The Complete Teenage Engineering PO-35 Speak Guide

Callum Howkins
Mar 17, 2018 · 11 min read

An in-depth look at one of the latest products from Swedish synth manufacturer Teenage Engineering.

Introduction

The Teenage Engineering PO-35 Speak, referred to from this point on as simply the PO-35, is a small but powerful speech synthesizer. The unit features the same ‘calculator’ format as previous Pocket Operators, albeit featuring the small microphone addition that first appeared on 2017’s PO-32 Tonic.

This guide will cover all the major features of the PO-35, 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. THE HARDWARE
1.1. The Board, Buttons and Pots
1.2. The Mic
1.3. The Screen
2.0. FEATURES
2.1. The Sound Engines
2.2. Sounds
2.3. Recording Using the Mic
2.4. Voices
2.5. Altering the Vocal Synthesis
2.6. FX
2.7. Scales
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 Microtonic Data
4.7. Sending Patches and Data
5.0. TIPS AND TRICKS
5.1. Faux Mute Mode
5.2. Live Transpose
5.3. Useful Patches and Data
5.4. Secret Key Combinations
5.5. Copying Sounds
5.6. System Information
5.7. Misc. Info

1.0. THE HARDWARE

So how does the PO-35 work? Looking at the unit on a surface level, here’s the rundown on how everything is put together:

1.1. The Board, Buttons and Pots

The PO-35 Speak uses the exact same style of construction as the previous Pocket Operators. Instead of using a traditional case, the PO35 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-35 retains the same layout as before, using 23 identical buttons (with 16 sequencer buttons in a 4x4 grid) and two pots.

Inside, the PO-35 runs on a relatively simple chip. The DSP in the unit can handle two monophonic voices: one for the speech synthesizer engine and another for a stripped-down version of Sonic Charge’s Microtonic (adapted from the PO-32).

1.2. The Mic

As part of the Metal series, the PO-35 comes equipped with a small but powerful microphone. This mic can be used for two different purposes — namely, the recording of audio and the transfer of Microtonic patch data from either another PO unit or a PC.

1.3. The Screen

Much like the other units in the series, the PO-35’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 charmingly unhelpful screen of the PO35 Speak

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. Pudding, obviously

2.0. FEATURES

Despite the small size, the PO-35 packs in a huge number of different features — the most useful of which have been detailed in this section:

2.1. The Sound Engines

As previously mentioned, the PO-35 features two distinct sound engines: the vocal synthesis generator and Sonic Charge’s Microtonic — both of which are monophonic. This means that only one instance of each voice can be played at any one time, resulting in a maximum polyphony of two voices.

2.2. Sounds

The PO-35 can hold up to 16 different sounds at once. Sounds 1 to 15 are created through vocal synthesis, while sound 16 is set to play the single voice Microtonic drum kit. Sounds can be selected by holding the SOUND button and pressing the desired number.

Each track features a LIVE PERFORMANCE MODE as the default function when pressing the sound buttons. The vocal synthesis tracks will play different notes across the 1–16 keys while the Microtonic track will assign a different drum sound to each button.

2.3. Recording Sounds Using the Mic

To record a sound into any of the 15 vocal synthesis slots, press and hold the RECORD button along with the corresponding number. The PO-35 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. Voices

Voices can be accessed by pressing the FX button and selecting the first 8 options. The voice options available in the PO-35 are as follows:

1. Natural — A lightly-affected vocal sound
2. Autotune — Corrects the vocal pitch to the nearest note
3. Retro — A retro-inspired lo-fi sound
4. Noise — A vocoder with heavy white noise added
5. Robot — Daft Punk-style robotic sounds
6. Fifth — Similar to ‘ROBOT’ but with a 5th added above
7. Vocoder — A classic vocoder with few bells and whistles
8. Synth — Less vocal-orientated and more of a monosynth

Holding FX and pressing each voice mode will trigger a preview while the sequencer is not playing. If the sequencer is running, the current sound will be affected by the new voice parameter.

2.5. Altering the Vocal Synthesis

Each vocal synthesis 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: Pitch
This parameter adjusts the pitch of the voice in a non-chromatic manner.
B: Formant
Raising the formant makes the voice more ‘feminine’ (i.e. less deep).

Second page:
A: Start point
This determines how late into the recording playback begins.
B: Speed
The speed setting alters the playback speed of the vocal synthesis.

Modifying the Microtonic Sounds

Each Microtonic sound is provided with two parameters which can be adjusted within the unit itself with the A and B parameter knobs. These are as follows:

A. Pitch
Changes the pitch of the sound in non-chromatic intervals.
B. Morph
Adjusts the preset ‘MORPH’ parameter. This setting can be set up in the Microtonic software before it is transferred to the PO-35.

2.6. FX

The remaining eight FX buttons are reserved for punch-in effects. 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-35 can be found below:

9. Stutter
10. Trance Gate
11. Slow
12. 16-bar Build-up
13. 6/8 Quantize
14. Retrigger
15. Reverse
16. No Effect

2.7. Scales

When playing the 1–16 buttons in live performance mode, the notes played will be determined by this setting.

To adjust, press PATTERN when a sound is selected. While still holding pattern, use the A knob to change the key and the B knob to alter the scale time. The PO35 has four different scales to choose from:

MAJOR
MINOR
BLUES
ARAB

The root note of the scale is always button 5.

3.0. THE SEQUENCER

The PO-35 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-35 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. Swing can also be dialled in by holding the BPM button and turning pot A, with 18 setting available.

3.3. Write Mode

Write mode is accessed by pressing the WRITE button once. This turns the PO35 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 the 15 synthesizer voices or the Microtonic kit.

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 pitch and tone.

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-35 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

The PO-35 has a number of other basic functions and utilities:

4.1. Volume

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

4.2. Powering on and off

The PO-35 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-35 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. Recieving Microtonic Data

Press RECORD and SOUND similtaneously to put the PO-35 into RECIEVE MODE. If a Microtonic data file is played, track 16 will be overwritten with the new drum presets.

4.7. Sending Patch Data

Information from the Microtonic track can also be sent in a similar manner. Press WRITE and SOUND similtaenous to transmit the data file through the audio output.

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-35 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 either the voice track or the Microtonic engine will mute the entire section. This can be used to imitate a ‘mute’ function and play the two voices independently.

5.2. Transpose

Holding PATTERN and turning pot A will transpose the current sequence. Using pot B will adjust the current scale. This results in some useful effects for live performances.

5.3. Patches and Data Files

The following Soundcloud playlist is a great source of patches for both the PO-32 and the PO-35: https://soundcloud.com/komlev88/sets/po-32-tonic-patches

5.4. Secret Key Combinations

The PO-35 has several ‘secret’ functions which are only accessible via hidden button combinations.

Changing the recording quality
The recording quality can be changed by lowering or raising the FPS of the voice synthesizer. The lower the quality, the longer clips can be.

RECORD + FX + 1: 80FPS
RECORD + FX + 2: 60FPS
RECORD + FX + 3: 40FPS
RECORD + FX + 4: 20FPS

Tune Mode
Entering TUNE MODE allows a sample to be edited after it has been recorded. To turn on TUNE MODE, press RECORD + FX + 5. Pot A determines the pitch while pot B alters the sample speed.

Mix Mode
Similar to TUNE MODE, MIX MODE allows the user to alter parameters after the sample has been recorded. RECORD + FX + 6 enters MIX MODE, allowing the A knob to control the noise-to-sound ratio and the B knob to effect the volume.

High and Low Pitch Ranges
Pressing RECORD + FX + 7 toggles between HIGH PITCH MODE and LOW PITCH MODE, altering the octave of the ‘keyboard’ across buttons 1 to 16.

Metronome
Pressing RECORD + FX + 8 switches the metronome on and off.

5.5. Copying Sounds

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

5.6. System Information

Pressing SOUND and BPM together will display various system information.

5.7. Misc. Info

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

The last note 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.

Setting the SPEED parameter to -127 will cause the sample to come to a complete stop.

Changing key will only take effect when the user released the PATTERN button.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. I am slowly making my way through the PO series before moving on to Elektron and Korg products. If you have found this useful, please let me know and I will aim to produce more content.

callumhowkins

Copywriter, film buff and music tech enthusiast. I write guides on production, sound design and musical creativity. Instagram & Twitter: adsrcallum

Callum Howkins

Written by

Copywriter, aspiring technical author and music tech enthusiast. I write guides on production, sound design and musical creativity. Instagram: adsrcallum

callumhowkins

Copywriter, film buff and music tech enthusiast. I write guides on production, sound design and musical creativity. Instagram & Twitter: adsrcallum

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade