Almost everything that I have ever heard about the Tentacle sync boxes has been positive. From the original Tentacle sync to the Tentacle Sync E, these little dynamos have changed the game. They’ve made timecode boxes incredibly small and convenient, and they’ve also pushed the competition to do the same. Ever since I switched to the Sync E’s, I have never looked back. They never have issues, are light as a feather, and are always rock solid.
Back when the Lectrosonics PDR was first announced, I found myself on the lookout for a miniature recorder for those recurring situations when I don’t know if the talent will go out of range of my wireless. Having said all of this, when the Track E was announced, I was incredibly excited, as it seemed to tick all of my boxes for a unit of this kind. Specs and advertisements can only get you so far. Now that I have had my hands on a couple of units, let’s discuss!
First, let’s take a look at the physical design.
Above you can see all three of Tentacle’s products, even the grandfather original model. My apologies for my stickers being on the Sync and Sync E, but it’s still pretty clear about the size and shape differences.
Gone is the hard side velcro of the Sync units, and instead are two mounting holes for the included (and removable) belt clip. The Track E also has 6 LED’s on the front to indicate status, battery, and VU metering (instead of 2 on the Sync and 3 on the Sync E). Instead of a single 3.5mm TRS output, there is also a threaded 3.5mm TRS input for lavalier, line level, or other sources, on the side is the MicroSD card slot, and on the bottom is the same USB-C port found on the Sync E.
I must admit that when I first unboxed the Track E, that I was a little surprised at its size. From the promotional materials, for some reason I was expecting it to be a little smaller. Don’t get me wrong, its still very small and incredibly lightweight, but I was predicting that it would be only a tiny bit larger than the Sync E. Now, that being said, the Track E has both a timecode crystal, as well as a recording unit inside, so I’m not trying to harp on them for the size. I would still find this easy to clip onto a belt, or to hide in clothing. It’s smaller than most body pack transmitters.
In the Box
In the box, you get different colored bands for the units, a USB-C to USB-A cable, a USB-C to USC-C cable, a lavalier microphone (which I will get to in a minute), the belt clip, and these two branded bags. Anyone who has used Tentacle devices knows about the bag on the left (and they are crazy if they don’t love them), but something new is the addition of the tiny bag on the right. I’m not quite sure why they included it this time, as you can see that it just barely fits the Track E inside, with no accessories. The larger bag is double-sided, with two pouches so you are able to put your Track E in one side, and your accessories in the other side.
Who cares though. Just look at that cute little bag! I’ll keep it forever and love it (at least until my wife comes and snatches it up, as she has promised to try to do with any and all of my Tentacle branded objects).
Update: My new theory is that the little bag is for storing the kit lav.
On one side is the Sennheiser ME-2 microphone, and on the other side is the included Tentacle Track E kit microphone. Can you see the difference? I know that I can’t. I plugged both of them in and I listened to how they sounded, plus compared their noise floors. What I’ll say is this: if it looks like an ME-2, talks like an ME-2, smells like an ME-2, then its probably………….
Honestly, if this is an ME-2 (or something similar/sourced from the same place), that’s a pretty good move. The ME-2 is one of, if not the most, widely used lavalier microphones on the planet. Why? Because it’s the kit lav for the Sennheiser Evolution G series wireless set. So, having this be the same or similar is going to make it easy to be added to the arsenal of many many users. However, if you’re someone who likes to use their own lavs, then you’re in luck.
For the most part, my lavalier microphones are wired TA5f for Lectrosonics. However, I do have a small amount of microphones which are wired 3.5mm and microdot. As of now, Tentacle states that they only have adapters for 3.5mm male to microdot, however they will expand their offerings to include several other options in the future.
I tested the Track E with a Countryman B3, Countryman B6, and, if you look above, I also plugged in a Deity W-Lav Micro. Everything worked like a charm. I will add however that these 3.5mm terminated microphones were all wired for Sennheiser and not for Sony. I’m not saying that the others wouldn’t work. I am just unable to test them.
I also want to point out that each Track E comes with a 16gb MicroSD card in its slot. That’s super convenient, as 16gb for any sort of mono file is going to last you a whole lot longer than the battery life will (more on that later).
Now the real test is how well that they work. Before I get into detail, I’ll start by being very clear: they work very very well.
If you have ever used a Tentacle Sync or a Tentacle Sync E, then the first photo above should look somewhat familiar to you. The Tentacle app has changed a bit in preparation for the release of the Track E. It used to be that when you first loaded the app up, it would ask whether you wanted to connect to your Tentacle(s) via USB or via Bluetooth. Now there is only once screen and you can keep all 3 models of Tentacle on one screen.
What you should notice that’s new is the fancy new menus for the Track E. From the general menu, you are able to see a lot of info about each unit before even entering their specific menu, including the VU meter which is pretty essential. As you can see, I have given these units the best and most creative names that could be bestowed. (Ignore the single frame difference on Orange Boy. I had recently switched him off).
If you look at the bottom of the first page, you will see that there’s a SYNC button which will allow you master sync with any other Tentacle device via Bluetooth. Unlike the Sync E, which can take timecode in from a 3.5mm using the same port which it uses to output its signal, the Track E receives signal through the mic input only, and does not involve its headphone output. This was a concern of mine before I tested the Track E, because it was unclear about whether it could take in timecode from a physical plug, rather than solely Bluetooth. Because of this, you are able to use these units with an external master source, even if you do not own any other Tentacle products.
When you enter the individual units’ menus, you have 3 sub menus, arranged in the order above. As you can see, you are able to trigger record or stop on a unit either from the main menu OR individual menus. What is on the page is pretty self explanatory, including the “MIC PLUGIN POWER” in case you were feeding the tentacle with any number of non-lavalier sources.
One of the coolest things about this page is the side scrolling waveform, which represents what is being fed to the unit. You can adjust gain based on this, as well as with the VU meter. It’s not only helpful, but incredibly fun! It’s also pretty darned immediate, so you’re getting a realtime picture of what this will look like in post.
When you change sub menus, you can see that the VU meter stays with you, which is very nice. The playback menu is very simple. In my opinion, too simple. Given the excellent amount of control what one wields with one of these devices, this represents a rare shortcoming in my opinion.
Instead of being able to see all of your recorded tracks in a list, you only see this display above for the most recent file. You can switch between them with the skip forward or skip backward buttons on the far right and far left. It does give you some nice info about how each file was recorded, but I would have much preferred to see all of the files in a list, where I could select one that I would like to hear played back by tapping it.
This leads me to the other issue that I have with this menu (and with the device as a whole), which is that you are unable to change the track names between takes. It will automatically advance the track number, but I’d love to be able to make that call on my own. The way around this is to change the name of the unit. I really wish that I didn’t have to though. I like to have my units named how I want them for organization. So while there is a way to change the unit to the name of the talent, and to still identify each unit by their color, I’d much rather be able to just name and rename tracks at will.
These seem like issues that could be resolved in firmware patches, so they don’t bother me too much at the moment.
This brings us to the final menu. This one is simple in a very nice way. In fact, it continues to show how overall simple and intuitive that it is to use any Tentacle product.
The first item on the list is the big and scary/friendly 32bit float option. Ever since Zoom and Sound Devices decided to implement 32bit float, the internet has become chock full of people who are either singing its praises, or telling everyone why it’s not necessary. Instead of getting into a tangent about the merits of 32bit float, I think that we can all agree that it has become very relevant in many audio circles as of late, for better or for worse. The obvious reason being that one can ignore the need to set proper levels in most cases, which is a major draw for a “set it and leave it” miniature recording device. Me? I like to keep it to 24bit because I often need to hand off the files immediately after shooting, and they typically want only 24bit. Having the option for both is essential, and the Track E has it.
This menu also mentions the user switch.
Pulling the switch down will turn the unit on. Now pushing it up will be whatever you assign to it in this menu. You can have it do nothing, start/stop recording, or start/stop playback.
Tentacle claims that the Track E will get around 10 hours of battery life. I put that to the test, and what I discovered was………. they are pretty much right on the mark. So that is comforting. Sometimes the projected performance is somewhat less in the real world. That being said, I wish that we could have gotten more than 10 hours out of it. I know that I have already mentioned the size, but I would be willing to have it be even larger if it meant that we could get it to even 12 hours. On documentaries, you never know what will happen or for how long you might need to leave your devices running.
A way around this would be to have it attached to a small USB battery, which would extend its battery life beyond its max recording time. I wish that we didn’t have to, but it’s a workaround.
Tentacle Sync Studio
Now that you’ve had your fun and you have multiple Track E’s with multiple recordings, all with identical timecode, what do you do now? Well, you could give them to post. Or if you are post, you could sync them all to a video clip(s) with the same timecode. But what if you are like me, and would maybe like to hand post a single polyphonic WAV file, instead of multiple monos?
Hey, look at that! It’s Tentacle Sync Studio to the rescue! Just drag and drop, and then click on one of the 4 export options at the top. For me, I clicked WAVE and it spat out a fully synced poly WAV file, based on timecode. If I had video that matched the timecode of these units, I could hit MEDIA and it would export a video with all of the audio synced to it.
Tentacle Sync Studio also can read timecode that had been recorded as an audio track, and it does it automatically. Just drag and drop. It’s literally so easy that you forget what a pain that it can be in other situations to process audio timecode into file timecode metadata. You can even drop in other audio recorded from different sources and it will sync all of that together as well. Let’s say that I am recording in my bag, but I’ve also got a couple of these in the field. I can actually take my bag’s poly WAV and combine it with the individual monos from the Track E’s, so that I can hand off everything to post in a single file. That has the potential to make you a real friend to post.
Another cool thing that I want to mention is that if you are exporting an XML instead of a file, you can do so for even Final Cut Pro X. That’s saying something, since FCPX processes XML files differently than does AVID or Premiere.
This miraculous software is free to anyone who buys a Track E or Sync E, but is useful for those who don’t even use Tentacle products. Literally my only problem with it is that IT IS ONLY ON MACOS. There is no windows version. The only software for windows that they have is one which converts audio timecode to file metadata timecode. It is a far cry from the incredible Tentacle Sync Studio. Please bring it to Windows. That’s a huge user base that is currently locked out.
(I understand that there is also a video recording app for iOS called REC, which can receive bluetooth timecode from a Sync E or Track E device. This will allow you to shoot timecode synced cell phone videos. Then you could grab the files from the Track E’s and from the cell phone, and sync them together using Tentacle Sync Studio. There’s nothing that I like more than when the Audio source is higher grade than the Camera! It’s a whole new world…..)
Results and Conclusion
Again, I remember very clearly when the Lectrosonics PDR was released. I was, at first, very excited and very set on owning a pair. Then I realized that, while a solid device, it lacked some things that were and are very important to me. For one, it lacked a sync crystal, so it would need to be re-jammed with timecode fairly often. Its battery life was also an issue, as it ran on a single AAA. Now, in retrospect, its recording only in 24 bit is an issue for the year 2020. It did have the ability to feed its headphone jack while recording, however that feature is no more in the US due to patent laws (causing them to discontinue the PDR in favor of the very similar MTCR).
When the Tentacle Track E was announced, I could see that this was going to be my ideal unit (as far as was legal under US patents). It too deactivates the headphone output while recording so that you are unable to feed a transmitter at the same time. However, it works seamlessly with my Sync E units, is light as a feather, is able to record in 32bit float, has an actual sync crystal within it, and can be controlled and managed in a batch with other units wirelessly via Bluetooth using one of the most intuitive apps on the market.
Now don’t get me wrong, I in no way want to dump on the PDR. It’s still a very robust and competent device, and is built like all Lectrosonics gear: literally solid as a rock, both in terms of quality and durability. But it doesn’t have the type of synergy that I get with the Track E’s. It’s also not the only miniature recorder on the market either (I’m talking about you, Zoom F2….). But in terms of pure features, build, and aesthetic, the device that I am reaching for now, and in the foreseeable future, is the Tentacle Track E.
I’m going to call this one a home run. Every part of it (save for the few minor complaints that I had) feels as polished as can be. Few things scream “DON’T USE THE CAMERA AUDIO!!!!” like a Tentacle Sync product does, and I can’t imagine anyone who uses this new generation, being anything but overjoyed at its capabilities, simplicity, and quality. Take a victory lap Tentacle, you deserve it.
Jared Elkin is a professional sound mixer located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.