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Monday, 15 December 2014

Elekon: Batscanner Stereo

So, at this current time there are several new bat detectors which have been recently released or are soon to be released. One of those is Swiss manufacturer's Elekon's new offering, the new Batscanner Stereo. Yes, that's right, a bat detector which gives you an output in stereo!

Please note: that the Batscanner Stereo model I show in the photographs here is of a prototype model and so there are slight changes in the final manufactured units.

The Batscanner Stereo has built upon the great features present within the Batscanner but now gives the user an enhanced experience with stereo output, the choice to tune manually or use the automatic detection and tuning mode along with additional menu features and noise reduction.

As with the Batscanner the Batscanner Stereo is extremely easy to use, you simply take it out of the box and press the power button on. Giving some time to read the manual allows the user to find and use the new menu features and to switch between tuning modes. Both Batscanner models are compact, lightweight and shaped to fit comfortably in the hand. There is a an in-built speaker and a headphone jack and a very handy and useful wrist loop for extra security of the unit. It is powered by 3 AAA batteries (rechargeable batteries can also be used) and the operating time is very good with around 20+ hours available. The batteries are changed by undoing a screwed on panel on the reverse of the unit.

Used in the automatic detection and tuning mode it works similarly to the Batscanner. It picks up bat passes and displays the peak frequency. I have found that in locations with several different species I still manage to hear all of the bats and the screen display switches between the peak frequencies as the different species pass. This assists along with the sound to identify most species in the field. 

Used in the manual mode you can tune the frequency by repeatedly pressing the up (large speaker symbol) and down (small speaker symbol) buttons. With new menu options it is also possible to set a minimum and maximum frequency (between 15 and 120kHz), so the detector will only pick up bat calls between those frequencies. This can be useful where you have crickets creating noise at a similar frequency, also by pressing the power button once it eliminates lower frequency continual cricket noise but will still pick up if for example a noctule flys by :)

When you first turn the device on it starts in automatic mode, to switch between automatic and manual mode simply press the up and down buttons together and a light will show on the LED screen next to M or A signifying which mode the detector is now in.

The great new innovative feature of this detector is the ability to hear bats in stereo. So, now when you are standing until late in the evening listening to bats but not being able to see them you can still tell which direction they are flying in or in which direction they are foraging etc. When using the in-built speaker you are informed of the direction through two LED lights on the screen above the letters L and R, in turn you can tell which direction the bat was first heard from or is travelling to. In order to fully enjoy this new feature I recommend using headphones, this way you gain full advantage of the stereo experience with sound moving from one ear to the other. This is a wonderful experience (a bit like having a surround sound system) and once you have that pleasure you will always turn to this detector for your bat walks. With the use of headphones you can choose (through the option menu) whether to retain the LED lights on screen or to turn these off and just enjoy the stereo sound.

The Batscanner Stereo is equipped with two small electret condenser microphones positioned on either side of the detector case, these are omni-directional. Unlike the Batscanner, these are fixed into the device and so are not replaceable. However, this type of microphone has a good level of water resistance and its positioning within the case gives it a certain level of protection. The quality of the microphones and the digital heterodyne converter creates a warm rich clear sound.

The volume of the unit has 5 settings, the lower volume settings are quieter than that of the Batscanner unit but this is beneficial to the Batscanner Stereo. To fully enjoy the stereo effect it is best to use headphones. In turn, if you are in a noisy environment such as near a road or simply a public space where you need to be able to hear what is happening in your surroundings as well as the detector, you need the volume to be slightly quieter in order to remain safe. With both headphones in and even on the lowest of the volume settings you can still hear the detector perfectly and can hear what is occurring in the background around you.

Another change to the Batscanner Stereo model is the ability to disable/enable the 30 minute automatic off timer. With this option enabled the device will automatically power off after 30 minutes. With it disabled the unit will only power off when the power button is pressed and held for over 1 second.

In low light situations I find the white buttons easy to use and due to the limited number of buttons (only 3) you don't find yourself altering options without choosing to.

I have used and demonstrated the Batscanner Stereo in a range of situations and would recommend its use in a wide range of activities, from bat walks and talks, commercial surveys (alongside a Batlogger and/or Batlogger M), roost counts, waterway surveys, field surveys etc. It is a device that I would not be without and it suits both the bat enthusiast as well as the professional with features which are beneficial to both users. I gain most enjoyment out of using it on those fun nights off when I get the time to just go and enjoy bats and can fully become immersed in the stereo sound, I feel it almost makes you feel like you have really entered the bats world and can understand how they may sound to each other as they do their fly by's (you have to experience it to believe it). On a commercial basis have you ever stood around or been walking a transect with your bulky recording device or detector and been making note of bat passes with no idea where they have come or where they are going because its just too dark to see? Well, now you don't have to have that frustration, you can still use your recording devices (or Batlogger etc) to make the necessary species records for post survey analysis but you can have a small, lightweight, high quality device which actually informs you as to which way bats are travelling, very useful data and rather neat! 

In terms of choosing between the Batscanner and the Batscanner Stereo, I simply couldn't. They each have their place for a variety of uses and users. It simply depends on how you are mainly going to use the detector and for what purpose.

This product is innovative and provides something that no other currently does, I feel this is what Elekon stands for and work towards, (once again) well done Elekon!

Review written by Sally-Ann Hurry