Hi board people, I am a new owner of an OP1 (3 months now), and I though I would share my views on the unit for any useful purposes, with the goods and the bads.
My background: I’ve been making music on music machines, not professionally, for the past 32 years, I am familiar with a lot of modern instruments, mostly samplers and groove boxes (Akai MPCs, Akai S-series, Roland TR and MC, Yamaha QY/RM1X/RS7000, Elektron Octatrack) and a few synths (SH101, Mini and MicroKorg, Arturia MiniBrute) - I have also used Software (Maschine and Reason) but it was never my thing.
I bought the OP-1 after lurking on it for a a while, and I packed it for my summer vacation (I usually travel with an MPC2000xl to keep me happy on holidays…). My production style is typically Hip Hop and Ambient and I do mostly sample based stuff, but I also like to program basslines, pads and keys with synth engines.
What is really good with the OP-1 (IMHO)
A few quirks put aside (see the what’s wrong section) the OP1 is an amazingly enjoyable unit. It has the ability to make you really focus on the music rather than anything else, and lets you compose on instinct rather than rationally. It is a fantastic sketchpad, but with enough built in features to bring your production up to ‘professional’ demo level. For some it can even be the finished product. For a standalone unit, with real sampling and synth capabilities, and in such a little (good looking) form factor, it is quite special and unique.
Overall, and despite its high price tag (I bought mine 1160 € - it was a unit returned to the seller, but it usually sells around 1300-1400€) it is a unit I’d recommend. Originally I was planning to invest in an MPC One (did I mention I’m a real MPC head?) but since I couldn’t find any for purchase, after a few months I decided to give the OP1 a try. I am really happy I did.
Its best features for me are:
this unit packs a lot of usefulness in it, with great drums, great synths, a sampler, a 4 track tape recorder, a well thought interface, a mastering tool, a funny UI, a superb design, and a lot of nifty features. It is a great unit for an electronic musician on the go, but even in the studio it stands its ground because of how good it sounds.
it really has a superb form factor, and a great battery life (you can really go on a very long way without a recharge, in my experience more than 11 hours non stop). But the battery has its own quirks I would be happy to do without…
everything is learned fast, everything seems very well thought and logic. I come from a heritage of 30+ years of playing around with studio gear, I am a dedicated MPC head, and it took me less than 2 hours to get my grips around the OP1, and after that all was a breeze. There are very few specifics to be learned about the unit of course, but you keep discovering functions as you move along, in a very painless way. Big hint, use the SHIFT key more. A key point of the ergonomics is how little you need to go through menus and submenus to get things done. The OP-1 has button and knobs, and like the MicroBrute, everything is available there at your fingertips (there are a few limitations though).
The sound in general, (not the onboard speaker of course).
The unit sounds just great, it has depth, definition and breadth. The few effects, filters, equalizer and compressor are well designed. More than often, synths’ on-board FX are just so and so, but what you get in the OP is really impressive, and more than usable. I think that the spring reverb is incredible, but the two filter modes named CWO and NITRO are splendid. I miss the presence of simple tempo-synced delay (can’t get the DELAY fx to sync well) and a good distortion (but CWO can do some), and I really wonder what is the actual use of the PHONE fx… The various synth engines are also very good, with loads of presets that are usually interesting and not cheezy, and good editing capacities. The visual display of parameters helps to memorize settings on the go, which is a very good idea when programming your own patches.
The variety of synth modes
Scrolling through the synth engines is fun and pleasant, Making your own edits is very easy, and very visual (this helps a lot). I’ve never been super fond of synths, but this one really captured my heart. The instant saving of synth patches in the user presets is just gerat, keep handy the ones you like.
The variety of sequencer modes
There are a lot of good design ideas in the sequencers, despite the fact that none is a ‘real’ linear multi timbral sequencer as found in MPCs. They are rather sketchy pattern sequencers with various programming/playback modes. I end up using FINGER more than anything else, but endless is quite useful too. PATTERN is a bit a disappointment, considering the limited number of steps. In the sequencer domain a lot of simple improvement could/should be done, particularly the possibility to run a sequencer in synth mode, while running another sequencer in drum mode at the same time. Also I would like to have a bit more control, particularly in Finger mode, with different time signatures (you can fake them by playing on pattern length), with SWING values showing (so you can sync with PATTERN sequences, and would love to be able to store patterns for later reuse. Also, in Finger, we only have so many patterns as the white keys, why can’t we have them on black keys too? is this a memory issue?
Whats really wrong with the OP1 (IMHO) - if more experienced users see something below that is not true, i’d be more than happy to correct it of course.
No real AMP envelope in DRUM mode.
This is pretty annoying when you use this mode to chop melodic sample (it is no big deal for drum breaks really). For me it is THE major flaw of the OP1 sampler. What exactly is this strange thing the OP1 is giving you instead? A transient shaper? WTF. I need an AMP envelope. Why? for once when chopping melodic samples it is pretty difficult to get a reasonably clean (no click) start and end points, then the AMP envelope is an essential correction tool. So either you sample in synth mode, and you have no chops, either you suffer clicks. And you suffer even more because the Waveform display is obnoxious.
Impractical waveform display for samples:
The waveform display (for samples) is just impractical and not precise. Period. Eventually I end up chopping by ear as I used to do with my 1998 Akai S20 sampler (that had no waveform display). And even like this the controls are a bit insufficient (what about various audition modes, so you can audition only the end of the sample for instance for fine editing?)
The ‘one sample one patch’ philosophy
On the OP you can sample up to 12 secs in drum mode, and then chop these 12 seconds as you like, and map the chops to the keys. If you want to add a new sample, you need to select another drum patch, you can’t simply add a sample to the existing patch. This make building sampled drum kits quite painful (unless you do that on an external unit and then feed the OP with it). I have tried to ‘lift’ a chop from one key in patch 1 and drop into another key in patch 2 but it does not work. It is strictly one patch one sample waveform. This is rather limitative. It is sad, because otherwise, i think that the way the OP is handling samples, and the fact that you can sample on the fly from any source without stopping your workflow is actually quite good.
No measure numbering in Tape
You can generate measure markers in tape: good. But why can’t they be numbered? Navigating the 6 minutes tape is a pain when you are building a song progression. You have to map your tape to timecode on a sheet of paper to know where your 4th 16th, 32nd measures are located. It seems to me that small numbers appearing somewhere on the screen wouldn’t be too much to ask for.
One sugestion: why not having also sub measure markers when you zoom? You can always double up and quadruple the tempo to generate more markers, but this a bulky solution.
Another suggestion: why can’t we just have markers on the tape? they could take advantage of the 1-8 buttons with SHIFT in tape mode e.g. This would also simplfy a lot navigating the tape, jumping back and forth from beginning to end is really annoying in the current configuration.
No ZOOM control in tape
In many cases the OP1 adapts the zoom in the display to the parts being edited, but this is sometimes frustrating and not working well (especially if you have set a long Loop section). The ability to manually zoom for fine edits would be so good. There are so many functions that go with shift+knob, it seems so easy to add this (shift+red knob e.g.?)
Bulky save/load mode:
moving from a project to another one, saved on the PC, is pretty long and cumbersome. This is a major oversight. As it is the OP is a great one project/one unit kind of gear, but at that price it seems over expensive. This also limits the portability of the unit, because you actually need to have a PC with you if you want to save/load stuff.
Suggestion: Why not have a memory card where the projects can be stored and recalled instead?
No velocity settings on keyboard:
This I believe is another major oversight. You can always try and program an LFO to modulate the AMP after a pattern/sequence is playing, but it is definitely bulky and cumbersome. I wish I could set the velocity of notes as I enter them in the sequencer. Think about drum accents for instance, but not only.
No timestretch in Tape/Sampler
There is a sentence in the manual that says that “if you turn beat match on and switch to tape mode, you’ll notice that bars have appeared above the tape tracks. these bars are your guidelines when recording in sync. one bar is 16 beats long. now, play a sequence and adjust the tape speed, you will hear the sequence play slower if you turn down the tape speed, and faster if you turn tape speed up. however, the pitch won’t change.” This is not happening on my unit. If I adjust the tape speed, the BPM changes, but also the pitch of the tape playback. I wonder if it is faulty, or what? The sentence does not make a lot of sense then, and it is confusing to say the least. Of course I’d love to have timestretch (realtime or not) for tape and for samples too.
No OCTAVE shift in endless sequencer mode
So you can programme a sequence of many notes in ENDLESS, good, but only within the very small keyboard range. There seems to be no way to stay in write mode for the endless sequencer and shift the octave, because the < > keys are actually used to lengthen notes.
No way to sustain notes in FINGER sequencer
I may have missed something, but I cannot sustain a note over many steps in Finger sequencer. I tried with SHIFT+ > to no avail. I can only sustain notes in the Endless sequencer.
Has anybody understood how the hell is Arpeggio mode working?
Arpeggiators are not a new thing, and they usually all work more or less the same way, with a variety of ‘modes’ (up, down, octave, chord separation etc.), and more/less built-in complexity for user programming, but the one on the OP-1 is completely defying my understanding (and 25+ years of arpeggiator experience). I spent a couple of hours making a few tests, then left it alone - sadly. I wish I could see a tutorial for this.
The POWER management.
This unit seems to be designed to operate mainly on battery, and when the battery depletes it takes quite a while to set it up and running again (for me it is between 12 and 16 hours before i can turn i back on) - this is A LOT. I wish the OP-1 had ‘DC mode’ so that when the unit is in the studio you know it is powered by USB, and that the battery is left alone and will not die on you. Furthermore, battery cycles are a precious thing, they shall not be wasted when you have DC available.
The TRACK selection 'hiccup’
To select a track while the tape is playing you need to push its number button, but by doing so you SOLO the track, even if for a very brief period. This is really bad in live situations. There should be a way to select a track without affecting the sound output in any way. Why would you select a track? Well, for once, to add synths on top of the ones playing, while taking advantage of the track settings, (volume, pan etc). But there may be many other reasons.
OK, big-up for the readers that went this far. I more than welcome comments and corrections.
I have two simple tracks I made with the OP-1 on souncloud if anybody’s curious.