With guitars looking increasingly passe and a generation of electronic musicians who grew up on Fruity Loops looking for something a little more serious, classic synthesizers—the hippe-era instruments that powered everything from prog rock to Detroit techno–have been having a massive comeback recently. The craze has spawned reissues of famous, professional-quality models, including Moog’s hilariously huge and complex System 55, and—thanks to the ability to produce far smaller synthesizers at a low price—a bunch of fascinating new products that straddle the line between serious instrument and toy, like Korg’s incredibly popular Monotron.
You should start seeing retro-inspired synths popping up with more frequency. Recently Teenage Engineering, makers of the cult favorite OP-1, have partnered up with Swedish clothing line Cheap Monday to produce a line of three synths called Pocket Operators. There are three models: the bass-heavy Sub, the Rhythm drum machine, and the more generalized Factory.
All three are clearly aimed at novices–they retail for $59 apiece, and instead of complicated waveforms, the LCD screens show little animations of, say, the crew of a cartoon submarine bopping around while you play. But the units are more powerful than their cuteness might suggest–each uses real synthesis, rather than relying on pre-recorded samples, and there are onboard step sequencers, effects, and a pair of highly tweakable knobs that give you an impressively broad palette of pro-grade sounds to play with, and the ability to create actual songs on them.
For those who think the Pocket Operators may seem too flimsy to carry around in your pocket, protective covers are also available.