Posts with «author_name|james trew» label

Ayaneo's NES-inspired mini PC is more than a retro tribute

The mini PC is misunderstood. Easily dismissed as underpowered, over-priced or just plain ugly; we intuit that a computer with a tiny footprint has to mean a compromise. Ayaneo, best known for its Windows gaming handhelds, has branched out into tiny desktops with retro-inspired designs. Thankfully Ayaneo’s AM01 and AM02 mini PCs have more to offer, but their initial draw over rivals, I won’t lie, is nostalgic appeal.

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember using the original Macintosh that inspired the AM01 and if Nintendo ever reimagined a real NES, I hope it looks like the AM02. Both PCs come in various specifications, but to save typing out the numerous configurations the AM01 starts at $200 and comes in low-to-modest specifications, good for retro gaming and general office tasks. The AM02 is priced between $440 and $630, and all variants come with an AMD 7840HS APU, better suited for PC gaming and heavier tasks like video editing or even music production.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

As someone that plays a lot of retro games and doesn’t mind playing PC games on low or medium settings, the AM02 is fast becoming my primary gaming system. Partly because the AM02 strikes a good balance between retro and contemporary design so it fits well in my adult living room. It’s also really well built. I’m not so sure about the four-inch touch screen (more on this later) but the overall design blends in nicely with a contemporary decor without calling too much attention to itself.

The AM02 I’ve been testing is fully loaded with 32GB or RAM and 1TB of storage, but there are enough ports here that even with a lower-spec model you can add more storage or even an eGPU (thanks to a USB 4.0 port) later down the line. There are also two RJ45 ports, one of which is 2.5Gbps, future-proofing the AM02 somewhat and making it well-suited to pulling media from networked storage. This model is also powered by USB-C which makes it more “portable” than its Mac-inspired sibling that uses a laptop-style power brick. Theoretically you could power a display from the AM02’s USB 4 port and have a PC that can easily be moved around. Yes, they invented laptops for exactly this but a perk of mini PCs is that they aren’t a pain to relocate.

I’ve suggested that the AM02 works great in a living room, and it does, but the placement of the built-in display suggests this was designed to live on a desk. When Ayaneo announced these mini PCs, marketing shots showed them in horizontal and vertical configurations. Sadly, neither model makes sense in a vertical orientation. Not least because both have ports on the side that would be facing the desk. Worse, the AM02 has a delightful NES-inspired front flap covering the USB and 3.5mm ports. Press the red button and it satisfyingly clicks open, but that would be the side facing down in a vertical set-up. Not to mention all the cables would then be coming out of the top.

It’s kind of a bummer as I was hoping the built-in display could be visible from across the room, but you can only see it if you’re near enough to peer over from above. What’s more, at least right now, the display is more of a novelty. By default it shows performance statistics such as FPS, CPU usage / temperature and fan speed which is useful for some folk. You can even change the TDP/power draw right from the display, but honestly, given that this thing is plugged in I’ve just been leaving it on the max 45W setting.

Swipe left on the screen, and the view changes to a date and time widget. Swipe one more time and there’s a virtual volume control along with the option to turn the display off. Fun fact, right now there’s no option to turn it back on again. I restarted the PC via Windows and it still didn’t come back to life. I tried once more via the physical power button and that worked, there’s a neater solution coming in the final software. Relatedly, Ayaneo is hoping users will create their own widgets for this display, so there’s definitely potential here. I’m sure it won’t be long before Doom is running entirely on the linux that runs that display.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

If you do want to use this just for gaming, then you’ll have to decide whether you want to use the company’s own launcher or not. On Ayaneo’s handhelds it’s useful for changing power settings on the fly and other tasks that would otherwise be a pain for a handheld. On a PC like this, the launcher is adequate, but you might want to find your own or just ditch it for the most part. I set the AM02 up to load right into Launchbox/Big Box which handles all my retro/Steam/Epic games just fine and gives a much more console-like experience. But that’s the joy of Windows for gaming I guess, you can do what you want with it.

Despite their diminutive size, mini PCs aren’t always cheap. Like their full-size counterparts, prices range wildly depending on their performance, storage and components. Ayaneo’s handhelds almost universally fell into the “premium” pricing category with nearly all its Windows models costing more than the Steam Deck they try to rival. The two mini PCs break that trend with both models offering, at worst, fair market prices and, at best, beating the competition.

Most direct rivals to the AM02 don’t have a built-in screen (though some do) or have quite as good a selection of inputs and outputs. That’s to say, overall the AM01 and AM02 are reasonably priced for their spec and even more so if you can scoop them up during the early-bird window, which at time of publication is still active for the AM02.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

There’s a small elephant in the room though. That is, if you’re looking for a true gaming PC, there are likely better ways to spend your money. The lowest spec AM02 costs more than a PS5. Or about the same as an LCD Steam Deck with a dock. Then there’s the Mac Mini which starts at $600 (with less memory and RAM but that M2 processor is no joke). So if gaming is your sole goal, then there’s a slim niche that the AM02 serves best — those looking for a mix of retro and PC titles that also want the flexibility of other media tasks (an easier way to watch Netflix with a VPN, for example) in a package that only draws the right kind of attention. Or maybe you just love it for its design and the capabilities work for you.

Mostly, it’s a promising new direction for a company that made a name for itself trying to take the Steam Deck head on. It might not have been truly successful in that specific mission, but it earned itself plenty of fans along the way for its high-spec handhelds that help re-establish portable gaming as an exciting category. As Ayaneo enters the more general PC market, it might well have found a space where it can excel against a very different type of competition.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Wired headphones are about to have a mini revival

It’s been over seven years since Apple found the “courage” to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone, in turn forcing wireless headphones into the limelight. To this day, listening to hi-res lossless music on a phone usually means a hunt for a rare handset with a 3.5mm jack or accepting your new dongle life. As if from nowhere, a new breed of wired headphone has emerged, and it promises audiophile quality on any phone with no need for a dongle. Of course there’s a marketing term to go with it: True Lossless Earphones (TLE).

You might not have heard of Questyle, but the company has been making hobbyist HiFi gear for years. Last November, the company tried something different with its NHB12 Lightning headphones. The IEM-style buds incorporate a digital audio converter (DAC) capable of handling Apple Music’s top-tier Hi-Res Lossless files (192kHz/24-bit). Ahead of CES this month, the company released a USB-C version — the $350 NHB15 — bringing its all-in-one hi-res digital headphone to almost every other phone, tablet or PC.

Two days after Questyle announced the NHB15, rival company Hidizs claimed that its own DAC-packing ST2 Pro model was the world’s first hi-res digital IEM. It’s not quite a trend yet, but expect a mini wave of similar products to follow and I’m not sure it matters who was first. What’s more interesting is that, with iPhones switching to USB-C and plug-and-play hi-res options on the table, all the ingredients are there for mini wired headphone revival — although I don’t think it would last and we’ll get to why later.

Photo by James Trew for Engadget

It’s worth noting that all these USB-C headphones have some sort of DAC in them, but rarely are they hi-res capable. “Hi-res” audio is a broad term, but here we’re following Apple’s own language, which is anything above 48kHz. In recent years, some HiFi companies have released USB-C cables with DACs in them that support higher resolutions. Queststyle and Hidizs are just taking it to the next logical conclusion by bundling everything together — which is what makes them more interesting to the casual (but audio curious) listener.

I’ve tried a fair few standalone DACs over my years here at Engadget and I appreciate the superior audio quality they provide, but I never found one I’d use while out and about. There are some that come close, like the fantastic DragonFly Cobalt by AudioQuest or the sleek Onyx by THX but they all require something between your phone and your headphones — by which time I’ll just reach for my best wireless set and be done. The NHB15 though, I could see myself using these on the regular.

The experience is no more complicated than connecting a regular 3.5mm set. The DAC isn’t invisible; at first you might think it was in-line, yoke-style media controls. In fact, if this had buttons on it that would both complete the illusion and add handy functionality, but for now it’s purely there to turn your music from zeros and ones into audible sound. LEDs let you know if you’re slumming it with lossy music (one illuminated) or living the true lossless life (two illuminated). It’s a minimal but effective approach.


Let’s ignore that the cheapest 3.5mm buds you can buy on Amazon are theoretically also truly lossless earphones, but TLE isn’t an entirely useless term. If it can become the equivalent of “UHD” but for USB-C headphones, with a minimum confirmed level of hi-res audio support — anything above Apple’s standard lossless (48kHz) perhaps, that’s useful enough.

Importantly, Questyle’s NHB15 does a good job with music. Listening via Qobuz, I wasn’t getting two-LEDs all the time, thanks to the variety of “lossless” configurations on the platform, but it was a fun game listening to the sound first and then turning over the DAC to reveal how many lights were on and if I guessed correctly. Mostly I didn’t, but perhaps that’s a testament to how clear these sound. The NHB15 is fairly neutral and less bass heavy than a typical pair of Beats, paired with the right amount of brightness on the higher frequencies.

For something with its own DAC/amplifier, the max volume isn’t as loud as I’d expect, but it’s plenty. Even when listening to Spotify, which offers no lossless music at all right now, these IEMs imbue a sense of space you’re unlikely to find with Bluetooth buds.

What’s harder to determine is whether these are OK IEMs with a nice DAC, an OK DAC with decent drivers attached or something in between. Handily, Questyle includes a regular 3.5mm cable in the box so you can use the NHB15s with all your devices or make the direct comparison yourself. At least for my ears, the Spotify tracks all sounded just as good over the trusty 3.5mm connection connected to my PC. And as far as I can tell, you can use the NHB15’s DAC cable with any IEMs you might already own as long as they have the 2-pin style connector so it’s a flexible idea if nothing else.

Photo by James Trew for Engadget

It’s worth mentioning that there are several competing efforts to bring wireless headphones up to par with lossless cabled options. Qualcomm’s family of codecs is the best known, with the latest AptX Lossless having the technical power to do a pretty good job even if there aren’t a lot of phones or earbuds (and you need both) that support it.

Then there’s the first wave of MEMS-based headphones, the newish kid on the block. These “solid state” drivers aren’t designed specifically for wireless headphones but California-based xMEMS is selling its technology on the promise it delivers a HiFi experience regardless of boring things like codecs. The first products to market show some promise, but we’ll likely have to wait until next year until we see MEMS-based headphones reach their full potential.

The question remains, then, who might want these? The average person paying for a regular music service doesn’t need a hi-res DAC.The average audiophile might be interested, but then it’s competing with dedicated mobile DACs and BYO headphones and for this crowd, convenience isn’t as much of a selling point. The only conclusion is that they are meant for me, the lazy audiophile. I don’t mind cables if the trade off is better, louder sound, and that’s what these do.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How Disney’s A Real Bug's Life docu-series turns insects into giants

Pixar‘s 1998 movie, A Bug’s Life, brought tiny CGI ants to the world’s largest screens. National Geographic’s new docu-series, A Real Bug’s Life inverts that, turning insects into giants in our homes. The only thing digital about the critters featured in the Disney+ series, though, is the technology filming them. But like its animated counterpart, the show explores the world they live in and their adventures in ways we’ve never seen before.

With its focus on insects, A Real Bug’s Life isn’t limited to specific remote habitats. Over the course of the series you’ll visit arid desert planes, tropical jungle, concrete jungle, a rural farm in the UK and even the humble backyard. But thanks to a series of innovations, we see these worlds from entirely new perspectives. “I think that the look and feel of this show, and this is not just me saying it, I don't think that there's anything else that looks like this or has ever looked like this” Nathan Small, a self-shooting Producer/Director who worked on the show told Engadget.

National Geographic

The series opens in New York City where we follow the misadventures of an adorable bold jumping spider. While our eight-legged hero begins his journey on a city rooftop, it’s not long before we’re down at street level and joined by a cast of intrepid ants, industrious flies and a menacing praying mantis. Some of the shots instantly stand out without you fully knowing why. But Small does.

He explained that macro professionals have long favored 60- or 100mm lenses, which give incredible detail but have a very shallow depth of field (DOF). “Which means that there's no context ever, there's no geography, and you're always in this sort of very smushy, blurry world,” he said. “In the last few years, there have been lots of what are called ‘probe’ lenses released. The main one, which was a bit of a game changer, is made by a company called Laowa and it's a 24 millimeter” he added.

A probe lens looks exactly how you’re imagining — more like a vacuum cleaner attachment — but the shots it produces have two key advantages, Small explained. The first one is practical: the 16-inch barrel means you don’t need to be as physically close to the bug you’re shooting. The second, and the real reason those shots are standing out, is that with a 24mm lens you have a much deeper DOF, leaving much more in focus. “You get that geography and you get that setting which gives it a really cartoony and fresh… kind of funky look.” All I’ll say after watching that episode is, a New York all-beef will never seem the same again. You’ll also see a fly dining on a burger in excruciating, stomach-churning detail.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Laowa lens is that it’s relatively affordable. At $1,600 it’s not cheap, but it’s the same price as a regular (albeit very good) Canon 85mm lens that serious hobbyists might consider.

National Geographic

Small also explained that sometimes techology isn't changing the shot, instead it can improve what happens within it. “Not very long ago, all the lights that I was using were your classic film lights, Arri Blondes and all that kind of thing. They're very hot” he said. “LED lights, they're super bright, but they're cold, so it means we're getting all the light we need without cooking the animal, which obviously no one wants, while letting it act in a natural way” he added. Capturing critters trying to escape the heat is far less interesting than watching them do what comes naturally.

But the thing that enabled many of the most cinematic shots in A Real Bug’s Life isn’t available to buy, at least not off the shelf. “I never really touch the camera any more,” Small said. “I'm doing everything on custom built motion control rigs. I have a robot that I've been working on for the last five years, gradually changing things.” Small’s “robot” is a machine-engineered rig, hewn with the same precision as medical tools — something he says is vital as any shake or wobble at the scale he’s working at is hugely magnified.

The robot allows him to work at a distance and monitor via a large display for a better idea of what the things will look like on a TV. Two rails with sliders provide dual axes of movement while a rotating stage and tilt control provide a full range of motion that, put together, opens up shots you could only dream of with a tripod and slider alone. The robot’s “brain” uses an eMotimo motion controller and he directs it all with a PlayStation 2 DualShock. After years of updating and refining, the robot can finally deliver the dynamic macro footage we enjoy in the show. Head to the episode set on the British farm if you want to see Small's cinematic robo-shots for yourself.

Some things still require a human though. If you ever wondered how they capture seemingly impossible moments, like a spider spinning a web, the answer is… patience. In the show we see an elephant hawk-moth emerging from its chrysalis. “I just didn't really sleep for about five days, that's short of it” he said. “You collect a lot of them so you have options. I had my camera on a big rail and then as soon as I saw one start to twitch and move, I slide the camera along and bang, you're on that one.” The final shot in the show lasts barely 10 seconds, but without it the narrative falls apart, such is the life of a wildlife photographer.

National Geographic

If you want to have a go at recording an emerging elephant hawk-moth or bold jumping spider but don’t have Disney-level budgets, don’t worry. Small says that today’s consumer products are already more capable than a lot of pro gear was not that all that long ago. Specifically when it comes to working in low light. “Before, you were stuck at like ISO 200, which is a nightmare for macro, because everything is too dark or noisy,” he said. “[Now] you can shoot at 3200 and still get really clean images.” As he mentioned earlier, these higher apertures like f11 or above avoid those “smushy” backgrounds. He also says that a lot of his kit is put together with SmallRig parts (no relation).

For the camera itself, that will largely depend on what you want to capture. For close-up macro photos (rather than video), Small says the Olympus system is preferred within the industry, thanks mostly to its internal focus stacking/bracketing. In the same way HDR photos blend multiple exposures for more even, natural light, focus stacking does the same but with, well, focus, so you can have your subject and background pin sharp.

More of a bird person? Then Canon seems to be the industry favorite according to Small. Particularly the larger sensor models and RF mount lenses. Canon’s stellar auto-focus locks onto animals really quickly, and can keep it locked even when the subject is moving (as birds are wont to do). The RF lenses also have a great reputation thanks to their blend of speed and excellent built-in stabilization making them a good option for general wildlife photography too. When not shooting for work, Small uses a Canon EOS 5DS. “I think that's a good all round camera that does everything that I need it to. Stills are like my hobby now, which is quite sad, isn't it? Because it's very close to my job.”

A Real Bug’s Life, narrated by Awkwafina, premieres on Disney+ Jan 24.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Yamaha takes on Teenage Engineering with its colorful SEQTRAK groovebox

Yamaha is a pillar of the electronic music making world, but it's perhaps best known for its stage synthesizers and studio monitors. Today, that might change as the company unveils the SEQTRAK ("seek-track") groovebox. Let's address the obvious first, yes, this looks very much like Yamaha had a meeting and decided to take Teenage Engineering head-on. The SEQTRAK (R.I.P. my shift key) takes more than a little inspiration from the Swedish firm's OP-Z portable studio and it even borrows the firm's favored gray and orange aesthetic (though the SEQTRAK also comes in dark gray/black).

The SEQTRAK includes a drum machine, sampler, FM and sample-based synthesis and that semi-eponymous sequencer along with a built-in battery (3-4 hours expected play time) plus a built-in speaker making this a portable, standalone device. It also comes with a multi-platform (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) companion app that allows more visual control, deeper settings, additional sounds and even a video visualizer. Wireless and physical MIDI plus USB connectivity with a built-in interface promise to make this something of an all purpose on-the-go idea machine that could also just live on your desk.

The drum section offers seven tracks, each capable of holding up to six sounds. There's a wide range of percussive samples pre-installed that can be tweaked and altered to your taste and then fed into the sequencer section below. Patterns can be up to 128 steps/8 bars in length while a substep feature lets you trigger a sound multiple times on the same step, to create flourishes and fills to your beat.

Given the company's heritage in the synth space, no surprise that there's a strong influence from the DX series here. The SEQTRAK's FM synth has four operators and eight-note polyphony. Meanwhile the company's long-standing "AWM2" sample-based synth engine has been shrunk down for the SEQTRAK and goes all out with a max polyphony of 128. If straight samples are more your thing then you can grab 16-bit/44.1kHz sounds using either the built-in mic, USB, aux-in or even resample what you're playing.

The footprint of the SEQTRAK is a little taller than the svelt OP-Z, or even the bigger OP-1 Field, but it still cuts a sharp silhouette. The step-sequencer/keyboard section benefits from the extra space though it'll be interesting to see how apt those keys are for performance. The lack of display isn't uncommon in this form-factor and of course the app is there if needed (again, much like the OP-Z). Many might remember the QY series of portable workstations, and their spirit lives on here but with an interesting new design direction. No doubt there will be a great many number of comparison videos made with its Teenage Engineering rivals once it launches (currently no info on when that is).

One key difference with the OP-Z is the price. While you can pick one of those up for $499, it cost $599 at launch. The SEQTRAK, however, is listed at for pre-order at retailers for $399, that's a pretty solid deal. There are, of course, many differences between them, too. For one, the slightly larger footprint will appeal or detract according to your needs and play style. The OP-Z sure is portable but it's very "hunt and peck" for settings and performance. The sampler credentials on the SEQTRAK also feel more robust than its Swedish rivals with 500MB of space rather than the OP-Z's skimpy 24MB (or the dedicated K.O. II sampler's 64MB for that matter).

Will that be enough to win over the same number and level of fans? Only time will tell. For now, you can register your interest in the SEQTRAK now and expect more information to surface during the NAMM show next week (we'll be there!).

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Teenage Engineering's K.O. II sampler proves the company can do cost-friendly cool

There's something of a theme running through Teenage Engineering's recent products. That theme is you need more money. The Field range represents the Swedish company’s most exclusive music making gear. So when its website teased a new product with a colorful countdown, the wallets of Teenies everywhere braced for impact. Once that timer hit all zeros, the big reveal turned out to be the EP-133 sampler. Or, to give it its full name, the EP-133 K.O. II 64MB Sampler Composer. The real surprise though, was that it both looked cool and, at $299, was reasonably priced.


The countdown was really just the start. Barely 24 hours after the K.O. II was revealed units started landing in buyers’ hands. Within days, YouTube was awash with first look videos and tutorials. Before our review unit even showed up, several users were complaining that theirs had defective faders. Enough folks were having this problem that it quickly became known as “fadergate.” One brave creator even took their unit apart and, possibly, discovered the cause — the internal pins were bent and not making a connection. I asked Teenage Engineering about the issue and will update this story once I hear back.

Some buyer’s theorized that the issue might be caused by the fact that the K.O. II ships without the caps on its rotaries and fader. They come loose in the box to enable the packaging to be flatter, but the cap for the fader is unusually tight fitting. This led to speculation that the enthusiasm required to push this cap down might be putting too much pressure on components inside, opening up the cruel possibility of users breaking their own devices before they even got to play with them. I used extra caution, along with some needle-nosed tweezers to support the fader as I applied its cap and so far… so good?

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The K.O. II name tells us that Teenage Engineering considers this something of a sequel to the original PO-33 K.O. Clearly the K.O. II isn’t a Pocket Operator, but its retro desk calculator aesthetic does take subtle design cues from that series. At 12-inches diagonally, it’s in iPad territory size-wise. The K.O. II also runs on AAA batteries (or USB power) which is another nod to the PO series. It’s hard to say how long it’ll run on those batteries and it’ll vary from brand to brand, but I’ve been using some cheap rechargeables for over a week and they seem to be going strong.

Personally, I was never particularly enamored with the Pocket Operators and much prefer the form factor of the K.O. II. It’s still very portable, but feels a bit more “serious.” It’s also just very nice to look at, which is something Teenage Engineering is quite good at. The model number, EP-133, indicates that we might see others in the line, so fingers crossed for giant calculator versions of other instruments, too.

In use

Fader fully checked and batteries in place, the K.O. II springs to life with a flourish of icons across its display. Those icons are actually fixed and not made up of pixels. Teenage Engineering calls it a “Super segment hybrid display” which basically fuses the digital watch part with a bunch of colorful, cute custom icons to let you know when certain modes or features are activated. It reminds me of the old Game & Watch handhelds where you can see where all the icons are and they are simply switched on or off as needed. Some of the icons are pretty abstract but there is a guide on the website to let you know that, for example, the red umbrella means undo.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Something I like to do with music gear is to see how easy it is to use without reading the manual. This works for all gadgets of course, but with music gear there are common tasks like sequencing, timing adjustment, automation and so on. How you achieve these on a drum machine might be very different to a keys-based synth. Teenage Engineering in particular likes to do things its own way but I was pleasantly surprised with the K.O. II. Within minutes I had managed to figure out basic navigation and how things are organized (sample groups, accessing shift functions, what the fader does and when and so on).

During this blind test I also got to know the K.O. II’s buttons and faders. It was obvious from the launch materials that we weren’t getting rubber MPC-esque pads here but I would describe the ones on the K.O. as keys rather than buttons. Fortunately they are satisfying to click and they’re pressure sensitive so you can give your drum hits different velocities or play notes at different strengths, just be sure to focus on the lower part of the key as that seems to be where the sensor is.

You probably should read the manual though. If for no other reason than it’s likely the prettiest one you’ll use in a while. There’s also a very cute tool for managing your samples which works via desktop browser. For the brave, you can also use this on your phone if you have Android (Chrome, Brave and Opera should all work). On iOS the same browsers can’t access Web MIDI and therefore will not work. (There’s the iOS Web MIDI Browser which crashes when I tried it with an iPhone but it does connect so your mileage may vary.) The K.O. II won’t show up on your PC as either a drive or an audio interface, so the main uses for the USB port are power and sending/receiving MIDI.

The workflow for grabbing sounds is pretty straightforward. If you want to sample from either a PC or phone or other sound-making device then as long as you can connect it to a 3.5mm cable you’re golden. For everything else, you’ll be using the built-in mic, which is surprisingly good. I recorded a few short vocal phrases and other found sounds and they come out well, assuming you’re in a quiet environment.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Don’t worry though, if you don’t have a bunch of samples yet, the K.O. II comes with a bunch pre-installed, and they’re pretty great. There’s a good mix of drums, bass pads and lead sounds — certainly enough to get you going straight away. You’ll definitely want to add your own though to make your projects unique. The presets use about half of the 64MB of memory, but you can back them up, delete them and free the slots up for your own. Max sample length is 20 seconds (same as on the OP-1 Field).

If 64MB doesn’t sound like a lot, know that it translates to about 11 minutes of samples at the 46kHz/16bit in which the K.O. II records. You can halve that time if you sample in stereo. Even if you go all out, over five minutes of samples should be plenty enough for most songs (we hope). If there’s going to be a bottleneck, it’ll more likely be due to the 12-voice limit. This means the K.O. II can make 12 sounds at once, so if you have six stereo samples playing at one time, you’ll hit that limit. My compositions aren’t interesting enough to hit that threshold, but if you’re a maximalist, then it’s worth keeping in mind.

A common technique to help avoid hitting the voice limit on other devices is resampling — basically merging separate sounds down into one new sample. This is also the technique for baking in any effects and modulation, which, given that the K.O. II can only manage one master effect at any one time makes the lack of resampling all the more obvious. Understandably, it’s possibly the biggest complaint among users I’ve seen so far (after fadergate of course).

There are ways around this, but it would involve recording out into another device and then sampling that back into the K.O. II and no one should have a sampler for their sampler, not in this economy. Teenage Engineering does have a decent track record of adding functionality via firmware updates — the company just added a new effect to the OP-1 Field as I wrote this — so fingers crossed.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

While we’re on the topic of features the K.O. II doesn’t have, there doesn’t appear to be any kind of song mode. There are four sample “groups” that you can think of as tracks (drums, bass, lead and so on). Each of these groups can hold up to 99 patterns and patterns can be up to 99 bars in length. The active patterns across the four groups can be saved as a “scene” and scenes can be triggered consecutively. But, importantly, there’s no way for that to happen automatically right now. This means if you wanted to tease a whole recorded song out of the K.O. II you’ll have to either get clever with MIDI or trigger scenes and patterns manually in real time.

This performative nature might be a burden for songs, but I found it to be a feature in other areas. On top of the master effects you also have 12 “punch in” effects that can be applied — or punched in — by holding down the FX key and then any of the 12 black pads. Each is marked with its effect name (Level, Pitch and so on). These punch-in effects express themselves differently based on the amount of pressure you apply, making it a very expressive experience. The effects on these keys also correspond to modulation tools when used with the fader. So FX+7 adds the “Level” punch-in effect (rhythmic gating) while Fader+7 will assign gain/level to the fader until you choose another modulator such as Attack or Low Pass Filter.

I swear, half of the things you learn about how to use the K.O. II happen by accident. Yes, it’s in the manual, but I discovered you can solo groups by pressing the FX button and the corresponding group. You can also press multiple buttons to “solo” multiple groups or sounds at the same time. With a group or group solo’d you can then apply punch-in effects to create a lot of variations in real time. With so many touches like this, I am starting to assume that Teenage Engineering envisioned the K.O. II as a playful performative device rather than a linear song-making machine.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

I’ve talked before about the sort of “magic” factor that Teenage Engineering sometimes hides into its products. Just small, cute and often a bit hidden features that aren’t necessary but are tons of fun. A common one is the inclusion of FM radio on the OP1/Field and OB 4 etc. Or the video making tool in the app for the OP-Z. There was a brief moment of excitement when I spotted “loop mode from OB-4” on the K.O. II’s product page. The hope being the two devices would interact somehow, but it appears that’s just a way of describing the looping feature that’s been borrowed from the OB-4.

As I write these closing thoughts, the second official firmware update (v1.1.1) has just been released. There’s nothing spicy in here like motion control or sampling the radio, but it’s confirmation of what I mentioned earlier about Teenage Engineering adding features after a product hits the shelves — such as the OP-1 Field’s vocoder synth that landed over six months after release or the fairly substantial 1.2.38 update for the OP-Z which came almost three years into its life.

The K.O. II represents an opportunity for Teenage Engineering to do the unthinkable and create a series of more capable instruments that don’t cost Field-series levels of money. As a sampler, it’s great for beginners or those who love a more performative style. It’s not nearly as detailed and in-depth as something like Roland’s SP 404 or Native Instruments’ Maschine, but it was never going to be a rival to, well, anything really. Fadergate aside, this is a promising product from a company that has tested the loyalty of its fans more than usual in recent years.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Dragonyhm is the latest in a wave of new Game Boy RPGs

The Game Boy might be over 30 years old, but it remains one of the most beloved retro systems. Despite its age, there’s been a steady increase in indie releases, thanks in part to GB Studio — a drop-and-drag tool for making games and an influx of new retro-focused handhelds. But 2023 has been a particularly strong year for the console. An upcoming Game Boy Color title, Dragonyhm, looks set both to raise the bar for the current wave of titles and round off a stellar year for fans of Nintendo’s iconic handheld.

We can thank the pandemic for Dragonyhm. Chris Beach was working in real estate when the COVID lockdowns put a tight squeeze on his day job. He used the time to realize a long-held desire to create an RPG for the Game Boy. The result was Dragonborne, which Beach released himself under his newly-minted Spacebot Interactive publishing imprint. The company would go on to handle the first run of Deadeus and begin production of Dragonborne DX for the Game Boy Color. But thanks to some new features in the latest version of GB Studio, the project soon took on a life of its own.

“It started off as just a color version of the original Dragonborne. I thought it'd be a quick job, colorize it and re-release it. But with all the new features of GB studio, we went down a rabbit hole, and we've ended up overhauling pretty much everything in the game,” Beach told Engadget. The result is Dragonyhm, a larger RPG with new graphics, reimagined sound, improved mechanics and more levels to explore. “We've got plans for five [games] at the moment, and they'll be released over multiple consoles, not just not just the Game Boy.”

Spacebot Interactive

In the time-honored retro RPG tradition, Dragonyhm begins in our hero Kris’ home. His mother wakes him with worrying news that his father Kurtis, the kingdom’s best dragon-slayer, is missing. Worse, there are rumors that monsters in the dungeons have begun to stir. How long before they awaken and wreak havoc on our hero’s once peaceful lands? No prizes for guessing whose quest it is to find and save Kurtis and in turn, the entire kingdom.

The first moments of the game do overlap heavily with Dragonborne, but it’s not long before the two start diverging. In the original version, there’s a simple puzzle very early on to acquire an object. In Dragonyhm, the same task is much more dynamic and with more interesting mechanics.

Playing the game on an Analogue Pocket, with its impressive Game Boy Color screen mode, Dragonyhm could easily pass for an official title from back in the day. The graphics capture the spirit of RPGs of the era and the dialog and challenges feel authentic. The game also feels satisfyingly big. Developing for vintage systems is hard and the projects are usually one person’s labor of love, which can result in shorter games or superficial gameplay.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

With Spacebot Interactive, Beach wants to keep the bar high and release games that would have been worthy of saving up an allowance for, and that means longer playing times with more sophisticated stories and mechanics. “I think Link's Awakening was about 15 hours on a standard playthrough. And [Dragonyhm] will probably be on par with that, maybe a bit longer” Beach said. There will also be a secondary mechanic that will extend replay potential once the main story has been completed.

If my early playthroughs are anything to go by, the game offers the right amount of guidance and nudging at the beginning, but it’s also not long before you find yourself battling it out in your first real mission. As with most RPGs worth their salt, you’ll need to start grinding as soon as you can to level up in order to be strong enough to take on bigger and badder enemies and unlock new areas of the game. Though, for these early stages at least, you’re doing so alone and not as a party.

Mega Cat games

Dragonyhm isn’t the only sizable retro game in 2023. Earlier this year, Mega Cat studios raised almost $50,000 on Kickstarter to bring the adventure game Kudzu to life. Development is now complete, with boxed versions set to ship in January. Kudzu is another RPG-flavored game, with a similar quest to find your missing mentor, Zoen. This time though it’s set in a very different world, one where a raging “world eating” plant — the eponymous Kudzu — is the main enemy.

Kudzu takes the classic Game Boy RPG and spices it up with humor and cozy-catastrophe charm. Along your journey you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters including a cat that wants a pen pal and the in-game currency is mushrooms. Kudzu also uses a wide variety of challenges to move the story along. One minute you’ll need to use logic and memory to navigate mazes that change with levers, the next you might be collecting goats. And then there’s the mysterious Kudzu “jelly” — use it wisely and you might just fine Zoen before it’s too late.

If you prefer platformers and adventure games, then Far After — announced over summer — might be more your speed. This game blends a lot of classic retro themes — magic, quests, turn-based battles and platforming — making it an obvious crowd pleaser. Far After is published by Bitmapsoft which is no stranger to the retro world with numerous Game Boy titles on its roster.

The current wave of new interest in making Game Boy games is running in parallel with another, related trend: an abundance of retro gaming handhelds. These emulation devices start from around $50 and offer modern conveniences like a full-color, backlit display. Not to mention plenty of game storage, Wi-Fi and relatively long battery life. Then of course, there’s the Analogue Pocket, a higher-end handheld that’s basically the answer to the question “what would a Game Boy look like if it were designed and released today.”


These retro-friendly handhelds make it incredibly easy to get started with emulating almost any console from more than 15 years ago. You might even argue that, while many developers are simply making games for their favorite system, once you have something like the Pocket or Ayn Odin, the platform the game was actually made for is less important. These could easily be mobile games or modern retro titles like Celeste, just someone chose to make them with a certain tool that delivers a certain aesthetic and desirable limitations.

Of course, there’s also Nintendo’s eShop and Virtual Console which provides a legitimate route for games like Dragonyhm to be played on official hardware for those that get a kick out of that. Beach confirmed they are aiming to release the game on Switch this way next year. With more and more ways to play these games, it’s a great time to be a Game Boy fan.

“I think it's a really good time, I would go as far as calling it a golden age, because there's so many developers developing homebrew Game Boy games now, and some of the quality is unbelievable. It’s really pushing the boundaries and producing stuff that's on par with licensed games” Beach said.

Dragonyhm is slated for release next year in partnership with Incube8 Games.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The first affordable headphones with MEMS drivers don't disappoint

The headphone industry isn’t known for its rapid evolution. There are developments like spatial sound and steady advances in Bluetooth audio fidelity, but for the most part, the industry counts advances in decades rather than years. That makes the arrival of the Aurvana Ace headphones — the first wireless buds with MEMS drivers — quite the rare event. I recently wrote about what exactly MEMS technology is and why it matters, but Creative is the first consumer brand to sell a product that uses it.

Creative unveiled two models, the Aurvana Ace ($130) and the Aurvana Ace 2 ($150) in tandem. Both feature MEMS drivers, the main difference is that the Ace model supports high-resolution aptX Adaptive while the Ace 2 has top-of-the-line aptX Lossless (sometimes marketed as “CD quality”). The Ace 2 is the model we’ll be referring to from here on.

In fairness to Creative, just the inclusion of MEMS drivers alone would be a unique selling point, but the aforementioned aptX support adds another layer of HiFi credentials to the mix. Then there’s adaptive ANC and other details like wireless charging that give the Ace 2 a strong spec-sheet for the price. Some obvious omissions include small quality of life features like pausing playback if you remove a bud and audio personalization. Those could have been two easy wins that would make both models fairly hard to beat for the price in terms of features if nothing else.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

When I tested the first ever xMEMS-powered in-ear monitors, the Singularity Oni, the extra detail in the high end was instantly obvious, especially in genres like metal and drum & bass. The lower frequencies were more of a challenge, with xMEMS, the company behind the drivers in both the Oni and the Aurvana, conceding that a hybrid setup with a conventional bass driver might be the preferred option until its own speakers can handle more bass. That’s exactly what we have here in the Aurvana Ace 2.

The key difference between the Aurvana Ace 2 and the Oni though is more important than a good low end thump (if that’s even possible). MEMS-based headphones need a small amount of “bias” power to work, this doesn’t impact battery life, but Singularity used a dedicated DAC with a specific xMEMS “mode.” Creative uses a specific amp “chip” that demonstrates, for the first time, consumer MEMS headphones in a wireless configuration. The popularity of true wireless (TWS) headphones these days means that if MEMS is to catch on, it has to be compatible.

The good news is that even without the expensive iFi DAC that the Singularity Oni IEMs required to work, the Aurvana Ace 2 bring extra clarity in the higher frequencies than rival products at this price. That’s to say, even with improved bass, the MEMS drivers clearly favor the mid- to high-end frequencies. The result is a sound that strikes a good balance between detail and body.

Listening to “Master of Puppets” the iconic chords had better presence and “crunch” than on a $250 pair of on-ear headphones I tried. Likewise, the aggressive snares in System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” pop right through just as you’d hope. When I listened to the same song on the $200 Grell Audio TWS/1 with personalized audio activated the sounds were actually comparable. Just Creative’s sounded like that out of the box, but the Grell buds have slightly better dynamic range over all and more emphasis on the vocals.

For more electronic genres the Aurvana Ace’s hybrid setup really comes into play. Listening to Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop” really shows off the bass capabilities, with more oomph here than both the Grell and a pair of $160 House of Marley Redemption 2 ANC — but it never felt overdone or fuzzy/loose.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Despite besting other headphones on specific like-for-like comparisons, as a whole the nuances and differences between the headphones is harder to quantify. The only set I tested that sounded consistently better, to me, was the Denon Perl Pro (formerly known as the NuraTrue Pro) but at $349 those are also the most expensive.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that there were also many songs and tests where differences between the various sets of earbuds were much harder to discern. With two iPhones, one Spotify account and a lot of swapping between headphones during the same song it’s possible to tease out small preferences between different sets, but the form factor, consumer preference and price point dictate that, to some extent, they all broadly overlap sonically.

The promise of MEMS drivers isn’t just about fidelity though. The claim is that the lack of moving parts and their semiconductor-like fabrication process ensures a higher level of consistency with less need for calibration and tuning. The end result being a more reliable production process which should mean lower cost. In turn this could translate into better value for money or at least a potentially more durable product. If the companies choose to pass that saving on of course.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see if other companies explore using MEMS drivers in their own products or whether it might remain an alternative option alongside technology like planar magnetic drivers and electrostatic headphones as specialist options for enthusiasts. One thing’s for sure: Creative’s Aurvana Ace series offers a great audio experience alongside premium features like wireless charging and aptX Lossless for a reasonable price — what’s not to like about that?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Opal's Tadpole proves webcams don't need to be big or boring

As computer accessories go, the humble webcam doesn’t get a ton of attention. Two or three brands tend to dominate the market and almost everything looks, well, webcamy? Opal entered the scene in 2021 with its C1 model. The idea was simple, to sexy-up the humble old webcam with a high quality sensor, a slick design and (for mac users at least) companion software that didn’t feel like a grind to use. Today, the company unveils its second camera, the Tadpole, and it’s something quite different.

Just one glance at the Tadpole and obviously it's a big change from the C1 or really almost any other webcam out there. For starters it’s designed for laptops, which is evidenced in the tiny form-factor. This idea, the company claims, was inspired by the discovery that over 40 percent of people buying the C1, were using it with a laptop. Macbooks and most PC laptops come with a webcam built-in, but as the pandemic forced many more people to work from home, the shortcomings of those soon became very apparent.

In terms of design, the Tadpole is reminiscent of the last generation iPod Shuffle, clip included. The functional design extends to the built-in cable which hides a capacitive mute button in the USB-C connector — so you won’t have to hunt for the one on screen in Zoom. The Tadpole’s focus on portability extends to it having its own hard carry case — though that’s an additional purchase.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

As for the actual camera, it’s using a 48-megapixel Sony IMX582 Exmor RS sensor set to deliver 1080p video with an f/1.8 aperture. Despite the smaller form-factor, this puts the Tadpole above its bigger, older (and more expensive) sibling in terms of optics. Opal told Engadget that the camera actually shoots in 4K but scales down to 1080p for compatibility with most video calling software. There are some controls in the companion software for adjusting the image settings and other preferences but currently that’s Mac-only. Company representatives also told Engadget that they wanted this camera to be as friction-free as possible with minimal need to dive into settings anyway.

Sure enough, the image that the Tadpole outputs is visibly clearer and more detailed than whatever you’re going to have in your laptop. Side-by-side with the 4K Logitech Brio, the Tadpole looked a little darker and in my initial tests, background details seems a little softer, through apps like Zoom and Google Meet at least. Viewing the image through Opal’s own software and things look sharper again.

It’s on the audio side where things get a little more interesting. Opal claims the Tadpole is the first webcam with a directional microphone. What’s for sure is that the Tadpole certainly picks up less ambient noise than a Macbook’s internal mic or the one on the Logitech Brio. I happened to test the Brio and the Tadpole side by side with a noisy washing machine running in the background and you can hear it on the Brio but not on the Tadpole. What’s more, the omni-directional microphone on most webcams tends to sound very “roomy.” Whereas voices on the Tadpole feel much more centered and with less environmental reverb.

Opal even goes as far to claim that the microphone is directional enough that if it’s not in shot, you won’t hear it. While it’s true that the mic is a lot more focused on what’s in front of it, it’s still possible for sounds out of shot to be present, albeit far less so than in rival products. In the test recordings embedded in this story you can hear something like birds outside clearly on the Brio’s audio. They’re still present on the Tadpole audio, but significantly less so. Either way, this more focused audio is likely going to be very much appreciated by your colleagues if you’re taking video meetings in an office environment.

One thing’s for sure, the webcam market has remained fairly stuffy and without much originality for too long. We’re not expecting boutique devices in the same vein as mechanical keyboards, but there’s clearly a space for more products with interesting, practical designs, even with a focus on specific use cases, like the Tadpole.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Opal’s biggest feat might well be proving that webcams don’t have to be large or dull, black blobs on top of our screens. The choice of either white or black here with the braided cable and the smart capacitive button on the USB connection show that it’s possible to make a better webcam without inflating the price. The C1 was $300 at launch ($250 now), and the Tadpole launches today, with a better sensor, improved autofocus and that directional microphone for $175, a little over half the price.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Ableton Live 12 can create MIDI riffs and has a new synth to play them

It was almost exactly three years ago that we were celebrating the relatively quick arrival of Ableton Live 11. Today, the company is unveiling Live 12, the next version of its popular digital audio workstation (DAW). In terms of release cycles, this is the shortest time between versions in recent memory, and it brings with it some exciting new features. The less fun news is that you won’t actually be able to get your hands on Live 12 until early next year, but there’s plenty to get excited about in the meantime.

Usually, the first thing people want to know is if there are any new instruments, and the answer is yes. Live 12 Suite comes with “Meld” which the company describes as a macro oscillator synth, and there’s also a new distortion effect called Roar. Other updates include a feature where Live 12 will create MIDI arrangements or transform existing ones via new tools in Live’s Clip view. There’s also an option to track the scale and key of what you’re working on so that any effects or edits will automatically be in that key (if you wish). On the other hand, if you want to create music in non-western tones and scales, there’s full support for a wide range of musical tunings now baked right into Live. Most of the above is also MPE ready where applicable. There’s a lot more, which we’ll go through below but those are the headline features.

Meld synthesizer


The newest instrument to join the Ableton Live family is going to be a lot of fun. At first glance, the two oscillator setup seems pretty straightforward. But this “macro oscillator” synth has a lot of interesting waveforms to play with. Everything from classic sine/saw/square shapes through to more noise type formations like “rain” and “bubble” mean Meld can really create some unique textures. If you’re a fan of moog-style big pulsing sounds, the “swarm” waveforms are for you. Both oscillators have a modulation matrix that makes it super easy to bend and shape the sound to your liking. From some quick experimentation, Meld looks perfect for sound design and creating big, gritty leads as well as abstract pads and real-word sounding textures.

Roar distortion effect

Live already has a decent selection of distortion effects, but Roar is possibly the most comprehensive yet. The range of tone shapes available range from light, pedal-style crunchiness through to aggressive hard digital clipping and everything in between. The power with Roar lies in the amount of controls you have throughout the chain. Right from dialing in the perfect amount of distortion through the filter to the modulation options, again, controlled by a matrix setup. It’s perhaps not quite as comprehensive as Arturia’s ColdFire, but it’s close. Live’s primary distortion tools, Saturator and Overdrive, often worked best together. Meld offers the power of both of those tools and adds complex signal bending tools for good measure.

Generative MIDI tools

When it comes to songwriting, Live 12 offers some exciting tools to get you started or to help push you through a creative block. Specifically, Live 12 will generate random MIDI clips for you according to certain parameters (length, note density and so on). Alternatively, if you already have a clip with a MIDI sequence that you like, the “transform” tab in the Clip view will create endless variations on it depending on your requirements.

On the generative side of things, there are options for more rhythmic patterns, melodic arrangements or even chords. The created MIDI can be almost any length, but shorter clips tend to have more success. Every time you change a parameter — length, pitch and so on — Live will create a new pattern and you can keep cycling through variations until you find one you like. Here is where Live 12’s new “scale aware” feature really shines, as when activated, this will ensure any generated MIDI matches the key and scale of what you are working on.


The transform tool is ideal for when you have a progression you already like but want to create some variations on it. This could be something simple like arpeggiation or velocity adjustments through to more detail-oriented tweaks such as how the notes flow into each other or creating a humanized “strum” effect on chords. Despite their power, both the transform and generate tools are neatly tucked away as tabs in the Clip view and mostly have straightforward controls, though some experimentation is encouraged. It’s pretty easy to get lost in a rabbit hole, testing out different settings and parameters until you end up with something barely recognizable. Which, to be fair, is sometimes exactly what you want.


An addition to the main library in Live 12 is the Tunings tab. Simply put, here you’ll find a collection of tunings outside of the conventional western 12 note scale. So if Turkish Makam is your thing or you’re a fan of Just Intonation, there are several options here that can be activated and adapted as you prefer. The scales library consists of .ascl files meaning you can add to your library of scales from third-party or user-created files also.

UI improvements

If you’ve used Live for any amount of time, you likely have Tab and Shift+Tab muscle memory so deeply ingrained you can switch views blindfolded. In this update, you’ll no longer have to jump over to Session view to access the mixer as finally it’s available in Arrangement view also. The same is true for the Device and Clip view windows, meaning you can see the MIDI/audio at the same time as the synth/effects chain without having to jump between them constantly. Things can get a bit busy if you have all three panels open at the same time, but this is a solid quality of life enhancement that’s long overdue.

Library management

Organizing and navigating your sample library in Live 12 comes with a number of improvements. Notably, the ability to tag MIDI clips, plugins and audio at a granular level. Tag categories include everything from Type (Loop/MIDI clip and so on) to musical key, groove and many other categories. You can, of course, also add your own custom tags.


If your library is quite large and disorganized, the initial tagging might take a while, but you can select multiple items at once and tag them at the same time. Right now, it doesn’t appear that you can tag at the folder level, which would be handy for large sample collections but it’s a useful tool nonetheless.

A much neater trick is Live 12’s ability to find “similar” sounds. For example, if you have a kick drum sample and know you have others like it in other sample packs/folders, but don’t remember where, clicking the new “Show Similar Files” radio button will pull up all the samples you have that Live has deemed to be, well, similar. In testing, it does a good job for percussive sounds matching length, sound style and so on. Searching on melodies, leads and even vocals also does a decent job of bringing up related samples, but it’s perhaps more open to interpretation here as the timbre can be quite different with the length, shape and gain of the sound seeming to have more weight on what’s a match. Either way, both new features will be a boost to those of us that only got as far as organizing their library alphabetically.

There are other enhancements to the general user experience that go far beyond creative functionality. For one, Live 12 is optimized for screen readers and almost everything can be controlled with the keyboard which is a big plus for accessibility. As always there are updates across the board including the included core library of sounds and modulation parameters. Likewise, some Live 11 sounds and instruments — such as Analog and Tension synths — are available in the Standard edition of 12 whereas before they were exclusive to the more expensive Suite edition.

As for availability, Ableton hasn’t confirmed a date, but you should expect Live 12 to launch around late February or March next year. The Standard edition will cost $439 (€279) which features most of the above minus Meld and Roar. Live 12 Suite edition, which features all the above plus the Operator synth and Granulator effect among other perks will retail for $749 (€599).

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Teenage Engineering's recorder and mic make the Field series feel complete

Last spring, Teenage Engineering announced a curious, tiny mixer. At $1,200 the TX-6 appeared to pair a serious price tag with almost comically small controls. It divided music making forums with naysayers deeming it evidence that the company was squandering its reputation as a maker of spendy-but-delightful products. Importantly, the TX-6 was the first in a new line of “Field” products. It was soon joined by the OP-1 Field synthesizer, but until recently that was it, and a mixer with a synth didn’t feel like much of a “system”.

With the arrival of the TP-7 recorder and the CM-15 microphone, the Field family is complete — although the company hasn’t ruled out adding more products further down the line. And like some sort of heavily designed musical Infinity Stones, all four products feel far more exciting and powerful together than they do individually. Or, forced metaphors aside, it’s easier to see where the company was going with all this now that the family is complete.

That’s if the $5,900 entry fee for the full set doesn’t make you balk. But let’s ignore the economics for now, as that’s an accepted part of the Teenage Engineering experience at this point. What we have here is a compact, creativity-inducing system that’s like no other and this off-beat, playful approach to product design is something I wish we saw more of (and ideally in a more accessible way).

We’ve already covered the TX-6 mixer and the OP-1 Field synthesizer and how they interact with each other. But as the two new arrivals bring their own set of skills to the Field system, most of which is laid out below. I say most, as every time I tinker with them, it occurs to me to try something new. Similarly, revisiting the online guide seems to have an uncanny ability to throw up things you missed last time, further unlocking ideas or features.


Teenage Engineering’s first studio microphone is nothing if not beautiful. The Field aesthetic of small, rectangular CNC aluminum makes the most sense here out of all the products. The CM15 could really just be another fancy microphone. The CM15 is also the one where the price is most inconspicuous, given high-end microphones tend to start around the $1,200 that you’ll need to spend to add this to your collection.

The CM15 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone which is the type preferred in studios and tends to be a lot more sensitive than something like the podcaster’s favorite Shure SM7b. This microphone doesn’t have elaborate features like internal storage or any type of sound modification tools, but it’s not without some interesting details. For one, the CM15 has three output options — mini XLR, USB and 3.5mm — which makes it compatible with a wide range of devices. Specifically, as the CM15 has its own battery, it plays nice with more USB devices than rival condensers that may require more juice than your phone can deliver.

A switch around the back offers three levels of gain adjustment (neutral and +/- 18dB) which is handy given the variety of things you can plug this into. The gain is analog and in testing sounds pretty clean, with only a marginal effect on the noise floor. I found being able to quickly adjust the gain directly on the mic for different situations made this mic feel like a really good all-rounder, both at home or on the go.

With regard to the Field range, and the intercompatibility thereof, there’s less here than other devices in the family. When you plug the CM15 into the TP-7 recorder over USB it recognizes it as the CM15 and presents you a cute mini icon of it. When the mic is detected you’ll also have the option to add an additional 12dB of digital gain — something that’s not an option when plugging in a phone, for example. The CM15 is also the only mic I tried that worked with the USB port of the TX-6 mixer. This allows you to add effects and, of course, mix it with other instruments, but also this frees up an analog input if needed (though the mic will share channel six with anything else on that input).

Teenage Engineering states the CM15 can also be used as an audio interface, but when tested this didn’t work for Windows, MacOS or iOS. Though it will work as a USB mic for all those operating systems.

As for sound, the CM15 is a very “close” sounding condenser microphone. By that, I mean it never seemed to pick up a lot of the room which can often be the case with condensers, especially those with larger diaphragms. This is due to the supercardioid polar pattern but the result is perfect for mobile applications where you may find yourself in different environments and the CM15 will deliver fairly consistent sound. For my voice, I might appreciate the option to bump the mid-high frequencies a touch, but for most everything else, including foley and instruments, the CM15 sounds bright and clear.


I’ll say it straight up front, the $1,499 TP-7 is my favorite of the four Field devices. The OP-1 Field is the flagship, but for pure portability to functionality balance, the TP-7 wins. Described as a “Field recorder” the TP-7 takes the idea of a portable cassette recorder and brings it up to date for the 21st century. There’s a built-in microphone, 128GB of storage and three stereo inputs (that can also be outputs). It can record multitrack podcasts, has tactile scrubbing controls and a thumb rocker and can even become a tiny turntable complete with scratching and physical pitch control.

First and foremost though, the TP-7 is a capable recorder. Press and hold the side button, even when the device is off, and it’ll spring to life and start recording via the internal mic. This feature is more about recording short notes and ideas which you can then have transcribed via a companion app. The app connects over Bluetooth or USB, works offline and will even identify different speakers. It’s not as fully featured as a paid service like Trint or Otter but it’s really cool extra functionality. I even tried loading an old interview I had on my PC onto the TP-7 and the app happily transcribed that, too. The only restriction seemingly being that you have a TP-7 (you can’t load an audio up from your phone within the app, for example).

Beyond memo recording is more general recording of the TP-7’s various inputs. As with the TX-6 mixer, your main inputs are 3.5mm ports which isn’t ideal but most things with a line signal can be wrangled into 3.5mm easily enough. You can also record audio into and out of your phone via USB-C (including the iPhone 15) or directly from the CM15 digitally and over 3.5mm analog at the same time, if you wanted.

The three 3.5mm ports can be configured for line-level or headset/TRRS input or flipped into outputs. Line level will cover most instruments and active electronics with audio output, while headset mode is for anything with a lower output signal such as, well, headsets, but also some other unpowered microphones like lavaliers. I even had some success recording an SM7b via an XLR to TRRS adapter. You can add up to 45dB of gain to the 3.5mm inputs, and with about 35dB the output from Shure’s gain-hungry mic was quiet, but clean and usable. Other XLR dynamic mics were much louder and usable.

With three microphones connected this way, the TP-7 will spit out a multitrack WAV file with each one recorded on its own channel making this a capable podcast recording tool or mini studio recorder that you can mix properly after the fact.

Connect a phone to the TP-7 over USB-C and you can record any sound directly, so you could grab the audio from a video and transcribe it with the app, or load up a beat and then sing or rhyme over it for an on the go demo whenever inspiration strikes. When playing back on the TP-7 the main front disk rotates and you can speed it up, slow it down or even do some rudimentary scratching. This could be used for effect when feeding the output into the TX-6 mixer for recording onto another device.

Multitrack also works for playback. So if you have a WAV file that has drums, vocals, synth and bass as different tracks, you can play it on the TP-7 into the TX-6 over USB and you can mix and add effects to each part of the track separately. In this way, you can use the pair as an effective performance tool, creating an intro with just the beat, adding in the bassline and so on.

Taking this concept even further, with two TP-7s and the TX-6 mixer you effectively have a pair of tiny turntables, with actual turning platters, that can be pitched up or down in real time into the mixer. It’s a classic analog DJ setup but the size of a paperback. I tried it, and mixing this way is really hard as using the jog wheel to alter pitch is a bit heavy handed. You can adjust the pitch more gently by holding the side button and then using the jog wheel, but if, like me, you haven’t mixed this way in 20 years, it takes a little getting used to. It’s also a little OTT to be fair.

What’s much more reasonable, is using the TP-7 as a general audio player. You can load files onto it, and then play them back either on the internal speaker or (preferably) via headphones. You can use the side rocker or the main wheel to control the playback, too. Currently you can only play .wav and .flac file extensions, which is fine, but the lack of mp3 feels like an obvious omission (Teenage Engineering confirmed support is incoming).

The flexibility of the TP-7 doesn’t stop out in the field. Connect it to your PC and it’ll become an audio interface, too. Or at least, that’s the idea. Right now on Windows I only had it working briefly and not in full. On macOS it was marginally better, but not usable. Bear in mind the TX-6 also offers this functionality, and after months that still doesn’t work with Windows at all and is still not flawless on macOS. It’s a shame, as at this price point you’d hope it works at launch and across both systems.

There’s really a lot more you can do with the TP-7, especially in combination with the TX-6. There’s Bluetooth MIDI functionality, for one. The two really make a great team, but the above cover much of the main functionality. Everything else starts to get a little bit niche. Fun, but niche. I’m also certain that functionality will continue to grow as Teenage Engineering is generally pretty good about adding features, often based on user feedback.

Putting it all together

After spending days plugging different things into the TP-7 and the TX-6 and trying out various scenarios and ideas, it sometimes felt like that was often half the fun. Wondering what will happen if you do X and connect to Y. Like musical lego. Much of this will be true for many combinations of audio gear, but the Field line does lend itself particularly well to this playful experimentation.

That said, there are some bugs that you might not expect at this price point. The most obvious one I encountered was the audio interface functionality. At launch I would expect Windows and macOS support and for both to be fairly seamless. Other curiosities were less important but still confusing. Sometimes the CM15 wouldn’t be recognized over USB until a restart, or simply using the analog/3.5mm output would sporadically give crunchy audio when recording into one thing, but clear audio on the TP-7. This could well be down to cables, adapters and so on, but when the same scenario works just fine on a product a third of the price it’s harder to justify.

Take the Tula mic, for example. It’s actually a device that’s already quite popular with Teenage Engineering fans. It has a more classic design, but offers similar functionality to both the TP-7 and the CM15 combined. The mic on it maybe isn’t as good as Teenage Engineering’s, and the recorder functionality doesn’t have the fancy rocker and jog wheel controls, but it’s a good mic and a good recorder all in one and it only costs $259 — less than a tenth of the TP-7 and CM15 together.

But as I said up top, this is less about the price. Teenage Engineering fans are aware of the expense that comes with the products. Many consider it worth it just for that extra dash of playfulness that you don’t find elsewhere. (Other fans are, to be clear, still not really okay with the pricing.) That’s perhaps a conundrum that good old market forces can decide. If, after all these years, the company is still chugging along, it suggests there are plenty of people that consider it a premium worth paying.

What is less contested is that Teenage Engineering does something unique enough to earn it enough fans for there to even be an argument. Or an article like this one. The Field system, in my opinion, exemplifies what the company does best. Interesting tools that have a practical core and a less practical fun side. Individually all four field items will solve a basic problem, like most products do. Together they become a little bit more than the sum of their parts. If you believe creativity lives in that space between functionality and possibility then the Field range creates enough room here for the right kind of creator that the price

This article originally appeared on Engadget at