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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: The MiniMIC From Binary Acoustic Technology Part 2 Of 3

Review: The MiniMIC From Binary Acoustic Technology Part 2 Of 3

When I was a young Lad attending one of my first (private) schools, for those wanting to become Computer Technicians...
The very first thing they taught us was: "Hardware needs software...and software needs hardware." Meaning that each needs the other, in order to function. 
Something for the Novice to keep in mind; simple, but true.

In light of the small "herd" of computer-based bat recorders, which have started to find their way here (to me, for review) - Perhaps this saying bears repeating. At the very least, for the sake of any Beginners, who may be considering the purchase of such devices.
Because - These bat recorders are basically, hardware devices, which do require software.
In the case of these ultrasound recorders, the "software section" is being provided by your computer (in simplest terms).

Several of these types of bat recorders have already been reviewed here. Including, in fact, another great detector from Binary Acoustic Technology: The AR125 
You can see my Review of it here: Part 1, Part 2
 
I have also reviewed devices here from: Avisoft, Wildlife Acoustics, Dodotronic - Several more are currently in progress (This BAT MiniMIC, The M500) - And there are a couple more, still in development...

...Back to The MiniMIC USB Microphone, from Binary Acoustic Technology. And, the software which comes bundled with it - A full-licensed copy of SPECT'R III and a "limited" copy of SCAN'R; along with device drivers, etc. All located on the included CD ROM.

A screen-capture of SPECT'R, Window maximized while running

Note: When using SPECT'R, with it's default Contrast & Brightness settings: The (scrolling) live display (spectrogram) window always looks best when it isn't maximized. If you choose to use it maximized, then some minor adjustments to those two controls, will yield a better-looking display.
As you may have seen, in my First Impressions post, and Part 1 of this Review: The BAT MiniMIC kit has a very neat and simple appearance. Again, it is of a nice compact size and weight. Also, this MiniMIC is not a brand-new product. It has been available for over a year now.

After more than a month of testing, comparing, and (sometimes) simply using The MiniMIC: I've become very familiar with it's capabilities. Within this time, The MiniMIC microphone and SPECT'R III software has never let me down. The software never "froze" or crashed.
Something else to note, is that unlike several other (similar) microphone control applications: SPECT'R will allow you to launch it, without a device attached. It may seem minor to some, but I found this to be a plus.

SCAN'R - Automated Call Analysis Processor, is described very well by Binary Acoustic Technology, on their Website: 

"SCAN'R is a post collection processing tool.  It automatically scans files and file directories searching for recordings with bat calls.  It generates either SonoBat or Anabat compatible parameter sets.  It also runs on Windows XP/Vista/7/8. "

Now, I know of some Professionals, who shun computer-based recorders. Apparently, they have their reasons...None that I happen to agree with (for the most part).

The way I feel about this subject, can be summed-up as follows: "Injecting" the detected ultrasound directly into your computer, (creating a recording) removes an extra step: 
You don't need to remove, and (physically) transport an SD Memory card (from the recorder, to the computer). Then, copy the recordings (typically .wav files) over to the PC where you'll analyze them. Many of you are probably thinking "It's not that big a deal in the first place, really". And, I might have even agreed with you! But, I've grown rather accustomed to this arrangement lately...

Well, on the topic of computer-connected ultrasound recorders, a few have shared their dislikes with me.

I have read quite a few complaints in the past (again, mostly from Professionals). Among the ones that I do recall (at the moment) are:
  • They would rather not be tethered to a laptop.
  • They would rather have a device with batteries, replaceable in the field.
  • They would rather not have a bright laptop screen to look at (ruining their dark-adapted eyesight)
And, some of us might agree with some (or all) of these Cons.

I enjoy doing passive recording, so I don't mind being connected to a computer.
Laptop batteries although expensive, are not un-obtainable. I will admit, that they'll add considerable weight and bulk, to your kit (bag).
I can certainly understand the concern over a laptop screen ruining one's night-adapted vision. It is a legitimate concern. The only thing I can add here, is that I almost always keep my LCD display(s) at their lowest/darkest setting. While in use, in the field, my thinking was: "I know it's recording, so there's no need to keep looking at it"
Again, I will point out the increasing popularity of Palmtop/Handtop computers (although I don't own one myself).

{For those who might be wondering: I use the term computer, because the term PC (Personal Computer) is generally used to represent Windows-based devices. And, The Echo Meter Touch only connects to iOS (Apple) devices}

What I'd simply like to establish here, is the general ability and performance of The BAT MiniMIC. 
I have performed comparisons and "Shoot-outs" against other bat recorders; practically to the point of exhaustion! I should remind the Reader, that I'm just a "one-man-show" here...
And, what I've found - Is that it's ability, is amazing!
Whenever I wanted to record every, single, last, bat in the area - The MiniMIC was the recorder to reach for. While it is turned on, bats will be hard pressed to "sneak through" your airspace undetected.
This brings us to the next point: What if you require (or simply prefer) to use a hand-held bat recording solution? Such as: An AnaBat SD2, an EM3, a Batlogger M, etc.
Well, then by all means, there is no reason why you should not equip yourself with one!
But, some bats will be missed. If you can accept that reality, then all is well.
I can accept it pretty easily, since I'm just a Hobbyist. Others may not... 

As I've mentioned in a related post: Whenever I test any bat-related product, which runs on a PC: I test it on several different laptops, to monitor it's behaviour, etc.
I noticed something, when putting SPECT'R III "through it's paces": It never had an issue, no matter how old or slow a laptop I ran it on. It always performed without problems.

The SPECT'R III application is used to control and operate the MiniMIC (or other BAT ultrasonic receivers) via a standard USB cable. It basically transforms your laptop/palmtop, into a hard disk drive-based ultrasound recorder. 
It runs smoothly, on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and 8.

It is one of (the two) software applications which will be covered in further detail, in Part 3 of this review.

Until then,

Happy bat detecting!

5 comments:

  1. In your last field trip the MiniMIC had recorded 96 bat passes. Can you tell me, please, in how many minutes? I've stumbled upon a graduation paper from 2008 which included massive bat-recording with unmanned devices: a total of about 120,000 minutes delivered 28,800 bat signals which must be basically the same as "bat passes". That's about 4.2 minutes per bat pass.

    Sure, we shouldn't compare apples and oranges. The number of recorded bats doesn't tell us how many bats were missed in your 2014 experiment, or during the 2008 study. Still, it is an interesting factoid for me as a would-be bat dilettante. The author of the 2008 study was confident that his recorders had not missed any bats in a distance of ten meters to his devices.

    Let me be brutally honest. For a bat dilettante, it matters greatly whether the microphone is able to catch, by sheer luck or otherwise, the occasional rare bat species in a distance of 40-60 meters. Bragging rights are part of the fun.

    Stefan in Germany

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  2. Hi Stefan,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I was only monitoring for about 30-60 minutes. But, I will check to see exactly how long The MiniMIC (and others) were recording.
    I agree, that bragging rights are part of the fun! I'm trying my best to be diplomatic (sort-of). I've tested The MiniMIC (many times) against devices costing almost 3x as much...And, The MiniMIC recorded more bats. Take that as you will...But, I was shocked and impressed.

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  3. I guess that most "handheld" detectors are small and not a burden when you go visit your local Dracula castle. But how large and heavy are tablet-based solutions really? Does the miniMIC weigh a kilogram or less? Same with M500 or EM Touch - the latter looks small enough though. If a microphone adds 500g to the tablet's 400g, the total weight would still be fine with me.

    Maybe worth a mention in your next review. (Happy Birthday!)
    Stefan /Germany

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    Replies
    1. "Google is your friend." I've just found the M500 on the Pettersson website: Size: 42 x 114 x 23 mm (incl microphone horn), Weight: 75 g. So this is small and not a burden. Combined with a tablet of 380g, that makes... I'll work this out until spring when the bats are back.

      Best, Stefan in Germany

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    2. Thanks, yes - The M500 is incredibly small & light!
      I've tested it with & without the microphone horn: Performance is better with.
      Cheers!

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