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Tokyo Marui Mark23 SOCOM NBB Review

This is a review of TM’s new and somewhat unusual addition to the range of Mark 23’s out there. The package consists of:

A carrying case, the gun, a suppressor, and a LAM unit.

Not a bad little package! But how does it measure up and perform?



First Looks


(Note: in the pictures the white dots on the LAM and the sights were painted on by me. Other than that, all is exactly as it comes in the box.)

The Tokyo Marui MK23 SOCOM Non-Blowback pistol is a fairly recent release as of this writing (Mar 2003) but enough time has gone by to give a review as free from “new-gun sparkle” bias as it’s going to get. :)

There are several things that set this gun apart from most others. First of all, it’s a package deal – it comes with the gun, a carrying case, a supressor, and a LAM unit. In addition to that, it’s cheaper than some guns – even with all the extra stuff. Finally, it’s an NBB – a Non-Blowback, which means that when you fire the slide does not move and there is no recoil.

In the box is a manual, cleaning rod, a magazine, some BBs, the gun, a LAM unit, a supressor, and a red barrel plug.

The Gun

The most immediately apparent difference between this gun and the MK23 by KSC is the build quality and the heft.

While this NBB has weight and balance to it, the build is noticeably different than most other Gas Blowbacks, including the KSC MK23 SOCOM GBB. Whereas most guns are made of tough ABS that is very dense, the TM MK23 NBB feels and looks more like it is made of simple black plastic. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it “toy-like”, since that certainly doesn’t do the build quality justice – but the body’s material is definately not that of most other gas guns.

That being said, the build quality is good – and some thought has clearly gone into the design. The hop-up appears solid and the outer barrel is METAL (shown on the left).

This is a great boon if you intend to attach SOCOM supressors (such as the one that comes in the box) which are all metal. On guns that have plastic barrels (like the KSC MK23 GBB), threaded metal supressors are very tough on the plastic and very easy to cross-thread.


The front and rear sights are molded into the gun and are NOT adjustable. I painted small white dots on the sights so I could see them better. In particular, the sights (if unadorned with dots and left plain black) become VERY difficult to see after attaching the supressor (whose outer diameter is such that it blocks the sights from the front). Again, painting white dots on the sights helped the problem.

There’s more to be said about the build quality later on when I talk about firing.

The Magazine

The gun comes with the usual single magazine – it holds just over 20 shots in a staggered stacked formation. There is no tube-and-ramrod loading tool; you pull down the spring tab and pour in some BBs. However, there’s a twist for those of you who are used to the KSC-style pull-down-the-spring-tab magazines. You’re not intended to load the BB’s in from the top of the magazine – rather, the slot on the front face of the magazine gets wider near the bottom. When you have pulled down the spring tab all the way the opening is wide enough for you to awkwardly pour in some BBs (or feed them by hand). The spring tab does not lock down. While I do not like the tube-and-ramrod setup, I think I like this even less.

The magazines are not compatible with other MK23 guns. Also, use high-grade BBs in the magazines, as they seem to have tight tolerances, and cheaper BBs tend to cause slight feed problems.

The magazine is made to work best with Duster gas (HFC134A). The higher pressure Propane (aka Green Gas) does not appear to hurt the gun, but the magazines appear to have a valve design which will slowly release the higher pressured gas.

The LAM Unit

Probably one of the most recognizeable accessories for the MK23 SOCOM is this Insight Technologies LAM unit lookalike. The real deal contains a tactical light as well as visible and infrared laser sights (infrared laser sight is invisible to the naked eye but visible through night vision equipment) but the unit in the TM MK23 NBB package is little more than a toy both in functionality as well as build quality.

Remember that the white inner circle on the left side of the LAM was painted by me.

This LAM’s pretty much just for cosmetic appearance, though it looks like you might be able to gut it and put a laser module of your own inside. It is mostly hollow. It will fit the KSC MK23 SOCOM GBB.

It slides onto the front of the gun nicely and screws into the hole in the front of the trigger guard. On the bottom is the battery compartment – it holds 3 AAA cells. Also on the bottom is a dial, which functions as a master power switch. When this dial is set to ON, the ‘flap’ switch right under and forward of the trigger guard is enabled. Push to one side to turn the light momentarily on (release to turn off), and push to the other side to lock the light ON until you push it back to the center position.

The light itself is nothing more than a white LED (much like a keychain light).

There is also a simulated laser sight that lights up (nothing more than a red LED).

The light is somewhat useful at close ranges in absolute darkness – but not of much use otherwise. It is certainly worthless for tactical purposes.

It may be possible to convert the LAM unit similar to this project for making a simple tactical-level brightness light which uses a high-output Luxeon V LED.

How the TM Mark 23’s LAM Measures Up

The TM Mark 23’s LAM, illuminating a silhouette target from about 3 meters in full darkness.

A large Mag-Lite on the same target (same lumens as a small Surefire Tactical Light *)

* I should probably explain this statement. The Mag-Light in question weighs nearly five kilos; most of it is battery!

So the TM LAM unit is really not much more than a toy. It DOES complete the “look”, though. And considering that fake MK23 LAM units are horrendously expensive (over one hundred dollars (U.S.) at the cheapest) this is actually a pretty good deal in that respect. And as mentioned, most of the LAM is empty space so enterprising types can surely find a way to fit a good laser or light in there.

The Suppressor

The supressor I remember had gotten some nasty comments based on how shiny it looked. Undeserved harshness, in my opinion.

While the supressor is indeed somewhat shiny, it’s not as bad as it looks in photographs. Also, it has nice, crisp white stenciled trademarks. It looks just like the pictures of the real thing, it is ALL METAL, and it is quite well made – there is no play in the joints and no rough edges or other hallmarks of poor manufacturing/assembly. The base screws off if you need to get to the insides, and it is foam-filled.

And it WORKS. Quite well, really.

The Case

The case has eggcrate-style foam on the top half and a molded black styrofoam bottom half. It fits the MK23 (with or without LAM), the supressor, an additional magazine (the MK23 will fit with a magazine inserted, allowing the use of the magazine cutout for a second mag), and a small compartment for BBs or what have you. The case will do the job, but is not made for rough handling and impact-resistance.

Operation

Basic operation of the gun is similar in principle to other gas guns but there are some important differences.

Since the gun has no blowback action, it cannot self-load. In a blowback gun, the hammer is cocked and a BB loaded as a result of the blowback. Since this gun is a non-blowback, the chambering of a BB and the cocking of the hammer must be done some other way. Well, in this gun’s case the cocking and chambering of a BB have been integrated into the trigger action’s firing procedure.

You can fire the MK23 in several different ways:

Just Pull The Trigger

This is double-action operation, where pulling the trigger cocks the hammer and fires.

In the case of the TM MK23 NBB, pulling the trigger also chambers a BB in the process (in a real double-action firearm, a round would be already chambered.)

Cock the Hammer Manually, Then Pull The Trigger

This is single-action operation, where all the trigger is doing is releasing the hammer.

There isn’t much point to doing this on the TM Mark 23 however – the trigger pull isn’t much lighter (it it is even lighter at all) whether you cock the hammer manually or not. More on that later.

Rack The Slide, Then Pull The Trigger

The slide doesn’t come back as far as it does with blowbacks, but it does pull back and return, cocking the hammer and chambering a BB in the process.

I have noticed that the slide is a bit sticky, and on occasion it has stayed in the “pulled back” position until gently nudged.

Similar to single-action, the trigger pull is not appreciably different whether you do this or not.

Here is a closer look at the specialized chamber – no BB is visible, nor can you see the top of the mag. But you can make out a lever assembly attached to the trigger action. This is part of the mechanism responsible for loading the next BB and cocking the hammer (since the action can’t be operated by the non-existant blowback).

Since the assembly is enclosed, this gun should be more resistant to dirt or dust fouling up the works.

The Trigger Pull

The trigger pull is, unfortunately, pretty heavy. While it’s understandable in some ways, it’s probably the single most disappointing feature of the gun.

It certainly is gratifying to be able to fire in single or double-action in addition to being able to rack the slide if you wish. And it’s to be expected that the trigger pull will be heavy since the trigger pull is doing the work of chambering a BB as well as cocking the hammer – then firing. But that’s part of the disappointment – it almost feels like pre-cocking the hammer manually or racking the slide DOESN’T make the trigger pull significantly lighter. The last half-inch or so of trigger pull feels like it’s where all the work is done, and it’s there whether you racked the slide / cocked the hammer beforehand or not.

Speaking of that last bit of trigger pull, there isn’t a noticeable “break point” where you can feel the hammer’s just about to fall. You pull the trigger back, reach the pseudo-breakpoint (where it starts to get harder to pull – apparently where the BB chambering/hammer cocking is or would be happening), then you continue pulling back and it fires. There’s isn’t any definate point in the last leg of the trigger pull where you can feel that point where just a hair more is needed to fire.

With that being said, let me also say that if you pull the trigger in one smooth motion it’s not too difficult to get used to. But you’re not going to have the luxury of doing a practical squeeze-hold-squeeze to help those extra-accurate shots happen. In fact, on a couple occasions where I have attempted to *gently* and very *slowly* creep the trigger back to find exactly where the breakpoint is – it didn’t fire at all! There was something that didn’t catch. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the gun or that you need to worry about it not firing – it would never happen in normal use – just that it shows the trigger’s design is something specialized.

Filling with Gas

The gas fill valve on the bottom of the magazine is like any other gas gun magazine. I have fed my gun both Green Gas (aka Propane) as well as Duster (HFC134a) and it seems to perform well on both. Gas performance on Duster is especially good.

The TM MK23 NBB is extremely stingy with gas usage. Being a non-blowback, no gas is used to cycle the slide and provide recoil. You can go a long, long way on one fill of gas. The downside is that the last magazine or so of shots decreases steadily in performance. With a GBB your last few shots (2-5) are usually the ones you notice dropping off. With the NBB – that last gasp of gas is strung out much further. But you’re already getting at least 5+ good mags of BBs off from a single gas fill, so who is anyone to complain?

Remember that once the magazine is filled with gas, the magazine should be left to warm up to room temperature (2-3 minutes wait) before being used. The magazine is cooled by the act of filling, and letting it warm up helps keep the valves and seals working well (and lasting a long time). Also, the warmer the compressed liquid gas is, the faster it can convert into gaseous form, which is what makes the gun work. The colder the magazine, the harder that is for the gas to do.

Loading With BBs

As mentioned, the loading of BBs is different from many other mags. There is no tube-and-ramrod – just the pull-down spring tab. However, you don’t put the BBs into the top (but can if you wish – 1 at a time) but rather into the wider gap present just above the spring tab when it is pulled down all the way.

The spring tab does not lock down, so you’ll need to hold it with one hand and fill with BBs from the other. Also, use high-grade BBs in the magazine, as some cheaper ones I have been using sometimes jam slightly on their way up the magazine when feeding. I have read that some other guns have this kind of pickiness about BBs as well – namely the Maruzen vz61 Skorpion GBB, the Maruzen MP5K GBB, and also the KSC M11. Excels are fine in my M11, and I have had no problems with Excels in my MK23 NBB either. The Black Intertia brand BBs jam slightly in my TM MK23 NBB, though. Maruzen BBs also seem fine. Just stick with quality BBs and you should be OK (good advice in any case, no matter which gun you have).

Firing the TM Mark 23 NBB

First thing is to push the magazine into the bottom of the gun until it clicks. If it doesn’t fall out, you’ve done it right.

Now, either pull the trigger back in one complete motion, or alternately pull back the slide and let it return THEN pull the trigger, or cock the hammer manually, then pull the trigger.

The decocking lever is not functional on the TM MK23 NBB (unlike the KSC GBB version). The slide catch functions as a safety along with the safety switch at the rear just under the hammer.

Since the gun is an NBB, there is of course no blowback or recoil. I really enjoy strong blowbacks and recoil on guns, but surprisingly I found that the lack of it on this particular gun doesn’t really bother me – especially when using the gun complete with the supressor and fake LAM unit attached. Just a completely sylistic and wholly subjective observation, though. But while NBBs are not really my thing, this gun’s one of the exceptions.

As for the actual shooting performance, the gun’s report is a kind of “POWF!” With the supressor attached, it becomes a “Tuh”. It’s really very different. The supressor really does make a big difference. Here are a couple sound files where you can hear the difference. (Note: The microphone exaggerates sudden sounds, and I would say that the supressed shots actually sound quieter than what got recorded.)

TM MK23 NBB – No Suppressor

TM MK23 NBB – Suppressed

Performance

POWER:Unfortunately I don’t have a chronograph, but the MK23 NBB fires pretty well on Duster gas, and even harder on Green gas. With Green Gas, a .20g BB punctures one side of an empty pop can at 1 meter (3 feet) and makes a SERIOUS dent on the other side.

By converting the valve in your magazine to a highflow valve (either by buying a highflow or homebrewing your own) you can get an easy powerup. After converting my MK23 NBB’s magazine valve to a highflow, the gun now punctures BOTH sides of a pop can with a .20g BB at 1 meter quite easily, and makes a VERY serious dent/rip (almost a puncture) on the tougher bottom surface of the can.

The other common way to increase power on a gas gun is by strengthening the hammer spring. However, due to the design of the MK23 NBB’s action this doesn’t look to be very easy, and possibly not viable.

GAS USAGE: As mentioned, the MK23 NBB is a gas miser and will provide you easily with several magazines of good firing on a single fill of gas. The last mag or so shows a gradual power loss effect that isn’t immediately noticeable though. (In a GBB you can feel the power going down by virtue of the sound and the reduced blowback, but that doesn’t really happen on the MK23 NBB). But as mentioned earlier, you get extremely good gas mileage out of this gun, so who’s to complain? Gas usage on Duster is somewhat better than on Green gas.

With the highflow valve installed, gas usage is increased noticeably, however. I’d say gas usage is increased by up to 25-30% or so, but that’s just a ballpark. Power is also increased noticeably.

ACCURACY:Accuracy is pretty good, considering the hard trigger pull and the non-adjustable sights. The stock sights are also flat black, which is tough to see. I painted white dots on them to help with visibility. Using the suppressor hampers accuracy somewhat, but it’s difficult to say whether this is due to the supressor affecting the BB’s flight, or simply due to the fact that it’s more difficult to see the sights and your target when the suppressor is attached (I’m leaning toward the latter). The question should be solved if I ever get my hands on a MK23 scope mount.

There is no play between the inner barrel and the outer barrel, unlike many guns where you can actually wobble the inner barrel within the outer barrel with your finger. This helps prevent crappy accuracy. [As a side note, I always find it funny when people go for a longer barrel or tightbore barrel to get more accuracy in a gun that probably has enough inner barrel play to create far more inaccuracy that you will ever compensate for with accessories…]

No Suppressor

With Suppressor

Adjusting Hop-Up

To adjust the hop-up, the slide must be removed from the gun. On the underside of the slide is a dial, which can be used to adjust the hop-up.

Care and Cleaning

To take apart the MK23 NBB, remove the magazine then do the following (directions are also in the manual):

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Pull the slide back about an inch, lining up a small notch in the slide with the peg retaining the slide catch. Remove the Slide Catch by pushing on it from the opposite side.
  3. Pull the slide forward, and up and off. It’s a little tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it. Note that the back end comes up and off after sliding the slide forward a little.

You will notice the barrel, slide, spring, and so forth are all in one tight package. So when stripped, the gun is really in only two pieces (not counting the magazine).

To re-assemble, perform the steps in reverse. It’s a bit tricky to line things up right, especially when re-attaching the slide, but you’ll get the hang of it. Just keep in mind that this gun is not quite like other guns, and resist the temptation to remove or re-attach the slide by sliding it straight forward off or on, like you might be inclined to do with other guns.

Accessories

The package of course comes with the LAM, case, and a Supressor. Additional accessories for the TM MK23 NBB were initially limited to high-flow valves for the magazines, but more are available at this writing (Apr 2003) including steel recoil guide (the gun is not a blowback, but the slide can be racked to cock the gun), TN tightbore barrel, a scope mount, and a couple others. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of more typical upgrades for gas guns, such as strengthened springs and metal body parts, though. Also, spare parts are not widely available.

Many holsters made specially for the MK23 SOCOM will of course fit the MK23 NBB, as will other aftermarket fake LAM units and so forth. As I mention in my KSC MK23 SOCOM GBB review, there are plenty of other available LAM units containing everything from a flashlight, to a laser, to both. They fit onto the front rail of the MK23 and thread into the front of the trigger guard to anchor in place, just like the one that comes with the NBB. They look pretty stylish, but can be very expensive. There are even holsters made to hold an MK23 with a LAM unit, and even one that also has a pocket specifically for the supressor as well.

Defining Characteristics

Not as solid feeling as other guns, enclosed inner workings, picky magazines, poor trigger action, above average accuracy, nice accessories, good performance, great value for money.

Things I Like

  • Good performance right out of the box.
  • Easy power upgrade via hi-flow valve.
  • Good performance on Duster, seems to take Green no problem.
  • Excellent gas conservation.
  • Adjustable Hop-Up. (You can’t expect hop-up will even exist in an NBB!)
  • Metal outer barrel stands up to suppressor attachment no problem.
  • Secure inner barrel
  • Can fire in single or double-action. Can also rack the slide if you so wish to cock it.
  • Good value for your money, considering the contents of the package.
  • Suppressor is all metal, doesn’t rattle or shift, and works quite well. (It also is not as shiny as photos make it look)
  • The Hop-Up, while a pain to get to, seems solid and requires no tool to adjust.
  • The case, supressor, LAM, gun, and room in the case for an extra mag is really a nice package.
  • The mags are fairly cheap, compared to GBB magazines.

Things I Don’t Like

  • While the build quality is good enough, it still feels made of black plastic; it doesn’t have the “solid-ness” of the guns made of tough ABS.
  • The sights are molded into the gun and non-adjustable.
  • While I appreciate that the trigger assembly has a lot of work to do behind the scenes, it’s still heavy and rough and that’s never desireable.
  • While it’s nice to have the LAM included (it does look stylish), I would actually have preferred just a LAM unit “shell” with a cavity inside for an optional tac light or laser. The LAM unit that is included with the gun – with the laughable LED light and red LED “laser” is really not much more than a toy and is useless for anything other than a photo-op.
  • Field-stripping and re-assembly is kind of a pain and the slide is kind of stiff.
  • Adjusting Hop-Up requires no tool, but requires removing the slide which is a pain in the ass.
  • In the same vein, the magazines require no loading tool and feature the pull-down spring tab for loading, but somehow they manage to wind up being MORE of a hassle to load than old-school tube-and-ramrod gas magazines.
  • The gun can be a little tempermental. On occasion the slide has stuck a bit when pulled back too far. The magazine seems to jam slightly (but not always) when using cheaper BBs.
  • While limited upgrades are available (tightbore barrel, hiflow valves, etc) availability of spare parts is very lacking.

Overall

While not as outwardly rugged-feeling as some other gas guns out there, the gun is certainly constructed well enough and with attention given to detail. Additions to the gun such as the metal outer threaded barrel demonstrate that the gun has been designed to be used. Fewer moving parts and an enclosed mechanism and breech means less to get dirty or to go wrong in the field.

Performance (both with gas usage and general accuracy) is very good out of the box, and a decent power upgrade can be had with a simple high-flow valve. It’s nice to have the LAM if only just for the looks, and the supressor certainly pulls its own weight.

But while it does a good job of being a “budget” gun with non-budget performance, some gun aspects just need to be lived with. For example, it’s built mostly out of what seems like black plastic. It’s at least as tough as a high-grade springer, but doesn’t compare as well toughness-wise to many other (solid ABS) gas guns. Also, while a lot of work seems to have gone into allowing for flexibility of cocking/firing modes – it seems to come at the expense of the trigger action. I have no quarrel with the heavy trigger pull in double-action mode, but I would really have liked the trigger to have a more precise feel after I have racked the slide or hand-cocked the hammer (which theroretically means all the “extra work” of chambering a BB and cocking the hammer should -or could- already be done).

Value For Money

The TM MK23 NBB package at this writing costs about in the same range as high-middle to upper-class (but not top-class) gas guns. Overall the package is a good value, with you getting better than what you’re paying. But – if the accessories don’t interest you, paying the same as for other top-shelf gas guns is probably too much for just the gun.

One thing that will make the package’s value especially good is if you like the MK23 SOCOM and the accessories and don’t mind that it’s an NBB, since buying a MK23 Gas Blowback and the accessories separately would cost you a small mint in comparison to getting the TM MK23 NBB package.

So if you don’t mind an NBB and can use the accessories, go ahead and get the package – you won’t be disappointed. It’s also worth a look if you’d like a pistol with more power easily available to it than most other guns have.

It’s also well worth it for a gun to use at games in the field. However, if you have little use for the accessories – or you have very high standards of a replica’s faithfulness to the original, you’re probably better off steering clear.