MATRIXSYNTH: Teenage Engineering OP-Z jam and review - 3 days, 7 patterns, and first impressions

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Teenage Engineering OP-Z jam and review - 3 days, 7 patterns, and first impressions

Published on Dec 4, 2019 Payton Carter

Teenage Engineering OP-Zs on Amazon

"I got an early Christmas present two days ago. I thought I would show you some of the patterns I’ve created so far, and give a quick 'first impression' review of the Teenage Engineering OP-Z.

I’m coming from the Novation Circuit, which I’ve loved, but I was starting to feel the limitations of the two synth tracks and canned presets. I chose the OP-Z so I could expand the number of synth tracks, allow full control of the synth engines without a computer, and use its awesome, esoteric sequencing capabilities.

I’ll start off with some of the things I like. First, the synth engines sound wonderful. They are very usable and musical sounds. I’ve found myself spending less time trying to find the right sound and more time writing music, because the sounds just work in almost every context. I feel like I could use the same set of sounds across diverse genres equally well. I’m able to focus more on melody and composition, rather than sound design, which helps me be a lot more productive.

The step sequencing and punch in effects are fantastic. I haven’t used it enough yet to be comfortable using the punch in effects live, but the step components are great at adding elements of variation and surprise. You can make it so you’ll never hear the same 16-step pattern twice, but the parameters have enough constraint that it never feels chaotic (unless you want it to).

It’s super portable, and the built in battery is convenient. I’ve only had to recharge it once in the two days of use. I don’t think it’s too small to use comfortably, and it’s actually quite nice to just use it on your lap. I can fit the whole thing in my pocket easily. The buttons feel good to play.

The interface is surprisingly intuitive. It took about 2 hours to feel comfortable with the interface, and now I feel like I can perform most of the tasks without consulting the manual. I only have to reference the step component parameters every once in a while. I have an Android phone and didn’t realize until the second day that TE had just released a beta app. Honestly, I didn’t find it too useful. I prefer using it without a connected screen.

The sampling capabilities are great, especially now that you can sample directly through the microphone or USB audio. I’ve been going through my music collection on my phone and building sample packs from them right into the OP-Z. You can use samples as one shots or sources for a synth track, so the sonic capabilities are now pretty much endless.

Here are some of the things I don’t like. First, the reverb is terrible. I don’t know what TE were thinking. There’s only one reverb algorithm, and it’s very digital and harsh sounding. There’s almost no tweaking of the sound. The maximum decay time is much too short. It’s almost useless at adding large space, so I’ve found it really only works as a stereoizer. It works in some cases, but I don’t find myself using it very often.

I’m slightly concerned about build quality. I bought mine used off Reverb, and when I received it, I was disappointed to find that the encoders were popping right out. I scoured the forums and found a little Teflon thread tape around the encoders should fix the problem. It worked wonders and I haven’t had problems with that since. The back panel is a little loose. The buttons do double trigger every once in a while, which makes me worried for their longevity.

The synth engines, while great sounding, are a little limited. There’s not much tweaking of the sounds, so everything ends up sounding pretty similar. This is less of a con than I thought, because the sounds are very usable and work across many genres. I’ve always held that composition much more important than sound design, anyway.

I wish an analog of the mixer interface on the app was available on the device. You have to go to the fourth page of parameters on each track to change its volume. That’s not very practical in a live setting.

There’s no excuse for how little memory is on board. 32 Mb is just unacceptable in 2019. As great as the sampling capabilities are, there’s only room for 4 different six-second samples per synth track, so you have to pick your favorites unless you want to constantly shuffle samples back and forth from your computer.

Despite its limitations, I’m in love with this thing. It’s my desert island instrument for sure. I am super productive while using it, I can take it anywhere and make music anywhere, and it’s just plain fun to use. Mine was supposed to get wrapped and put under the Christmas tree, but I don’t think I can let that happen."

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