Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: The New SM3BAT From Wildlife Acoustics Part 1 Of 2

Review: The New SM3BAT From Wildlife Acoustics Part 1 Of 2

If I had to sum up my thoughts, on The new Song Meter SM3BAT as briefly as possible - In one sentence, for instance - I would say: If you are a fan of The SM2BAT, then you will absolutely love The new SM3BAT! The fit and finish of this new Song Meter unit basically reminds me of The Terminator. I believe bullets might have a difficult time damaging this unit! It's nice to see an advanced, Hi-Tech bat recorder built into such a solid enclosure.

What may be an area of concern, for potential owners of this new unit, is it's price. Yes, the price for a new "Standard" SM3BAT is higher than it's predecessor. I've already read some of the rumblings via social media...However, I believe we should keep in mind, that what you are getting, is an entirely new and unique system. What you are also getting, is reliability - As well as an unprecedented, 3 Year Warranty.

As always, I believe we should look at this new offering objectively, with an open mind. If we simply examine the remarkable success of the original Song Meter Platform, it's easy to imagine how it's new big brother will fare.

The Song Meter SM3BAT is by far the most solidly built bat recorder I've ever seen. Which prompts me to imagine an SM3BAT, being passed on - For at least one Generation of Bat Working Professionals!
If a few, simple precautions are taken in the care of the microphones - I simply cannot see why It shouldn't last for many years. As technology progresses over the years, the features and abilities of the SM3 may be easily increased and/or added - Via simple Firmware updates.

So, for Professionals in Bat Research and performing surveys, this is something else to consider. And a good reason why the higher cost-per-unit, may very well pay-off in the end! 

One can easily deduce, that this machine was designed from the ground-up, to compete directly with a lot of the other (similar) systems currently available. Recorders such as: The D500X, The ecoObs Batrecorder 2.0, and The Titley AnaBat SD2. 

A chart will go a long way, towards giving you a "bigger picture" of the machines currently available. And how they stack-up in relation to The Song Meter platform. Click this Link, to see a chart from Wildlife Acoustics. But - Please keep in mind, that this particular chart still features the Original Song Meter (The SM2BAT+).

The reason why I believe this (older) chart is still very useful, is simply this: If the Original SM2BAT compared so favorably with the other machines in the past - Just imagine how much farther ahead of the pack this new advanced SM3 is! 

Perhaps, with other bat recorders (from other manufacturers), there will come a point when the system will need to be sent back: For repairs, updates, etc. History has shown, this has in fact, been the case for more than one of the (other) units on the Chart. I do not anticipate this being the case with the new SM3 platform. So far, all of it's aspects have only proven themselves to be rugged - Both inside and out. This goes for the "brains" of the unit as well; Control Panel, programming, functions, and reliability in performing those programmed functions.

This machine is excellent for those who require multiple-channel recording. Several microphones may be attached, and deployed (using various lengths of optional heavy-duty cables). Each end of the specially-designed microphone cable has a twist-down collar. Now, twisting these collars down will lock the cable; and prevent it from detaching. However, I did not find them to twist down tightly enough, for my (fastidious) taste. I simply prefer things to be a lot more snug.
During this last week of testing, it has done almost nothing but rain in my area. I'm pleased to report, that not a drop of water was found to be anywhere where it shouldn't be. 

Note: As with the set-up of all long-term monitoring solutions: One should always position the microphone(s) at a slight downward angle - To avoid the possibility of water directly bombarding the element inside.

In the past, some SM2 units did experience slight drop-offs in microphone sensitivity, after 2 or more years of being deployed in the field.
I do not see this happening with The SM3 platform. Since the new SM3BAT's standard ultrasonic microphone is built around a completely different core element.  

I recommend having a look at the overview, beginning on Page 3 of the User Guide: "The SM3-U1 uses a high-quality FG microphone element."  This microphone is manufactured by Knowles, the Worlds foremost manufacturer of advanced microphone elements.
You will be happy to learn that there's a Quick Start Guide, right on page 1 of the User's Manual! Also interesting (and recommended) is Page 4 - One-third of the way down "...Auto Set-Up allows you to..." Interesting reading!

Of course, I have a lot more to share, coming up in Part 2 of this review...
In an effort to help the Reader make a choice, for an unattended bat recording solution - I simply don't want to leave any stone unturned. 

The new SM3BAT being un-boxed.

 A Standard SM3BAT Kit

From what I can tell so far, I can't imagine the hardware itself ever needing further attention. Only the occasional Firmware update, which is easily performed by the User (via SD memory card).

In what some might consider a short time (less than a month) I have put this new machine through it's paces, both day and night. And in doing so, have become very familiar with it's operation and performance. As well as it's Pros and Cons, which will be listed in Part 2 of this review. And, will also include, amoung other topics: sonograms, recording performance, sensitivity, technical details, etc., etc.

Note: Directly after (the completion of) this Song Meter SM3 review, I'll be beginning the rigorous testing of the brand-new Echo Meter Touch on an iPad mini Retina! Immediately followed by my review of it! I'll be a busy bee...

Part 2 Of 2 Review Of SM3BAT

Happy bat detecting!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: The New BatSeeker1

Review of The New BatSeeker1 

A brand-new bat detector has emerged; to take it's place among the entry-level bat detectors available today. It comes to us from Canada, and it's called The Batseeker1.
It's very reasonably priced, and is also available from 
I was happy to learn of this little ultrasonic detector, just a few weeks ago. If there is one category, where we have too few choices in - It's the realm of entry-level / Beginner's bat detectors. To me, it's like a breath of fresh (Canadian) air. And a relief - Because, this is exactly the kind of detector that a beginner needs. As you might imagine, a question that I'm frequently asked, by those just starting out, is: "Where can I buy an inexpensive bat detector?"
Well, you certainly cannot beat the price of this one, at only $35 U.S.

The unit is very simple. Both in layout and operation. It is very similar to Tony Messina's Simple Bat Detector. It is based on the same design, and is also a FD (Frequency Division) detector. There are several important distinctions, however: The most important one, is that no assembly is required! Tony Messina's Simple Bat Detector is a wonderful, little robust unit - But, only for those of us experienced with a soldering iron. Again, this is why the Batseeker1 is perfect for someone new to bat detecting (who is not inclined to assemble an electronic kit).
Another important distinction, is the size of this new Batseeker1 – It's only 2 1/2 inches long!

The tiny hole, just visible on the front of the unit - Is where the microphone resides

Now, there's no excuse for a budding Naturalist not to own their very own bat detector. 
Using the Batseeker1, is almost the definition of simplicity: Just plug in the included remote speaker, and listen. That's it! Let's break it down into three steps:

1. Install 2 AAA size batteries.
2. Plug in the small speaker (included).
3. Listen for the detected chirp of bats.

Now, all of those seeking an easy-to-use / entry-level bat detector need look no further. So far, I like it very much!

The way that The Batseeker1 gets turned "On" is simply by inserting the remote speaker's plug. It is a standard, 3.5mm, Mono plug. Which when inserted, closes the circuit which powers on the little detector. When finished detecting for the night, simply unplug the speaker to turn Off the detector.

Is it possible for a device to be too simple? ...Well, I'll tell you...Years ago, I used to build The Simple Bat Detector kits, and give them to friends. One of my Naturalist friends, couldn't seem to grasp such a simple concept (the On/Off function). He enjoyed using the detector very much - But, apparently almost always forgot to unplug the earphone when he was finished...Which quickly led to dead/flat 9v batteries.
So, if there is one caveat here, it is: Always remember to unplug the speaker when finished. Or you'll be replacing batteries much more often than necessary.

After quite a bit of testing, and experimentation with many types of batteries: I can tell you that this unit works best, with rechargeable NimH (nickel metal hydride) batteries. Of course, it will work fine with regular alkaline batteries, however they never seemed to last as long.

When opening the battery door, you must push-in a bit (where the thumb grooves are) while simultaneously sliding the door open. It's a bit stiff the first couple of times you open it. The batteries are installed in the usual manner: The Negative (- flat) side of the cell goes against the spring. While the Positive (+) end is seated at the opposite end.

The Microphone used, in the construction of this ultrasonic detector happens to be a good quality MEMs component. Which in layman's terms, simply means: The microphone is not the low-cost variety. And, as a result: it exhibits plenty of sensitivity. 
I've also found that it is truly omnidirectional, easily picking up sounds from behind the unit as well. The Batseeker1 detects ultrasounds from 10-100kHz - Which means that in addition to bats, one may also detect (or record) singing insects. This is always a plus for me.

Cons - At this price point, it doesn't seem fair to nit-pick or "complain" too much, but...

Things that I'd like to see:

* The pick-up range / maximum distance at which ultrasounds are detected: Could stand some improvement. Although, I'm not sure exactly what (if anything) can actually be done (within the confines of such a simple design).
* A small LED - To indicate "On" status: Good. 
* A bi-color LED to indicate activity/bat pass: Even better (I would happily pay $40 for this).
Again, to be fair, these are just luxuries that I'd like to see - The Batseeker1 is still a neat little entry-level ultrasound detector.

In any case, it's still very nice to see a ready-made, FD bat detector available at such a low price. I hope that it's affordability will allow many more Naturalists to try (and enjoy!) bat detecting. 

Since we are still in the grip of Winter, here on (the majority of) the North American Continent...Sadly, there haven't been any bats out yet to test the unit with.
However, I have several "tricks up my sleeve" one of which, is an electronic bat chirp "emulator" (if you will)... Thanks goes to the Folks at Dodotronic for this one! And the Batseeker performed admirably whenever (and wherever) the bat chirper was activated in the vicinity. 

When attaching the Batseeker1 to a recording device (such as a small digital recorder, etc.) remember to always use a Mono patch cable. A Stereo patch cable will not work.
For this review, only "artificial" bat chirps were used. As well as other non-bat ultrasounds. Everything works as it should - And I was happy to see the Batseeker cooperating with the digital voice recorders I used it with. In other words, it looks promising for unattended recording of bats. Overall, I found it very easy to use. And, frequently found myself imagining exactly how a beginner might use it. It lends itself well to being placed outside a window, with the speaker securely resting on a Venetian blind.

I originally intended to write a 'Part 2' to this review; however, I found that there wasn't much more to add.
The unit does pick up bats (and insects). Not at great distances, but that is to be expected at this price point.
I was able to record bat and insect calls - I used high-quality .wav recordings of European bats (and insects) for my testing. The Batseeker1 recorded them, without incident, to my (inexpensive) digital voice recorders (Olympus, Zoom, etc.).
So, it's detecting and recording performance is fine. However, no one would recommend trying to produce any viable (accurate) spectrogram from it. Spectrograms and sonograms may be produced from the recordings, but they cannot be relied upon for accuracy, etc.
The quality of recording needed, to produce real spectrograms simply isn't there. 
But, for a take-anywhere bat detector at a super-low price, you can't beat the Batseeker1.

Happy bat detecting!

The Batlogger M2 From Elekon

The Batlogger M2 From Elekon The BatLogger M2 comes to us from Elekon AG, in Switzerland. It is a high-end, professional bat detector; and p...