If you can overcome the archaic kind of presentation and find a rhythm with the workflow, the Tracker has a ton of power to offer. It is, in its heart, a groovebox based on samples – you can trigger drum, synth or other samples. But in addition to playing one-shots, you can use the Tracker to chop samples. So you can create a soul loop, break it down and recombine it using the 48 pad grid. You can trim a sample manually or by using one of two automatic modes, one of which is specially created for trimming beats and drum breaks. It’s pretty precise too; I only need to make manual adjustments every now and then during more busy breaks.
A sequencer, sample player and sample slicer alone would make the Tracker capable of creating perfectly convincing compositions. Considering the reasonable price and the power hidden inside the sequencer, once you get the hang of the intricacies (which I admittedly still don’t have) you already have a pretty solid instrument. But there is more. So. A lot. More.
On the one hand, the built-in sample recording and editing capabilities are quite rich. There are mic and line inputs, you can resample tracks from your footage, and there is a built-in FM radio from which you can record. Then you can manipulate your recording by cropping or inverting them or adding effects like delay, chorus, flanger or a little crusher. In short, if there is a source of sound, you can capture and manipulate it as you like. To test this out, I spent an afternoon in the park with the Tracker and my field recorder, capturing birds chirping and making sounds with a can of beer. Then I turned them into a drum kit and threw together a little sequence.
(By the way, did I mention that the Tracker is portable? It doesn’t have a built-in battery, but since it’s powered via USB-C, you can take it anywhere and just connect a power bank standard. So yes it has but I will say the big screen is generally excellent and makes it easy to navigate on the device, but it can be a bit difficult to see in the sun.)
In addition to all these easier ways to manage samples, the Tracker has wavetable and granular integrated synth engines. Now, these are sample-based synthesis techniques, so it’s not that big a leap between sampler and granular synth. Yet very few samplers or grooveboxes do it without a few quirks. The granular engine is pretty limited and sounds a bit thin, but adding a delay or reverb can help tighten things up a bit. And you can always resample your synth line and perform it with additional effects. Just know that the Polyend has unparalleled digital quality. It’s great for percussion, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea for the melodic content.
More impressive is the wavetable synth. There are a bunch of wavetables included, but you can also import your own or create them from your sample collection or even rip out other synths. Since you can change the size of the “window”, it will work with wavetables designed for applications like Serum or Ableton. And beyond the wavetables, the included basic sounds are really excellent and include contributions from artists like Jamie Lidell. The only gripe is that there is no real way to preview what a wavetable will look like when read from the sample load screen. So it can take a lot of back and forth before you find what you are looking for.
There is full ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) control on the synths as well as sample playback, solid digital delay and passable reverb, variable-mode filter plus modulation control on the filter, the position of the wavetable and the position of the grain.
You have plenty of sound design power at your fingertips – much more than you’d expect with a $ 600 box that will fit your backpack. Especially considering that the material itself is that good. This is high end stuff, without a doubt.
So where did it start to fall apart for me? The sequencer.
It took me months to even start linking to the tracker’s workflow.