Sync Your Pocket Synth with Ableton

The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators are highly popular devices — pocket-sized synthesizers packed full of exciting sounds and rhythmic options. They’re also remarkably affordable. However, this comes at a cost — they don’t feature MIDI connectivity, so it can be difficult to integrate them into a bigger digital music setup. Never fear, little-scale’s got your back. This Max patch allows you to synchronize an Ableton Link network to your Pocket Operators.

little-scale’s trademark is creating useful software and hardware devices using cheap, off-the-shelf hardware wherever possible. The trick here is a simple Max patch combined with a $2 USB soundcard or Bluetooth audio adapter. It’s all very simple: the Pocket Operators have a variety of sync modes that sync on audio pulses, essentially a click track. They use stereo 3.5mm jacks on board, generally using one channel for the synth’s audio and one channel for receiving sync pulses. It’s a simple job to synthesize suitable sync pulses in Ableton, and then pump them out to the Pocket Operators through the Bluetooth or USB audio output.

The Pocket Operators sync at a rate of 2 PPQN — that’s pulses per quarter note. little-scale says that KORG volcas & monotrons should also work with this patch, as they run at the same rate, but it’s currently untested. If you happen to try this for yourself, let us know if it works for you. Video below the break.

We’ve seen pocket synths on Hackaday before, with this attractive mixer designed for use with KORG Volcas.

15 thoughts on “Sync Your Pocket Synth with Ableton

  1. Did a similar thing with my mate’s Volcas. He composes music on a Sony PSP when he’s on the move. From reading about it somewhere, we found out the same thing, you can send pulses to the Volca’s sync ports to sync with it’s sequencer. So built a stereo jack splitter cable, played the PSP’s music out of the right channel, and a click track through the left.

    I can’t remember where we got the info on the pulses, maybe the manual. But it was pretty tolerant, we used much shorter pulses (because my friend had them available) and they still triggered it reliably. It was chance whether the audio level would be enough to trigger the Volca but it was fine.

    So pretty much any audio source ought to work, at least with Volcas, and probably with TE’s things. The Teenage boards are works of art, particularly the Game And Watch-style LCD displays they use. They’re all custom, too. You don’t see many people use custom LCD graphics any more, nowadays they generally use dot-matrix. But these ones have little computer-game guys operating a submarine or whatever, as part of the music generation process. They’re a work of art, and a much better one than some of the “art” that’s appeared on here.

  2. Wife looks over shoulder, sees sewing machine on LCD in the picture above, “What’s that?”. “A synthesizer”. “What does that have to do with sewing machines?” ????????

  3. The custom LCD screens are neat, bit i don’t want to be the guy who has to reverse engineer them in 20 Years time.

    Every time you build a synth with a custom part, god kills a hackers kitten.

    Music tech stays around forever, there are still Stradivarius violins being played!

  4. Does anyone else think these (pocket operators) are kind of spendy for what they are? I want to know how bad I would be at operating one of these, but I know I would blame my lack of ability to create anything pleasing on only owning one.

    1. From a purely DIY-cost-of-parts perspective, yeah, they’re probably pricey. But if your’e trying to make an actual product and run an actual company and make an actual profit, then they seem very reasonably priced to me.

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