Polyend’s hardware tracker has got smaller — and at the same time bigger...
The Polyend Tracker, released in 2020, took the concept of old‑school software trackers and put it in a hardware box. The result was a fun, hands‑on desktop experience that gave you all the power of tracker sequencing and sampling in one affordable package.
The Tracker Mini is Polyend’s first revision of the Tracker concept. The new version has shrunk to an almost handheld size and gained a battery, an onboard microphone, stereo sampling, extra RAM and a 12‑track stereo USB‑C audio interface.
The original Polyend Tracker did a great job of packaging the tracker concept into a desktop device. I reviewed it in the November 2021 issue of SOS and found it a fantastic machine for retro‑style music making. My only real complaint was the lack of stereo sample support, which Polyend have fixed in the Tracker Mini. Bravo!
The features of the Tracker Mini are mostly the same as the original Tracker, so rather than repeat myself, I refer you to my original Tracker review for the gritty details, and we’ll concentrate on what’s new or different.
The most significant difference is the size. The Tracker Mini is a portable, battery‑powered device aimed at music‑making on the go. Its 170 x 130 x 21mm case is too large for single‑handed use but fits comfortably in two hands, with most button‑pushing done with your thumbs. It feels similar to many handheld gaming devices.
The case is textured plastic that has a practical, non‑slip finish. However, it quickly picks up fingerprints. In fact, beyond some very cheap phone cases, it’s the worst fingerprint magnet I’ve seen. The buttons are a curved plastic design. They feel somewhat spongy and require more force to press than you might imagine. I found that sessions over 45 minutes caused thumb fatigue, and buttons sometimes didn’t register a push. The Shift button, which is used to access many secondary functions, was particularly bad. I am hopeful this was just a fault of the pre‑production model Polyend sent us.
The desktop Tracker had a large data wheel and a grid of buttons to input data, select options and play samples and melodies. Due to size constraints, these are missing from the Tracker Mini, which uses a D‑pad with an Enter button and four +/‑ buttons for navigation. I was initially wary of this change, but I didn’t miss the data wheel or the button matrix at all. Polyend have done a great job of keeping the fast workflow of the original despite having less space. I particularly like the four programmable buttons, which can be customised as shortcuts to whichever pages you use the most. Once you find a setup you like, navigating the tracker’s various pages is fast and intuitive.
The Tracker Mini’s screen is a 5‑inch LCD. Despite being slightly smaller than the original Tracker’s 7‑inch screen, I found it big enough to convey all the necessary info without eye strain. I did notice that the screen seemed somewhat unprotected, though. A gentle press on the screen (which isn’t a touchscreen) causes the liquid crystal to pool around the finger. Polyend could have put a tougher piece of transparent plastic over the screen to prevent damage. I certainly wouldn’t want to...