Gear Review: Tentacle Sync
TENTACLE SYNC REVIEW
The Tentacle Sync timecode box has been hyped for a long time in the production sound world, ever since their IndieGoGo campaign surfaced over a year ago. Recently some retailers in the US have begun to stock it, so I thought I’d give my thoughts based on my experience with them over the last six months or so.
In 2014, I was in the market for some sync boxes when I heard about this new, tiny box from a new company called Tentacle Sync. The product also boasted the ability to send timecode to DSLRs and other cameras that wouldn’t have traditionally used timecode via the audio track. I was intrigued enough buy two units from their crowd-funding campaign.
After some long delays due to production issues, I received them in the mail. Opening them up was a real pleasure due to the company’s attention to detail in packaging. They come in a great zipper pouch that’s become my go-to for not only the Tentacle boxes but all of my timecode cables as well.
Having worked with older timecode boxes from companies like Ambient and Denecke, the size and weight (or lack thereof) really impressed me. One way they achieve this is an internal rechargeable battery instead of regular batteries, which is something I was slightly concerned about. In production, running out of power in the middle of the day isn’t an option, and without the ability to swap out with fresh batteries, I could be left high and dry.
Tentacle claims their batteries last up to 40 hours of continuous use, and I ran some tests to check this that night. The numbers are about right, and that's more than enough for my purposes. It means that they will without a doubt last a full day on set. I also found they charge very fast, which is good to know if they ever do die on you.
It should also be noted that the timecode stayed within just a few frames over that 40 hour period. I usually jam them from my Sound Devices recorder at the beginning of the day and again at lunch if there’s time, although I’ve never received any complaints about drift even when jammed only once per day. That being said, they are slightly less rock solid than Ambient products, which is to be expected on a unit a fraction of the cost.
My biggest unaddressed reservation with these units is the connector. For simplicity and size purposes, they only have a ⅛” connector, same as a standard consumer headphone port. This type of connection isn’t secured, so I’m always a little worried that the cable will get bumped on the camera and come loose. That being said, this has never actually happened to me in the field. Still, it seems like a locking ⅛” connector like those on Sennheiser G3 units would’ve made for an easy solution to set my mind at ease. The upside, though, is that ⅛” connectors and cables are cheap and easy to find.
I suppose I should address one feature that Tentacle Sync put a lot of time and marketing into, which is the ability to output mic level timecode and scratch audio simultaneously to record on the audio tracks of an otherwise non-timecode-capable device. Most commonly, these devices are DSLR or “prosumer” level cameras, although audio timecode recording could also be used with a sound recorder like a Zoom H4N or the like.
This feature works great on Canon DSLRs, which is the only camera I’ve ever tried it on. There is a microphone on the timecode box itself that’s pretty similar quality to the cameras internal mic (AKA not good) but at least there’s something for an editor to hear for a frame of reference before syncing the footage. It records the audio on one side of the cameras stereo track, and audio timecode on the other.
Recording timecode to an audio track certainly isn’t a new innovation, but in the past most editors wouldn’t know how to use it to sync footage, making it pretty useless. Tentacle has solved this problem by producing their own software to sync audio and video files. Reviews of the software that I’ve come across are pretty positive, but I can’t personally attest to how good it is since I’ve never had cause to use it.
Overall, I’m sure this feature set is a game-changer for some, especially for low-budget documentaries and narrative, but I don’t use it nearly enough for me to get too excited about it.
The best part of the Tentacle Sync box for me is definitely the size. I’m constantly getting positive feedback from almost every camera department I work with. In this environment where camera people increasingly have tons of accessories to strap to their rigs, making the timecode box a tiny afterthought during the build makes me a popular guy.
Here's the bottom line for you TL;DR folks:
No replaceable battery
I would definitely recommend the Tentacle Sync boxes. They’re the best value on the market and the benefit of their size far outweigh any of the minor design or performance imperfections.