Choosing a New Pocket Operator

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Choosing a New Pocket Operator

Choosing a new Pocket Operator is a daunting task. Which one should I get? Because each has their own unique points and quirks, finding the best Pocket Operator can take some time. In this article, we will discuss some key points to consider before starting or expanding your PO collection. Thankfully, they are all relatively cheap compared to some other entry level samplers and synthesizers. Choosing your first (or second, or third) PO generally comes down to determining what kind of sounds and effects you want to work with.

If you are a beginner looking to start your collection with a single device, you may want to read our other article, Top 3 Beginner Pocket Operators.

Pick based on role.

Since Teenage Engineering always releases 3 POs per series, we like to define each of the devices based on their role in music. Leads, backing, and drums. We’ve built a table below to help categorize them. Drum machines are pretty self explanatory: get one if you need drums. However, if you want to create melodies and leads, you’d be better off with a lead device. Alternatively, if you already play an instrument, or just need something to add layers and depth to your songs, consider a backing device. Of course, each PO can function individually as a stand-alone machine, but the level of flexibility ranges for each device. Consider the next paragraph for recommendations on a more flexible Pocket Operator.

PO-1X (Original)PO-2X (Retro)PO-3X (Mic. In)
DrumsPO-12 RhythmPO-24 OfficePO-32 Tonic
BackingPO-14 SubPO-20 ArcadePO-33 K.O!
LeadPO-16 FactoryPO-28 RobotPO-35 Speak

Well-rounded or specialized device?

Of course, some people might be looking for more of an all-in-one device rather than a specialized one. There are two POs which we consider very well rounded, meaning they can create melodies, solid backing layers, and drums to complete the track. You can’t go wrong with either of these, but it mainly comes down to how much you like 8-bit chiptunes versus a sampler.

PO-20 Arcade

Of all the POs, the Arcade is consistently a highly recommended machine for beginners and anyone else looking to start their PO collection. It embodies the 8-bit chiptune theme of the entire PO-2X series, and its chord feature solidifies it as the series’s backing device. But it still has multiple unique bleeps, noise, and arpeggios to cover percussion. It has a couple different sounds for base and further backing track layering. And another few modifiable simple sounds to handle your lead and melody needs. There is also no other PO which can go from zero to a full song as quickly as the Arcade can. While it may be limited to 8-bit sounds, the Arcade (or multiple Arcades) could realistically be used to create a whole track and album completely by itself. There really is no other machine to compare it against.

Buy the PO-20 Arcade ($59.00)

PO-33 K.O!

One of the newer POs, and definitely a contender to dethrone the Arcade for most flexible of them all. The K.O! is a sampler. This means you can record samples (sounds, or other music) from the line in or from the built in microphone. Then, you can modify those sounds, assign them to keys, add effects, and play them back. While we classify the K.O! as a backing device, some creative thinking and smart use of samples gives you the flexibility to do almost anything. Record and sample everything! Take one with you and grab samples from your car, your voice, the park, or plug in a smartphone or PO and feed it music to mix and match. It might take a bit more preparation and setup compared to the blazing improvisation speed of the Arcade, but it makes up for it with its sampling capabilities.

Buy the PO-33 K.O! ($89.00)

Everyone has different motivations for choosing one Pocket Operator over another. Wether you want a well rounded device like the Arcade or K.O!, or something super specific like the Sub or Office, each of these machines have tons of expression waiting to be discovered. I personally started with the PO-14 Sub because I loved creating bangin’ powerful bass lines and was blown away by the powerful sounds blasting from my speakers. Were you surprised by any of your own POs?


2 Responses

  1. Robert Armstrong says:

    I’m a singer songwriter that can play guitar because of rheumatoid arthritis. Can I find chords that support my singing of my songs, plus drum backing? If so which unit is the one I need to buy?

    • Pocket Operating says:

      While there isn’t a PO which can cover all of your needs, for a solid drum backing we recommend the PO-12 Rhythm. The PO-20 Arcade *does* have chords, but it’s limited to 8-bit sounds and only 16 different chords in total. If you want something that can do chords, you might be better off with something like the Volca Keys from KORG. Currently, Volcas seem out of stock everywhere so it might be hard to find a PO-12 or PO-20 for around MSRP.

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