Tracer Unit Reviews
TM Tracer Unit, old version
Review date: March 30, 2009
Model: TM Tracer Unit, old version
Manufacturer: Tokyo Marui
Price: $80-90 when available. Production discontinued.
Size: 15.25cm x 3.75cm
For too long this was the only option available to enhance your nighttime gaming experience. Modeled to look like a silencer, it came with various adapters to permanently install it over the flash suppressor of most common AEG's (MP5, M4, G3) and a generic 14mm counter-clockwise (CCW – that's lefty tighty, righty loosey) threaded adapter supposedly for use with the AK line. Most people just installed the AK adapter. This way they could unscrew their flash suppressor and replace it with the tracer unit for night games and switch back for day games. Unfortunately the threaded end was made of plastic and, due to the unfamiliarity of U.S. players with CCW threading, quite prone to cross-threading and stripping. A couple of aftermarket metal threaded end caps were available if one knew where to look. The unit was powered by 4 common AAA alkaline batteries and had a small on/off switch located on the business end. Presumably this unit was designed to be installed on one AEG and turned off when not in use. Click the switch to the left for tracer illumination and click it to the right for daylight games or when not using tracer BB's. The location of this switch was the main drawback to this design. The firing end of the unit was also the door to the battery compartment. To remove the end cap and access the batteries, one gave the cap a little twist to the right. That's one click left to turn on, one click right to turn off; and two clicks right to dump your batteries out onto the ground and lose the end cap in the darkness. Fortunately replacement end caps were readily available from a variety of manufacturers. While this was obviously a less than ideal feature, there weren't a whole lot of choices.
G&P Tracer Magazine
Model: G&P Tracer Magazine M16 & AK-47
Price: $30-35 Airsoft Extreme
Size: Standard magazine size. 30rnd STANAG for the M16 and waffle version for the AK
This is a tracer unit?
In an interesting alternative to the silencer style tracer unit, each magazine contains a pair of blue LED's, a size N 1.5V battery, and a pressure switch to turn the LED's on when the magazine is inserted in your AEG. Advertised magazine capacity is 130 for the M16 version and 138 for the AK-47 version. I didn't sit down and count the BB's but from the couple times I used these that seems about right. Price is about that of a mid-cap magazine anyway so one could use these all-around and save the cost of a tracer unit. Of course battery life would suffer as there is no on/off switch. I suppose you could take them apart and remove the battery between night games but, like most things airsoft, they aren't built to be taken apart too often. There is no discernable weight increase from the tracer components. The only drawback I could find was with regards to the placement of the LED's. They are close to the top of the magazine but not at the top of the magazine. So the BB's at the tip of air nozzle, in the hop-up chamber, and in the magwell aren't exposed to the light. What this means is you'll have to fire off 3-5 BB's before you get the tracer effect. I'm a short burst shooter, so all I got was a dull streak about the time I was coming off the trigger. If you keep this in mind and squeeze for a little longer you'll enjoy a nice glow in no time at all. Of course if your AEG does not take M16 or AK magazines, these are not for you. I suppose G36c owners could get one of those adapters but, with the return of the TM tracer unit plus a couple of competitors, I don't expect G&P to expand this product line into other weapons anytime soon. It's still a novel idea and could get some great use in scenario games: monster anyone?
AMP Tracer Unit
Model: AMP Tracer Unit
Price: $79 Hot Spot Airsoft
Size: 19.5cm x 3.5cm
You get what you pay for
The full metal body and lack of cumbersome end caps mark this as an improvement over the original TM. However, there is no external on/off switch. One powers down the unit by unscrewing the body into two sections, removing the tracer guts, and then removing the two CR-2032 lithium watch batteries. Therein lies a couple of problems. First off a standard CR-2032 is rated for 200 mA-h versus 900 mA-h for the typical alkaline AAA battery used in the TM units so battery life may be a factor. Also the use of an off size may prevent last minute pickup on the way to a game. Drugstores and supermarkets may well carry CR-2032's, but the Gas-n-Sip two blocks from the field probably does not. I don't think taking apart the unit repeatedly in order to turn in on or off can be good in the long run. The body also uses a fine pitch machine thread that, in my experience, seems prone to cross-threading, especially considering these threads are CW, whereas the barrel attachment threads are the airsoft standard CCW. Even after the unit is opened, the batteries are still not readily accessible. The guts must still be removed before the batteries can be taken out. It's also the longest of the three new tracer units by 3.5cm. Add that kind of unfamiliar length to your AEG, especially while fumbling around in the dark, and I suspect you're going to bash it into a couple of trees. Curiously the threads to screw it onto the gun barrel are recessed 3-4mm into the unit. While I expected this to be a problem it still fits well on the end of my TM AK-47. It is my understanding that AMP exists to make economical bare-bones versions of popular airsoft accessories. Unfortunately I feel they may have set the bar too low this time. Perhaps if this unit were priced around $50 I would reconsider, but with most sites carrying this item for only $10 less than the other, better designed units, the savings simply aren't there.
SRC Rechargeable Unit
Model: SRC Rechargeable Unit
Price: $88 RSOV
Size: 16cm x 3.5cm
Yep. That's right. Rechargeable. Once again a full metal body; it seems everyone has learned from the mistakes of that original TM unit. Slightly longer than the original, the SRC has an extended end for the AEG threads. I don't know if it serves any practical purpose or provides any additional clearance for certain flash suppressor or front sight post placements, but it looks cool. In fact, aesthetically speaking, this is probably the coolest looking tracer unit out there and we all know that's a big plus when it comes to airsoft accessories. This threaded end screws off, using the anticipated CCW threading, to allow access to the charging port and a red indicator light. Hook up the included charger; plug it in, and when the light goes out, you're good to go. The couple times I charged it the process took under 2 hours. I don't know how long it will last on a full charge, however; my original TM unit is still going on the AA's I installed in 2005. The other end also unscrews, CW thread this time. I assume this is to allow you to fully disassemble the unit and replace the internal battery should it go bad but I never took it that far. What is really nice about this unit is the location of the on/off switch. It's located on the side nearest the end which screws onto your barrel. Fairly easy to find in the dark, positive stops, and leaves little doubt which position it is in. Of the three units with an external switch, the SCR placement is by far the most practical. It gives you the option of toggling tracers on or off to not risk giving away your position and does so without a chance of accidentally opening the battery compartment. Did I mention it's rechargeable? Didn't seem like a big deal to me, but when I field-tested this unit at Mindgames After Dark Grindhouse event, players raved about this feature.
TM Tracer Unit, new version
Model: TM Tracer Unit, new version.
Manufacturer: Tokyo Mauri
Price: $75 DenTrinity
Size: 13cm x 3.5cm
A metal body and improved battery placement show TM has learned from their past mistakes. The shortest of the tracer units currently in production, this unit has flush threading and no removable ends. Instead, the TM is comprised of two sleeves that screw, one into the other, with CW threads. The outer sleeve is made of metal and appears to be one piece. The inner sleeve is mostly plastic with a metal end containing the threading for the outer sleeve and for the AEG. A plastic cap for the battery compartment resides at the other end. That's right; you have to unscrew the two sleeves to access the battery compartment door. Maybe a bit of overkill but no chance of opening that accidentally! A cutout area next to the barrel threads houses a small push-button on/off switch. It has a little white ring at the base to let you know when the unit is turned on although I don't know how much help that will be in the dark. I suppose with practice one would learn to tell the position by feel alone. The one-piece outer sleeve design gives this unit a nice sturdy feel and the small size means it won't take up much room when not in use. Overall this unit is well crafted and corrects all of the deficiencies of the earlier TM unit.
The G&P tracer magazines are a novel idea, but are rather limiting. Sure, if you only have one AEG, and it's an M4 or AK, and you play a lot of night games, then by all means get a handful of these mid-caps, use them day or night, and be done with it. But if you have anything else, FAL, MP5, G3, AUG; well, no tracer mags for you. If you have more than one AEG you might want to use in a night game, go for versatility and get a tracer unit. Then you can use tracers with whatever you happen to be shooting that game, just screw it on and go. There are even adapters out there for you CW threaded Classic Army players. The tracer magazines really are an interesting idea, but unless G&P plans to make a greater variety, the applications are limited. Once you've decided to get a tracer unit, it's really a choice between the SRC and the TM. I can't seriously recommend the AMP unit for anyone. The rare battery size, lack of on/off switch, and subsequent constant disassembly make the headaches involved not worth the lower price.
I thought I'd be smitten by the new TM tracer unit; yet this was not so. Don't get me wrong, it's a great piece and fixes all the previous mistakes, but the SRC unit does this too and adds a couple of features. The rechargeability gets lots of attention but I think this is a matter of personal preference. It's great until you forget to charge it before a game and the TM unit takes AAA batteries available at any 7-11. However, everyone remembers to charge AEG batteries before a game, so what's adding one more item to the list? Like I said, it's a matter of personal preference. Where the SRC really shines is in the on/off switch. It's clearly labeled for during daylight and the toggle operation leaves no doubt as to the setting in the dark: up is off and down is on. No test shots, no click-click to make sure it's out all the way; if you can't move it down anymore, it's on. Finally, out of the three units, this one looks the meanest. And when it comes to pimping out your airsoft, looks count for a lot.
Thanks to CainsReturn of UBCS and Cope of CRS for helping me field-test a couple of these units.
Review by: Caffeine