Easy upgrade turns Teenage Engineering’s handheld operators into instruments you can shake to play.
For less than US$100 ($139), Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operators pack many features into calculator-sized digital synthesizers. The no-frills approach with exposed circuit boards that helps keep them affordable also facilitates a new way to upgrade devices with motion-sensing capabilities, allowing handheld operators to be held and played like shakeable maracas. .
We haven’t seen a new model of the Pocket Operators for a few years now (other than themed versions with video game clips from Street Fighter II and mega man) and while it looks like Teenage Engineering is moving towards more high-end audio gear with its $1,200 ($1,666) TX-6 mixer and $2,000 ($2,776) OP-1 field ), the Pocket Operators remain a fun toy for amateur musicians.
But many professional musicians also use Pocket Operators, either to experiment with music or to create beats for real tracks. Being able to upgrade these devices with additional features for specific musical needs is part of their appeal, and while there are plenty of guides out there that break down all the gear that handheld operators use for those who are handy with a soldering iron, the Pocket Integrator requires no electronics skills to install.
Also made from a custom exposed PCB, the Pocket Integrator simply attaches to the back of the Pocket Operators using a pair of included elastic straps. A small number of raised pins appear to come into contact with exposed contacts on the back of the Pocket Operator, but most of the connectivity is handled via an included 3.5mm audio cable.
The main reason to use the Pocket Integrator upgrade is its built-in six-axis MEMS accelerator that allows the Pocket Operator to play samples by simply shaking it, like a handheld percussion instrument. It even includes its own sounds, so it can be used as a digital maraca. The stirring motion can also be used to naturally set a tempo, which will be maintained even when the stirring stops. This tempo can also be shared with other digital instruments via the Pocket Integrator’s USB MIDI connection at the bottom, but an additional analog sync connection is also included.
Although Pocket Operators aren’t particularly power hungry, the Pocket Integrator’s USB port can also be used as a power source, eliminating the need for a pair of AAA batteries. And while no one has created an open source alternative to the Pocket Operator firmware yet, should it ever happen, the Pocket Operator can also be used to easily flash the OP firmware.
The Pocket Integrator is currently listed as “Coming Soon” on Crowd Supply by its creator, Mykle Hansen, but unfortunately at this time there is no ETA on when it will finally be available for sale, nor on the cost of the upgrade.