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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: The MiniMIC From Binary Acoustic Technology Part 1 Of 3

Review: The MiniMIC Ultrasonic Microphone From Binary Acoustic Technology Part 1 Of 3

The new MiniMIC from Binary Acoustic Technology is a USB-powered, ultrasonic microphone for recording the ultrasonic sounds (of bats). I'll also point out, that the frequency range for this device, is 1 to 125kHz. Which means, that those (of us) who are also interested in recording singing insects, are in luck!

As covered in my 'First Impressions' post - The unit arrives very well packaged: Double-boxed; the inside box (containing the MiniMIC) is a sturdy, plain white box. 
The BAT MiniMIC microphone unit itself, is constructed from Aluminum. It is well-built, and nicely compact. It is very easy to travel with. Many people travel with their laptop anyway - So, add this neat device and it's USB cable, and you're set.

The back-end of The MiniMIC

It connects to your PC, via a USB cable (provided). The USB cable is of good quality, with Gold-plated connectors. One end inserts into The MiniMIC, the other into an available USB port of your (Windows-based) computing device. It also comes packaged with a CD, which  includes one full copy of the latest version of SPECT'R recording software. And a trial (“limited”) version of SCAN’R. The trial version of SCAN’R is limited so that it only processes recordings generated by BAT systems, either SPECT’R recordings using the miniMIC and AR units, or their other field recorders.
Again, the CD included with my test unit, contains a copy of both SPECT'R III and SCAN'R software. These are the proprietary applications, developed by Binary Acoustic Technology. To be used with their various hardware (recording devices).

After a fairly straightforward software installation; using the device is simple: 
  • Attach The MiniMIC to your laptop (or other Windows-based computer) via the USB cable supplied.
  • Launch The SPECT'R III software.
  • Customize the various recording Settings, as per your preference.
  • Create a prefix for the name of the recording files (such as "21st", or "SOVIII" for "Shoot-Out 8"). This short prefix will be automatically generated, and added to the beginning of each recorded .wav file.
  • Once you complete the previous step (above) you will be prompted: "Would you like to start recording now?"
  • Click "Yes" and you will observe the live spectrogram display and may adjust volume. 
I will cover more on these particular (software) topics, in Parts 2 and 3 of this review. I've recently determined, that this review will need to be split into 3 Parts; in order to properly cover all aspects of the system.
In addition, preliminary tests have shown The MiniMIC to posses excellent resistance to common sources of interference (EMI); such as those produced by household appliances and switching power supplies - Including A/C adapters for laptops (for one example).

The current price is $695 (US Dollars). Price is subject to change. The MiniMIC USB Microphone may be ordered directly from Binary Acoustic Technology; by e-mailing: Sales at Binary Acoustic Technology (sales@binaryacoustictech.com)
You may also browse their full Product List Here.

The design looks very simple and neat. Most would never guess that such a plain-looking piece of hardware, could provide such astounding results. 
The simple fact is, this device can detect, and make useful (accurate) recordings of bats in flight - at greater distances than any detector I've ever tested. 

Yes, I do realize that is quite a statement... So, I'll give you a minute to let that sink in...

After confirming bats at well over 60 Meters, I stopped concerning myself with any further calculation of distances...
If you needed to get nice, clear, recordings of bats from The Stratosphere, this would probably be the device to reach for!

Not only does it record the calls at further distances - which has always been a very important factor (for me)... But, the recordings are clearer, more accurate, and with no clipping. This is due in part, to the Hemispherical ultrasonic element which Binary Acoustic Technology uses in The MiniMIC. Which you can read a bit about Here.
Here is the Link to a PDF document  (by Binary Acoustic Technology) with a great explanation of the new technology at the heart of this successful system.

I actually began performing various nightly "Shoot-outs". I performed no fewer than 8 shoot-outs (just to be sure!) using various top-of-the-range machines. And each time, The BAT MiniMIC came out on top. The overall accuracy of this unit is amazing. It consistently recorded bats, which other detectors missed.

During my various tests, I also discovered something else - The recordings created by The BAT MiniMIC were of such high quality, that they enabled Auto ID software packages (such as Kaleidoscope) to produce more accurate identifications!
More accurate identifications, as compared to recordings from the other, high-end detectors.

So, it doesn't just pick up many more bats, and the recordings are not only made at greater distances; but they are also of exceptional quality. The spectrograms produced are lovely.

The MiniMIC USB Microphone would be ideal for anyone performing passive (stationary) recordings of bats. It may also perform very well for driven transects; where the use of a laptop isn't a hindrance. 
Unless the computer used is very small, and light (perhaps a Palmtop?) - I cannot see The MiniMIC being a superior candidate for walking transects. However, with the recent popularity of UMPC's (defined Here), you may be able to outfit yourself with a set-up which would be comfortable enough to walk with.

It would be perfect for someone recording bats from inside a home. I've tested it in this way many times, using various laptops. It's very convenient to set-up. The (weatherproof) Aluminum enclosure is secured outside, pointing in the general direction of expected bat activity. 
You may even perform work on your laptop, while detection is in progress - With no ill-effects at all...More on this in Part 2, and 3.

...This new MiniMIC has just set the bar very high.   

Much more to follow in Part 2 Of 3...

Until then,
Happy bat detecting!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: SonoChiro Auto Bat Call ID Software

Review: SonoChiro Auto Bat Call ID Software

The SonoChiro software from Biotope, is an automated bat call identification program. This software package is provided as a downloadable/Online purchase; from the Biotope Website.

The process of purchasing, downloading, and installing the application is very straightforward. Most potential owners/end users, will no doubt already be well-experienced with this typical install process.
The downloaded executable for SonoChiro is 9.8MB in size, and installation is fairly quick and easy; with no "surprises". The most time-consuming portion of the process, is filling-in the electronic Registration form.

SonoChiro is provided on an annual subscription basis, which includes all updates for one year. The current price is 846 Euros, including VAT.

As many of my Visitors may know by now, whenever I review any bat detecting product: I like to be quite descriptive, in regards to every feature and detail. As an example, for the past couple of years, I've even included photos of the shipping box the equipment arrives in. Not such an odd practice, I think... I've seen reviews of various products, where the reviewer includes such (packaging) details.
Here, we are discussing a downloaded software package, so I may not have any physical packaging to describe...However, SonoChiro features some interesting designs. I've already expressed my fondness of their main (purple) bat logo (in the 'First Impressions' Post).

I even like the Biotope logo! 


{So, if the Folks at Biotope / SonoChiro offer any apparel featuring these logos - please let me know!}

Upon launching, you'll notice that The SonoChiro application features a neat dialog box (screen shot below). The purple background is a stylized photo of a bat in flight. Don't let the modest size of it's interface fool you: This software application is serious business! How do I know this?


SonoChiro application dialog box

Having had a fairly long career as a Computer Engineer, I have a natural tendency to really put computer software (and hardware) "through it's paces", etc. And, I find myself testing and experimenting with such products in ways which only an advanced Engineer would understand.
So, I tested this application in many different ways. As always, this application has been tested on more than one laptop.
As a simple example - While testing it on one laptop in particular: I found that the application uses quite a bit of the computer's resources. To the point where the laptop began to run hot!

Now, almost all software applications will suggest, that you "close any other programs" which you may have open/running, etc. And, of course it is always a good practice to close applications that you are not using. However, in the case of SonoChiro, I feel that it is even more important to adhere to this suggestion. Especially, if you happen to be using it on an older, slower laptop. 

Having stated all that...During the test period I can say, that I've never had The SonoChiro "crash", freeze, or stop responding. Only those who are very experienced with software, can fully appreciate how impressive this is.

The ideal buyer of SonoChiro ID software, would be someone who records bat calls in any of the geographic areas indicated on (their) Map - Which may be seen on Page 5 of the User Manual. Note - North America is not included (unfortunately for me!).

Since the main output format of this bat call ID software is in Microsoft Excel format - This product would be best used, by someone who is familiar with this MS Office application. I mention this specifically, since a .csv file is the only output that SonoChiro produces.
This is not to say that mastery of Microsoft Excel (or any other App capable of viewing a .csv file) is required. My point, is that if I were a potential customer - I would want to be well-versed in the manipulation of .csv files. In order to get the most out of the data produced.

The process of using SonoChiro is very simple - Basically comprised of:
  1. Specifying the location of your recordings.
  2. Chosing a name for your Output (Excel/.csv) file.
  3. Select one of the (preset) geographical ranges.
  4. Click on 'Start'
That is basically it, then you just sit back and wait for your .csv file to be created. And, I do mean sit back and wait...because this software takes it's time...
Well, just remember the old saying - "all good things to those who wait"

From the many tests I've put this software through, I can state that it is indeed very accurate. This was largely determined, by using known (voucher) calls - Of species which were within SonoChiro's capabilities. The example (voucher) calls were of various species of bats, and happened to have been recorded by (well-known) respected Scientists in the field of Bat Research. I won't go into all the details at this time.

Pros -
  • Powerful, robust, software that doesn't crash.
  • Very accurate and reliable for ID of bat calls.
Cons -
  • Only outputs results in one file/format (.csv file).
  • Doesn't cover North American species.
If you are looking for an accurate and dependable bat call identification software, and you live in one of the geographical ranges covered - Then I would highly recommend that you look into SonoChiro!

Good luck, and...
Happy bat detecting!