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!

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