The Complete Teenage Engineering PO-33 K.O! Guide

In this second Pocket Operator guide, we take a look at the PO33 K.O!.

Introduction

The Teenage Engineering PO-33 K.O! is a compact 8-bit sampler. As part of the ‘Metal Series’ of Pocket Operators, the PO-33 retains the same form factor as the rest of the product line while also adding the extra features first implemented with the PO-32 Tonic. The PO-33 repurposes the now-standard Pocket Operator microphone to allow for simple, on-the-go sampling.

This guide will cover all the major features of the PO-33, as well as throwing in some tips and tricks that I have found useful during the time I have spent with the unit. As part of a series on all three ‘Metal Series’ Pocket Operators, my aim is to demonstrate the power of these instruments and highlight their capabilities as serious music-making machines.

The idea behind this article is to deliver an experience similar to the old gaming strategy guides I had whilst growing up — a comprehensive tutorial which answers all the major FAQs and can be used standalone without delving through various forums and review sites. As someone who regularly spends hours scanning through the depths of the online synth community, my companion guides are essentially a collection of useful information that I have found online during my free time.

CONTENTS

1.0. HOW IS IT BUILT?
 
1.1. The Board, Buttons and Pots
 1.2. The Mic
 1.3. The Screen
2.0. WHAT CAN IT DO?
 
2.1. The Sample Engines
 2.2. Sounds
 2.3. Recording Using the Mic
 2.4. Altering Sample Parameters
 2.5. FX
 2.6. The Filter 
3.0. THE SEQUENCER
 
3.1. Pattern Select
 3.2. Tempo
 3.3. Write Mode
 3.4. Live Record
 3.5. Recording Parameters
 3.6. Pattern Chaining and Recording Longer Patterns
 3.7. Clearing a pattern
4.0 OTHER FUNCTIONS
 
4.1. Volume
 4.2. Powering On/Off
 4.3. Factory Reset
 4.4. Sync Modes
 4.5. The Lock Tab
 4.6. Recieving Backups
 4.7. Sending Patches and Data 
5.0. TIPS AND TRICKS 
 
5.1. Faux Mute Mode
 5.2. Copying Sounds
 5.3. Copying Slices
 5.4. Building Kits
 5.5. System Information
 5.6. Misc Info

1.0. HOW IS IT BUILT?

On a surface level, the PO-33 is very similar to the other Pocket Operators. Below is a quick teardown of all the parts, providing a quick glance at the hardware involved.

1.1. The Board, Buttons and Pots

The PO-33 K.O! uses the exact same style of construction as the previous Pocket Operators. Instead of using a traditional case, the PO-33 is simply printed on a thin yet surprisingly robust circuit board. The screen shields the sensitive components as well as serving as a ‘box’ for the speaker to produce sound.

The buttons have not changed since the original incarnations — the simple click-style switches are far from perfect but serve as a somewhat effective way to either play the synthesizer live or input steps into the sequencer. The PO-33 retains the same layout as before, using 23 identical buttons (with 16 sequencer buttons in a 4x4 grid) and two pots.

Inside, the PO-33 runs on a relatively simple chip. The DSP in the unit can handle four monophonic voices, meaning that a maximum of four samples can be playing at any one time. In terms of voice stealing, new voices will overwrite previous ones.

1.2. The Mic

As part of the Metal series, the PO-33 comes equipped with a small but powerful microphone. Without the Microtonic engine found in the other 3 Series models, the PO-33’s mic is only used for recording samples. Backup transfers can only be sent via the line in due to the high resolution required.

1.3. The Screen

Much like the other units in the series, the PO-33’s screen forgoes complex menus. Instead, Teenage Engineering has opted to display a basic animated scene with a few parameters dotted about in the corners. A simple breakdown is illustrated below:

The PO-33’s screen tells the story of an elderly boxer

The screen provides the following bits of information:

1. PLAY and RECORD indicators

2. Tempo

3. A and B parameter levels

4. The current time

5. The bizarre scene of an elderly man boxing

2.0. WHAT CAN IT DO?

Despite the small size, the PO-33 packs in a huge number of different features — the most useful of which have been detailed in this section:

2.1. The Two Sample Types

The PO-33 offers two distinct ways to play back recorded content: buttons 1 to 8 contain melodic samples which can be played chromatically while numbers 9 through 16 are one sample split into 16 slices. This means the first 8 sounds are ideal for melodic lines while the lower 16 work best for drums and percussion.

The PO-33 has a total polyphony of 4. It is worth keeping in mind that each track is monophonic, including the rhythmic tracks.

2.2. Sounds

The PO-33 can hold up to 16 different samples, or SOUNDS, at once. As previously mentioned, SOUNDS 1 to 8 are played chromatically while 9 to 16 are sliced. Sounds can be selected by holding the SOUND button and pressing the desired number.

The melodic tracks will play different notes across the 1–16 keys when selected. Unlike in the PO-35, this scale cannot be changed.

2.3. Recording Samples Using the Mic

To record a sound into any of the sample slots, press and hold the RECORD button along with the corresponding number. The PO-33 will wait for the incoming audio to react a certain threshold before recording starts. Levels can be monitored through with the A and B parameter bars. Once either button is released, the recording will end.

2.4. Changing Parameters

Each sample voice provides four different parameters spread across two different pages. The A and B knobs control each setting, while pressing the FX buttons once changes the page.

First page: 
 
 A: Filter
The PO-33 offers a digital multi-mode filter which is fully variable between high-pass and low-pass types.
 B: Resonance
Turning POT B adjusts the resonance of the digital filter.

Second page: 
 
 A: Trim
This determines how late into the recording playback begins (the start point). 
 B: Length
This setting determines when the sample will end.

2.4. FX

The PO-33 has 16 effects assigned to each of the FX buttons. For those unfamiliar with previous operators, punch-in effects offer a range of pre-programmed stutters, fills and glitchy rhythmic variations.

Effects can be recorded into the sequencer by holding WRITE and pressing the desired effect button.

The list of effects on the PO-33 can be found below:

1. Loop 16
 2. Loop 12
 3. Loop Short
 4. Loop Shorter
 5. Unison
 6. Unison Low
 7. Octave Up
 8. Octave Down
 9. Stutter 8
10. Stutter 6
11. Scratch
12. Scratch Fast
13. 6/8 Quantize
14. Retrigger
15. Reverse
16. No Effect

2.5. The Filter

The PO-33 has a variable multimode filter with resonance control. Each SOUND provides fully independent filter settings, allowing for timbral changes on a per-channel basis.

3.0. THE SEQUENCER

Like the other units in the series, the PO-33 comes equipped with a 16-step two-track sequencer. While the sequencer may at first seem fairly basic, Teenage Engineering has managed to cram some advanced features into the design.

3.1. Pattern Select

To choose a pattern from the unit’s memory, press and hold PATTERN and select one of the 16 options.

Patterns with existing sequences will have a dull light present while completely blank patterns will remain unlit. The selected option is highlighted by a bright flashing light.

3.2. Tempo

The PO-33 offers three pre-defined tempo settings: Hip-Hop (80BPM), Disco (120BPM) and adorably misspelled ‘Tencho’ (140BPM).

The tempo can also be set manually by holding down BPM and turning pot B to choose a value between 60 and 200. Swing can also be dialled in by holding the BPM button and turning pot A, with 18 settings available.

3.3. Write Mode

WRITE MODE is accessed by pressing the WRITE button once. This turns the PO-33 into a step sequencer, where buttons 1 to 16 represent the corresponding steps.

To choose a track to record to, hold SOUND and choose either one of melodic or drum sample channels.

To place a note, press the desired step while in WRITE MODE. Parameters can be dialled into the sequencer by continuing to hold the step and using the A and B pots to dial in the required parameter settings.

3.4. Live Record

To record notes into the sequencer live, simply hold WRITE. Once a sound is selected, anything played will be recorded to memory.

3.5. Recording Parameters (P-Locks)

The PO-33 offers a surprisingly complex live recording systems, borrowing Elektron’s ‘P-Lock’ style of motion sequencing. To record changes into the sequencer, simply enter LIVE RECORD mode and make changes using the A and B pots. As before, pressing FX will change the functions of these pots and allow for the live recording of all four parameters.

3.6. Pattern Chaining and Recording Longer Patterns

When selecting a pattern from memory, hold the PATTERN button while pressing 1 to 16 in the desired order. The same pattern can be pressed multiple times to create a repeat of the bar.

Once one chain can be active at a time and will be deleted upon the creation of a new chain.

If a longer chain is used, LIVE RECORD mode will allow the user to seamless record for the entire length of the pattern. This can be used to create patterns far longer than 16 steps.

3.7. Clearing a pattern

To delete all data from the currently selected pattern, hold RECORD and press PATTERN.

4.0. OTHER FUNCTIONS

Like the other Pocket Operators, the PO-33 has many undocumented basic features. These small utilities can often come in handy:

4.1. Volume

The volume can be adjusted by holding BPM and selecting 1 through 16.

4.2. Powering On and Off

The PO-33 auto powers down after being idle for 60 seconds. When a jack is inserted into the output, this increased to 60 minutes.

4.3. Factory Reset

The reset the PO-33 to factory setting, remove the batteries while holding PATTERN and WRITE. This will restore the factory samples and sequencer while deleting all user data.

4.4. Sync Modes

Multiple PO units can be synced together to play in time and through a single audio output.

The sync modes work in the following manner:

SY0: SYNC MODE is off
SY1: Receives stereo input, outputs mono + sync
SY2: Receives sync input, outputs stereo
SY3: Receives sync input, outputs mono + sync
SY4: Receives mono + sync, outputs stereo
SY5: Receives mono + sync, outputs mono + sync

4.5. The Lock Tab

Once the LOCK tab on the side of the unit has been broken, the current samples will become the new default settings. These can be overridden, but performing a factory reset will recall the new data rather than the Teenage Engineering-supplied samples and patterns.

4.6. Receiving Backup Data

Press SOUND, WRITE and RECORD simultaneously to put the PO-33 into RECIEVE MODE. A backup file can then be received through the line input. Be aware that this will take some time as it transfer actual sample data.

4.7. Sending Backup Data

The PO-33 allows for a full system backup. Press WRITE and SOUND and PLAY to transfer all information on the unit into an audio file.

Always make sure to use a stereo cable when sending backups to ensure that all information is transferred correctly.

5.0. TIPS AND TRICKS

This section will look at some of the more unique ways to use the PO-33 creatively. I will update this part of the guide regularly with any additional tricks that I discover online.

5.1. Faux ‘Mute Mode’

While the sequencer is playing, pressing and holding a sound on any of the tracks will mute the corresponding channel until the button is released. This can be used effectively in live performances.

5.2. Copying Sounds

Simultaneously pressing WRITE + REC + SOUND alongside one of the 16 buttons will copy the current voice sample into the selected slot.

5.3. Copying Slices

To take an individual SLICE or drum sound from one SOUND to another, press WRITE and SOUND at the same time. Once the sounds are illuminated, press select the number you would like to copy followed by the destination. The last played sound will be copied.

5.4. Building ‘Kits’

The copy method (5.3.) can be used to build drum kits within the device. One shots can be loaded on as melodic samples then copied to a slice, allowing for the creation of complex drum banks.

5.5. System Information

Pressing SOUND and BPM together will display various system information.

5.6. Misc. Info

Finally, I have added some tips which didn’t quite fit anywhere else:

For melodic samples, the last pitch played in LIVE PERFORMANCE MODE will be the default note for that particular sound in WRITE MODE.

To reset the recorded parameters on a knob, hold down RECORD and turn it.

When backing up, always record the outgoing audio file in stereo. If recorded in mono, important information will be lost.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. After all the positive responses I received for the PO-35 manual, I have decided to focus on similar guides for Elektron products. Watch this space for a Digitakt and Digitone guide!