Pro Audio

Engineering the Sound: synth experiments with Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operator Modular 400

Teenage Engineering has brought the flatpack modular synth dream to life with the Pocket Operator Modular 400. Engineering the Sound put it through its paces.

A flatpack modular synth? It could only come from Sweden. And more specifically, it could only come from one company: Teenage Engineering. This firm has been bringing many far-flung fantasies to reality throughout its history. Its latest tour de force is the Pocket Operator Modular 400.

Yes, it’s called a Pocket Operator and yes, the Modular 400 can connect with its pint-sized cousins. But that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, you won’t be carrying this synth around in your pocket (though it still is very portable). And another thing, in the finest traditions of modular synthesis, the guardrails have largely been taken away: this is an open-ended exploration into analog synthesis. Naturally, the team from Engineering the Sound was eager to investigate.

The flatpack description is no joke. It arrived at the studio in a single, large, cardboard box — like a supersized Pocket Operator. And just like when you unwrap your new IKEA bedside table, you’ll need to be in the mood for some DIY labour (none of it backbreaking, you’ll just need to be patient). Depending on your skills, you’ll be staring at your very own self-built modular synth within two to three hours.

Teenage Engineering has built its reputation on design, build, quality, and aesthetics, so it should come as no surprise that everything is on point. Sturdy, light, and strikingly beautiful, the Modular 400 is a showstopper.

The accompanying instruction manual is an achievement in its own right. The building steps are clear, but more importantly, it forms a bridge to performing on the synth as it comes with a ‘preset’ guide of suggested patches to get you up and running.

PO Modular 400 synth

There’s an accompanying power pack, but you can also plug in 8 AA batteries and take Modular 400 on a field trip. One of the modules that you need to construct contains the speaker — which means that you can be completely wireless (aside from the patch cables, of course!) from start to finish.

The patch cables are the arteries that send voltage around the discrete components of this modular rig. With 3 oscillators (with 3 inputs on the mixer), 2 envelopes, 2 VCAs, noise, randomisation, and a 16-step sequencer, there is a huge amount of scope for invention.

Much depends on your attitude when approaching the Pocket Operator Modular 400. If you need a tone for a hook in the heat of a session, you wouldn’t necessarily reach for this synth. But if you’re in the mood the experimentation and discovery, you’ll be rewarded with a completely original palette of sounds.

Find out more at Teenage Engineering.