NHBS: In The Field – Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic Microphone

Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic Microphone

Parabolic microphone dishes are a great tool for wildlife recording. They offer directional recording by isolating and amplifying sounds within a narrow band (in front of the microphone) without the addition of excessive self-noise (the noise created by the microphone when sounds are artificially amplified). This means that even very quiet sounds can be heard clearly from a distance. These systems are particularly popular for pinpointing birdsong and producing clear and sharp recordings, although they can be used to record any wildlife.

The Hi-Sound is a parabolic dish ideal for wildlife recording

We tested the Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic Microphone which features a set microphone sensors separated by a baffle to create stereo recordings. Stereo recordings are more immersive and realistic than mono recordings as they accurately reproduce sounds coming from different directions. Each microphone sensor has excellent performance and increases the gain (volume) of recordings whilst keeping the self-noise low, meaning your recordings will remain clean and crisp.

Hi-Sound setup diagram

Setting Up

The Hi-Sound is easy to put together and is powered through plug-in-power (where the power is supplied through an attached recording device). We paired the Hi-Sound with the Tascam DR-05X portable handheld recorder and a pair of standard, good quality headphones. Our settings on the Tascam were:

Mic Power: On (very important! If your recording device does not detect the microphone, double-check this setting is on)

Low Cut: 80Hz (this removes some of the inherent noise at the lower frequencies)

Pre Rec: Off (you may want this on if you are recording wildlife that you might miss. When on, the Tascam will record the previous two seconds before ‘record’ was pressed)

Auto Tone: Off

We chose a still, dry day to test this microphone. For optimal recording, it is useful to go somewhere away from roads or background noise. For example, we took the Hi-Sound into a bird hide and although it picked up a wader call beautifully, it also picked up the floorboard creaks, coat ruffles and binocular case velcro from everybody else in the hide. You’ll be amazed at how much background sound there is in what you thought was a quiet setting!

We tested the Hi-Sound along a riverside walk to record the sounds of the water and how different noises could be pinpointed by aiming the parabolic dish. We also went to some quieter locations to record birdsong and compared recordings between using the Hi-Sound and just using the inbuilt Tascam microphone showing the benefits of this parabolic dish.

What we found

The Hi-Sound produced much cleaner, crisper sound and made recording specific bird calls a lot easier. Aiming the parabolic dish correctly took a bit of practice but once mastered, it was incredibly useful for pinpointing a bird, even if we weren’t able to see it. The clear plastic dish helped with this as without it, most of our view would have been obstructed. The stereo aspect of the recordings also made it a lot easier to track birds if they moved. 

It was fascinating to aim the Hi-sound at different points along a river in order to pinpoint different sounds. This demonstrated how good the dish was at isolating sounds from the narrow band in front of the microphone.

Our Opinion

The Hi-Sound is a fantastic piece of kit for wildlife recording. Although the cost of a parabolic microphone can be a significant leap from a standard handheld recorder, their performance and ability to isolate calls and sounds make the investment well worth it.

The Hi-Sound was particularly good at amplifying very quiet calls or calls from a long distance away without adding noise or compromising on recording quality. This is something that the Tascam just wasn’t able to do by itself. The microphone is easy to use, although perhaps not as easy to transport due to its size and shape. 

We feel that the Hi-Sound will impress both the wildlife recording beginner and the entry-level professional.  The Hi-Sound completely transforms a walk through nature, providing a whole new element to bird watching. If you have never thought about wildlife recording before, I would urge you strongly to do so. It is a rewarding and captivating hobby that is definitely enhanced with the use of a parabolic microphone such as the Hi-Sound. If you are a professional who regularly records, then the Hi-Sound would be valuable to refine your recordings and produce excellent quality audio.


The Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic Microphone is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of sound recorders and microphones, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on wildlife recording or would like some advice on the microphone for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913

Introduction to sound recording

NHBS Equipment Specialist Johnny Mitchell, explains the ins and outs of acoustic recording in the field and highlights key equipment items to get you started.

 

In recent years advances in portable recording equipment have led to an increase in the exploration of listening as a method of engaging with as well as studying the natural world. This blog looks at a number of different equipment options across a range of budgets and objectives while briefly outlining some of the main technical considerations.

Equipment and Technical considerations

For those interested in having a go at sound recording a handheld recorder is a great starting point and  Tascam have some great entry level options such as the DR-05 and DR-40 both of which allow you to record uncompressed audio. The advantage of this method is that the recorders are highly portable and require very little set up – invaluable if you’re out and need something that can be used at a moments notice.

Tascam DR-05

The built-in microphones will not compete with a professional external microphone and if recording becomes more than a passing interest dedicated microphones can be a great way to optimise your setup for specific recordings. We cover a few of the microphones in our range below with a quick guide to their application. The right recorder should have a logical menu system and inputs that allow for a suitable upgrade path via the connection of external microphones.

Audio Technica AT8022 X/Y Stereo Microphone

I personally enjoy the use of stereo microphones for capturing the ambience of entire soundscapes. The Rode NT4 Stereo Microphone or Audio Technica AT8022 X/Y Stereo Microphone are both great options for this, which contain two microphone capsules in a portable housing.  Both models are examples of condenser microphones which will require external power to function. To provide this, look for a recorder that has XLR inputs and an option to turn on phantom power; the Tascam Dr-40 would be a suitable choice in this instance.

Rode NT4 Stereo Microphon

There are also several options designed exclusively for use in the field. A common type makes use of a parabolic dish, effectively acting as a kind of audio zoom lens making them useful for focusing in on a particular sound-source. Some of these systems require a different type of power known as plug-in power so you’ll need a recorder able to supply this via a 3.5mm mic/line input as found on the Tascam DR-05.

Telinga PRO-X Parabolic Microphone System

The Hi-sound  and Telinga PRO-X systems are good examples of plug-in powered parabolic systems. If your recorder does not have plug-in power, you can use an XLR to PiP adaptor. This connects to the XLR outputs on your recorder and converts the phantom power produced by the recorder to plug-in power which can run the microphone.

Before heading out make sure you have adequate wind protection for your microphones, as even a slight breeze can ruin a recording if it’s not what you’re after! – Parabolic windshields  – Tascam DR-05 windshield .

Parabolic windshields

Finally, we feature static recording devices such as the SM4 Acoustic from Wildlife Acoustics and the Bar-LT from Frontier Labs.  These waterproof units feature built in omni-directional microphones and can be secured to any suitable surface. The long deployment times and scheduling functions make these ideal for long-term bioacoustic studies.

Song Meter SM4 Acoustic Recorder

In the field

To test a small cross section of equipment, I headed to a small forest within the Dartmoor National Park to capture the distinctive call of the Common Cuckoo, armed with a Tascam DR-40,  XLR to PiP adaptor, Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic system and a Wildlife Acoustics SM4 Acoustic recorder.

I initially walked a narrow path that cut through a steep section of woodland, at this point the cuckoos could be heard faintly calling from lower down in the valley. Locating a suitable tree easily accessible from the path, I decided to deploy the SM4. The SM4 has been designed to be exceptionally quick to set up straight out of the box and for this field test, I set it to ‘always record’ and secured it in place with a Python Mini Cable Lock.

Static recorder in place, I then used the Tascam DR-40 whilst walking through the woodlands to capture the changing soundscapes as I moved away from the sound of the river and closer to the open moor.

Tascam DR-40 in the field

The DR-40 has a clear front facing screen that is easy to read in all light levels, pressing the record button once arms the unit allowing you to see and hear the recording levels. A good pair of headphones is recommended for use with this unit as they are susceptible to a certain amount of handling noise.

I then connected the parabolic to the Hi-Sound parabolic to the Tascam using the XLR to PiP adapter.

Dropping off the path I headed towards the middle of the wood where the Cuckoos could be heard calling in the distance. The high directionality of the parabolic microphone was excellent allowing me to pick out individuals among the woodland birds present.

Late in the evening whilst preparing to pack up I was rewarded with a fantastic display as several cuckoos alighted on the trees around me, a recording of which is included below.

Summary

I highly recommend getting out and exploring natural soundscapes in your local area, especially at this time of year. As with any piece of equipment it takes a few trips to really get a feel of what they’re capable of, but any one of these items could become a reliable piece of gear for your sonic explorations.

To view our full range of sound recording equipment please visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on our sound recording range or would like some advice on the best set-up for your project please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Further Reading:

Listening In The Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong
Hardback | May 2018
£18.99 £26.99

Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.

The Sound Approach to Birding: A Guide to Understanding Bird Sound
Hardback | Dec 2006
£29.95

 

In The Field: The Art of Field Recording
Hardback | May 2018
£11.99

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.