Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: The UltraSoundGate 116Hnm From Avisoft Bioacoustics Part 2 Of 2

Review of the UltraSoundGate 116Hnm from Avisoft Bioacoustics Part 2 Of 2   

One of the things I'd like to try to get across (again), is just how small this unit is. I find it amazing: Such a small device, capable of such amazing data collection. As pointed out, on the manufacturer's site - The unit does feature great craftsmanship and quality materials.

A keen observer might have noticed that Avisoft products are not always mentioned, in the "mainstream" discussions of bat detectors. They are sometimes also missing from many (if not all) bat detector comparison charts. Maybe it's because they are so inherently different than many of their counterparts. Perhaps the reason is that these products are something more, than the typical handheld (top-of-the-range) bat detector. And still, there may be other reasons...

When you purchase this instrument and it's accompanying software, it's as if you're getting a small Bio-acoustic Lab; in a complete kit. As such, a certain level of complexity is to be expected. At the same time, I'm sure that many discerning users would welcome it. In the screenshots below, I've illustrated two of the main dialog screens which a user would be adjusting. Note: These would be fairly typical, of a user interested in recording the echolocation of bats...We should remember, that other wildlife sound recordings may be made with Avisoft devices and software. A user could easily configure several individual .ini files (one for each specific recording purpose) and then choose to load them at at start-up.

Main Configuration Dialog Box

Bat Call Trigger Configuration Dialog Box

Now, if someone were to want try their hand at recording some ultrasonic calls of singing insects, as I did on this particular evening: They might make a few of the same configuration choices as shown below (notice Freq. Range is 5 to 30kHz).
Note: These windows would each be opened and configured separately (one-at-a-time). 
I have deliberately opened both, and made one screenshot:

These are just a few simple examples of the many possibilities and combinations available, when it comes to software configuration.

When ordering the USG116Hnm, you have a couple of models to choose from:
One is provided with a built-in 'EP3' electret microphone (part#31180). The other with a Knowles FG (part #31179) microphone.

Again, I would urge those who are interested, to visit the USG 116Hnm page, and go over the specifications of the devices right on the Avisoft Site.

There have been a few occasions, when other (high-end) detectors under test detected/recorded bats - While the Avisoft did not: But, this may be traced back to "User Error" in configuration. In other words, my 'Threshold' (and other settings) were not set at their optimum levels (at that point in time). But again, all things considered, it's always performed very well.

For my tests, the unit has always had plenty of sensitivity to spare - Just as sensitive as several of the other top-of-the-range, 'Alpha' detectors.

If Batman were to be seen using a detector, it might be the USG 116Hnm! The New Black model pictured below:

I'll probably be be following-up soon, with a post discussing the formidable software that is provided with the UltraSoundGate Series of devices - To cover some more aspects of Recorder USGH -and- Avisoft-SASLab Lite, screen capture shown below:

Until then, Happy bat detecting!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: The UltraSoundGate 116Hnm From Avisoft Bioacoustics Part 1 Of 2

Review of the UltraSoundGate 116Hnm from Avisoft Bioacoustics Part 1 Of 2
"Big things come in small packages"
I'm happy to report, that I had the opportunity to test and review the very latest ultrasonic device from Avisoft Bioacoustics - UltraSoundGate 116Hnm   
Pictured above, is the USG 116Hnm, next to a CF Memory Card for scale
The USG 116Hnm, is a brand-new device that has recently been completed and released by Avisoft Bioacoustics. The new loaner unit for test arrived to me (here in the U.S.) from Germany, very quickly - It took less than a week. I was pleasantly surprised, to receive the small package so soon. It was packaged in it's protective foam-lined carry case, and then in sturdy cardboard, held in place by strong plastic wrap. Many of you may recall receiving new books in the mail packaged in a similar fashion.
Along with the adorable little carry case (which contains the unit & it's cable), the package comes with: A small, spiral-bound User Manual, a unique USB device containing various software: Additional User Manuals (in PDF format), and a myriad of other "goodies". A brochure (which serves as an overview guide), patches of "hook & loop" fasteners (Velcro) - For attaching the USG 116Hnm to your computing device/tablet PC. See photo below:

The unit is intended (primarily) to be used on conveniently portable tablet PC's. For the test unit, I used my Asus Eee PC Seashell Series Netbook. Ultra-portable machines such as the Intel StudyBook L07 and the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 are pictured on the Avisoft Site. And, they look great with the addition of a USG 116Hnm! Not compatible with iPads, however. So, the bottom line is, that this unit is best suited with many of the (PC-based) Tablet computers currently available.

Here's the (preliminary) scoop: I really like this unit - Primarily because of it's size. I regard it as an ultra-portable bioacoustic lab. Essentially, that's exactly what it is.
Ultrasound recording instruments from Avisoft Bioacoustics are designed to meet the discriminating needs of Professionals. They are competent instruments, for serious applications. As for versatility and functionality they have no equal.
The software that controls these ultrasonic recording devices is also very adaptable. It is also not for the faint of heart. Being a proficient computer operator, will help the user take full advantage of these products. The old cliche of "The software controls the hardware" has never been more relevant.
For example, consider the (included) comprehensive Avisoft Recorder software: When you first become acquainted with it, you will discover what seems like an unending number of configuration choices. To the uninitiated, it may even seem overwhelming at first. It is as versatile as any software package I've ever seen. And, having been a Computer Systems Analyst, I've seen more than most.

Of course it should go without saying, but... reading and understanding the User Manual(s) is imperative. 
Note that the Avisoft Recorder software will not launch unless the USG device is plugged into your computing device.

Getting Ready For Some Bats:

Notice the little "protective veil" that I use, if it's drizzling and/or windy
(I'm simply fastidious with audio devices and a bit overprotective sometimes) 

The step-by-step software installation process, is found in the beginning of the (paper) User Manual. The manual is conveniently sized; and more importantly features easy to follow instructions.
The Avisoft Recorder software installs easily, with minimal effort. Once the Recorder software is installed, you may plug the USG 116Hnm into an available USB port on you computing device. Give it just a moment (for the processes to finish working in the background) and, you will see a message informing you that the USG 116Hnm has been detected/installed correctly.

You may now proceed to:

Launch the Recorder USGH software.
Make the basic selections, such as which device you're using, etc.
Check and adjust other software settings.
Enable the 'Bat Call Trigger Filter', adjust settings, etc.
Start recording 
(clicking the Pause button first is recommended, clicking it again when ready to record). 

As with all things, it will just take some getting used to: After repetitive use, and in a short time, you'll feel like a Pro.

Regarding the software in operation, you will see the abbreviation 'TRG' popping up, directly above the scrolling sonogram screen. This abbreviation pops up to indicate that an event was triggered and recorded. This is the indicator of trigger events which are currently taking place. It is in operation whether the Pause is on or not. This is neat, because you can judge the amount of triggers that are happening, whether you're recording or not. In addition, the unit itself features an orange LED indicator lamp, which lights up - As another visual indication that recording is taking place. Personally, I've always been fond of LED indicators.

The other crucial feature, is the trigger event counter - which indicates how many triggered events have taken place (the number of recordings). Displayed on the upper, right-hand side of the screen in bold, black fonts:

The new UltraSoundGate 116Hnm kit starts at only 1600 Euros (for the model tested).   
Several products produced by Avisoft Bioacoustics, which are intended to be used for bat detecting/recording, are typically priced similarly to the high-end detectors offered by others.
The exception to this, would be their UltraSoundGGate 116Hm and UltraSoundGate 116Hme devices, which are their flagship instruments for bat recording (these models are top-of-the-range). And so, their prices range from 5000 to 5700 Euros (depending on options). From what I've seen and read, regarding these devices: They are absolutely brilliant research-grade instruments. 

I had the opportunity to partially review two other devices from Avisoft Bioacoustics, in the past: The UltraSoundGate 116Hnb with EP3 electret and USG 116Hn kit with CM16/CMPA. Those two models are also in the approximate price range. Starting at $2100 Euros.
Link to my mini-review Here.
Something else I really like: The ability to hear bat calls in heterodyne technique.
Just because you've moved up, from the less-expensive bat detectors, doesn't mean that you have to "give up" the splendor of listening to your bat calls in heterodyne mode. Many people (myself included) enjoy the pleasure of being able to listen to bat calls in heterodyne fashion: Basically the ability to hear what is being picked up by the microphone unit, very close to real-time. The delay is only a very small fraction of a second, and is inconsequential.

The Avisoft Recorder software is configurable to meet any and every individual's requirements - With the potential for many different owners/users, to have just as many unique set-ups. 

How does it perform? Well, setting aside the fact that the kit offers a myriad of different set-up possibilities and optimizations - Generally, I've always found it to perform quite well indeed.
So far, results compare favourably with other high-end detectors of similar price. I'll expand more on this, in Part 2.

With so many facets of the system at your control, it's difficult to find fault with this kit.

  • Extremely compact / Ultra portable. 
  • Very advanced system, for serious bioacoustic work.
  • Suitable for recording vocalizations of many different animals (not just bats).
  • Derives power from your computing device.
  • Produces superior sonograms, with accuracy to spare.
  • Does not function as a stand-alone instrument, must be coupled to a computing device.
  • May be costly for those who don't already own a Netbook, or (smaller) Tablet PC.
  • Software is not for Beginners, of benefit only to those well versed with computer software. 
Below are a couple of sonograms of Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus), produced with the USG 116Hnm, and displayed with RavenLite: 

Big Brown Bat using RavenLite

Big Brown Bat using RavenLite
Well, since there will be a bit more to cover - This review will continue with Part 2 Of 2. 

Happy bat detecting!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Spring Issue Of The Journal of The Wildlife Sound Recording Society

The Journal Of The Wildlife Sound Recording Society Volume 13 No 1

The Spring 2013 issue of The WSRS's Journal arrived in my mailbox the other day.
I had originally planned to submit a bat detector review (or two) to the Editor, but was not able to complete the editing and submit them in time.

What I did have an opportunity to submit, was a slightly edited/polished version of my recent book review.
My mini-review of British Bat Calls; Which was also posted here on the blog, a while back.

Well, in any case, I'm happy to have it appear in the Journal - So, below is a scan of the WSRS Version:

Well, needless to say, I won't miss another opportunity to submit a bat detector review to The WSRS Journal. There are actually a few that I'm currently working on for submission. Among the next review(s) I'll be submitting will be: The Batlogger M from Elekon, and The USG 116Hnm from Avisoft Bioacoustics.

The next review (currently working on) is of the UltraSoundGate 116Hnm from Avisoft Bioacoustics.
I'm very excited about this unit - And I am really looking forward to sharing my findings and experiences.
I consider it an exceptional, and progressive system. Perfectly suited for those with more advanced requirements and dynamic needs; such as Bat Researchers, etc.

Happy bat detecting!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review Of BatExplorer Software From Elekon

Review of BatExplorer software, from Elekon, AG.

The BatExplorer software package, is free to download and use. As is generally the case, with most currently available software - It is easy to download and install. In fact, it may be said that BatExplorer software is even easier to download/install than most.
The current version (at the time of this writing) is Version 1.8 (17.05.2013). Clicking on the following link, will begin the download process: Version 1.8 , it is approx. 50MB in size.

I happen to like this software very much. As is the case with the recently reviewed Batlogger M detector, I simply cannot seem to find anything to complain about! It's very well-designed.
The ideal user of this (free) software would be anyone who owns a Batlogger detector. If you use this software with recordings that were made with a Batlogger (any version) - You will be pleasantly surprised at how well everything flows together.
The next user that Batexplorer would be good for, is anyone who has bat calls that have been recorded using either: A frequency division, full-spectrum, or time-expansion bat detector.

Right from the start, it's easy to become very fond of BatExplorer software - The first thing you'll notice, is that the interface looks just too cool for words. I absolutely fell in love with the colours!

Here's are typical examples (notice the wonderful default colours):

 Main Screen

Zooming in on a bat call a bit

Why do I like this software? Because it's multifaceted, elegant, and works as well as it looks. It works beautifully; and it's easy and fun to use. It has a very low "frustration factor". The work flow does just that: It flows
The good news is that after reading the User Manual a bit, you'll be ready to analyze just about any (.wav file) bat recording you've made. Except for those made with a heterodyne detector, of course.
The not-so-good news, is that the software really only shines when using recordings made by a Batlogger / Batlogger M. If not, you're basically limited to viewing one .wav file at-a-time.

---------------------------- For those fortunate enough to own Batloggers --------------------------
Read on!

For example - After a night (or two) of bat detecting/recording - Either passively or actively; you (should) have an SD memory card filled with recorded ultrasonic sounds. Many from bat passes. For the typical user of these products, I realise that detailed explanations are not necessary. But, in any case:  -Launch software-  -Insert memory card- -Import recordings-
The software suggests simple 'Project' titles, for the major file Folders where your .wav files will eventually be stored. 

Something else I like: You don't have to "give up" the ability to listen to your bat calls in heterodyne mode. Many people (myself included) enjoy the capability to listen to your bat calls in heterodyne fashion: As with the Batlogger itself, BatExplorer gives you several options for playback, while analyzing your recordings.

Among the new features, in version 1.8 is a system log of sorts. 
Reminiscent of the Log File from a Titely Anabat system/software:

As I always say, it reminds me of a log file from a computer server (of which I've seen many).

The BatExplorer software emulates a lot of the features which are present on the Batlogger detector. As for Pros, some of the components that come to mind, are:
  • Bat call Playback options, such as - Pitch, Mixer, Divider
  • I like the way it looks! I think it's hard to deny that it looks cool!
  • It's periodically being updated and improved via new Version releases
  • It processes files quickly, and is a robust application.
As for Cons:
  • It currently does not cover North American bats in it's Bat call ID library.
  • If using recordings that were not from a Batlogger, functionality is a bit limited.
The reality is, that Elekon's BatExplorer software is very well developed and is packed with amazing features that I haven't even touched on in this review. The fact is, that BatExplorer has too many features to properly cover in a review of manageable size.
Luckily, I won't need to explain every function, since anyone can download it and check it all out for themselves!  But, some really neat and useful features that come to mind, are things like:

* The way it breaks down each recorded bat pass - And indicates: Length, Max/Min/Peak Frequencies.
* The Statistics feature, with a bar graph of Peak Times of bat activity.
* It's ability to utilize detector-recorded metadata in various ways.
* The Map feature, which allows you to accurately plot locations of detected bats.

As always, I will update this post if there are any immediate/unexpected changes or improvements to the BatExplorer software package.

Happy bat detecting!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Perfect Bat Detector - Does It Exist?

I found myself idly wondering today: If the perfect bat recorder did exist, what would it be like?
What features would it have?
Of course, it would probably be slightly different for everyone...But, I'd like to just explore the idea for a moment. We are talking about an ideal bat detecting solution.

A bat detector (recorder) which you would feel confident taking with you anywhere, to any location. Whether it be Aunt Ida's house on the other side of town, or deep in the jungles of South America.

If you ask me, it wouldn't be too difficult to design.
Combine the versatility of 3 (or even 4) modes of operation. Similar to models such as: The Griffin from BatBox, The EM3+ from Wildlife Acoustics or the 1000DX from Pettersson:

1. Heterodyne
2. Frequency Division
3. Full Spectrum (high resolution)
And, so that nothing is left out, also:
4. Time Expansion

Make it robust, some rubber armoring perhaps? Weather resistant (at least partially water resistant). It certainly doesn't need to be fully waterproof.

I would allow the manufacturer full artistic license with respect to the microphone - Regarding type and placement. ...But - I have two mandatory requests:
  • It must be high-quality and sensitive.
  • And for Heaven's sake: Make it robust! - And not such a delicate, unprotected affair.
Shall we use some present-day machines as guides?
The BatBox Griffin, for example - A robust, and very capable machine. With the ability to monitor bat calls using multiple technologies (Heterodyne, Frequency Division, Binaural (which is a mix of both).
The ability to run almost two whole evenings on one set of AA batteries.
Records bat passes in TE mode, without missing a thing.
Has a large and lovely easy-to-read screen. And, many other advanced features...
Yet...It all hinges on one, very small, unprotected microphone element. 

The manufacturer were to combine the simple, intuitive Menu style from The BatBox Griffin,
with the sensitivity and sleek dimensions of The Batlogger M from Elekon. We might have something... 
We must also note, that many times, high costs are prohibitive to many Bat Workers, etc.
I believe that the new (relatively "secret") bat detecting/recording system coming soon from Wildlife Acoustics - May be the answer to this issue. It will provide amazing results, akin to high-end Pro equipment. Yet, will be very affordable...Especially to anyone who already owns an iPad device. That is all I can say for now. It is still a fairly secretive project.

As it stands now, the closest that a bat recorder comes to total perfection, is the Batlogger M from Elekon. And, since this opinion is also held by several well-known Bat Workers in Britain...
Questions have arisen... Hath this new machine no flaws?

{Whilst on the subject of well-known Bat Workers...The following information has been added here, for Mr. Richard Crompton}

Well, essentially, the answer is: Not really. 

All kidding aside, there are two very minor things that I happen to see as (minor) Cons:

1. On my test unit, I found that battery life is slightly shortened while the GPS system is engaged. Other owners (Bat Workers) that I've consulted with, have not noticed this. So, there is a very good chance that it will not be the case on most examples of this unit. However, it has also been mentioned in the Batlogger M's User Manual
On pages 18 to 19 (section 'Setup4/7').

2. The inability to set the current time on the unit independently from live satellite data.
I would like to see, perhaps an additional Clock implemented. One where a user can simply set the time; without the streaming data from GPS satellites changing it. Again, many users will actually welcome & appreciate this feature.

I've intentionally made an effort to keep these Con descriptions as brief as possible. There's no need to dwell on them, at the risk of making a World-class bat detector seem less than brilliant.
Because, as far as I'm still concerned: The performance of the Batlogger M is simply wonderful; and it abundantly provides just about all one could ever hope for in a bat detector. 

I may revisit this topic again, in the future...

Happy bat detecting!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: Kaleidoscope Pro Software From Wildlife Acoustics Part 2 Of 2

Review: Kaleidoscope Pro Software From Wildlife Acoustics. Part 2 Of 2

As I signed off, on Part 1 of this review, I mentioned Technical Support... Well, as usual, Wildlife Acoustics provides excellent Technical Support. BCID and Elekon also provide Tech Support for their products. 

Wildlife Acoustics currently offers two great software applications for viewing your recorded bat calls: Kaleidoscope Viewer and Kaleidoscope Pro. 
The installation of either of these packages is fast and easy. These Apps are ideal for those doing bat surveys; or any other type of bat research where identification of the Species is needed. They also provide tremendous enjoyment for advanced hobbyists!

You may think of Kaleidoscope Viewer as an affordable alternative, to many of the standard spectrogram viewers offered by other companies. It has a few unique features; and displays bats calls accurately as well as aesthetically - The spectrograms are rendered in wonderful colours.

(This is just a random example of what the Default colours look like)

The example above, is what a bat recording looks like, when you first open the Viewer. The 'Adjust brightness, equivalent to dB gain' (Slider on the left) may be used to produce different colour variations as well. The colours can be changed to suit your individual preference - Lots of Brightness Levels to choose from!
In any case, before purchasing a "stand-alone" type of software; to view your ultrasound recordings - You should definitely pay a visit to the Kaleidoscope Overview Page, and have a look around. You may find that you prefer it, to some of the other basic viewers out there.
It's a matter of personal preference.

The fact is, that there aren't many software packages available for the automatic identification of recorded bat calls. They can be counted on one hand. Having looked into all of them, I'm here to simply share my experiences. These two software packages are among my favorites (if you purchase Kaleidoscope Pro, the Viewer is included). Kaleidoscope Pro is simply a pleasure to use. After you try it out, you'll probably wonder how you ever managed without it.

There are several files that are produced after the Batch Process has run. 
* A 'Results' standard table, which may be saved in .csv format.
* A complete and detailed Excel file.
* And, of course the new Viewer! (which opens with one file already in view).

Now, you can call me "picky", but there is something else I'd like to see:  
* A simple, easy-to-print, output file (in addition to what is already provided).

"But, there are already 2 nice .csv files available to print" I hear you say...Yes, you are correct, of course. We may also consider, that those who are likely to be using this software, will no doubt:

A. Have Microsoft Excel on their systems.
B. Be well-versed on it's use, such as the manipulation of data, the creation of charts, etc.

But I'd like to see something even "easier". Something that doesn't require a user to go in and move cells, etc. before printing. Something that anyone can simply print straight away.

During my short test and review period, I've come to really depend on it; and appreciate it for the extremely useful tool it is.

The best part is that you don't even have to take my word for it - You can download/install it, and see for yourself! Again, Wildlife Acoustics is extending their free trial period through June 30th 2013 - So that you can have a chance to try out their new Viewer. 

Here is another screen capture of the first dialog screen you see, upon launching the latest (Ver.1.1.3) Kaleidoscope Pro software:

(A cropped screen capture - showing the main dialog box) 
Some of the more memorable features (and characteristics) of Kaleidoscope are:
  • It has the ability to quickly process large numbers of recorded bat calls.
  • It's able to handle any .wav files, as well as (proprietary) WAC and ZC file formats.
  • The options to output (or convert) the files to .wav or ZC files.
  • The ability to filter out noise, and the option to place the recorded noise into separate files.
  • The ability to effectively use any GPS data provided by your detector.
  • The output it produces, is easy to read, relevant, and useful.
  • And last, but not least, the classifiers! 
    (just about all US bats and most UK bats are covered) 
To be perfectly honest, Kaleidoscope Pro is one of the coolest software packages I've seen. It is really pleasant and versatile, not to mention - Easy to use!

Here's a partial screen capture I took, while checking Results recently:

 (You can see the Results file, above the Classifiers screen)

Purchasing the software, is a straightforward and harmonious process. After adding the desired software package to your Cart, you are led through a typical Checkout procedure (it's quick and simple).
After which, you'll receive 2 e-mails: One, a standard invoice. And the other, a more detailed version which includes your software license key. 
You select/copy the license key, go to the main dialog box of the installed software, select 'Help', 'License', and paste your License ID. Enter your e-mail address - And viola! You're done!

I like the ease-of-use of this software. I really admire the fact, that it is always being improved! The software is constantly being refined, improved, and polished.  It has already been tested and analyzed in detail (by others) - And was found to be far superior, in both speed and accuracy; when compared to the offerings from other companies.
The future updates and improvements (latest versions) will be made available to licensed owners. And, I believe it's a delightful thing to look forward to. 
As such, I'll probably need to "revisit" this software package again in the future - With an update post, to keep everyone informed of any major changes and improvements.

Happy bat detecting!

General Thoughts About Active (handheld) Bat Detectors Part 2 of 2

General thoughts & Considerations About Bat Detectors Part 2 of 2 "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's...