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OP-Z Review: Is It Worth Buying?

OP-Z Review Is It Worth Buying (1)

Have you ever experienced working with a piece of equipment that is not only a full multimedia performance but can also be handheld?

As musicians and sound editors, we appreciate every little thing that makes music-making easier and more fun-filled.

There is a lot of heavy equipment with complicated functions and processes, but the OP-Z came to change the music-making industry.

Continue reading this OP-Z review to find out how!

Table of Contents

Teenage Engineering OP-Z Overview

Teenage Engineering OP-Z Overview

What Is It For?

Okay, first things first.

It sounds like a high-tech artificial intelligence robot, but it’s not that at all.

  • OP-Z is a SEQUENCER with 16 tracks and can play samples and synthetic sounds.
  • Created by Teenage Engineering in 2019, the OP-Z is one of the most lightweight but multi-functional sequencers.

BUT, that’s not all.

Not only can it sequence notes, but you can also use this sequencer for lights, visuals, and motion automation! It sounds like a powerhouse already, right?

  • Its sampling side has 16 category packs, with each pack made of 24 samples.
  • What makes this sequencer stand out from the rest is what Teenage Engineering calls Step Components.

This feature helps the sequencing process by breaking down the more rigid parts.

We’ll talk more about this below.

Main Features

The main features of the OP-Z are the following:

  • 16 synthesis, sampler, and control tracks
  • Musical keyboard with two octaves
  • 51 mechanical keys
  • 4 multi-purpose color-coded encoders
  • Pitch bend that is sensitive to pressure
  • Pattern chaining
  • 160 user-programmable patterns

In terms of other miscellaneous features, the OP-Z has a battery life of 6 hours, which is not bad considering all the heavy lifting it can do!

It also has a standby time of ONE YEAR and can be connected via Bluetooth 5.0 LE.

Pros

  • Long battery life
  • Has a companion app to aid in sequencing
  • Portable standalone device for music-making
  • Enables adding of individual tracks
  • Pressure-sensitive pitch bend
  • Simplified sequencing workflow
  • Allows USB MIDI hosting

Cons

  • Audio export options are limited
  • Does not have a built-in screen
  • Connectivity via a USB-C can be challenging
  • Not advisable for beginners

Deep Dive Into OP-Z

Deep Dive Into OP-Z

Sequencer

For starters, the OP-Z does everything you would expect for a sequencer. You can pick a sound, put some notes into some of the 16 scalable steps, and now you have a PATTERN.

Sounds okay, right?

But, the OP-Z is raved about for a reason – its Step Components feature. You can apply this feature on a track-by-track or a full song basis.

How Does This Work?

Teenage Engineering’s OP-Z made everything easier and possible for sound engineers.

Step Components enables you to sequence ALL the effects and trigger conditions without relying on buffer and splicing plug-ins.

  • Editors won’t need to rely on sequence filter sweeps and perform trial-and-error on different patterns anymore!
  • You can think of it as the hundreds of supercomputers back in the early times of technology being reduced to a single unit you can use on your lap.

Not to mention that the possibilities are endless. You can create complicated glitch-style effects or musical nuances whatever genre you’re going for.

And yes, the OP-Z can slay any musical genre!

Can You Give Me More Details About the Tracks?

These are some of the main reasons why OP-Z stands out among track and sound recording devices!

SIDE NOTE: Each track has a resonant filter, and each gets a single LFO except the Arp.

Have we mentioned that each track has 10 slots to insert sound sources?

The panel focuses on ONE TRACK AT A TIME, so imagine how much time you would save when you have an easier time adjusting parameters like note length!

  1. The first four are drum tracks, wherein the synth channels can carry each load one of nine sound engines, including a sub-heavy bass and a PCM sample player.
  2. The next track is a tape-style effect, while the next track is a master section where you can transpose melodic tracks. The next one is a performance track.
  3. The final three tracks are the visual and lighting sequencers and the Module track, which you can use for the expansion modules.

This adds the CV, MIDI, and the ‘Rumble’ module for haptic bass feedback.

What About as Sequencer of Photo and Lighting?

If you have the OP-Z iOS app, you will see the system’s display. This would usually include a series of sound editors, project management tools, photo/3D video hubs, and MIDI configurations.

Of course, using the OP-Z requires some learning curve, but OP Z’s features make this curve a little less steep.

You don’t even have to use your screen to learn how to sequence photos and lighting!

This equipment by TE has three tracks dedicated to sequencing visual elements, namely Lights, Photomatic and Motion.

  • These patterns can be triggered through the black numeric keys, while the dials control the color and brightness of the lights.
  • This device provides upgradeable effects and other extras to improve visual control, including built-in delay, reverb, bit crush, and distortion.
  • You also have control over the DMX interface.

The OP-Z can perform its live performance with its various sample packs and built-in synthesis engines!

Build Quality

One thing’s for sure; Teenage Engineering doesn’t disappoint.

The physical build of the machine is solid, with its exterior looking like an out-of-this-world device.

However, the OP Z feels like paper to the touch, but don’t be fooled. It’s super sturdy and can handle years of creating and recording tracks.

You can thank the 50% glass fiber mixture and IXEF 1022 PARA during injection moulding for the paper feel, with its tiny buttons giving an overall smooth feeling.

NOTE: The small yellow tab hanging on the instrument’s left is the combination power/master volume control.

This button is waiting to be used to enhance your drum machine sounds or modify the volume of your audio tracks.

However, one downside is that professionals might feel that Teenage Engineering prioritized aesthetics over functionality.

The lightest touch might accidentally change parameter values.

Connectivity

OP Z’s superpowers are stereo audio with MIDI and power on a single USB-C jack.

Have we mentioned that it’s single 1/8-inch stereo audio?

Every single one of OP Z’s tracks can send MIDI to your Mac or iOS device through the OP Z app.

PLUS, when it’s on Disk Mode, sample tracks can easily be dragged and dropped to be used.

The great thing about this is that you can even sequence instruments using your OP Z through discreet MIDI channels.

Apart from other pocket operators, this device also offers customizable CC messages that you can use to modify rotary disc encoder settings. These include:

  • Filters
  • Sound parameters
  • FX sends
  • Other punch-in effects.

You can apply the effects above to solo tracks by holding the Shift button and playing the white key buttons. You can also duplicate this into two groups.

One downside that we can find is that audio connectivity is a little bit limiting, given that you would need an iOS device to connect to phones.

However, the brighter side is that the MIDI implementation is versatile, and you can export your multiple tracks without much of a hassle.

Ease-of-Use

The OP-Z does not have a screen on its own, which makes it a little harder to use for some complicated motion graphics, especially when you want to test before the main show.

You’ll need to use your control app for these functions for that.

When it was first released, the device was only compatible with iOS devices, but it has been upgraded to be compatible with Android.

The screen of your Android or iOS device will show the sequencer and everything you are trying to record – whether that is music or other cool stuff.

Built-in Accelerometer

This accelerometer comes with various mic options, so you can add your vocal effects wherever you are.

Talk about being handy.

If you’re worried that it might be too heavy to carry, it only weighs one pound, and the dimensions are just 2.26″ x 8.26″ x 0.39″. When they said it’s pocketable, they meant that!

It is a portable powerhouse, which is incredibly convenient for on-the-road changes and fixes.

If you want more control, the app of OP-Z is perfect if you want additional configurations such as Photomatic and Unity 3D modes.

What Is Photomatic and Unity 3D?

Photomatic and Unity 3D modes are HEAVEN for visual people. If you want to add some visual sequencing extras, Photomatic is the feature for that.

You can utilize the sequencer for your photos – even from your iPhone’s camera roll – to be used as a background for your music and synth tracks.

If you want to create your own samples first, there are a lot of visual effects available.

You can already use images to accompany your punch-in effects and other traditional synths through only a few controls.

Some visual effects that can be created and modified in the OP-Z include timing-related effects, 3D video effects, and color changes.

Is There a Downside?

Sadly, yes.

Teenage Engineering did not design OP-Z for beginners in synth engines or even a sequencer newbie.

The Step Component would require some experience. Another point of improvement for the OP-Z is the lack of options to add video clips.

According to the claims of Teenage Engineering, OP-Z is a standalone device capable of curating powerful live performances.

But, it would have been a lot better if editors were allowed to curate music/video projects through their OP-Z.

Pricing

Everyone wants to get their money’s worth.

Of course, if you are going to buy a sequencer for hundreds of dollars, you might as well ensure that it’s going to serve its purpose.

Teenage Engineering is a company focused on designing built-in synths beautifully, and they did not fail us with the OP-Z.

OP-Z isn’t just valuable for its built-in mic, punch-in effects, total pressure-sensitive pitch, and motion sensors.

It’s also valuable in terms of the inspiration it gives.

There is NOTHING that even comes close to what OP-Z’s Step Components feature does, and that alone makes the equipment worth your money.

Not to mention that it can be connected to an app.

At $618 (current Amazon price), it’s already a WIN for all sound and music professionals.

Of course, it doesn’t do everything, but for something small and portable, it’s a CHAMPION amongst other devices.

OP-Z vs. OP-1: What’s the Difference?

OP-Z vs. OP-1- What_s the Difference-

For starters, teenage Engineering OP-Z and OP-1 are created to be standalone devices.

Designed to create music on the go, these two devices include many built-in virtual instruments and samplers.

  • OP-1 is better for sound design capabilities, but the other prioritized sequencer-based workflow.
  • OP-1 trumps the other equipment in terms of sound design palette, but the latter boasts of a tape FX track, where you can automatically record and add tape machine stops and rolls.
  • OP-1 has its own screen, and this screen can aid in creating visual sequences. The other requires to be connected to another device with its app.
  • The battery life of OP-1 lasts up to 16 hours. You won’t have to worry about your equipment running out of power in the middle of an important recording session.
  • However, when it comes to the build, Teenage Engineering OP-Z is made from composite plastic, unlike OP-1, which is made of metal.

While the former is economical, the latter is more durable and long-lasting.

Alternatives to the OP-Z to Consider

#1 Squarp Pyramid Comprehensive Sequencer

#1 Squarp Pyramid Comprehensive Sequencer

When you feel that the track quantity of your equipment should be increased, the Squarp Pyramid is for you. It has a total of 64 polyphonic tracks.

This is perfect for those who want to create songs from the moment they click the record button until the very last note.

If you use a DAW as your primary sequencer, this equipment will become your best friend! It offers a lot of export options and is also a connectivity powerhouse.

With this, you can route MIDI into USB MIDI out, and you can also convert MIDI IN to clock to DIN SYNC.

Honestly, you won’t run out of options with this one.

Dubbed as the “heartbeat of your studio,” the Pyramid promises real-time changing the step lengths, quantization, arpeggiator rate, and the delay on/off to create better sounds.

#2 Organelle

#2 Organelle

The Organelle synthesizer is for you if you want something simplified and straightforward.

This equipment is powered by a replaceable battery and is fully portable while still allowing plug-ins.

It also has MIDI IN and OUT jacks, which are extremely versatile for transferring audio files and samples of your curated sounds.

What’s amazing about the Organelle system is the entire system runs open-source software, so you can continuously share your work with a community and customize it at every level.

The input and output for the Organelle allow patches to synthesize, sample and effect through its onboard hardware PLUS its mappable knobs, keys, and buttons.

Have we mentioned that the Organelle gives off some seriously classic vibes? If your main instrument is a guitar, then the Organelle is the perfect match for you!

#3 Elektron DDS-8 Digitakt 8

#3 Elektron DDS-8 Digitakt 8

If you are a fan of single-cycle oscillators and noise loops, and synth one-shots, then you’ve officially found the engine for you.

The Elektron DDS-8 is a piece of digital and live-friendly equipment capable of sequencing dedicated samples through high-resolution encoders and back-lit buttons.

Elektron also has a software suite that connects compatible instruments to computers.

This is called Overbridge, and the updated version even integrates both analog and digital instruments with DAWs.

This powerhouse has a lot of useful features promising to “break your creative boundaries wide open and sets the stage for a striking encounter.”

With this, you can use two LFOs for double modulation and has a wide palette including:

  • 23 electronic drum kits
  • 44 synth tabs
  • 1 percussion kit
  • And more.

The only catch here is the Elektron DDS-8 is much more expensive than other engines.

Not to mention that not all types of instruments are compatible with the system of Elektron.

This might give the feeling of being exclusive, and the user needs to make sure all his other pieces of equipment are compatible with Elektron, especially when there are performances.

Some Final Words

Some Final Words

Teenage Engineering continues to amaze us with innovative engines that make our editing and creative processes easier!

We hope you learned a thing or two from this review!

The OP-Z is a portable powerhouse with all its features and abilities, plus the app. Perfect in and out of your home studio!

Just consider your needs when you’re deciding what to buy.

About the author

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After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.