Friday, April 11, 2014

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

Review of the New SM3BAT from Wildlife Acoustics Part 2 Of 2

A weather buoy, miles away from the coast.

It's what I think of, when I think of unattended monitoring solutions. 
In other words - Passive acoustic monitoring systems, such as the SM3BAT, for example. 
When I think of it...I'm reminded of a modern-day weather buoy - Out at sea, diligently recording and reporting the current weather conditions back to it's home base. Able to stave off everything Nature has to throw at it; night after night.

The SM3 Platform - (more specifically the SM3BAT) - An ultrasonic detector, designed and manufactured to perform it's task(s) in any kind of weather. It prompts me of a weather buoy. And, if one were to evaluate such a device - I presume, that many of the same fundamental questions would apply:
A. Does the unit perform it's tasks admirably?
B. Can it do so under duress of inclement weather?
C. What kind of instruments of measurement is it equipped with? And, are they able to withstand adverse weather conditions?
And, finally: How well does the machine perform, overall? Or, in other words - While it is out there, all alone...defiant of all manner of nasty weather...Is it producing accurate results?
Results that are well-organized? Is the resulting data practical, as well as relevant, to the organization that has deployed it?  

In the case of the new SM3BAT, and the SM3 platform in general, the answer is Yes. 
Throughout my extensive testing, in more than one location, I have found this to indeed be the case.

I'm making my best effort, not to re-iterate any of the information which a reader may easily view at The SM3's Introduction Page.

Not only would an individual be able to conveniently deploy an SM3BAT in the field - But, they can fully expect to acquire accurate data, which they can use. With it's 4 SD card slots, The new Song Meter platform is able to collect a huge number of bat calls. This is where the famous speed of The Kaleidoscope software application will prove to be very convenient!
Wildlife Acoustics' Kaleidoscope software also comes in handy, when it comes time to handle a substantial amount of noise (if recording in noisy environments):

As seen in this screenshot - You may choose not to deal with noise at all: Simply un-check (remove the tick) from 'Keep noise files'

As you might expect, The SM3 Platform seems to behave best, when used with Kaleidoscope software. There are advantages in this arrangement, of course. However, I did attempt a short investigation, as to how SM3BAT recordings behaved in other sound applications. And, I have nothing out of the ordinary to report. I simply prefer to use Kaleidoscope software more than the others. I should also inform you, that I have quite a few at my disposal.
The simple fact is - Wildlife Acoustics' Kaleidoscope Pro is #1 on my list (you may click Here for current prices and ordering). 
I've found the system adept at recording bats, and other ultrasonic sounds; while dutifully rejecting, or discarding unwanted sounds (those which are non-biological in origin).
I've found that normal man-made sounds are very frequently rejected; and not recorded by the SM3BAT. When using the settings as per the screenshot above. This is a big plus, as there are recorders in existence which do not differentiate ordinary sounds from ultrasounds.

I'm happy to report, that the SM3BAT doesn't sacrifice sensitivity while achieving it's selectivity. During my tests, it has shown itself to be almost as sensitive as the venerable Batlogger M from Elekon. And that is saying a lot.
I've come to trust The SM3BAT - When I set it up: For a night, several days, or a week's worth of recording - I can trust it, to not miss a bat. I've become very confident in the abilities of this brand-new machine.

The Activity LED may flash green - But, the Song Meter determines whether the sound event should be recorded as noise, etc., or if it was an actual bat call - And be classified as such.  
When checking the recordings/contents of the SD memory card(s): You will find bat calls and other ultrasonic sounds
Using Kaleidoscope software, you may choose to have noise files neatly isolated in their own Folder; if you wish. By ticking 'Keep noise files', of course. You may then view them at your leisure.

Overall: I discovered the SM3BAT to be as sensitive as many top-of-the-range bat detectors I've reviewed. I found it to have very good rejection of normal, undesirable noise. However, while using the factory settings, the SM3BAT is not completely immune to the odd man-made ultrasonic sound every now-and-then. Those with experience, are familiar with what is meant here, so I'll just leave it at that. I will add that (thankfully), airliners and other low-flying aircraft are not picked-up. Luckily, in most woodland areas, this is not a concern.

One must keep in mind, that the SM3BAT is very flexible in it's customizations and settings. I've only scratched the surface of what may be accomplished; by performing most of my tests using the default/factory settings. I expect to perform quite a few more experiments, in regards to microphone/recorder Settings. So, it's very likely that a future blog Post will include my findings.

The SM3BAT system is very versatile. One may become familiar with it's abilities, and adaptability by downloading/reading the User Guide. Some individual Sections which I found particularly interesting include:

Page 27 (Chapter 4) Programs on the SM3BAT
Page 33 (Ch. 5) Using the SM3 Configurator

Slightly more advanced topics may be found in the following Sections:

Page 39 (Chapter 6) Developing Custom Programs
Page 62 (Chapter 9.3) How to measure Microphone Sensitivity

The SM3BAT can be quickly deployed: From opening the box, to set-up at a field location very easily; thanks to pre-programed/default settings set at the factory. I presume that many organizations (performing bat surveys) would find these settings suitable/appropriate. 
And, this would save a lot of time in deployment, for medium to large sized organizations.

I duplicated this very scenario, from the beginning, when I first started my testing. I tested the Song Meter 3 for a considerable amount of time using these factory settings. I found the default settings to be just fine - for my elementary needs. Which (at the time) could've been summed-up as: I wanted to record bats! Only bats! And as many of them as possible!

The front-mounted Check Status button allows you to see the current state of the SM3BAT including: 

* Total battery voltage remaining
* Available memory space remaining on SD cards
* Microphones installed/present, plus the current decibel levels detected
* Internal temperature 

Categories of data shown upon pressing the Check Status button once

Categories of data shown upon pressing the Check Status button twice (quickly)

  • Quite literally, "Built like a tank" - Enclosure is Die-cast-Aluminum...
  • Excellent resistance to unwanted sounds (man-made noise, etc.) 
  • Ability to specifically record sounds of several non-bat species: Birds, frogs or insects (with the addition of optional microphones)
  • Does not feature an external thermometer. Although, it does have an internal one - Measuring (and recording) the temperature inside the unit. Mainly for diagnostic purposes.
  • Inability to see how many individual calls (events) have been recorded, just by looking at the screen. However, this ability is not needed on a machine intended to be set-up, and left at a remote location.  
I really like the SM3-U1 microphone; I like the fact that it features a built-in, 4-pole 8kHz high pass filter. Electronics enthusiasts and Sound recording aficionados can appreciate this. 
I like the fact that the enclosure features a (weatherproof) vent, to equalize pressure and prevent condensation from forming inside.
Last, but not least - Here is a spectrogram, of Lasiurus cinereus (Hoary Bat) recorded with The SM3BAT (using all Default Settings). And displayed in Kaleidoscope:
 Happy bat detecting!


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