How to Build a Parabolic Microphone

Written by kurt schanaman
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Nature lovers everywhere enjoy the sounds of birds, crickets, frogs and other wildlife. But many just can't seem to get enough, and you might just be one of those individuals who want to capture the beauty without scaring away your tiny subjects. This requires the ability to stand from a distance, with a directional parabolic microphone system that targets the sound while blocking surrounding noise. Thankfully, you can build a very effective parabolic system in a low-tech fashion.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Umbrella at least twenty inches in diameter
  • Duct tape
  • Razor knife
  • Plastic zip ties
  • One-inch-diameter dowel rod, three feet long
  • Cardioid microphone, lapel pin sized
  • Audio recorder with headphone jack
  • Headphones

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  1. 1

    Open an umbrella, holding it so one of the support ribs points toward the ground and another points straight up, with the handle facing away from you.

  2. 2

    Cut four pieces of duct tape, each piece in the length of four inches long. While looking at the top of the umbrella, note how you can see where the ribs raise the fabric on the inside of the umbrella. Place one piece of tape vertically over the top of the spindle so two inches of the tape cover the lower part of the upper rib protrusion and the upper part of the lower rib protrusion. The centre spindle should lie at the exact centre of the tape. Apply one more piece of tape on the top rib protrusion so the bottom edge of the tape rests against the top of the centre spindle, and apply one more piece of tape on the bottom rib protrusion so the top edge of the tape rests against the bottom of the centre spindle. Apply the fourth piece of tape exactly centred over the centre spindle, just as you did with the first piece of tape. Two pieces of tape should span the spindle with the rib protrusions bisecting the tape down the centre length of each piece, one piece of tape should span above the centre spindle with the rib protrusion through its centre, and one piece should lie below the centre spindle so you can see the rib protrusion raising its centre.

  3. 3

    Measure one inch above the centre spindle, along the visible rib protrusion seen through the tape, and then cut two adjacent vertical half-inch-long slits through the tape and the umbrella fabric using a razor knife---one slit exactly half an inch to the left of the rib protrusion and the other exactly half an inch to the right of the rib protrusion. Cut one more set of vertical slits another two inches above the first set, so you have two sets of slits above the centre spindle. Cut two pairs of vertical slits below the centre spindle using the same measurements.

  4. 4

    "Fish-hook" zipper ties through each set of slits/piece of tape so that each tie loops around the metal rib on the inside of the umbrella. The two ends of each zipper tie end should stick out the top of the umbrella.

  5. 5

    Hold the dowel along the rib so that a four-inch length extends above the centre spindle and the rest of its length lies below the centre spindle. Close the zip tie ends around the wooden dowel and zip them closed tightly, forming a sturdy handle.

  6. 6

    Connect your microphone to the umbrella's handle (not the wooden exterior handle) using an additional zip tie so the microphone head itself points toward the curved interior of the umbrella, and slip the microphone plug through one of the holes in the umbrella fabric where one of the zip ties loops through. Zip tie the microphone wire along the umbrella's metal handle to prevent snagging the wire on trees or brush.

  7. 7

    Connect the microphone wire and your set of headphones to your audio recorder. Aim the parabolic microphone toward your first subject, and enjoy your naturally amplified recording abilities.

Tips and warnings

  • Use duct tape rather than any other tape. Duct tape reinforces the material where you cut the slits and will prevent the wire ties from ripping through the fabric of the umbrella.

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