expand the range of FX with firmware releases in the future.
Get yourself connected
As noted above, the OP-Z is home to a selection of connectivity options that include USB-C, Bluetooth, 4-pin 3.5mm stereo headphone and line-out for connecting to external monitors. If you’ve watched either of the videos above, then you’ve already seen the microphone being put to good use too.
Living for live performance
Amongst the plethora of controls available to you, don’t forget about the buttons across the back of the OP-Z. From left to right you’ve got Project, Mixer, Tempo and Screen plus four expansion ports.
Project opens up one of 10 projects for working on songs, with each project offering 16 patterns and each pattern containing 8 instrument tracks. Mixer allows you to access a live mixer for honing the balance of your current track. Tempo enables you to change tempo, add a click or counting voiceover to a track. Screen opens up the main menu when connecting a screen. Use the red dial to select the corresponding menu item and you can activate the microphone. Teenage Engineering plan to make the most of those expansion ports with a host of modules in the pipeline. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.
Another feature of the OP-Z is the ability to control DMX lighting equipment (this requires an external interface). Check out the video below to see how to illuminate your performances.
Taking inspiration from their Pocket Operators series, Teenage Engineering’s Punch-in FX concept enables you to add layers of live performance effects by either recording them or integrating in real-time. Set as a separate programmable track, Punch-in FX turns the OP-Z into a powerful live performance instrument with infinite potential.
BYOS – Bring Your Own Screen
Touching on this as it relates to connectivity, those with iOS devices can download the OP-Z app to utilise their smart device as a real-time visual display. If you prefer to work with graphs and numbers, then you’ll feel right at home. The tactile display of your smart device unlocks multi-touch features such as mixer slider attenuation, effects or filter adjustment, etc. Not only that but for those who want to integrate visuals into their performances, then that smart device is essential.
By snapping a series of photos using your smart phone, you can then sequence them using the OP-Z and sync them with your song for music video creation. Photomatic allows up to 10 sequences to be added with 24 pictures each, which you can edit with the coloured dials. You can sync sequences to any track when you’re performing live too.
Taking things up a notch, the OP-Z works seamlessly with 3D animations for real-time syncing with your tracks. Create visuals using the renowned game engine Unity, or alternatively link in with a global community of Unity talent to access work by extraordinary visual talent. By working closely with the Keijiro Takahashi and the Unity Tokyo studio, Teenage Engineering took a leaf out of the master’s book to ensure that the OP-Z syncs flawlessly with your Unity created content on your smart device.
Practically perfect in every way
We could go on and on for days about how awesome the Teenage Engineering OP-Z is, but we won’t. Instead we’ll turn it over to you to make the decision. If you’ve used the OP-1 or even any of the Pocket Operators you’ll already be well acquainted with how delightfully useful and beautifully designed Teenage Engineering gear is. The OP-Z is great for playing around with ideas, locking in tracks, recording, live performance, DJing, VJing – everything!
For an in-depth guide on how to sequence music, lighting and visuals with the OP-Z, check out the video below.
Need any help?
Check out our selection of Teenage Engineering synths on the Dawsons Website.
If you need any help or advice, then our Customer Service Team are more than happy to help over the phone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the wonderful world of Synthesizers, just pop into your nearest Dawsons store.