Teenage Engineering EP-133 KO II

Sampler & Sequencer
By Simon Sherbourne

Teenage Engineering’s portable workstation offers retro styling and an equally old‑school approach to sampling.

I’ve often thought that Teenage Engineering’s Pocket Operators are deceptively capable little beasts, held back by the size and spec of their hardware. They have a fast workflow and really effective momentary performance effects. The EP‑133, or KO II is, in concept, a scaled‑up version of the PO‑33/KO! micro sampler. It says ‘EP Series’ on the bottom, so I hope we can expect more grown‑up POs in the future.

The EP‑133 keeps the basic idea of the KO, providing both drum‑machine style one‑shot sample playback and chromatic sample pitching. You still have onboard sampling and ‘punch in’ effects, and both step and real‑time sequencing. The KO II remains very portable (potentially still pocketable, in some generous cargo pants) but has massively enhanced capabilities such as full‑resolution audio and sampling, four bank layers, unquantised sequencing, velocity‑sensitive keys and USB connectivity.

In its new form, the KO II will likely be weighed against other compact workstations like Roland’s SP‑404 and Novation’s Circuit Rhythm. However, my impression is that the key design reference for TE was early Akai MPCs.

Form

Much of the buzz around the announcement of the EP‑133 focused on the reasonableness of the price compared to some other TE offerings. Perhaps more significant, though, is what a desirable‑looking thing it is. It has a retro style reminiscent of old Casio calculators, hardware MIDI sequencers or a miniaturised MPC‑60. I should say that Retrokits beat TE to it visually with their RK‑008 MIDI multitracker, but the KO II has a unique vibe thanks to its display. This pairs a basic three‑character read‑out with a bank of backlit indicators, maintaining the PO’s relationship to handheld games of the ’80s: an almost unfair card to play on those of us of a certain age.

As well as the pressure‑sensitive mechanical keys (a favourite among gamers and hipster typists) there are three knobs and small slider/fader which are used for all continuous controls and settings across various modes. Some users have reported faulty faders, though it’s not clear whether this stems from a component issue or packaging failure. The review unit thankfully showed no issues.

The device really is a lovely thing to pick up and play with, being about the size of a vanilla iPad and surprisingly thin. It’s solid, though, with stable rubber feet for tabletop use. Although there’s no rechargeable battery, power is handled excellently. Four AAAs keep you working for a good 20 hours, but because power automatically switches to USB when plugged into a computer or charger, I’m still on the first set after a month.

As well as power, the USB port provides MIDI I/O and sample management via a computer, but it can’t do audio over USB or direct MIDI hosting. The top edge also sports stereo audio input and output connections, multi‑format analogue sync in and out, and TRS‑A MIDI ports (adaptors are not included). The audio output doubles for both line out and headphones, and there’s also a built‑in speaker for casual pickup‑and‑play sessions.

The KO II’s connections are all found at the top and feature a USB-C port and 3.5mm sockets for sync and MIDI I/O, audio input and audio output.

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Published March 2024

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