Quiet that Quadcopter!
Unless you’ve spent the last several years living under a large soundproof rock, you’ve probably seen (and heard), the remote controlled airborne drones known as quadcopters. These devices come in all shapes and sizes and they range in price, sophistication and carrying capacity. The smallest are no more than inexpensive toys while professional versions can sport powerful high definition cameras, precision guidance and flight controls.
Entry level quadcopters are fairly easy to learn to fly. With a few hours of practice even a novice can become proficient. The more sophisticated ones come with tons of features, for example the Return to Base mode causes the unit return to a specific location whenever it loses contact with its controller or is low on battery power. Professional models are also equipped with highly accurate sensors and GPS. Many can be controlled from your smart phone as well as stream live video directly to the screen.
Modern quadcopters can lift fairly heavy loads, and as anyone with half an eye on the news can attest, they are being employed by many businesses to deliver packages, drinks, medical supplies and even pizza on a daily basis. Pro models been used to shoot amazing panorama and action scenes in many of your favorite movies and online videos.
An emerging trend in this hobby-sport is use of quadcopters for nature observations. Drones would seem to be ideal devices to spot birds in flight or during migration, not to mention animals that dwell in the forest canopy or really any type of remote nature photography. The challenge that quadcopters face in these environments is noise.
Quadcopter videos that can be found online are almost always silent or have an appropriate music bed. The resulting videos are often breathtakingly beautiful. But if you were actually present when these videos were being shot you would likely have wanted to shoot the producers instead. The reason is that the copters themselves create noise, and it can be incredibly loud and annoying in some cases.
Large multi-rotor camera copters (some having as many as eight individual rotors) sound like the angriest swarm of giant robot killer bees that you’ve ever heard. Most folks instinctively shy away from anything that sounds like a giant swarm of angry insects. Animals and birds are just as reactive to bee swarms as we are. Noisy quadcopters cause the animals that are being observed to act in unnatural ways.
Part of this is of course just due to the physics of flight. You have a rapidly spinning propeller that is producing highly turbulent and in some cases actual cavitation. This turbulence and cavitation cause chaotic disruption of the air nearest to the prop and our ears detect these disruptions as high pitched buzzing.
In the case of a quad or multi-rotor air vehicle the problem gets worse. Not only does each of the props create additional noise but the combination of the sounds can actually add up. Multiple props cause both resonance and a set of harmonic frequencies that can be detected by our ears. This resonance and high pitched sound can be frightening to animals. Clearly you want the quietest model you can get, so here are the top seven picks gleaned from hobbyist and professional user’s experiences.
The Top 7 Quietest Quadcopters
The quadcopters listed below have been rated as being the quietest. Noise is subjective and they may or may not be appropriate for your specific application.
This top-of the line professional model quadcopter comes in several configurations. There is a popular starter kit which includes everything needed to setup a professional machine. This latest in the DJI line has Active Avoidance which allows the drone to automatically avoid obstacles when returning to its base location. It has a great top speed of over 40 mph and provides over 28 minutes of flight time per battery charge. The effective operating range is up to 3 kilometers. Kits can be bought that contain additional batteries, quick chargers and a neat compact carrying case. Two sets of props are provided.
The Phantom 3 Pro is hands down the best all-around off-the-shelf quadcopter kit for the demanding professional. The unit features 4K Ultra High Definition video recording and stabilized 3 axis gimbal camera mounts and vibration damping for rock solid independently controlled videography and still shots. Both GPS and GLONASS satellite constellations are supported with precision timing and positioning for outdoor operations. For indoor flights an ultrasonic sensor is employed to avoid walls and other obstacles. The unit provides live streaming 720p HD video with full 4K HD recorded to an onboard micro SD card. This unit has been rated quiet by several hobbyist websites.
The DM003 from E-Wonderful is a low cost all-in-one Quadcopter that has been rated quiet by its many users. This unit is a basic model with a 2.4 GHz RC type controller and only 6-8 minutes of flight time. Its effective control range is about 300 feet. The unit is compact and portable and can be deployed in minutes. The low noise props allow the operation to be less distracting than more powerful drone copters. This is a great beginner unit, allowing a novice to become proficient in flight skills without risking a lot of money and annoying the neighbors. The unit performs very well in windy conditions and features a ‘headless mode’ allowing pilots to maintain orientation more easily.
Built for the avid hobbyist who wants a high performance unit at an affordable price the Phantom 2 from DJI is a quiet unit that comes with many of the features of its more expensive brethren. Add you own camera (not included with this model) and you can start filming and streaming terrific videos in moments. Unit has the same noise profile as the DJI 4 and 3 models.
The model that made DJI a household name this unit is reaching the end of the manufacturer’s product lifecycle but is still available from many sources including Amazon. Featuring an integrated 14MP camera with built in 1080p HD video recording on a micro SD card. This model also features live first-person view streaming over WiFi and it is fully supported on both iOS and Android based devices. A Wi-Fi extender is included and provides a clear signal up to 980 feet away. Flight time is up to 25 minutes per charge. This unit does not include a mount for a user supplied external camera, included camera only.
Another all-in-one professional model, this quadcopter unit is comparable in price to the DJI 3 pro. The Yuneec Q500 has be expressly designed for both aerial videography and still shots – providing beautiful 4K / 1080p120 video resolution captured to its on-board SD storage card. The unit also streams video to its touchscreen equipped base station and allows fingertip flight control. The unit is factory assembled, and loaded with an updateable no-fly database for safe and hassle-free operation in crowded areas. Six 6 CW and CCW balanced propeller pairs are included for reliable and quiet flight. Flight time on a fully charged batter is approximately 25 minutes.
The QX3 from Blade is another great hobbyist grade quadcopter. This unit does not come with a built in camera but it is compatible with the most popular models of aftermarket cameras available today. The 350 QX3 is very easy to fly and is suitable for an intermediate or novice who wants to learn on a powerful and sophisticated machine. The unit has GPS for fine position sensing and great hovering ability. Blade’s SAFE (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope), feature allows a novice to be guided by the units built in software such that flights are both efficient and well setup for capturing great video images with only a few clicks. Maximum range is about 500 meters and the unit will fly for fifteen minutes on a full charge
Almost all the hobby and professional sites recommend that drone users experiment with different types of aftermarket props to find the quietest combination that will still provide adequate performance and lift capability. Almost all of the noise created by any drone is due to prop balance, vibration and cavitation. Minimizing these sources of noise by properly balancing your props, ensuring the props are extremely smooth and clean and that they are made out of high-quality materials, (such as carbon fiber) will provide the best experience and lowest noise profile. Happy flying!