5 Budget-Friendly Teenage Engineering OP-1 Alternatives

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  • The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is a unique and inspiring synthesizer, but many are put off by the price 
  • We take a look at some great budget alternatives to the OP-1
  • Brands include Elektron, Teenage Engineering, Roland, and Casio

The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is one of the most popular small synthesizers available today, and has been since its 2011 debut.

The workflow on the OP-1 is unique and inspiring, some musicians instantly mesh with it, but for others, it can be jarring. The OP-1 also commands a high price for a small synth, currently retailing for $1299 USD.

For that price, the synth has a lot of features. There are ten different unique synth engines like FM, String, Pulse, and Noise. The OP-1 also has a drum synthesis engine along with a slew of preset sample kits.

The uniqueness of the unit really shines with its built-in effects. Some of them might seem familiar like a spring reverb or a filter, but they each have their own Teenage Engineering twist that adds a lot of charm and individuality to the sound. Finally, the tape interface of the unit is one of its most defining characteristics.

Best Teenage Engineering OP-1 Alternatives?

If you want something similarly inspiring and intuitive without dropping over a grand, there are some great alternatives to consider.

Here are five curated options, each with similarities to the OP-1, and some other features that make them stand out on their own as well.

1. Elektron Digtone/Digitakt

Elektron Digitone 8-Voice Digital Synth

Combining deep FM synthesis with a familiar subtractive synthesis signal flow, the Elektron Digitone is an amazingly powerful 8-voice synth.

Why We Love It:
  • Very versatile
  • Eight-voice polyphony
  • Superb built-in effects
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Overview

This spot is taken by two separate products by fellow Swedish synth manufacturer Elektron; the Digitone and Digitakt. These boxes are of similar size to the OP1 but with different focuses.

The Digitone is a powerful FM synth with eight-voice polyphony, filters, and overdrive. The Digitakt is a sampling drum machine with eight tracks, two LFOs for modulation, and one filter per track.

Both of these grooveboxes are very versatile, so if you’re looking for just the synth or drum functions of the OP-1 (or both!), they are a solid option.

Similarities

The OP-1 can create drum and synth parts in its “virtual tape” interface, so think of each of the Digi boxes as an equivalent to the synth and drum engines in the OP-1.

These units also have various great-sounding built-in effects, like reverb, delay, and compression. Both these synths and the OP-1 can be used as an interface with audio over USB, so you can easily bring your ideas into your DAW of choice.

Elektron Digitakt DDS-8 8-Voice Drum Computer and Sampler
$799.00

With a powerful digital sound engine, sampling capabilities, and a performance-friendly sequencer, the Elektron Digitakt excels on its own as well as being a sweet sequencer for your hardware synths. 

Why We Love It:
  • Robust MIDI capability
  • Great-sounding built-in effects
  • 8 stereo audio tracks
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What Else it Offers

Digitakt has 8 internal tracks for sample playback, so you get double the sonic layering and arrangement potential of the OP-1. The units also have robust MIDI capability, including MIDI in, out, and thru ports, as well as 8 MIDI tracks.

Elektron devices also feature Overbridge, a system designed to smoothly integrate your Digitakt or Digitone with your computer to sync tracks, stream audio, manage presets, and much more.

2. Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Teenage Engineering OP-Z
$599.00

The OP-Z pushes the boundaries of this iconic synth even further, consuming less energy than its older brother, allowing you the ability to sequence songs across 16 tracks.

Why We Love It:
  • Portable
  • Works via an intuitive companion app
  • Dual domain synthesis
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Overview

The OP-Z is the somewhat cryptic little brother to the OP-1. In terms of form factor and design, it is as close as you can get to the OP-1. However, once you start digging into the features of the Z, you’ll see it offers a plethora of new ways to create music.

Similarities

Being another TE product, the OP-Z is pretty close to the OP-1 in terms of design and uniqueness. You get synth engines, sequencers, and samples just like OP-1.

The portability of the OP-Z is even better than the OP-1 due to its smaller form factor. With six hours of battery life, you’ll be able to play this synth anywhere.

What Else it Offers

Although the OP-Z is often seen as the little brother of the OP-1, it packs a lot of big features its older brother lacks. The OP-Z doesn’t have a screen but instead has an intuitive companion app for phones and tablets that expands on its features.

It has sixteen separate sequencer tracks that can be used for synth engines, samples, or even media like video content. It also features additional expansion modules that can add additional connectivity like CV and MIDI, plus haptic rumble features.

3. Critter & Guitari Organelle

Critter & Guitari Organelle M Synthesizer

The Organelle is a unique synth with an extremely powerful and flexible sound engine.

Why We Love It:
  • Sleek
  • Portable
  • Great battery life
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Overview

Organelle by Critter and Guitari is a sleek, portable all-in-one music production device like the OP-1. Called a music computer, the Organelle provides a simple interface for creating melodies, beats, and more.

Similarities

Both the Organelle and the OP-1 are small enough to toss in a backpack and take with you to jam anywhere. Each has a solid amount of battery life – the OP-1 gets around nine hours, and the Organelle around six.

Each unit features a built-in screen to display information and a speaker for headphone-free playing. As far as musical capabilities, each device has modes for both synths and drum machines.

What Else it Offers

The simplicity and ease of use of the Organelle set it apart from the OP-1. All of its different patches are selected with a single encoder, and each patch is controlled by four dedicated knobs. The many patches on the Organelle are also unique, each offering different synths, samplers, and more.

Some patches even turn the unit into an effects processor, so thanks to its stereo inputs you can use the Organelle as a guitar pedal.

(For more out-there “alternative” pedals, check out our roundup of 8 Weird Guitar Pedals (For Wild, Creative Effects))

The patches on the unit are open source, so Organelle users are constantly uploading new patches that can be downloaded for free. The Organelle can even be plugged into a monitor via HDMI and programmed directly with a computer.

4. Roland SP-404 MKII

Roland SP-404MKII Creative Sampler and Effector

The Roland SP-404MKII Linear Wave Sampler is the most powerful incarnation of Roland's beloved sampling workstation ever devised. 

Why We Love It:
  • Very portable
  • Great for beat-making on the go
  • Versatile
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Overview

The SP-404 MKII is Roland’s highly anticipated follow-up to one of their most popular samplers. The 404 is beloved for its immediacy and portability, offering plenty of sampling time and a solid multi-effects section.

With the Mk. II revision, Roland has kept all the classic features, while adding some modern updates. New features include velocity-sensitive pads, increased processing power and polyphony, an LCD screen and better battery power options.

Similarities

Like most entries on this list, the 404 is also very portable and great for beat-making on the go. You can create beats by directly sampling into the unit, or you can pre-load sounds to use instead. Like the OP-1 it is a versatile device that is great for both studio use and live performance.

The 404 has options to save and organize tracks and projects for full songwriting potential. It also features a powerful and intuitive sequencer for quick and easy beatmaking.

What Else it Offers

As a brand new device, the 404 MKII has a lot of impressive modern features compared to the previous iteration. Its sampling capabilities are very deep and include auto slicing, pitch shifting, and envelopes. This allows you to easily chop and modify any sample to meet your needs.

The unit is loaded with over 30 unique effects including a cassette simulator and a resonator.

If you want to collaborate on the same device, the 404 has two headphone outputs for tag team production. Finally, the SP 404 has useful editor software that lets you endlessly tweak and save your samples and patterns on the computer.

5. Casio Sk-1

Casio SK-1 32-Key Sampling Keyboard

Introduced in 1985, the SK-1 was an entry-level sampling keyboard that retailed for $100. Nowadays it is revered for its simplicity and charming lo-fi sound.

Why We Love It:
  • A classic synth
  • Charming lo-fi sound
  • Packed with features
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Overview

The humble SK-1 may seem like the furthest possible thing from the OP-1 at first glance, but this small keyboard is actually cited as one of the main inspirations for the OP-1 by its creators.

Introduced in 1985, the SK-1 was an entry-level sampling keyboard that retailed for $100. Nowadays it is revered for its simplicity and charming lo-fi sound.

Similarities

The OP-1’s design shows a lot of similarities to its granddaddy keyboard, the SK-1. It’s a small keyboard that packs a lot of features and visually it’s not too hard to see how the OP-1 was inspired by the SK-1. The most obvious similarities are found in the portability and small size of both units.

The SK-1 can sample, and even has a basic sequencer. It offers a range of infamous Casio preset rhythms that you can play along to.

What Else it Offers

The SK-1 might seem like a dinosaur compared to the modern digital amenities of the OP-1, but inspiration often comes from creative limitations. Another big reason many artists love the SK-1 is for its mod potential.

Many have circuit-bent their keyboards to include features like MIDI. The simplicity of the device’s internals makes it an ideal first circuit bending project for an electronic hobbyist.

And finally, if all you want to do with the OP-1 is sample silly sounds and jam out some fun riffs and melodies, the SK-1 lets you do just that for a fraction of the price.

Wrapping Up

Since its introduction way back in 2011 the OP-1 has greatly risen in popularity with all kinds of artists, but its price has steadily risen as well. Simply put, many producers aren’t willing to hand over a thousand dollars for a single piece of gear.

If you’re lucky you might be able to find a good price on a used unit, but if not there are still many great alternatives available. Digging into these different options might even land you something that suits you even better, helping you discover something entirely new and different.

Finally, if you want one last alternative, you can try one of these laptops under $500 paired with a portable MIDI controller.