Teenage Engineering has earned accolades for their product line featuring great sound and innovative features. Their Pocket Operators, originally introduced last year, included three devices covering the Holy Trinity of Beatmaking — synth, bass, and drum machine — with each looking more like a handheld calculator than a musical instrument.
The PO-12 drum machine’s LCD display features a humorous representation of a sewing machine working in time with the beat, in addition to other more functional information. A sequencer (sadly limited to 16 steps), effects, and great sound quality round out the package. At a street price of only $59, any of the Pocket Operators (Teenage Engineering also introduced three new models at NAMM 2016) make for an easy purchase by electronic musicians of all stripes.
A Handheld Drum Machine with Sync
I originally debated purchasing either a Volca Beats or the PO-12. For essentially the same price, I decided go with the PO-12 and Korg’s SQ-1 sequencer, figuring the latter’s sync capabilities over both MIDI and a dedicated sync port would keep my Moog Sub 37 working in time with my Volcas and Monotribe. Thankfully, the PO-12 also provides a sync port, so it quickly joined in the fun.
The most impressive aspect of the PO-12 is its excellent sound quality. Even though the sounds are digital, they sound great mixed together with the Korg Monotribe. The two compliment each other nicely, making the decision to forego a Volca Beats workable for the time being.
My only problem with the PO-12’s functionality is the 16 step limit of its sequencer. Simply adding an active step function similar to Korg’s would have been a nice feature. Since I like to work in 3/4 or 5/8, building cool polyrhythms using the PO-12 with other devices isn’t an issue.
Composing Beats is a Breeze
The PO-12 is really intuitive, with an easy process for creating beats. You simply select a sound and then enter the active steps on the grid. The standard array of drum machine sounds is included, plus synth and bass tones which can be tweaked in real time using the two knobs to build simple repeating melodies. Real time overdubs and tempo swing changes are also possible.
You are also able to punch-in effects over a pattern, with 16 different effects included — everything from bit crushers to delays to stutters to sweeps. The knobs are also leveraged to tweak sound parameters in real time. Both features combine to add a ton of personality to the patterns created with the PO-12.
The device stores 16 beats which can be chained to create larger compositions of up to 16 patterns with the individual parts usable more than one time. Five different sync modes add some flexibility, but I’ve only used the mode supporting the Volcas, Monotribe, and Sub 37 with the SQ-1 serving as traffic cop. Obviously, syncing multiple Pocket Operators is another option.
The PO-12 is powered by two AAA batteries. It’s a low-power device, which turns itself off automatically, although the LCD display always remains on. I’ve yet to change batteries after two months. The unit is pretty fragile, so if you are planning to use it at shows, consider picking up a case from Teenage Electronics for around $40.
If an inexpensive, fun drum machine with killer sound is on your musical instrument wish list, by all means take a look at the Teenage Electronics PO-12. A lot of power lurks inside a very small package.