Any investigation into budget synths needs to start with the Pocket Operators (PO). Looking every bit like a naked pocket calculator, these phone-sized devices are packed with cool sounds, fun functionality and weird retro animations on the little LCD screens. There are seven models available, so you might want to put some thought into which to go for depending on the sort of noises you are wanting to make.
The first one, PO-12, is called “rhythm” and is purely about making beats featuring 16 synthesized and sampled drum sounds with 16 patterns and 16 effects you can punch-in to your beats. Next up is the PO-14 “sub.” It’s a deep bass line synth with a sequencer, 15 sounds plus a drum kit. The PO-16 “factory” is similar to the sub but tailored to lead sounds.
The PO-20 “arcade” heads off into a chiptune direction with crazy synthesized arcade sounds. With “office” (PO-24) you get samples of vintage office hardware and other weird noises. The PO-28 “robot” is an 8-bit synth designed for live performance. Finally, the newest addition is the PO-32 “tonic.” This is a drum and percussion synthesizer unique in that it can have access to unlimited sounds via the “microtonic” VST plug-in.
All the units feature a 16-step sequencer with 16 patterns, built-in speaker, headphone output, an animated display and a clock with alarm. You can run as many as you like together using “jam sync” to keep them in time. They fit in your pocket, run on batteries and are a blast to play with. Far more fun than those rubbish games you usually play on your phone! Prices range from $49-$89 so you could get two and still be under the $100 budget.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Stylophone was that weird little stylus-driven noise box from the 1970s, right? That’s true and you can still get them for about $20. But the Stylophone GEN X-1 is a completely different weird little stylus-driven noise box.
• PO-12 Rhythm – $59
• PO-14 Sub – $49
• PO-16 Factory – $59
• PO-20 Arcade – $59
• PO-24 Office – $49
• PO-28 Robot – $59
• PO-32 Tonic – $89