So first things first, the rifle seen here isn’t how the rifle comes out of the box. It comes out looking like a plain Jane 14.5 inch barrel M4 with the regular round style foregrip, the traditional M4 sliding stock and a detachable carry handle. As the rifle stayed in its out of the box configuration for all of about 5 minutes, I don’t have any pictures of it in that state but I’m pretty sure most people know what a standard M4 looks like. Internally however this rifle is 100% stock and that’s really the part that matters.
What’s the difference between a ‘normal’ AEG and a ‘Next Generation’ AEG
In essence TM (and Bolt/KWA in different ways) have added a chunky weight and spring into the buffer tube of the rifle which, as the rifle fires, also move back and forth in an attempt to create recoil. Those who’ve fired real steel will note that the felt recoil on these guns is technically backwards, due to the nature of the system the weight moves back when the piston does, and moves forwards when the BB is fired, but when it comes down to it, its still something more than just the sewing machine noise of the gearbox and it definitely can throw your aim off if you only take a light hold. Don’t get me wrong, its not even close to real levels of recoil, but its there. They have also added a moving bolt, similar to what many G&G Top Techs have and adds some extra noise that sounds a little better than just the sound of a gearbox. TM rifles also sport a functional bolt catch, so when your mag runs dry (and recoil mags will fire every last round), the catch will activate and you will be unable to fire the rifle until you’ve hit the paddle. This is done through a mechanical system rather than electrical, which given the sandy areas we play in, is much less likely to experience any kind of interference with dirt getting in the way of a sensor or something.
Because the mags are designed to feed every last round and also activate the bolt catch, recoil mags are specific to the Recoil platform and cannot be used in regular AEGs. You can use regular AEG mags in Recoil platforms, however you have to buy a small adapter which attaches to the hop unit to allow them to work. By using regular mags you also lose the bolt catch function, and you won’t get every round feeding. Mags come in either TM standard (84 rounds), PTS P-Mag (120 rounds, whilst stocks last) and 430/520 round hi caps (as an additional point, the TM standard and PTS P-Mags can also be locked to 30 rounds only via a switch inside the mag).
All of the other Next Generation TM M4s and 416’s come rear wired, utilising TMs new QD battery solution (which will be covered in the CQBR review), however the M4 SOCOM is front wired, with mini tamiya connectors and a fuse box. Many owners of the other types of M4 end up rewiring their M4s to the front because it allows you to use non-crane stock style stocks so why they didn’t buy the SOCOM in the first place is beyond me, especially as they also change out the front ends as well (The M4 SOCOM is the cheapest in the Next Gen line up too). Inside the standard foregrip you can easily get a regular shaped battery (NimH or Lipo will fit easily), but once you start adding railed front ends, you either need to get some slim lipos that will fit inside the rail, or go with a PEQ battery box solution. In this M4 Block II build, I have gone with the slim battery solution. To fit a battery between the barrel and rail in this build (and also Whitey’s recoil build using a Troy rail) the battery is only 6mm wide and even then, for my build I have had to file down the profile of the barrel on one side to achieve a comfortable fit where the rail won’t pinch the battery (this may not need to be done with other rail systems, but for the Madbull Daniel Defense RIS II rails it does).
The Next Gen M4s also sport a different type of hop unit when compared to the traditional M4 unit and it is a much better design. It is a barrel configuration which is much nicer to adjust and is also far less prone to unwinding whilst being fired, which the traditional unit definitely would have done with the added recoil shaking. The hop unit is still accessed in the same way as any other M4, pull back the charging handle, and adjust as needed.
As everyone generally knows, TM guns, because Japan is bound by a strict 1 Joule FPS limit, always come out of the box firing between 290-310 FPS, and this one is no different, 294 FPS, with only a couple of FPS variance on the chrono so the airseal is definitely there, as you would expect. Now commonly people adopt the Jeremy Clarkson position of MORE POWAH! is always better, but TMs essentially rubbish this idea, because unless you have a good and consistent hop up, the power behind the BB doesn’t really mean anything, and this is where TM excel. Due to having a proper QC process and being bound by a far lower FPS limit, TM rely upon their hop unit/rubber being able to add range rather than just throwing a bigger spring into the rifle. As a result, a TM recoil will happily throw a 0.25g BB the same distance as something putting out closer to the 350 limit. The rounds will take slightly longer to get to that range but they will still get there, and so I haven’t felt the need to touch the internals, as once you start to fiddle, you can potentially upset the balance of the parts and make things worse rather than better (and not to mention that a lot of upgrade parts for TM Next Gens are relatively expensive too). The rate of fire is nothing to write home about but its still perfectly acceptable and the trigger response is sharp for a non-mosfeted gun (in my CQBR I have removed the fuse as part of the conversion to deans and the ROF/trigger response increase is notable so I may do the same to this in future). Safe to say I haven’t ever felt outgunned running this in its stock form. I haven’t done an accurate measure of range because thus far each time I’ve used it at the site, the wind has been artificially altering the range, either hindering it or extending it, but for your typical airsoft engagements you have plenty of punch and range.
If you do decide to upgrade your rifle, the Next Gens have been out a good while now and so there is plenty of aftermarket support for most internal parts although if you damage your lower receiver, expect to pay a pretty penny to get it replaced (in the region of £110 for a Laylax lower). If you want to drop in a mosfet, the current range of programmable mosfets do not fit the Next Gen series, however a test batch of BTC mosfets has been released in the past couple of months so hopefully in the future an option will be available (although good luck getting a hold of one).
In terms of external upgrades, if you have a SOCOM or a front wired version of the other Next Gens, any stock will pretty much fit over the stock tube, and any wobble can always be fixed with some electrical tape. I’ve had a Magpul PTS MOE stock and the current G&P LMT replica crane stock and neither have any wobble at all. For receiver mounted sling plates, you will either need to buy recoil specific ones (pretty expensive) or you will want to buy one meant for a GBB and then modify it to fit. Up front, the TM outer barrel design is recoil specific, regular barrels can be made to fit with some help from a dremel and file but Dytac make some recoil specific ones which don’t break the bank. Rail wise, anything made to ‘airsoft spec’ upper receiver threads will fit the TM (All Madbull rails and anything else labelled as ‘For TM spec threads’. Anything labelled to fit real steal or G&P may not fit and could need the upper rethreaded), although you may need to remove the nub on the front of the receiver to get them to sit flush and you may need some barrel shims to get the barrel to lock down tight, but nothing drastic.
If you’re looking to change out the pistol grip, you will need to be careful as not all grips will allow the motor to sit properly, for example Magpul MOE pistol grips require you to buy the version with the metal base plate otherwise you’ll need to do some modifications to the base plate, and other pistol grips may need other mods too.
Summary and score
Overall I would give the TM Next Gen M4 SOCOM a:
+ The recoil, it goes clack clack and shake shake.
+ The bolt stop adds an extra bit of realism and requires you to think a bit more during the reload process
+ TM magic internals – if you feel that you have to upgrade this to be competitive, you’re probably doing it wrong. Range, accuracy and ROF/Trigger response are all more than adequate.
— The entry price for the TM Next Gen is pretty steep, the M4 SOCOM is the cheapest version and from a UK retailer you’ll still have to put down £390 and magazines are £21 a piece, so if you are a midcap user (and if you have one of these you really should be as hicaps defeat the point of the bolt lock) you’ll want 4/5 extra at least so you’re looking at £490 just for a basic M4 and 5 extra mags.
— Some replacement parts are difficult to get or very expensive.
— The pistol grip is a bit on the plasticy side, although it seems strong enough and for the most part its covered by your hand anyways.