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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: The M500 USB Ultrasound Microphone

Review of The M500 USB Microphone

The M500 Ultrasound Microphone, is an advanced USB device for detecting and recording the ultrasounds of bats.
It arrives from Pettersson Elektronik, doubled-boxed. The unit (and included accessories) come in a neat, white box. Along with a ZipLok-type bag, as seen in Pic below:

Also see my 'First Impressions' Post


The unit is intended to be used with a tablet PC (or equivalent) or a laptop computer.
I did a lot of testing of this unit on several types of devices; I preferred to use it with a laptop.
The newest version of this USB microphone, The M500-384 is very small and light - Yet, the M500 series is very strong at the same time (being constructed of sturdy Aluminum). 
As per Pettersson's Site, the dimensions are: "43 x 114 x 13 mm (incl microphone horn)"
To be clear, both The M500 and The M500-384 are now the same physical size.
You'll also find this unit's additional features listed on the link above.


The M500 Unboxed
 
The instrument's very small size, allows it to be quite flexible, in terms of which devices it may be attached to. 
It may even be used on devices as small as a cell phone. And anyone with prior experience with similar equipment, will find the unit easy to use.

I was excited about this new USB-based detector when it was first announced. I'll state, right from the start - that I really like the way it looked. I like the idea/design of the hardware itself - More specifically, the layout/design of the indicator lights (more on that later). 
And as always, I'm interested in an ultrasound recorder which can be used for both unattended, and field recording of bats.

Of course, it may also be used to record other animals / ultrasounds as well. The other pleasant surprise, is it's price: Now you'll find substantial differences in price, depending on where in the World you're located, etc. But, I've seen prices from under $400 US Dollars -to- around £465 in the UK. So, it's not as expensive as some other solutions. As always, I advise you to shop around for the best price. Check-out:
Wildlife & Countryside Services

An overview, of the very latest version of their Batsound Touch software, may be seen here.
The newly released, free version of the software has been designed to run The M500 smoothly, on almost all Windows tablets. And the M500-384, is even more flexible: It may be used on Windows an well as Linux platforms. And with different ultrasound recording software. The M500 is an ideal choice for someone who enjoys trying-out the various software packages available.

When considering the hardware which will be used with The M500: At the risk of stating the obvious, I would recommend using one with a high-power CPU, for best results.
The Batsound Touch software is very versatile, with lots of features; so there are quite a few ways in which to record sounds. More details to be added here, in the near future...

I've completed some tests and comparisons on one of the first prototypes of this unique microphone. Recording tests of The M500 revealed a very capable piece of equipment.

The M500 is lightweight and very compact. Upon plugging it in to my laptops (one running Windows 7, the other Windows 8) via USB cable, It was always recognized straight away.


I'm happy to report that The M500 can pick up bats at almost the same distances as my other top bat detectors. Some of which, have higher price tags than The M500.
And overall, it performed very well indeed! The sensitivity of this mic is wonderful!


The M500 is easy to hold and position, due to the durable & flexible USB cords that come provided.

Installation is easy, and it's easy to set-up and use: One end of the USB cable gets plugged into the M500 and the other end is plugged into your computing device.

The majority of (most commonly used) features, present themselves on your computer's screen, via The Batsound Touch interface.
The M500 (and M500-384) would be ideal units for those interested in:
Transects (esp. mobile/from a vehicle, or other forms of transport)
Unattended recording, as well as live recording (using a Netbook/small laptop PC).

When you are ready to record some bats - 
  • Plug one end of the (provided) USB cable into the back of the unit 
  • Plug the other end into an available USB port on your computing device 
  • Launch The Batsound Touch software 
  • Check the software's settings (which will be set the same as you left them) 
  • Click 'Record'
After setting up the M500 on my Asus Netbook (mini-laptop) for an evening of bat recording - I got into the habit of turning off the WLAN (and Bluetooth). The initial idea, was simply to have one less device using the resources of my wireless router (overnight).
Even though, I realize that the the impact is minimal (to say the least). It seems to not only free up more PC resources (making the Batsound software scroll even faster), but also quiets background hiss even further. This may be a helpful "trick" to try, if you're using a low-end Netbook/laptop like mine.
For example, low-end notebooks will typically have suboptimal RF shielding. 

So it appears that this is another case where the more I use this bat detector, the more I like it.

Pros:
  •  Front-facing, high-quality sensor (microphone element)
  •  Simple device, robust: virtually nothing to break-off or get physically damaged.
  •  No batteries to worry about.
Cons:
  • Not weather-proof.

After a very straightforward software installation; using the device is simple:
  • Customize the various recording Settings, as per your preference.
  • Click the "Record" button, and you will observe the live spectrogram display and may adjust volume, etc.
The current price of an M500 directly from Pettersson Elektronik is just under $400 (US Dollars). Price is subject to change. 
It may be ordered directly from Pettersson Elektronik; here -or- by e-mailing:  (info@batsound.com)
You may also browse their full Product List by visiting their homepage.

The simple fact is, this device can detect, and make useful (accurate) recordings of bats in flight - at impressive distances.
During my various tests, I also discovered that the recordings created by The M500 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.

The spectrograms produced are lovely. They will be added to this review, in the near future...

The M500 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. 
If the computing device used is very small, and light (cell phone) - I can see The M500 being a wonderful candidate for walking transects. 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 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 The M500, we now have another, USB-based microphone for ultrasound recording; and it may be used across several devices. This review, is actually still a work-in-progress; and more Info and Pics will be added soon.

I'm happy to see, that there are quite a few USB-based bat recording solutions available to us now. Dodotronic has also released a new version of their Ultramic; which I am to be testing and reviewing soon.

Still to come, are reviews of The SM4BAT FS from Wildlife Acoustics, and The Batseeker 3.

Happy bat detecting!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review: Baton XD From BatBox Ltd. Part 2 Of 2

Review: Baton XD From BatBox Ltd. Part 2 Of 2

As for the process of using it, it just doesn't get much easier - The Baton XD may still have just the one button. However, for those even vaguely familiar with the (simple) instructions: It's a piece of cake, really.
For instance, I would direct the reader, to Page 2 of The Quick Start Guide
The operation of the Baton XD is very straightforward. So much so, that an attempt to describe the graphical instructions, seems redundant. 



The unit is very accurate. As for the resulting spectrograms: They are simply lovely. And by that, I mean not only aesthetically pleasing, but very accurate as well. While testing the last few bat recording units, I have accumulated a lot of data... As a result, while testing bat detectors these days, I find myself deleting the majority of recordings - Including spectrograms. So, please bear with me, while I collect some (using The Baton XD) to post directly into this review. 

The weather here in New York, USA - Has just now become conducive to bat flight/activity. And I hope to have some spectrograms pasted here very soon...Along with other data. However, I would like to do more than just post spectrograms, as I've done in the past.

This year, I thought it would be nice, to provide night vision videos of the bats; as they are being recorded: Essentially giving Visitors a more accurate experience of each individual bat detector, while in use. It is also a lot easier to include video recordings of the bats in flight, than to include audio clips only.
Well, more on this later... 

Back to the subject at hand: The new BatBox Baton XD

What can I say about this new Baton XD? In my experience, it's proven to be every bit of a workhorse as it's predecessor. That being the original BatBox Baton; which I've owned and used, for years. Although, this unit is even more capable and versatile. When you're in a hurry: It's nice to have a (good quality) bat detector, which you may count on, on your way out the door. 
It's the type of unit, which is simply there when you need it.

As an analogy: It's very similar to the compact pair of binoculars, which a Birder "usually grabs on their way out the door". As you may know, avid Birders usually own quite a few pairs of binoculars. But, many of them come to realize (in time) that there seems to be one pair, which they always reach for - At a moment's notice. That is how I would describe The BatBox Baton XD.
A Hobbyist, and especially a Pro Bat Worker, is also likely to have many bat detectors at their disposal. Now, depending on exactly which, and how many they have available - Chances are, if they are in a rush, The Baton XD would be the one chosen.

Having made that statement, I shall go directly into The Pros & Cons of the unit:

Pros:
  • Simplicity - It may be operated without even thinking about it.
  • Small / Self-contained - Relatively easy to slip into a (large) pocket (if need be).
  • Sensitive / Accurate - It's general performance, is in a word: Impressive!
  • Great battery life.
  • Features ("real") Time Expansion mode.
  • Attaches to a cell phone / smartphone for recording, live spectrograms & advanced features.  
Cons:
  • Recording is not built in - An external device of some type must be attached.
  • The unit is somewhat directional, by design - Microphone cannot be expected to be effective at more than 180 degrees.
  • Microphone sensitivity not adjustable - Professionals may desire this feature.
In summary: I'll go ahead and state it - Many of you may already be thinking it: The Cons listed above, may seem a bit "nit picky" to some. Fair enough.
The fact is, I've had a relatively difficult time providing substantial Cons.
For example: The two settings for the volume (in FD mode) have proven satisfactory during my tests.
I happen to like the fact, that the microphone element is protected - Recessed into the built-in "horn" in front.
As previously stated, this (Part 2) component of the Baton XD review, will be updated. Spectrograms, etc., will be added soon.
In the meantime, as always, please feel free to leave Comments (or questions) regarding The Baton XD.
Happy bat detecting!