Impressions after four years

Believe it or not, I’ve had my OP-1 for four years. I first purchased it during a Columbus Day sale in 2013. I play piano having taken classical lessons when I was a kid. I’m interested in classical orchestration, so this is what I’ve used the OP-1 for. I have owned several synths since buying the OP-1 (Mutable instruments Ambika, DSI Prophet '08, vintage Ensoniq SD-1) but if I had to keep only one, I’d keep the OP-1.

I think the interface is the best thing about the OP-1. It’s conceptually simple, and there’s almost no menu diving. As I have gotten better at using it, I find that it’s pretty streamlined. I can get wherever I need to go with one or two button presses. When I’m editing a sound I spend most of my time modifying envelopes for changing articulations. I also change filter cutoffs for making a tone darker or brighter. I can do these from muscle memory; they’re just a single button press and a turn of an encoder.

The downside of the simple UI? The synth is weak in the modulation department. Just one example: you can’t modulate the Nitro filter frequency and the pitch at the same time. With the Tremolo LFO Teenage Engineering is moving in a great direction. I’d like to see envelopes on other LFOs too.

The synth engines are pretty good. I use Cluster most. It does good strings and brass. You can’t get super realistic sounds but I feel you get close enough to the sound of the real instrument that the essence of the instrument comes through. If the instrument’s envelope is right and its tone is more or less correct, it will fit correctly in an orchestral arrangement. I use Dr. Wave for oboes and harp, and Digital for clarinets. I usually use Nitro or Punch with these to darken the original waveform. Punch has some weird artifacts but allows you to change the filter mix, which allows me to enhance a particular part of an instrument’s tone. I’m not fond of FM (difficult to get the right sound out of it), String (strange artifacts when playing many notes), DNA (doesn’t sound acoustic), D-Wave (I haven’t figured out how to get the sounds I want), Pulse (everything sounds the same), Phase (everything sounds thin and the same). I really like the sound of the Voltage synth but I haven’t really made any instruments with it. I sometimes go and resample a wave using Tape and the Sampler.

In terms of effects, I mentioned Nitro and Punch. I dislike the Spring reverb but it’s what the OP-1 has. Reverb is really difficult and expensive on memory and processor resources. I don’t really mess with the rest of the effects much although I find CWO a whole lot of fun.

The Drum synth is not terribly useful for me. I may sample some tympanis with it. I have used the drum sampler to sample harp glissandos.

The endless sequencer is the only sequencer that I use; I use it for entering musical lines before recording them to tape. Classical music rarely has short one, two, or four measure patterns, so the finger and pattern sequencers don’t do much for me. I don’t really every seeing myself using the Tombola or Sketch sequencers.

So the Tape is the greatest part of the OP-1 besides the UI. I love the fact that the tape works just like a real tape recorder. You can also beat sync with the sequencer. However, orchestral music is not what Tape was designed for: I quickly run out of tracks, and the 6 minute maximum recording time and 90 second maximum lift time are much too short. Also I wish there was a way to manage multiple songs at the same time or chain tape segments together to form a longer composition.

While I’m harping on the OP-1 limitations, the biggest complaint I have about the OP-1 is that the keyboard is one octave too short. With two octaves there are few classical music lines that fit within the length of the keyboard. When you’re in tape mode you can’t even change the keyboard octave. Oh and velocity sensitivity would be great.

However, despite these limitations it’s still my favorite synth. I feel that there’s no synth that is as personal as the OP-1. It’s something I can carry with me where ever I go. I never travel without it. I can put on headphones and play it in bed after my wife and kid have gone to sleep. I switch to the Newday patch, turn the volume down, lie down with the OP-1 on my waist and jam away. It’s like listening a choir of angels as I fall asleep…

Nice breakdown - everyone has there own bits and pieces that they like/dislike about it.

For me, it took me a good while to turn my thinking of the Op1 as a “Synth + sampler + tape” actually to a “Tape + sampler + synth”. Once I got that in my head, I approached the OP1 from an entirely new perspective, and all the “synth problems” completely disappeared. For example, the lack of modulation on the synth engines: as you mentioned, this can mostly be accounted for by recording to tape, then bringing into the synth sampler and applying a new LFO.
Which brings me to my next point: destructive editing.
This was the single thing that I hated most about the OP1 (I don’t think we need to count the “Noob question, where is the Undo button?” threads…), and now is my favourite thing about OP1. It FORCES you to commit. It FORCES you to make choices based on limited resources.

I think the OP1 will be a forever classic simply for the fact that it IS limited, and to get the best out of it you simply have to work harder. Eno said something similar about computers having too many options which crushes creativity. I can definitely relate to this. I’ve been using Maschine for 4 years, but in the first 6 months of having an OP1 I’d made and finished more songs than the entire four years with Maschine.

Limitations spawns creativity. Viva OP1
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@tumble2k the Valve Synth is very good at doing Rhodes like sounds. It also has a more analog synth feeling.
Maybe try to slow down the tape to get more minutes on the tape. I myself was never doing so (only speed up :wink: but I think the quality is still ok then.
Very nice brief on the OP-1 by the way!

Nice idea @tumble2k, and good summaries too !

I’ve got the OP1 for 3 years now, my first hardware synth was the Novation Ultranova, which is a great VA for synthesis introducing. Before that I was mainly making music with VSTs on a DAW since the 2000s. Now I’m trying to make all these things works together. When I wanna have fun fast, I’m making some beats on push and playing the OP1 and Ultranova ( sometimes JU or SH).
I would like to create more electro acoustic music, cause I’ve got some interesting instruments as the didgeridoo, rattletraps and a steel drum … I think the sampler side of the OP1 will be perfect for that.

I love my OP1 ! Currently the first negative point (and not the least) is that these days, I do not really have time to make music… so when I’m taking time to have fun, I’m making new tunes I never finish :).
Whereas, as you said above, the op1 allows to create and finish tracks in an efficient way. I have to find more time and more efficiency.

I agree with you @millbastard about the tape/sampler + synth. Even if the synths engines can be really surprising !

However one thing is annoying for me : the « click » sound randomly produced sometimes. I haven’t figured out how to completely eradicate this sound « glitch ». Last firmwares improves this but it doesn’t totally disappeared.

Finally I agree, OP1 gonna be a forever classic and it drives creativity for sure !
It’s an ultra portable mini studio :slight_smile:

Just realized that next month I’ve had my OP-1 for four years too! I guess it’s time for an “interim verdict” from me as well.

OP-1 was my first hardware synth. Before that, I had been playing the guitar and messing around with computer audio for about 20 years.

It really helps me to focus my creative process, and I agree with you @tumble2k, the tape is the best thing about OP-1.

There is nothing that I don’t like about the OP-1. I love it’s lo-fi, gritty, digital character. It’s almost as if it comes from an alternative past, where tape machines were always digital, and “cold” sounds were the “warm” sounds.

Recently, I’ve just grown to appreciate the OP-1 more, as I watch my 3-year old messing around with it. He especially loves the Tombola, Sketch and Finger sequencers, since they visualize the music so nicely. Last night we were playing together, and the OP-1 was routed through an Octatrack thru machine, where I sequenced some effects while he was playing the OP-1. We had great fun.

For the past year or so, I’ve used OP-1 in a band setting, which has made me realize it’s limitations a bit more. I would really really love to have “global presets” that would save all tempo and tape settings, mixer settings, and perhaps even sequencer patterns and synth slots. That would make it possible to use OP-1 throughout a performance. It’s still a great box for live playing too as it is.

I was just telling my wife yesterday that despite my lack of using my OP-1 as much, I still love it. Last year when i decided to buy one, it was that or an Ableton Push 2. I chose the OP-1. It’s a love affair with the OP-1, but as I said, sadly I don’t really use it a lot. I just ordered the Push 2 and started using Ableton Live much more to write, record and will use the Push to perform. I’m tempted to sell mine but I fear that I would forever regret it and miss it. I think I’ll most likely keep it out of love and I hope to use it more but as far as production goes, I’ll likely be using the Push 2, Ableton and my other synths.

@millbastard, that’s a great tip. I forget how much power there is in resampling a synth. My only quibble is that the original LFO rate becomes pitch dependent. But I expect it will work quite well anyway. I think the limitations are great too. Pianos don’t have an Undo function.

@mixrasta, do you lose the beat match if you slow down the tape? I love the Valve synth. Very siney–smooth and pure. Probably that’s why it does Rhodes so well. I should try using it for flutes.

@quarantequatre, it’s like what they say about photography: The best camera is the one you have with you. Sure you can use an iPhone, but when I use an iPhone, half of the time I end of looking at my email and forgetting why I originally turned it on.

@vehka, I have a 1.5 year old. When did you let him start using the OP-1? I’m afraid he’s going to destroy some keys.

@flyingace71, One thing I didn’t mention: the OP-1 is very spontaneous. I can power it up and within a few seconds I can start laying down tracks.

The other day my wife asked the Amazon Echo to play Schubert, and it played a really simple but beautiful piano arrangement of Ave Maria. I recorded it onto the OP-1 and then later transcribed it to sheet music. The Tape allowed me to move back and forth so I could listen to difficult sections repeatedly. I could choose to play it slower too. That’s another reason I’d love to be able to work on multiple tapes. I’d give up the album functionality for that. I bet that the flash space is maxed out though.
@vehka, I have a 1.5 year old. When did you let him start using the OP-1? I'm afraid he's going to destroy some keys.
I started mine at about 3 but only supervised. Here's an early play:

He’s 6 now, would leave him to it so long as I’m not precious about what’s on the tape or current sequences.

Great review of sorts @tumble2k - I’m on my second OP1 and can’t see me selling it again. I missed it so much!

<a href="/index.php?p=/profile/tumble2k" style=“margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; font-size: 13px; font-family: “lucida grande”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, tahoma, sans-serif; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(1, 115, 198);”>@tumble2k Funny, I just mentioned this thread to my wife and she said “oh, you will always have to keep the OP-1, it’s not only cute but dang it’s powerful… plus, 10 years from now, it’s going to be a classic worth more than you paid, an heirloom” I said to her back about ordering the Push 2, and I believe this, that learning it will make me better, faster and more proficient at producing on the OP-1 as well!

Yeah my kid’s been playing it for the past half a year or so (so from 3 years onwards), but always strictly supervised. We should have a separate thread for OP-1 for kids / for music education. =)

No problems with beatmatch. The only thing with slowing down the tape after you recorded some sounds the notes/pitch will be different of course, but I never had any difficulties with that.

My favourite thing about this post is the fact that there are classical composers out there using the OP1. Rock on brother.

@vehka I’ll wait a couple of years before letting my son use it.

@ghostly606 so cute! I read your thread about the Organelle. I’m also trying to reduce the number of synths I have because they’re distracting. But the little one can get one.

@flyingace71 I think your wife is right. The OP-1 has the makings of a classic. For one thing it defines its functionality in a way that new technology won’t make it obsolete. It’s not to say that technology is really moving fast in portable electronic musical instruments.

@mixrasta Oh I get what you’re saying now. You record at speed and play back at a slower speed.

@Anfim To say I’m a classical composer would be overstating things. Maybe some day.

For me, a slightly larger version of the OP-1 would be the perfect instrument for me: 3 octaves with mini keys, velocity sensitivity, more and longer tracks, a single synth engine with slightly more power and better modulation capabilities, battery power, better reverb. Kind of like a portable Ensoniq TS-10. This is definitely not what the OP-1 tries to be. But it’s the closest thing on the market to what I want.

I wish it was more customisable. There are 3 sequencers I barely ever use and that memory space could be used more efficiently

I’ve had it for about 3 months and it never stops inspiring me. As a jazz guitarist it’s amazing to be able to make music out of anything I hear. I realized about a month in the op1s true nature, as a Tape - Sampler - sequencer- Synth/drum in that order. If you buy an op1 trying to get all those classic analog sounds you’re going to be very disappointed. If you’re a lover of all things timbre like me, it doesn’t matter what makes the sound as much as how it sounds. There are plenty of sounds to create with this device to the point where one should never be in a rut. and while you can make an entire album with an op1 and a daw, it should be thought of as a sketch pad for ideas on the go as well as a workstation. Things don’t have to be created, recorded, arranged, and mastered on the op1 alone(i feel like most the nit pickers attempt to do this), it can be but not required.

I really need to start using the other sequencers like tombola, sketch etc. The main sequencers I use are endless, arp, and the finger. I’m gonna send some cv stuff from the oplab to my modular using the tombola sequencer before I forget. Anyways I’ve had my op1 for over 4 years too. Mainly just compose full tracks on it and then export to Ableton to finish it up if it needs extra stuff or for more complex sequencing/editing. Op1 is a classic.

I ve the OP1 for about 3 or 4 years:
I love the tapedeck + drums most. Usually I play some chords with my guitar on the first track, then I try out some drums and percussion (from the op1) to support that rhythm (I know usually the drums should come first, but for me it feels better this way) and than I start to jam with either my guitar or some synthesizer like the DX7. The whole wordflow and how fast it all goes is what I love most, also I think it is a big advantage that I can NOT undo things. Usually I wanna do stuff perfect, if I work on my computer in Reason it sometimes needs forever, because I change little things within the music I do… on the OP1, I really practice music and have fun, because of its limits in certain areas. Maybe that sounds a little strange, but I hope you know whatI mean.
Overall I think the sice and how much you can do with it, is what makes it as awesome as it is… bigger or more keys, more time on the tapedeck… all this would change somehow what it is.
On the downside I am kinda shocked that for such a expensive little beast I already have 3 keys that dont work… that’s something which shouldnt happen within such a short time.