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Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 Field and TX-6 are proving divisive with fans

The Swedish company is known for its industrial design and quirky features but its latest two products might have priced out a lot of their loyal fans.

Video transcript

[PLAYING NOTES]

JAMES TREW: This is a sample actually taken from FM radio.

[PLAYING NOTES]

This isn't your typical synthesizer and this, believe it or not, is a fully fledged six-channel mixer, and together they form Teenage Engineering's Field series. Now, they're causing a bit of a stir in music-making circles for one simple reason. On the one side, there are fans of the unique features and minimalist design, and then on the other, there are those that think it's a lot of money for what you're going to get. Oh, right, I should clarify-- this OP-1 is $2,000, and this TX-6 mixer is a bargain at $1,200.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Before we get into what exactly all the chatter is about, we should go over exactly what these things are and why you might want them in the first place. The TX-6 is Teenage Engineering's first ever mixer and as you can see, the main selling point here is that it is teeny tiny. You can literally put this thing in your pocket and go. It has six stereo channel inputs, so you could connect up a whole studio's worth of equipment. But as you can imagine, it's best suited to smaller portable gear, which is kind of Teenage Engineering's thing, to be fair.

Beyond the basic mixer functionality, there are, of course, some quirky flourishes, which is another thing that Teenage Engineering is actually known for. On the TX-6, that means there's a built-in musical tuner, plus a synthesizer and drum machine, so you can pick up basic ideas on the go.

[PLAYING NOTES]

Other nice touches include Bluetooth MIDI for wireless control of apps and synths, and the whole thing does double duty as an audio interface for your PC, too, if you want. As for this, the OP-1 Field, this is Teenage Engineering's flagship synthesizer that replaces the much-loved original OP-1, and that was released over a decade ago. And despite more than 100 new features this time around, the OP-1 Field remains faithful to the design and unusual workflow of the synth it replaces, which is what enamored so many people to it the first time around.

Almost everything has been improved this time around, as you would hope, including support for 32-bit stereo audio across the whole signal chain. There's a longer sample time, there's more storage, a new synth engine, a new reverb effect, just to name a few. But the biggest upgrade, of course, is that price. The OP-1 Field costs $2,000, as we've said, which is over twice what the original cost at launch. And whether you think that the OP-1 Field and TX-6 are for you will depend on what you want to do and, of course, how you want to do it.

Now, let's be clear-- it's not hard to understand why people like Teenage Engineering products. Just look at this little thing. It is adorable. But also, it sounds great, and it doesn't even feel remotely underpowered given its diminutive size. Now, as mentioned, there is a basic synthesizer and drum machine on board. I'm not going to lie-- it is a little limited as to what you can do with it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

But it is enough that you could feasibly poke out basic musical ideas out on the go. So you can't play the synth on the mixer chromatically-- just that one note.

[PLAYING NOTES]

But what you can do is play it chromatically via MIDI or wirelessly via Bluetooth MIDI, if you have a device that supports it, which of course, the OP-1 Field does.

[PLAYING NOTES]

There are even some pretty decent effects. You have two effects that you can add via the mixer here, so regardless of whatever you're putting into it, you'll be able to add effects on top of those. So for example, you have chorus, delay, reverb on the top one, and then on the second one you have the freeze, tape stop, filter, a bit crusher, and distortion. Oh, and the tremolo as well. So there's quite a few options there if you want to add effects in this little pocket-sized mixer.

And of course, you can record all of this directly onto a PC or a phone. Or if you have one of these, you can record directly onto USB drives just by simply popping it in here, no PC or phone needed. So sure, this is a competent little mixer, but it makes much more sense when you think of it in the context of Teenage Engineering's ecosystem. The OP-1 Field, of course, looks a lot like its older sibling, and it works the same way, too. That means you have different synth engines.

[EERIE SYNTH NOTES]

Drums.

[DRUM BEAT]

A sampler.

[PLAYING NOTES]

The keyboard, of course.

[PLAYING SCALE]

Effects.

[DISTORTED TONES]

And, of course, the tape, which if you've ever used the OP-1, you'll know is a central part to the synthesizer's workflow.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

But beyond the extra storage, the 32-bit audio, and the stereo, which is harder to demo here, the main goodies include the new dimension subtractive synth.

[PLAYING NOTES]

And the new mother reverb.

[PLAYING NOTES]

But really, if you're going to fall in love with the OP-1, it'll be because of the quickness. That tape I mentioned earlier is going to be how you build your songs. Instead of a sequencer with MIDI notes and audio, everything goes into, well, a virtual tape. And it's an unusual and very committal way of working, and once an idea is recorded to tape, it kind of gets a bit complicated if you want to, say, add effects or remove a hi-hat.

Another slightly unusual feature on the OP-1 Field is the onboard FM transmitter and receiver.

[GARBLED SPEECH]

On the OB-4, you can use in conjunction with the OP-1 Field sort of in a live scenario, if you wanted, for example--

(SINGING) Take pictures. Take more pictures.

So don't start getting ideas about launching a radio station, of course. The range on this thing is pretty pitiful. But it's enough so that you can play it over the airwaves locally. And in particular, that works with Teenage Engineering's OB-4 speaker, which not only has an FM receiver, but also lets you remix the radio on the fly.

And I guess here it makes sense to talk about the built-in gyroscope, too. That's another carryover feature from the original, and it adds a playful touch to the OP-1. Basically, you can modulate the sounds by, well, simply moving the device, and it feels like something that would be great for live performance.

[SYNTHESIZER NOTES]

And it's precisely these types of features that make people love Teenage Engineering products. They're playful yet in a deliberately creative way. And where else can you live gen sound you found over the radio before sampling that back and recording it to a digital tape?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[NON-ENGLISH SINGING]

Do you ever need to do that? Probably not. But the fact that you can is what gets some people excited. On the other hand, for $2,000, you can buy a lot of hardware and software synths. You can incorporate them into your setup without having to learn a whole new workflow. Likewise with the mixer, it's a beautiful object and it works really, really well. But the tiny dials aren't great for performative edits, and to a point, the tiny form factor is as much a hindrance as it is a bonus, especially when it comes to actually plugging your gear in.

And that's sort of the Teenage Engineering conundrum in a nutshell-- they make pretty things that are fun to use, but at a price that means you really have to love that quirkiness. And many people do, but with the Field line seemingly going even more in that premium direction, it'll be interesting to see how many of the die-hards are willing or able to take part. Head to engadget.com for more details on what makes these two things unique.

[MUSIC PLAYING]