Teenage Engineering’s OB-4 minimal portable speaker is a mini masterpiece
Inviting the listener to play an active role, the OB-4’s secret weapon, is an endlessly looping digital ‘tape’ that lets you create quirky sonic adaptations
Swedish brand Teenage Engineering is renowned for combining cutting edge engineering with neat, retro-tinted design. Their cult OP-1 synthesizer and Pocket Operator music machines riff respectively on classic Casio keyboards and the 1980s Nintendo Game & Watch, for example. The Stockholm-based company also builds speakers, starting with the OD-11, a recreation of the ortho-directional loudspeaker designed in 1974 by the late Swedish engineer Stig Carlsson. Teenage Engineering’s newest product is the OB-4, a portable speaker that follows the current trend for combining Bluetooth and regular line inputs into an object designed to go anywhere.
Thomas Howard, Teenage Engineering’s Industrial Designer, describes their minimal approach. ‘We try to keep it simple and let the acoustics become the basis for how the machine feels,’ he explains. ‘From the outside, you see a square box. Then we turn all our focus to the inside and try to make that part magic. We’re engineers, so that’s most interesting to us.’ The ‘magic’ he’s referring to is the OB-4’s secret weapon, an endlessly looping digital ‘tape’ that lets you rewind what you’ve heard, even time-stretch it and create quirky sonic loops. ‘As well as the traditional inputs like line in, Bluetooth and FM radio, you have "disk mode",’ says Howard, ‘in a sense this is our public research space, where we will continuously develop new experimental features for the OB–4. It’s a place to allow ourselves to explore and prototype everything that this media-instrument, as we call it, can become.’
‘Our machines are platforms, not products’ – Thomas Howard
‘Disk mode’ currently has three key functions: ambient, karma and metronome. Each creates a unique soundscape from the audio coming out of the OB-4. ‘We think a speaker can do much more than just take an input and play it back to you,’ Howard continues, ‘we’re interested in how we can create better environments for sleeping or working, but also more active things — what if OB–4 could be the drummer in a family band? Or an alarm clock?’
As with all Teenage Engineering products, sound design is cloaked with love, humour, and exceptional attention to detail. Alongside the standard speaker, there’s a special Bill Amberg Edition, with a custom leather bag supplied to maximise the portability of the OB-4. Available as a strictly limited edition, the Amberg edition has a detachable leather strap for you take this elegant audio oddity out and about. ‘Our machines are platforms, not products. OB–4 is an active listening experience,’ Howard says, ‘you can loop what you’re listening to and remix it. Or rewind radio. right now, that stuff happens in the moment, and then it’s gone.’ §