For less than $100, Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operators pack a lot of functionality 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 the devices with motion-sensing capabilities, allowing the Pocket 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 (aside from versions themed with video game samples from Street Fighter II and Mega Man) and although it seems like Teenage Engineering is moving towards more premium audio gear with its $1,200 TX-6 mixer and the $2,000 OP-1 field, the Pocket Operators remain a fun toy for amateur music makers.
But many professional musicians use the Pocket Operators too, either for experimenting with music or creating beats for actual tracks. Being able to upgrade these devices with additional functionality for specific musical needs is part of their appeal, and while there are plenty of guides out there that break down all the hardware the Pocket Operators use for those handy with a soldering iron, the Pocket Integrator requires no electronic skills to install.
Also made from a custom exposed PCB, the Pocket Integrator simply straps to the back of Pocket Operators using a pair of included elastic straps. A small number of raised pins appear to make contact with exposed contacts on the back of the Pocket Operator, but most of the connectivity is handled through an included 3.5mm audio cable.
The biggest 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 digital maraca. The shaking motion can also be used to naturally set a tempo, which will be maintained even when the shaking stops. That tempo can also be shared to other digital instruments through the Pocket Integrator’s USB MIDI connection on the bottom, but an additional analog sync connection is included as well.
Although the Pocket Operators aren’t particularly power-hungry, the Pocket Integrator’s USB port can also be used as a power source, removing the need for a pair of AAA batteries. And while no one has created an open source alternative to the Pocket Operator’s firmware just yet, should that ever happen, the Pocket Operator can also be used to easily flash the PO’s firmware.
The Pocket Integrator is currently listed as “Coming Soon” on Crowd Supply by its creator, Mykle Hansen, but unfortunately at this time there’s no ETA on when it will finally be available for sale, or how much the upgrade will cost.