Polyend’s Portable Tracker Mini Is Kind of Like a Game Boy for Music

A (1990s) music studio in your (big) pocket

  • Polyend's Tracker Mini is a battery-powered sampling and sequencing workstation. 
  • The 'tracker' arrangement method is uniquely suited to computer hardware. 
  • Software trackers were big in the 90s, and now hardware trackers are the hot new thing.
Someone holding the Tracker Mini against a backdrop of a deserted Mediterranean city street.


Polyend's Tracker mini is the most fun you can have on the go—but what is a tracker?

Tracker apps date back to the early days of computer music. They look like a cross between an Excel spreadsheet and something out of a 90s Hollywood hacker movie, but they're anything but dull. Unlike most other music software, which tries to mold the computer to mimic existing music-making methods like multitrack tapes, or musical scores, a tracker is what happens when you build a UI around a screen and keyboard. And now Polyend's Tracker Mini takes it to the next level, a kind of Game Boy for music. 

"The Tracker Mini is simply gorgeous, with nods to high-end early-digital gear," writes music journalist Peter Kirn on his CDM blog. "And it really is a handheld, giving you the ability to hold the device the way chip artists have held Game Boys—albeit with roomy control layout and a spacious screen."

How the Tracker Mini Works

Before we look at Polyend's new Tracker Mini, a portable, battery-powered version of its desk-bound Tracker, let's look at how these things work. Take a look at the image of the Tracker Mini's screen here:

The front view of the Tracker Mini, which shows the device's screen.


What you see is four tracks arranged vertically. Each track has four columns, one for the note pitch, one for the instrument playing the note, and two columns for effects (delay, reverb, etc.).

To change these parameters, you just highlight the box and change the numbers. Trackers were built for computers with keyboards, so everything can be done via the keyboard. This setup looks rather static and limiting, but it is, in fact, way more open than other methods. Every step in every track can have a different instrument or sample playing a different note with different FX, all with a few key presses. 

Once you get used to it, it's more like playing an instrument than programming Excel, in part thanks to the keyboard entry, which lets your 'muscle memory' take over. 

"I've gone through my software and hardware cycles (of every shape and form) over the years. Analogs, digitals, computers, all manner of DAW, etc. However, trackers remain to this day a favorite of mine," electronic musician and tracker fan J3RK said in a forum thread participated in by Lifewire. 

Now, imagine something like this, but in a modern-day portable box, with lots of extras. 

Polyend Portable Tracker

The new Tracker Mini is also keyboard-based, but the keys—the same kind you find on a games console—are arranged to suit the software. The unit has a microphone for sampling straight into the unit and can play back stereo samples. It has a mixer, a sample editor, audio over USB, and a built-in battery. 

In short, it is everything you need to make a song in one portable tracker. 

Polyend's promo videos show people using it to grab sounds from the outside world—aka field recording—and using those samples to build beats and melodies. But a tracker is just as useful when loaded with samples you already have. Just like a piano and a guitar, both force the user into different ways of playing and thinking, so a tracker can lead you to places you wouldn't go with a desktop suite like Ableton Live or a different kind of sampler or drum machine. 

Other Tracker Options

The Tracker Mini isn't the first portable tracker. Nor is it even the most mini. You can get tracker software to run on an actual Nintendo Game Boy, for example, or try to order a tiny M8 Tracker, a little palm-sized unit with a beautiful and utterly-minimal interface that uses a small screen and mechanical QWERTY keyboard keys. 

Trackers were big in the 90s on computers like the Commodore Amiga, and while they never really went away, this hardware resurgence is taking them fully mainstream again. If you want to try trackers first, grab some software like Sunvox, which works on pretty much any computer platform, or VividTracker for iOS, to see if you like them. 

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