EM Touch From Wildlife Acoustics - First Impressions
The long-awaited, brand-new Echo Meter Touch has just arrived from Wildlife Acoustics.
What Wildlife Acoustics has basically done, is produced a small piece of hardware and an inexpensive package of software (Kaleidoscope) which essentially places the capability of a full ultrasound monitoring system into the hands of those who would otherwise be unable to afford it.
Another way to look at it, would be:
Wildlife Acoustics has taken the normally required equipment, used to record and ID bats - and shrunk it down; to something that may be kept in a large pocket. In the case of an iPhone, for example.
As for me, I prefer to use The EM Touch on an iPad mini Retina. I believe that the (slightly) larger family of iPad products fuses best with The Echo Meter Touch; as opposed to an iPhone. I've had the opportunity to test the unit on an iPhone. I'd simply rather pair the device up to a larger, more robust device. Just a matter of personal preference.
This certainly marks a new beginning, in the field of bat detecting and recording.
EM Touch From Wildlife Acoustics - Part 1 of 2
The Echo Meter Touch Module
By now, even those with a passing interest in bat detecting will have (no doubt) heard about, or seen the brand-new Echo Meter Touch from Wildlife Acoustics. There have been several Photos and video Demos of this new bat detector circulating The Web.
Some seemed to have already "passed judgement" on The EM Touch. It seems that a few people have already made up their minds; both for and against it. Perhaps this may be attributed to the fact, that this device is so new, there aren't enough actual owners/users yet?
Therefore, my responsibility as an objective reviewer seems to loom ever greater...
I will confess, right at the start - Even I made a few (minor) assumptions, prior to having access to the User Manual and receiving the equipment for test. Read on...and all will be made clear.
It's hard to deny, that Wildlife Acoustics ranks among the very few companies, which rather enjoys being on the cutting edge of bat detecting technology. One need not look any further than their past and current bat detecting solutions. I once read, that "If you truly love a Hobby, you want to share it with others...with everyone". And a passion to share, also seems to be the case with certain detector manufacturers. Yes, of course they are a business, but in addition to selling bat detectors...There's the subtle attitude, of wanting to share new technology with those who record bat calls. In fact, one can plainly see, that Wildlife Acoustics is one such company (there are, perhaps one or two others).
Apparently, this time - Someone there had Apples on their mind (no, not fruit) - The Apple computing devices. The EM Touch is currently compatible with almost all of the newer Apple iPads and iPhones. Of course, the list of compatible devices is likely to expand in the future, as The EM Touch is not simply a stagnant bat detector - But a lively, progressive bat recording device. An ultrasonic recorder which will be constantly morphing and improving; all while hovering at the bleeding edge of technology. I have a feeling, that this prospect will appeal to many. If bats and portable computing technology are among your interests: Then you'll certainly want to set yourself up with one!
This brand-new Echo Meter Touch features an omni-directional, FG microphone element; which has the added benefit of being weather resistant. Some may choose to use it for some unattended recording, with the aid of a Lightning Cable extension. Although, while testing the review unit, I managed fine without one.
Even though, Wildlife Acoustics themselves would be the first to tell you: They do not intend for the EM Touch to be used for unattended monitoring.
I have used it for unattended monitoring/recording of bats quite a bit. When set-up near a window, in a rural/quiet environment (sans man-made noises) it performs admirably, for a whole evening's worth of monitoring.
I presume that many potential owners, might make the very same (or other) assumptions; simply based on how The EM Touch looks. As seen pictured in several (small) advertisements, in online catalogs, and other Web sites: It seems to give one the impression, of being a dynamic, hand-held bat recorder - Fine for use in the field.
But, few would ever guess that it also:
Performs well as an unattended monitoring solution. Has built-in automatic triggering, for the exclusive recording of ultrasounds.Can still perform, in the background, while you work with other Applications.It sports a 256K Sample Rate, 12 Bit full-spectrum .wav file recording, and includes a recording range from 8kHz to 125kHz - Which means I get to record some singing insects when the mood strikes me.
The EM Touch is delightfully small; even when inside it's protective case
What we have here, is truly a super-portable bat detector. Not just a small frequency division or heterodyne detector, which simply produces clicks, or "plops", etc. But, a full-spectrum recorder, that is quite capable in it's own right. With the added benefits of looking at/recording a live spectrogram while detecting in the field.
In fact, when you stop to think about it - This new Echo Meter Touch is really in a league of it's own. I'm not sure, if typical FD/Het detectors should even be mentioned in the same paragraph!
However, in this case, I bring them up simply because of the similarities in size (and portability).
Although The EM Touch may be even smaller than the average Hobbyist's detector - It is a device several magnitudes more capable than a typical bat enthusiast's detector.
And, yes - It's price is also several magnitudes higher. Especially, if you do not already own a compatible Apple iOS device.
It is true, that in such instances: Your initial monetary outlay may be considerable. All of this is just idle speculation, of course. Everyone has their own particular budget constraints.
Take me, for instance - I (still) consider myself to be an average bat detecting Hobbyist / enthusiast...
I have only a (very) modest income, and limited discretionary funds - Yet, I saw fit to begin the process of equipping myself with an iPad mini Retina, to be followed by an Echo Meter Touch, and required software...The EM Touch application is free, on iTunes.
I'd like to try and share, what I found, during my individual "journey": Which consisted of first buying myself an iPad mini Retina. The first thing I found, was that the iPad naturally filled an "opening" or "void" in my daily technology needs. Technology Geeks will no doubt, understand what I'm referring to here!
In layman's terms - I now wonder how I ever got along without one! An Apple iPad, that is. In short, I've found The iPad mini Retina to easily outperform my (usual) Asus mini-notebook; in just about every aspect.
On the other hand...
What if you do already own a compatible iOS device? Well, then it's a "no-brainer" (as they say) - If the cost of an Echo Meter Touch is in your considered budget - Then, the choice is simple: Go for it!
Why? Because you are simply getting the absolute most-for-your-money in the case of an EM Touch. It is the obvious choice, in it's price range. Remember, that The EM Touch Application is free in the Apple iTunes Store.
[Now includes the auto-ID software app]:
"If you need to identify bats in the field you can add the Echo Meter Touch Bat Auto-ID feature. Featuring Wildlife Acoustics Kaleidoscope Pro algorithms, the software quickly and accurately identifies bat species. The Bat Auto-ID feature includes all Kaleidoscope classifiers and will be continually updated with new classifiers as they become available."
[Here, is where I should probably re-iterate, that I am not affiliated with Wildlife Acoustics in any way. As always, I'm simply doing my best to share my experiences and opinions]
Again, everyone's budget is different, of course! There are many Hobbyists and (especially) Beginners, for whom this route would be outside of (or place a strain on) their budget. And, yet there are many for whom The EM Touch would be exactly what they were looking for. I've had several people message me recently. Each wanted a bat call recorder, which would allow them to record and analyze the spectrograms of bats. They were willing to use external recorders and audio cable connections, to capture the calls picked-up by the already somewhat costly detector. These people were starting out with budgets, which would've easily allowed them to get an EM Touch and the Bat Auto-ID Feature.
The catch? They would have to already be proud owners of one of the (compatible) iPad devices. Even the correct model iPhone, and they'd be up and running! But...If not, we are back at the "Budgeting table" - Discussing the acquisition of an appropriate iOS device.
Installation, is a piece of cake, of course! And the more familiar you are with your iOS device, the quicker it will go. As you might expect - The most time-consuming portion, is the download and install of the software (from Apple's iTunes Store). Which, after all, only takes about 5-10 minutes, at most. If you do a bit of reading on The EM Touch App's page, you'll see that there have already been some small improvements made. And, I've always been a fan of ongoing improvements!
Once installed/set-up - The Echo Meter Touch is truly, very easy to use. Operation of the iPad application is intuitive, and I found it to be a spontaneous, and fun learning experience! The layout of the application's buttons and Menu choices are all conveniently implemented. No one will ever be able to accuse the EM Touch application of being convoluted, or difficult to get acclimated to. It all seems to flow very naturally during normal use; this is a big plus while in the field.
Yet, at the same time - You can become even better acquainted with it's capabilities at your leisure, via the (dynamic) User Guide, which you can read right on your iOS device.
Now, I cannot divulge any specifics - But, I will reiterate: In the months (and even years) to come, The Echo Meter Touch will improve and morph in ways, which many of you would not expect. The software end is already being updated, my test iPad automatically prompted me to download/install updates. And, let's not forget (one of my favourite little wonders) Firmware updates!
Now, more than ever, I hope that my summary and descriptions are helpful. And, I'm currently hard-at-work on Part 2 of this review; which will answer many of the questions (and concerns) on everyone's minds.
EM Touch From Wildlife Acoustics - Part 1.5 of 2
An effort to address recent concerns
Since this iOS-based detecting/recording system is so new, and drawing a lot of attention - I felt that perhaps an attempt to address some common questions was in order. In regards toThe Echo Meter Touch I'd like to address some of the concerns, which a friend (and Bat Working Professional) has brought to my attention.
The EM Touch is fine for driven transects, as long as precautions are taken to avoid wind. In any case, this is true when using all bat detectors. I've performed my amateur-level, driven transects with various bat recorders over the years. One quickly learns the tricks necessary, to avoid contacting wind while recording from a moving vehicle. One must remember that The FG mic element employed by The EM Touch is very sensitive. Which is a good thing, of course. More on this subject, in Part 2.
This Bat Working Professional (friend of mine) also suggested that "...The AnaBat system is better and clearer." As someone who has never been a big Fan of AnaBat systems, I must disagree.
I presume the device being suggested for comparison, in this case, must be the new AnaBat Express. Since, it is the lowest-cost system that AnaBat currently offers. It has been touted as a competitively-priced bat detecting solution. However:
The current cost of an AnaBat Express is $850 US Dollars. Close to twice the cost of an EM Touch unit. It is an unattended recording solution, therefore does not feature an exposed display. However, if I were given a choice between the two of them...I would choose The Echo Meter Touch; every time. And the query I offer you is:
The EM Touch allows a user (even a youngster!) to: Detect, Record, View the Spectrogram of, and Identify said bat, down to species. I'd say this pretty much runs the gamut of what one may even expect from a bat detector in 2014.
A concern, for the memory capacity (of the required iPad device) was mentioned. This was actually addressed (from the very start), in Wildlife Acoustics' FAQ Section of The EM Touch Page. It's entitled 'How many recordings can you store on the iOS device?'
And is located at the bottom of the Page, just prior to the last question listed.
Using a 16GB (model MF066LL/A) iPad mini Retina for this test and review, presented no issues whatsoever. And, I was especially pleased (and relieved) to see this.
My friend also brought up the (very real) and very relevant concern; one of safety - The safety of, and risks involved, when bat detecting using an iOS device (which thieves find attractive).
On this point, I am in agreement with my friend, an experienced Bat Pro (in The UK). In regards to bat detecting, the concern was "...walking around with a £300+ iPhone or iPad out in the open, plus the detector...nice chance you will be mugged!"
When considering the prospect, of performing your bat detecting in the field: You must use your discretion, and common sense.
The vast majority, of traditional "stand-alone" (hand-held) bat detectors can easily pass for: An AM radio, a radio scanner, an (inexpensive) MP3 player (i.e. The Batango), or some homemade gadget (in the case of bottom-of-the-range detectors). Nothing too conspicuous, in other words.
Fortunately, there are many places, where one may do some bat detecting, without the risk of being mugged. This, I can practically guarantee - It simply requires a bit of forethought on your part. Be safe.
Concern was also expressed, in regards to potentially dropping (and damaging) your iOS device while bat detecting. However, this is easily remedied by safeguarding your iOS device, with an appropriate protective case. There are currently a wide selection of iOS device covers available, providing various levels of protection. Many not only provide very good protection, but may be had for under $20 US Dollars.
The final concern, was in respect to the future. Basically, the future of both the Echo Meter Touch and of Apple's iOS devices. My friend, was concerned that perhaps "...the detector will only be useful for the time period you have a current iPhone/iPad device for..."Luckily, this is far from the actual case. The reality is, that The EM Touch can (and will) roll with whatever changes come. Simply because that is the kind of device it is. The ability to be dynamic, and easily adaptable is one of it's main strong points. It is sure to continue to grow, develop (and change, if need be) right alongside the iOS devices that it interfaces with.
Now that these concerns have been addressed, I can continue working on Part 2 (the final installment) of this Echo Meter Touch review. To be posted soon...
EM Touch From Wildlife Acoustics - Part 2 of 2
As we've established, in Part 1 of this review, the ideal buyer for The new Echo Meter Touch, would be someone who already owns a compatible Apple iOS device.
This product is also good for someone who prefers a bat detector, which has the ability to constantly improve. This is accomplished, via The EM Touch Software -and- Firmware updates. These will be released regularly, from Wildlife Acoustics.
Further good news, is that (as with other iOS Apps) you will be prompted/notified, directly on your Apple device. So, there are no worries about missing or overlooking an e-mailed Newsletter.
The following, are conclusions which I've reached, after using The Echo Meter Touch (with iPad mini Retina) for almost a month now.
So far, I've confirmed The Echo Meter Touch recording bats from a distance of just over 20 Meters. Fairly impressive for a bat detector in this price class. However, I have a feeling that it will be able to pick up bats from even greater distances.Therefore, I will continue to test the EM Touch, to determine the outer limit of it's recording range.
Just a bit more testing, in a different location should corroborate this for me.
The distance at which a bat detector can detect and/or record bats, has always been one of the most important factors (for me). This is the case whenever I evaluate any bat detector.
The GPS performance is absolutely wonderful! Thanks to the constant access to Google Earth/Maps. I have not seen a GPS system this accurate, since Elekon's Batlogger M.
Thanks again to Internet access, the live (and recorded) GPS' accuracy seems to be just a hair more precise than even The Batlogger's. For example - When doing some simple bat detecting from within a home: The Batlogger M almost "knew" which room of the house you were in. With The EM Touch, it actually does "know" exactly which room the unit is in.
This observation simply illustrates just how accurate the GPS is. By default, the exact location of The EM Touch+iOS device is represented by a pale blue dot. I was pleasantly surprised by it's accuracy. And those performing Transects will be too!
Many people already own a compatible iOS device, so the only purchase necessary, is The EM Touch unit itself. The Echo Meter Touch software is free; and very easy to use.
It possesses almost all of the most desirable features in a bat detector: The ability to monitor, record, playback, and identify bats; all via finger-taps on your iOS device. Being coupled to a modern & dynamic iOS device, and being a fully upgradeable bit of hardware itself, are both desirable traits. Both halves of this EM Touch system, are dynamic.
Cannot charge/plug-in The iPad while the EM Touch is in use - There would be an advantage to this: Whenever the Echo Meter Touch is used from inside a house.The microphone sensitivity cannot be adjusted.The Trigger threshold cannot be modified/set.
*The interesting thing, about the issues in the above list of Cons, is that at least two of them can (and may) be reconciled via firmware updates. Specifically, the Microphone sensitivity adjustment and Trigger threshold setting. Once again, it's hard to ignore the flexibility (and possibilities) of The Echo Meter Touch.