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 its 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 [4 years from Wildlife Services].
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. 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. 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.
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 its 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: recording performance, sensitivity, technical details, etc., etc.
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): 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.
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. 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.
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
Pros: 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)
Cons: 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.