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Friday, August 26, 2011

Review of The SM2BAT System From Wildlife Acoustics Part 2 Of 3

Review of The SM2BAT system from Wildlife Acoustics Part 2 Of 3

The SM2BAT happens to be the approximate size of other comparable unattended recording solutions. In fact, it is a bit smaller than some. It is easily portable, fitting one (along with accessories, etc.) into a backpack is effortless. Without batteries installed, the unit is very light. In fact, you could probably fit 2-3 units in a backpack (depending on the size of the backpack).

The layout of the unit is nice and simple. The SM2 platform features a large LCD display, several jumpers for setting filtering parameters, and a green LED (for status indication). Sensitivity and filtering are fully adjustable, across the spectrum of the unit's abilities.

The fact is, that once you've read the User Manual(s); and become familiar with operation of the unit - You'll probably find your bat recording becoming so automated; that you'll become lazy! Especially, for those of us who are used to the typical set-ups required for overnight bat recording. In most cases, this consists of:

Standard check of the detector - Battery condition, and any other settings
Standard check of the recorder - Same as above
Locating your audio cable - For connecting the two
Masking (adhesive) tape, etc. for temporary mounting 

Once the SM2BAT is set-up, you can let it go for a few days, a week, or more! And, the unit will diligently record bats, every evening - From sunset to sunrise. So, you can see how easily one can become "lazy".
Click Here to see a graphical representation of the unit's specifications.

OK! On to some more good stuff!

Among the features I like:
The fact that the unit records unadulterated sound, in 192kHz, is great!
The nice selection of audio filtering combinations available. There are lots of options selectable from the jumpers. Below, is a pic of how the unit's jumpers were set at the end of my testing:
Over the testing period, they were slowly migrated, from left to right : )

The fact that the unit can be used as a "Set-and-forget" recorder (for up to 9 days, in any case) is a plus.
The unit is very economical; especially when compared to the similar systems that are currently available.
If you have a quick look at the Comparison Chart, on the Wildlife Acoustics site, you'll see what I mean.
The SongScope software, from Wildlife Acoustics is very versatile; and produces nice-looking (and informative) sonograms.

With the great help/suggestions and support I received from the Folks at Wildlife Acoustics, I ended up with a diverse collection of recordings. The nice thing about it, is that I was able to test a lot of different variations of settings. In a short period of time. You can basically go either way, in your approach to the use of this system: You may choose to rely mostly on the default settings - And take a more simple approach (which is exactly what I did in the beginning of the test period). Or, you may be the type who enjoys tinkering & experimenting. In which case, you'll find no shortage of combinations/settings available to you.

Among the features that I'm not crazy about:
Obviously, one of the drawbacks, is that it cannot be used as you would a typical hand-held bat detector. You can't just grab it and go, on your way out to the woods, or to attend a Bat Walk.
I also wish there was a way to insert and remove the SD cards a bit more easily - Instead of having to remove one of the D-cell batteries each time.

The additional offering of the free, WAC2WAV software - Which is of course, as the name implies: For converting the propriety Wac files into universally used Wav files - Could be placed in both the 'Like' and 'Dislike' category. Likes would be: That it is free, and very versatile. I must confess, that it does offer some features that I find fascinating. Such as systematic removal of noise - In the form of separate Noise Files that are automatically created. As well as a few other neat little options.
But, at the same time, the Dislike would be: The fact that it is needed in the first place!

There is still the matter of providing sonograms, and possibly some recordings; produced by the SM2BAT. The fact that my original hard drive is (temporarily) inaccessible prevents me from posting them easily.
So, I'd rather just go ahead and extend this review a bit: Stay tuned for Part 3 of this Review...

In conclusion, I have a feeling that I'll be writing some more posts demonstrating the abilities of The SM2BAT Platform soon. In addition to the final installment of this review (AKA Part 3). I may be "re-visiting" this unit, and the Pettersson D240X in future posts. Since at this time, I consider both of them to be very impressive.

Click here for Part 3 Of 3 of this review

Happy bat detecting!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Technical Difficulties - PC Issues

Yes, even the best cared-for PCs can have problems. I ought to know, I was a Senior Computer Engineer for ~15 years (before I became disabled).
Well, despite all that, and having taken all the proper precautions - one of my fully-packed hard drives was "taken down" by a few Trojan horse viruses that got through.Yes, it happens to the best of us (PC Gurus) sometimes. Luckily, I had the old hard drive still handy, and that's why it didn't take me long to get back up and running.
That's the short version...

So, anyway; it got me thinking - This is another reason why I like bat detectors that are pretty much "Self-Contained". A bat detector that either gets connected to an external recorder, for example. Or better yet, one of the high-end units that records (and Plays) utilizing an SD card.
A fairly simple FD or Heterodyne detector, hooked up to a simple digital recorder - Will provide a bat enthusiast, with some (simple) audible bat recordings to listen to (and, share with friends). In fact, that is one of the "methods" that I've been known to use; to have Family & friends get an idea of what bats sound like.

One of my original intentions, was to get a lot more of my bat sonograms up here on the blog. Especially since I never know when I'll lose access to them (like now!). So, I hope to include a fair amount of them in the upcoming Part 3 Of 3 SM2BAT Review.

After using the SM2BAT 192kHz Platform for a while, you'll find that you can easily (and quickly) amass a large quantity of bat recordings. To put it another way: Even though the SM2BAT has been returned to Wildlife Acoustics; I still have LOTS of high-quality recordings residing on SD cards. So, no worries : )

We are about mid-way through the "bat detecting season" here in the Northeastern United States. I hope everyone is enjoying themselves! Both here, and abroad!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review: The SM2BAT From Wildlife Acoustics - Part 1 Of 3

Review of The SM2BAT system from Wildlife Acoustics Part 1 Of 3

In this first Part of the review, I will be focusing on the main attributes and features of the SM2BAT. The second Part will present lots of great stuff! Such as: Impressions of performance, summary of typical workflow, and a synopsis of how it compares to other ultrasound recording devices - Sensitivity and quality of sound recordings. And, any other stuff I'm able to share! Part 3 Of 3 will provide: Sonograms and sound recordings of bat passes.

To begin with, there are a few features that make this bat detecting system desirable:

* It is particularly well-suited for unattended monitoring/recording of bat activity (it's proven to be excellent for my nightly recordings).
* It is capable of recording many bat passes, for up to 9 nights! directly onto multiple (up to 4) SD cards.
* It's very easy to use, and no PC is needed for the set-up, or actual recording.

There's something else that I must point out, it is the Customer Service/Support aspect of Wildlife Acoustics: In a nutshell, their Technical Support is second to none. That is not to say that other manufacturers of (high-end/top-of-the-range) bat detectors are lacking in this department - They clearly aren't - Certainly not any of the ones that I've dealt with (so far, anyway).
It's just that, in this case, any questions or issues that one may have about their products are answered almost immediately. Their Customer Support is lightning fast! Questions sent via e-mail or left on voice-mail are responded to in moments. And, always with clear & concise information. Usually followed by a follow-up e-mail as well.
How do I know this?

OK, First a confession: I did read both of the included Manuals...Just not very thoroughly - Yes, shame on me...I was very anxious to see how well the SM2 would record bats, so I basically just skimmed over the User Manual...So as a result, I was unclear in the proper operation of the unit, or the most efficient way to post-process it's recordings. So, I ended up having quite a few questions and minor issues. All of which can be classified under 'Operator error' (by the way). As we used to say when I was a Service Technician (many moons ago).

Well, the point of all this, is that I came to discover just how quickly and politely all inquires are responded to. So, potential buyers can rest assured. Wildlife Acoustics definitely excels at customer support!

Another neat attribute of the SM2BAT I like, is how the microphone units are protected.  Using a well-secured, dark gray foam. In the printed materials provided, Wildlife Acoustics explains just how waterproof their SM2 Platforms are. And also explains best practices, and tips for outdoor deployment. I have not used the SM2BAT in inclement weather. As I'm always reluctant to do so (with any ultrasonic recorder).

The SM2 has been blessed with great pick-up range. There is a PCB mounted, 3.5mm earphone jack located inside the SM2 box. This is provided so that one can listen to the sound input while recording; this may be used for live monitoring, to check the status of microphone(s), perform test recordings, etc.
Just plug a pair of earphones/headphones into the 3.5mm jack, and listen for yourself -You'll notice that the omni-directional microphone is picking up everything! Very clearly, I might add. Of course, thresholds/triggers need to be set...

- To open the SM2BAT, you may use either an appropriately sized Flat-head screwdriver, or medium sized Phillips-head (which is what I prefer).
The unit can be permanently mounted to a flat surface (or, a relatively large tree) using the 4 built-in screw holes.
With the top cover screwed back on, in preparation for mounting/deployment - The green LED light will be visible to you, via a built-in diffuser. So that you can get feedback before, during, and after the unit is mounted:
- A steady, repeated blinking: Indicates the unit has started it's scheduled recording. This informs you that the system is awake, and is actively monitoring.

Using the downloaded Song Scope software, available for a 14-day trial period Here You can analyze the data in Wildlife Acoustics' proprietary WAC format. Or, use their free WAC2WAV converter utility. It's really neat! See a screenshot below:
Keep in mind, that the installation and configuration of the SM2BAT is an easy process. But, the (very nice) Folks at Wildlife Acoustics were kind enough to configure my loaner unit, so that it was all ready to go!
What this means, is that they configured the unit to begin recording at sunset; and stop at dawn.
Just install batteries - 4 D cells (Energizer brand recommended), a Class 4 SD memory card, and you're done. 
Some of the other main features, located "under the hood" are: The LCD display - Which is easy to read, and will help you set all device options.
Among the main things you might want to do are:
- Set the Record Start and Stop times, set the internal clock.
- Change jumper settings for advanced filter settings
- Modify the trigger schemes
- Adjust Sensitivity values which you can use to fine-tune the level for the triggering.
 And quite a few other things.

Of course, after a brief phone conversation with one of the Gentlemen at Wildlife Acoustics - I understood everything very clearly. I had quickly learned how their proprietary WAC files work, and how to manipulate them, etc. - And it's been nothing but fun ever since! I've got lots of recorded bat calls to listen to, and create various sonograms with...So I'll be signing off for now.

Click here for Part 2 Of 3 of this review

Happy bat detecting!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Additional Findings With The Pettersson D240X

I'd like to share some additional observations and thoughts, in regards to the Pettersson D240X Detector.
One minor thing, that I didn't notice before (and didn't include in my recent review) is that the frequency control knob is very precise and selective. This proved to be an advantage when listening to insect calls...

Rarely does a Summer go by, where I don't become interested in the singing insects. Primarily, Katydids - They are just about always present and "singing". So I used the Katydids' constant, high frequency "singing" for the recent A/B comparisons.

I had an opportunity to do some side-by-side testing, with other detectors; to check sensitivity and pick up range. I discovered that the D240X easily out-performs the other hand-held units, by a fair margin.
Now, I've always known, that heterodyne detectors reproduce more components of a bat call, for instance. But, it never really occurred to me that the same thing would happen when listening to insects. The reason for this, is that until now: I've really only tested inexpensive heterodyne detectors (for the most).

During side-by-side comparisons with both frequency division and heterodyne detectors - I can say that, the better detectors can keep up with the D240X; as far as detecting insects. Again, for the most part. But, I noticed something interesting: The "details" of the calls being produced by the D240X. When listening, even with just the built-in speaker; I was a bit surprised when I noticed "hidden melodies" (for lack of a better description) in the Katydid's calls. It's a bit difficult to explain. They sounded as though they had an added "dimension" to them, sort-of musical.
Which, you may recall, I also experienced when listening to the recorded (het) bat calls made with the D240X.
I've also just found another great link, in re: to the D240X. On this page there's a link to a neat PowerPoint Presentation/Slide-show, that explains how to record using a Zoom H2 digital recorder. The info is useful.

In years past, I've come across articles recommending heterodyne units to be used for detection of various singing insects. By far, my favorite article, can be found here: Link To PDF and here: HTML (Web) format

-Great article!

I've been interested in detecting and recording various singing insects for several years now (from about 2006). A very nice, inexpensive book on the subject (for North American residents) is:
Night-Singing Insects Of The Northeast
I don't recall seeing a British or European "equivalent" of this book. If you know of one, please contact me - I would like to add it to my library.

Next post: Full Review Of Wildlife Acoustics' SM2BAT Platform

Happy bat (and bug) detecting!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Song Meter SM2BAT Terrestrial Ultrasonic Package (192kHz)

Just an update/reminder: The new bio-acoustic recording device that I'm currently reviewing - Is The Song Meter SM2BAT, from Wildlife Acoustics. Wildlife Acoustics is located right here, in the USA (Massachusetts to be exact). Preliminary tests of the SM2BAT are promising, it's designed for un-attended (long-term) monitoring. And, it's microphone is very sensitive.

Also, the SM2BAT platform compares very favorably to other cutting edge ultrasonic recorders. I'm still going through the recordings from last week, and need to determine the best format to use, to present the sonogram images here. Unfortunately, I've had nothing but lousy (rainy) weather here this past week...So, I don't have any new recordings.

The fact is: The SM2BAT platform was designed to be deployed outdoors - Many very clever features were utilized in it's design. It was made to remain safe, and functioning in conditions where other bat detectors simply would not survive. This is very advantageous to Bat Researchers...As for me, I always employ an extra measure of caution. Which is why I wouldn't place it outside, even in the lightest drizzle...

When using (or owning) expensive bat detecting equipment, it's hard to avoid the "nervousness factor" (for lack of a better term). It's similar to owning/wearing an expensive wristwatch, or other piece of jewelry. For lack of a better analogy. One of the differences is, that many times an expensive detector is precisely what is needed.
If one is determined to try and identify the species of bat being monitored - Whether it's a dedicated hobbyist, or as is most frequently the case: a Bat Researcher. An advanced detector is a necessary tool. In the case of $1,000+ USD ultrasonic (bat detecting) equipment, a measure of very careful handling is prudent. I believe most would agree. The recent spell of lousy weather we've been having here, is also the reason why there haven't been any new sonograms posted from the Pettersson D240X (That detector is like a Fabergé egg).

The weather forecasts call for more rain this week...but, we'll see...I hope to have some new sonograms/recordings up here soon.

In the meantime, here are some photos of the interior of the SM2 system, along with microphone attached:


This photo shows the various jumpers:


Happy bat detecting!