Review: Pulsar Nova model 45 noise meter and analyzer software
The meter is really a combination of two distinct parts, the physical Nova Model 45 meter and the AnalyzerPlus software used to manage and review the results, both of which work together to make the whole product. Each of them is pretty useless without the other so to determine how the Nova noise meter performs, the AnalyzerPlus software has to be looked at as well. Which is a shame as aside from some design niggles, the physical meter seems pretty good, while the software, well, let's charitably say 'it'll be nice when they finish it'.
Pulsar AnalyzerPlus Software (v188.8.131.521)
This is used by the Nova Model 45 but also by a lot of the Pulsar noise meters. My overall impression of the software, which is necessary to really operate this and other noise meters properly, is 'not good'. It is rather clunky and you often end up having to find work-arounds, with most of its behaviours just being down to poor design and poor execution. In use it's not very intuitive and has so many bugs and flaws that you do have to wonder if Pulsar actually got it tested by anyone with fresh eyes who wasn't involved in its development and therefore already familiar with how it's supposed to work.
The old separate Analyzer and dBLink programs it replaced were more reliable and did the job better than this attempt to update it with more features. It's not all bad and the idea of having the same software manage the data from both the Model 45 noise meter and the doseBadge reader is a good step forwards, but in the process some of the functionality has been put back a long way. Bugs exist which mean parts of the software just don't work, through to irritations which build up the more the software is used.
When I got the Nova Model 45 noise meter I was concerned that when I used it, the AnalyzerPlus software told me the last factory calibration wasn't a few weeks before I received it but was in fact back in January 1970. I sent it back to Pulsar who had a look at it and told me everything was perfectly fine and it was 'working correctly'.
The AnalyzerPlus screenshot below is for a job a couple of weeks ago where the factory calibration date still says 1st January 1970. Pulsar say this is 'working correctly'. No Pulsar, it (as a combination of meter and software) isn't.
Pulsar AnalyzerPlus Database Management
I'm sure this side of the software is great if you have one site where you are conducting noise assessments, as you have one database with one set of results, but if you are a consultant going into three or four different companies a week the last thing you want is all the data in one massive file. By the end of the year you would have one database with maybe 150 different companies' data in it, and the number of results would be into the thousands. So you need a separate database per company and that's one area where the system is just rather clunky. For downloading a new set of results into a new database the system is:
Open the software. Wait for the interminable 'check for updates'.
It opens with sample data.
Go to File > Select Database and select 'create new'.
Give it a name, and save it. But does it open it, even though you clearly want to work with that one? No.
The 'Databases' window you now have open is useless and nothing there opens the new database you created. You can click on anything but nothing I've found opens the new one. So close it again.
Now go to File > Open and browse to your new database and open it there.
Connect the noise meter and wait for the AnalyzerPlus software to find it, which can be from ten seconds or so all the way up to 'has it died again and just not told me'. Even just something saying 'connecting' would be nice so at least you know it is actually doing something rather than sitting there twiddling its e-thumbs.
Hearing Protector Data
This is a real biggie for me, probably one of the two main flaws which kills the AnalyzerPlus software and unless Pulsar fix it I would not buy another Pulsar noise meter which used this AnalyzerPlus software. Until it is fixed I would also recommend nobody else buys into any Pulsar device which uses it either as it cripples key functionality of the Pulsar Nova Model 45 meter. I can work around the other issues but this one really hinders the service a noise consultant can give to clients without some really long-winded manual work-arounds.
One of the main outcomes of a noise assessment is the identification of suitable hearing protection for the noise risks measured, using octave bands. The software will do this, which is one of the key reasons I bought this in the first place, and gives you a list of suitable hearing protection for the measurement selected.
THE ORIGINAL LIST
The original list of hearing protection is, not to be over the top, absolute rubbish. The scope of the included protectors is very limited and for some the same protectors are listed repeatedly three or four times, just bulking it out in different pack sizes. If you take all the repeat ones out you are left with very little actual variety. I suspect they got a work experience kid, gave them an hour to get whatever data they could find in that time then called it quits.
Creating a decent list takes time, but it's not hard as the hearing protector data page on this site shows. Not all the protectors there have full APV data as some manufacturers make it very hard to find, but there are still many more than Pulsar bothered to put in the AnalyzerPlus software.
As well as this repeat-entry nonsense, the quality control of the rest is just woeful and if you use it in any client reports without editing it you will look totally amateur. Small stuff but small stuff matters, They call EAR protectors EAR, and E.A.R. Sometimes muffs are muffs, sometimes muffs are ‘Defs’. Or ‘defs’. Sometimes the product is the product name, sometimes it is the manufacturer+product name. Sometimes all the words are run together into one, sometimes separate out. Sometimes including part codes, sometimes none. Sometimes standards are EN352-1, sometimes En352. It is absolute rubbish, and frankly just careless. I would be genuinely embarrassed to include it in the form it is given in the software.
ADDING NEW NAMES
So the list is a bit rubbish, but that's fair enough - I can still live with that and just add your own data to it, which is what I always did with old versions of the Analyzer software from years ago. Back then there was a simple .csv file in the Analyzer software which you could update to add or remove protectors, and importantly, which you could then copy to other computers you may also use, so all have the same data on them, and to keep a backup of. But not any more.
Now you right click the list of protectors and from there can add or remove individual types, or edit existing ones. But... only on that install of the software! So if you use a laptop when out and about and then a desktop when back at your office you are out of luck - either double enter everything, or end up with different lists on different computers. And if you have an employee or colleague who may also do noise assessments and they use a different laptop to analyse the data from the meter then there is no way to get the updated information to them.
To add insult to the already huge annoyance, the software checks interminably for updates with monotonous regularity. But if you do update, all the changes you made to the hearing protection information are lost and it's back to square one again! So you either have to try and not update the software (which given presumably some of the updates are for security, is a bad thing), or live with your carefully updated hearing protector list getting wiped out with every update as there is no way to backup the list to then add it back into the updated software.
These issues around the hearing protection, more than any others on this review, have been the ones which caused the most swearing, have cumulatively resulted in more hours of work when doing reports, and came the closest to the meter being sent back. It really exemplifies just how half-arsed the AnalyzerPlus software is sometimes and, alongside the constant crashing on generating any report, would absolutely stop me recommending any meter using the AnalyzerPlus software to anyone until this is fixed.
Multiple tab opening
This is more an irritation than a problem, but when closing the software, always close all open tabs of results. If you don't, when you next open it, even with a different database, it keeps opening the same number of tabs of data again, whether you want them there or not. Every time you open a new result, add details like naming it or adding notes, press enter or close it to save it, and back spring however many tabs you had open when you last closed it. Not a problem, but bloody irritating.
AnalyzerPlus folders and scrolling
Assuming you have the full set of Pulsar tools, including the hand-held meters and some doseBadges, then the software handles both for you. This is a huge improvement on the old system of the doseBadges and hand-held meters having their own separate software and means you can keep all the data for one set of results together, no matter which tool was used to gather it.
There is an issue with doseBadges though in that you get a huge set of folders of data to scroll through.
One folder gives you all the doseBage results for that session, great, but then loads of other folders are created which contain individual items or pairs of doseBadge results that are simple repeats of the main folder containing all of them. They are completely unnecessary and just get in the way.
IIrritating on a 27" desktop but at least the window can be made large on there to minimise scrolling, but hugely annoying on the limited screen of a laptop.
Inability to generate ANY reports
That's not just some reports, this is ANY reports. For example, click on 'reports', then 'summary', press 'generate report', then press 'preview' and the software crashes. Or press 'save' and the software crashes. Do anything, and the software crashes.
You get a window asking if you want to submit an error report, then it just shuts down. It doesn't matter if I use the install on my desktop or laptop, exactly the same happens.
Same if you try and generate a report on suitable hearing protection, an octave band report, anything - as soon as you press 'preview' or 'save', it shuts down.
It works fine with the demonstration software that AnalyzerPlus comes with at install, but on not one single occasion has it worked on my own measurement data. This is not anything to do with my setup (Windows 8.1 on my laptop and Windows 10 on my desktop, both running in Parallels on a Mac). As it is only generating a PDF report or saving to the Windows desktop it should still not be a problem, running in Parallels or not. And far more critically, the fact it works with the demo data but not with the actual measurement data clearly lays the fault at something within the software rather than the export process, otherwise it wouldn't work for anything.
This is a serious flaw in the software and alongside the hearing protection, is one which would stop me recommending anyone buys noise meters reliant on the AnalyzerPlus software until it is fixed.
Pulsar Nova Model 45 Meter itself
The Nova meter itself is nice, and coming to it from a near-decade old Pulsar Model 30 meter it is a huge step forwards. The display is excellent and the fact it does all the various measurements at once rather than separately as the old Model 30 did is a huge huge benefit. Not all is joy though:
Pulsar Nova batteries and battery compartment
Noise meters need replaceable batteries as you can guarantee they will run out just when you don’t want them to part-way through a job. Rechargeable batteries are no good for this and the Nova accommodates it nicely with a large battery compartment on the back for a bank of AA batteries. But, and again you knew there was going to be a ‘but’, whomever decided that good design would be to have the battery compartment held shut by a bloody screw needs taking out the back by the bins and giving a good slapping! What possible benefit does one screw holding it shut bring compared to just a squeezable clip? My old Model 30 lasted ten years with a clip-shut back and never failed once. Now, when the batteries fail you have to dig out the God-awful Pulsar-logo'd mini round screwdriver thing they include, which is the most unergonomic, user-unfriendly, fiddly bit of anger-inducing arsing design ever. I hate it! It offers zero benefit while just needlessly making a twenty second job into a fiddly one.
Oh, and after about two months of use, the plastic around the screw is starting to peel away already. I give it 18 months tops before that screw is no longer capable of holding the back in place.
Which brings me to the closely related...
Protruding power button
It's a nice bit of design - a soft-touch power button which smoothly turns the meter on and off with just a gentle press. Lovely.
Back in the real world of conducting a noise assessment however you aren’t standing there with a noise meter perfectly positioned in your hand 100% of the time. Somehow you have to make notes as you do it, including during a measurement itself - what was the person doing at various times so you can later relate what they were doing back to the exposure chart? Did something happen at a specific point in time which will impact the result - such as someone dropping a pallet into place? A fork lift passing and beeping? A motor which kicked in at a specific time and made a significant impact on the noise levels? There are 1001 things which may happen during a measurement which you need to make a note of, maybe to exclude from results, or to highlight an engineering issue which can be looked at to reduce overall noise levels. Whatever the reason, you need to make notes as you go, which means at times not standing there perfectly positioned but balancing the noise meter in one hand, with a notepad over the body of it, taking care not to move the meter away from the ideal position too much and definitely not to influence the result by tapping the meter body or stem, while holding the pen in the other hand to write notes with. Which you do. And the notepad presses ever so gently against that soft-touch power button for a couple of seconds or more. You finish writing the notes, look back at the meter and the bloody thing has turned off mid-measurement!
So you swear, turn it on again, start the measurement again, and now the sodding meter wants to be calibrated again as it has been turned off and on again and it is incapable of remembering it was calibrated an hour ago!
From this point forwards, for any measurements you do the meter will swear blind it has not been calibrated before that session, even if you only did it an hour earlier. This would be passable if it wasn't so easy to accidentally turn the Model 45 meter off.
Recalibrating there and then isn't always an option either Mr Pulsar before you pop up and say to do that. In the last month I have done noise assessments in six food production sites. That means changing clothes and scrubbing in every single time, so if the meter decides it now needs calibration again then that's not a quick 'just pop back and calibrate it again' thing.
That button is nice bit of design which looks and feels good to press, but it is pretty poor design in the real world of a noise assessment, to the point I am trying to find plastic things I can glue to either side of it to make it into a recessed button and so impossible to press accidentally. Just what you want to do on something you spent a few thousand pounds on only three months or so earlier.
Another big flaw on the design is that when the meter is on it is always measuring. You can’t have it turned on but just on stand-by, if it is on it is measuring and as a result it chews through batteries like nothing I’ve used before. Which nicely goes back to the idiotic sodding design of the battery compartment and that bloody screw access which you now need to access even more.
It also means that should you need to put it down, for example to pop it in a bag while you are using doseBadges and their reader unit, as the other keys also protrude and it is already on and measuring, it very easily starts up a measurement in your bag so you get it out again to find its been recording for the last quarter of an hour. Again, chewing through batteries.
God help you if you pause work for lunch or something as you can’t pause the meter so it’s always reading and using power, and you can’t turn it off or it forgets it has been calibrated that session already!
Being able to pause it or something without turning it off would be a massive improvement, (not just going into standby when it's ready - trust me Mr Pulsar, put it in a bag as you are using the doseBadge reader or something and that gives enough accidental key presses to keep it awake). Or being able to turn it off with it being smart enough to then realise when it comes back on that it's been calibrated that day.
The base of the unit is enclosed by a rubber/silicone thing which pushes into the recess to cover the various ports on the bottom of the meter and is held in place by a rubber proddy bit.
Or to be more accurate, for the first two weeks of owning it there was a rubber cover enclosing them, after which it came off (it does this extremely easily as the proddy thing is only a thin bit of rubber about 5mm wide) and that was it, it’s never fitted back on the meter since.
This one is not a fault or flaw and is just my personal preference, but I really don’t like the fact the meter automatically calibrates itself when you pop the calibration unit on top. I don’t trust that to work indefinitely and would really much prefer manual control and the ability to change the offset myself in calibration.
Pulsar Nova Model 45 and AnalyzerPlus Summary
In a nutshell, physically the Pulsar Model 45 is a good unit, with a couple of design flaws but otherwise nice to use and a good step forward over the old meters.
Software-wise however, the AnalyzerPlus is a half-baked, unfinished disaster. Rather than doing a few things well, the current version does many things often poorly. As the AnalyzerPlus software is so tightly integrated to the Pulsar meters and provides all the post-measurement functionality, it is in effect one product, and as such, the software is so bad currently that the recommendation has to be to not buy any Pulsar products which rely on the AnalyzerPlus software.
The software needs to stop trying to do so much - it offers 101 ways to organise results but omits anything resembling quality on the basics.
This noise meter is not a cheap product and much much better is expected of it and the software which gives it its functionality and that is severely limited and very very poor.
All the serious flaws above I have already brought to Pulsar's attention, but aside from some reassuring words the problems remain. Pulsar promise and update is coming and hopefully that will fix it, and if so I will update this review with the performance of the new software, but if you can't wait until then, buy elsewhere.