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The OP-1 Field Makes Creating Music Easy and Fun Again

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  • Posted on 17th Aug, 2022 22:51 PM
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The OP-1 Field is an update to the decade-old OP-1, bringing refinements more than anything new, but it excels at making music fun again.

  • The OP-1 Field is a portable, all-in-one sequencer, synth, drum machine, tape recorder, and more. 
  • It’s so easy to use that hit songs just drop out of it. 
  • The new version is like a grown-up version of the original.

Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

Making music can be as simple as picking up a guitar and playing it into a tape recorder or as complex as building a project in a digital audio workstation (DAW). Now imagine if it could be both.

Teenage Engineering's OP-1 Field is a tiny, portable, battery-powered music studio. It's also just about the most fun you can have making and recording music. It's an update to the decade-old OP-1, bringing refinements more than anything new, but these changes take the OP-1 Field from quirky to essential. In short, the OP-1 Field makes music fun again. 

"For me, it gives me a portable take-on-the-train all-in-one production device that I can also use at home in the house with an acoustic piano or Nord Grand, and lets me stay in a musical frame of mind rather than a computer frame of mind," said OP-1 F user and musician Rowan Pope (aka darwiniandude) on a forum thread participated in by Lifewire. 

Groove Box

It used to be that you would start a tape recording, then play your instrument. You’d lay down a few tracks on that tape and have a song. The obvious downside was you had to spend years learning your instrument so you’d be good enough to get it all down in one take. 

Computers make it possible for anyone to make music and make new kinds of music possible. But they have their one downside. The software is complex and can often feel more like using Excel than making a banging tune. Hardware—drum machines, synthesizers, samplers, etc.—is similarly complex and often hides features behind menus. 

Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

The OP-1 F is the very opposite. It’s designed around a digital tape recorder that behaves a lot like a real tape recorder. You can slow it down, run it backward, and overdub on any track, infinitely. It only has four tracks, but that limit forces you to focus. Instead of letting your project sprawl into a 50-track monster, you must make decisions as you go, commit to tape, and move on. 

Not-So-Big Easy

But the magic is in how easy this all is to use. 

For example, if you want to sample a sound on a dedicated sampler machine, you usually have to enter record mode, record the sample, trim it, then assign it to a key or keys. And that’s with the easy ones. On the OP-1 F, you just activate the sample input (built-in FM radio or an external source via line-in or USB-C) and press a key on the keyboard. Let go, and recording ends. That’s it. You can immediately start playing. This lets you sample another synth that doesn’t play chords and then play chords with the OP-1.

For me, it gives me a portable take-on-the-train all-in-one production device...

Recording to tape is just as easy. Hit record, then play. There’s also a drum sampler, which lets you record several drum sounds and slice them up onto individual keys, but this can slice any sound. The other strength of the OP-1s, both the OP-1 Field and the OG OP-1, is it’s easy to get wild, fast.

"There really is no competition, and that's mind boggling given that [the original has] been out for 10 years," electronic musician and OP-1 F owner Oscar Brouwer (aka tendingtropic) said on the Elektronauts forums. "I’ve been playing with my OP-1 Field for two weeks now and still have 75 percent of battery."

Between sampling off the radio, slicing up the result, and playing it through the weird (and sometimes wonderful) effects, you will constantly surprise yourself. Famously, Bon Iver took an OP-1 to a cabin in the woods to record his first album. If you record yourself singing "Oooooh" into the OP-1’s sampler, then play it back as a chord, you’ll recognize his sound immediately. 

Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

What makes the new OP-1 Field so much better is that it now samples in stereo, and the four tape tracks are also stereo. Its built-in speaker has gone from a vestigial afterthought to "Wow, does that sound come from there?"

And overall, it's just better. Even if you don't want all the device's quirks, it is still the most immediate way to record. It just gets out of the way. 

A final example. I had an idea for a song the other day while on a walk. Normally, I might open up Ableton on my Mac later, futz around, and forget about it. This time, I found a bench under a shady tree, switched on the OP-1 Field, and played with my idea. It's not perfect, but because the sound quality is perfect, I can drop the whole tape into Ableton and finish it there.

Like I said, the OP-1 Field makes music fun again.

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