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!

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