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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

I’m trying so hard not to gush over Teenage Engineering’s latest gadget

Teenage Engineering’s new $300 groovebox has no business being this cute. That’s the whole point.

The EP–133 K.O.II (we’ll just call it Knock Out II) is a combination drum machine, synthesizer and sampler. It’s a supersized upgrade to Teenage Engineer’s pint-sized PO-33 K.O, which offers many of the same features for a fraction of the price.

The vibe of the Knock Out II is decidedly more 1980s drum computer than modern Roland groovebox. Its buttons, knobs and sole fader appear almost oversized on the thin device. I’m not sure exactly how to work it, but that leaves me no less tempted to fork over the money.

Whether you consider Teenage Engineering’s audio gear overdesigned, overpriced or just right, I’m simply glad the VC-backed startup makes things that illicit an emotional response. It’s refreshing to see a hardware company get weird with it; most seem overly preoccupied with chasing Apple down its minimalist rabbit hole.

Getting weird with it is Teenage Engineering’s whole thing. The Swedish firm creates wireless speakers, grooveboxes and hypebeasty accessories for listeners and musicians alike. Their gadgets often feature Lego-like tactile buttons and knobs, with a design language blurs distinct aesthetics — think: cassette futurism meets brutalism meets KB Toys.

Teenage Engineering built a following via its super affordable (and in my experience, frustratingly fragile) Pocket Operator sequencers, but in recent years the company’s devoted more attention to higher-end gear. That’s left some of its fans priced out of the fun. The price tag on the Knock Out II temptingly occupies a middle ground. It’s not a stocking stuffer, but it also isn’t two grand.  

Mastering a drum machine and sequencer takes time, and Teenage Engineering’s products are often so feature-packed and distinct that they come with a learning curve. Still, the design of Knock Out II makes it seem approachable. It appears to plead — perhaps deceptively, if you aren’t willing to put in the hours — that “you could totally learn this!” For now, I’ll try my best to resist the gearhead siren song.

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