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Shotgun or Parabola

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Old Sunday 19th August 2018, 19:32   #1
egm
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Shotgun or Parabola

I have been recording bird audio for a while now and I am looking to up my game with an external microphone. I have found very little information online, however, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of shotgun and parabolic setups. I was wondering if any of you audio lovers out there could provide me with both what setup you use (microphone model, recorder model, etc), and the pros and cons of shotgun and parabolic microphones. Thanks!
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Old Sunday 19th August 2018, 22:49   #2
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Hi egm,

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Originally Posted by egm View Post
I was wondering if any of you audio lovers out there could provide me with both what setup you use (microphone model, recorder model, etc), and the pros and cons of shotgun and parabolic microphones. Thanks!
Not that I ever got to that stage myself, but Bergmann/Helb/Baumann note in "Die Stimmen der Vögel Europas" that most of the audio samples in their collection were run through a high pass filter cutting off everything below 1000 Hz to get rid of background noise.

My understanding when I looked into this a couple of years back was that parabolic reflectors offer the greatest advantages at lower frequencies than that, so I concluded that probably I could get away without one.

I sort of got distracted before getting serious about recording birds, so I actually tried neither shotgun nor parabolic microphone. I'm looking forward to learn more about both types here :-)

Regards,

Henning
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Old Monday 20th August 2018, 08:55   #3
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My advice would be to try a shotgun first. They tend to be cheaper, and they're certainly more portable. If you find after a couple of years that you want to step up to a parabola (as they are invariably better than a shotgun mic), you always can if you know the weight, and unwieldiness isn't going to put you off using it.
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Old Monday 20th August 2018, 10:26   #4
iveljay
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There are comparison videos on the internet that give some idea of the benefits of parabolic mic systems.

While shotgun mics were not designed to be used as long range devices (most are used over relatively short distances to suppress sounds other than one person speaking to camera), the better ones are certainly easier to use than a parabolic reflector.

Parabolic systems can operate at lower gain, reducing noise or have more useful range and are far more directional, excluding most unwanted other sounds other than the dreaded wind.

It is possible to build a parabolic system cheaply yourself and they work, however, its hassle, it probably won't be as good as a commercially produced item and it will be a pain to lug around with you. I tried it once.

So all the advice folks have given above is correct, however, just because a shotgun is advertised as professional quality merely means it will work well over 10-20 feet at moderate gain, i.e. film or reportage use, not necessarily good enough for bird use.

Read other threads in this forum and you will find most folks have standardised on the same basic shotgun microphone system as it gives good results over the range you want at higher gain with minimal noise. Its worth spending on the right mic as it will last a long time if you buy right first time, like camera lenses. In most cases they are more important than the camera body or audio recorder(within reason).

Get Audacity or other free/cheap audio software to do any other necessary post recording clean up.

A shotgun setup is easier to carry around, is quicker to set up and you will get useable recordings. A good parabolic system is a pain to lug around, more critical to set up and will cost you more but has the potential to get cleaner recordings. It is occasionally essential but for most people it isn't.

Have fun.

Last edited by iveljay : Monday 20th August 2018 at 10:29.
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 13:20   #5
Borjam
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Quote:
Originally Posted by egm View Post
I have been recording bird audio for a while now and I am looking to up my game with an external microphone. I have found very little information online, however, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of shotgun and parabolic setups. I was wondering if any of you audio lovers out there could provide me with both what setup you use (microphone model, recorder model, etc), and the pros and cons of shotgun and parabolic microphones. Thanks!
Well, it depends on your purposes. If you need the cleanest possible recording of a somewhat distant bird, only a parabolic reflector will achieve that.

If, however, you just want to record that bird you are hearing with a reasonable quality, even if there are other distractions in your recording, a good shotgun will work. If you can hear it decently, the shotgun will generally give a reasonable result.

Shotguns come, as usual, in lots of different prices. The most popular affordable shotgun for nature recording is the Sennheiser ME66/K6 combination. It is very sensitive and it has a very low inherent self noise. Many professionals will say that it's too bright and harsh sounding, but that's not much of a problem to record birds.

Other shotguns are either much more expensive or too poor. For example, I own an AKG SE300B+CK98 combo (it's a modular system, like the Sennheiser) and it's fine, but it's both less sensitive and noisier than the Sennheiser.

Recorder: My first choice right now is the Sound Devices MixPre 3. It has amazing preamplifiers and a lot of gain. Moreover, it has one of the best headphone amplifiers in this industry. Which is very important because otherwise you won't be sure what you did record until you arrive home and check it.

The closest runner would be the Zoom F4, but the headphone amplifier is not so good.

If you buy the MixPre 3 (I own one and I love it) remember to buy Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA batteries and their charger. I have three sets. Low noise analog electronics with high gain need power.

Don't forget a wind shield and suspension for the microphone, though. Currently I am happy with the Rode Blimp. It's expensive but more affordable than the other more professional brands (Rycote and Cinela) and despite that it's surprisingly good.

Headphones: Two popular choices are the veteran industry standards: Sony MDR-7506 or Sennheiser HD-25. I have had good results with Ultrasone HFI-650 (now discontinued, but there are equivalent models in their lineup).

The price of the Sony is hard to beat anyway. Just make sure to buy them from a reputable dealer because it's a good target for counterfeiters.

Last edited by Borjam : Tuesday 21st August 2018 at 13:27.
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 13:49   #6
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Hi Borja,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Borjam View Post
Well, it depends on your purposes. If you need the cleanest possible recording of a somewhat distant bird, only a parabolic reflector will achieve that.
I recently found a 3D printable parabolic reflector for use with smartphones:

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2888690

It seems the creator is not entirely serious about using it in practice, but I'm wondering ... could this work?

I have to admit that it looks a bit like his reflector surface being spherical rather than parabolic, I haven't downloaded the file to check it.

What size would a parabolic reflector have to have to be effective for recording bird songs? Probably there's some kind of gain over wavelength to reflector radius ratio?

Hey, I still have this unbuilt bat detector kit ... that will probably work with a real small reflector :-)

Regards,

Henning
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 14:00   #7
Borjam
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
I recently found a 3D printable parabolic reflector for use with smartphones:

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2888690

It seems the creator is not entirely serious about using it in practice, but I'm wondering ... could this work?

I have to admit that it looks a bit like his reflector surface being spherical rather than parabolic, I haven't downloaded the file to check it.

What size would a parabolic reflector have to have to be effective for recording bird songs? Probably there's some kind of gain over wavelength to reflector radius ratio?
It's well covered here

http://www.montana.edu/rmaher/public...r_aac_0805.pdf

The size of the reflector must be significant compared to the wavelength. So you can see that the gain is heavily dependent on wavelength.

For many bird calls you would be fine with good gain starting at 1 KHz.

I think professional recordists use dishes with a diameter of around 60 cm. Not very portable :) And remember that more directional means harder to point properly at the subject.

I am tempted to try the Rode NTG8 microphone which is still a shotgun
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 14:23   #8
Hauksen
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Hi Borja,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Borjam View Post
It's well covered here

http://www.montana.edu/rmaher/public...r_aac_0805.pdf

The size of the reflector must be significant compared to the wavelength. So you can see that the gain is heavily dependent on wavelength.
Thanks a lot, just what I needed! I had been wondering about focal length, too :-)

Regards,

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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 14:36   #9
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Anyway I would most certainly avoid handling such a device in certain..ahem.. EMR... ahemmmmm sensitive environments

It's too similar to a deadly antenna, you know!
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 17:03   #10
Hauksen
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Hi Borjam,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Borjam View Post
It's too similar to a deadly antenna, you know!
Martian ray gun! :-D

I have to admit that the weirdness factor of running around with a parabola microphone actually crossed my mind. Probably not a factor if you're out in the real wilderness, but in densely populated Germany ... hmm ...

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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 19:15   #11
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Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post

I have to admit that the weirdness factor of running around with a parabola microphone actually crossed my mind. Probably not a factor if you're out in the real wilderness, but in densely populated Germany ... hmm ...
I would just tell people you are scanning for signs of alien life...

Seriously, though, thank you so much to everyone for the detailed and helpful responses, they are much appreciated. It sounds like a shotgun microphone is a better option for me.
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 19:26   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Borjam View Post
Recorder: My first choice right now is the Sound Devices MixPre 3. It has amazing preamplifiers and a lot of gain. Moreover, it has one of the best headphone amplifiers in this industry. Which is very important because otherwise you won't be sure what you did record until you arrive home and check it.

The closest runner would be the Zoom F4, but the headphone amplifier is not so good.

If you buy the MixPre 3 (I own one and I love it) remember to buy Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA batteries and their charger. I have three sets. Low noise analog electronics with high gain need power.
On another note, are there any cheaper options for a recorder that still work reasonably well for their price point or can compare to the options you have listed? Or do the cheaper options not work very well in the field?
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Old Tuesday 21st August 2018, 19:29   #13
Hauksen
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Hi egm,

Quote:
Originally Posted by egm View Post
I would just tell people you are scanning for signs of alien life...
LOL! Good one ... I can see me wandering around, pointing the reflector at people I disapprove of, mumbling "no signs of intelligent life"! :-D

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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2018, 06:44   #14
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On another note, are there any cheaper options for a recorder that still work reasonably well for their price point or can compare to the options you have listed? Or do the cheaper options not work very well in the field?
I always recommend to stick to recorders with professional XLR microphone inputs. That means they are compatible with professional microphones. 3.5 mm jack inputs are always trickier. And noise performance is critical when recording often weak nature sounds.

There are some of them. In my opinion the MixPre and the F4 are the best options now but I agree, they are expensive. However, three years ago achieving that kind of performance was only possible with recorders in the 2000€+ range. Zoom shattered the prices for high performance recorders and Sound Devices followed suit with a really amazing line up.

If you are willing to risk the second hand market, you can get a Fostex FR-2LE or a Tascam HD-P2 for 200 - 250 euro. Both units still have very good microphone preamps, although the headphone output in the Fostex recorder is awful. I know because I own one. Downsides of both: Compact Flash media is expensive and, well, they are old.

The Tascam DR-100mkiii and the DR-70D are quite good as well. The DR-70D doubles as an excellent audio recorder in case you want to record video with a DSLR. Between both, the DR-100mkiii has better noise performance.

There is a very good comparison chart here:
https://www.avisoft.com/recordertests.htm

I see that they keep it up to date, they added the MixPre recently. They mention the MicPre-3M model, which is better suited for musicians. It's cheaper but it lacks some features most useful for field recordists which are present in the MixPre-3.
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2018, 07:09   #15
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My experience is all in micing humans, so no direct help. But I did read the Audubon article some time ago, and it's advice is largely what was said. Shotgun for mid-tier, parabolic for high-tier setup. Their recommended parabolic is a 22" at $840 USD. They also had some pointers on a DIY.
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2018, 07:46   #16
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My experience is all in micing humans, so no direct help. But I did read the Audubon article some time ago, and it's advice is largely what was said. Shotgun for mid-tier, parabolic for high-tier setup. Their recommended parabolic is a 22" at $840 USD. They also had some pointers on a DIY.
Very good article, although outdated regarding the recorder choice. The $3000 Nagra won't be better than the $800 MixPre 3 right now. The Nagra has other advantages that don't apply here.

The release of the Zoom F4 and F8 and the Sound Devices MixPre-3, 6 and 10 series have really changed the game.
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Old Thursday 30th August 2018, 19:48   #17
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I chose my recording equipment with these parameters:

-Finished setup as small, lightweight, and robust as possible while not compromising quality too much
-Sennheiser ME66 mic as there's nothing better without getting larger/more expensive
-Small recorder
-Good battery life
-Visual clip indication
-Pre-recording buffer
-Physical buttons not a touch screen

For the recorder I chose the Sony PCM-M10 and use an XLR - 1/8" cable (there are a few pinouts for these cables, make sure you do your research before buying).

I don't use a pistol grip, I just use the shockmount with the pistol detached. I use the smallest actually decent windsock there is (Rycote of some sort don't remember the model).

It's not as good as a parabolic mic into a better recorder, but the possible quality is probably 90-95% of the possible quality of a better setup. Those last 5-10% are expensive and heavy. Good field technique and getting closer to the bird/source is more important than the equipment in a lot of cases. I get good recordings most of the time. The whole setup is very lightweight, fits into a waterproof belt bag that measures about 12"x5"x3", and the battery lasts several days.

In the end I am quite happy with the setup and if I wanted to record more seriously a parabolic mic would be a bigger upgrade than the recorder in many situations - the noise rejection of the parabola is far greater than the noise floor difference among recorders. Unless you are quite close to a bird with very little background noise, most of the time a good parabolic mic into a cel phone will produce a better recording than a shotgun mic into a professional recorder.
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