Whether recording distant animals in the outdoors, ambience in hard to reach places, or clean audio from across a sports field, parabolic microphones are an invaluable tool. From the dish to the mic itself, these parabolic systems allow us to capture distant sounds cleary, keeping us at a safe distance from the sound sources themselves.
Let's discuss the top performing parabolic microphones along with the criteria that make a great parabolic microphone in this article.
Note that this article is about the microphone itself in a parabolic microphone system. To see my top recommended parabolic mic dishes, click here.
Top 2 Parabolic Microphone Recommendations:
- Sennheiser MKE2: The Sennheiser MKE2 is an industry favourite for use with a parabolic dish and deserves the top recommendation. This omnidirectional lavalier mic sounds great in any size parabolic dish, yield a high-quality audio capture that is limited more by the dish than the mic itself.
- Countryman B3: The Countryman B3 is another terrific microphone and an industry favourite for parabolic dishes. This omnidirectional lav comes with 3 protective caps that alter its high-frequency response, making it very versatile for use with different dish sizes and parabolic applications.
What Makes A Great Parabolic Microphone?
- Lavalier microphone: Lavalier mics make the best parabolic mics because they are lightweight, easily protected, uncoloured (when omnidirectional), resistant to wind and moisture (more so than larger mics), and highly sensitive.
- Omnidirectional polar pattern: Although parabolic mic/dish systems are directional, the best microphones for these systems are omnidirectional. An uncoloured omnidirectional mic will effectively capture all the sound wave reflections within the parabolic disk, which is designed to bounce the waves toward the centre mic positioning.
- Flat/extended frequency response: Choose a mic with a flat frequency resposne frCommon parabolic mics applications (ambient, sports or security audio) benefit from a frequency response that covers the range of human hearing.
- High sensitivity rating: Picking a microphone with a higher sensitivy rating will help capture stronger sounds from a distance. Sensitive mics are preferred since parabolic mics capture the reflections of sounds rather than direct sounds themselves.
- Size: Select a microphone that fits easily in the centre of a parabolic dish.
- Durability: Choose a parabolic microphone that works well in a variety of weather conditions and that is built to withstand the various conditions it may be subjected to in the field.
Let's discuss each of our top parabolic mics in terms of the above criteria.
The Sennheiser MKE2
The Sennheiser MKE2, like many mics that function well as parabolic mics, is marketed as a lavalier microphone. It is a lightweight sub-miniature omnidirectional mic with specifications that suit parabolic applications beautifully. Its trademarked ultralight Umbrella Diaphragm is designed to protect the MKE2 from sweat and from moisture in outdoor environments.
Before getting into the criteria that make the Sennheiser MKE2 such a great parabolic mic, let's take a look at the product variants:
So as we can see above, there's a lot of variation in the output connection of the MKE2. The MKE 2-ew Gold is by far the most common, so let's touch on this variation in the next few paragraphs.
Output Connection Options Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The MKE2-ew Gold has a lockable 3.5 mm plug connector and is designed for use with many of Sennheiser's (and other manufacturers) wireless transmitters). Often times it's highly beneficial to run a parabolic mic wirelessly. It frees up the parabolic operator to roam freely without worrying about carrying a tripping hazard behind him.
The compatible transmitters are all capable of supplying the MKE2 with the proper bias voltage (7.5 VDC) in order to charge the tiny electronics within the mic. Ensure the bias voltage matches when using other wireless transmitters to avoid permanently damaging the MKE2 and its cable.
But what if we're going wired? An XLR connection would be nice.
As for XLR I personally have had trouble finding any dealers of the MKE2 P-C. I'm unsure about Sennheiser's role in this. Either way, a 3.5mm to 3-pin XLR adapter seems like the way to go to give the MKE2 an XLR output.
Caution must be taken here to properly power the MKE2. Full pahntom power from a mixer or preamp will likely fry the microphone. Sennheiser offers the MZA 900 P phantom power adaptor to solve this issue. The MZA 900 P takes in phantom power from a mixer or preamp and sends the correct bias voltage to the MKE2. This is the safest way of using the MKE2 with an XLR output.
For more information on powering microphones, check out my article Do Microphones Need Power To Function Properly?
Okay, now that those details are out of the way, let's get into the reasons why the MKE2 is such a great parabolic mic:
Polar Pattern Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The Sennheiser MKE2 is an omnidirectional lavalier mic. The omnidirectional polar pattern of the MKE2 allows it to pick up all the reflections from within the parabolic dish with practically no colouration or drop in signal strength. This is ideal for capturing the most natural sound possible and for reproducing strong audio signals from distant sound sources.
For more information on the omnidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Frequency Response Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The Sennheiser MKE2 has a frequency response range of 20 – 20000 Hz +- 3 dB. This is fairly flat across the entire range of human hearing, which greatly benefits the sound reproduction of our parabolic mic signal.
Sennheiser goes above and beyond with the MKE2 by having 4 different grille/cover options. Each grille/cover alters the upper frequency range of the MKE2 ever so slightly, as is showin in the following frequency response graphs:
Note that because the MKE2 is marketed as a lavalier mic, the mic positions of the above frequency response graphs are all on someone's person.
Placing the MKE2 in the center of a parabolic dish will likely yield a response similar to the second (flattest) graph show above. The parabolic dish will reflect sound waves directly into the capsule of the MKE2. Though these are reflections, they still hit the mic “on-axis,” and therefore the MKE2's response in the second graph will most closely represent the response of the MKE2 as a parabolic mic.
That being said, the flat response is great for capturing a natural sound. Experiment with the mic covers to find the upper frequency response that sounds the best to you in the specific parabolic mic application.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
Sensitivity Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The sensitivity rating of the Sennheiser MKE2 is given as 5 mV/Pa +- 3 dB in (free field, no load (1 kHz)). Though this level is very low for a condenser capsule, it doesn't necessarily tell us the true senstivity of the MKE2.
The capsule of the MKE2 is small but reacts accurately to sound in all directions. By this definition, we could say that the MKE2 is actually quite sensitive, which is ultimately what we're after in a parabolic microphone.
For more information on microphone capsules, check out my article What Is A Microphone Capsule? (Plus Top 3 Most Popular Capsules).
The MKE2 has an equivalent noise level of 26 dBA. This is also quite high but considering the ambient noise parabolic microphones typically find themselves surrounded by, it's not a big deal. 26 dBA would be concerning in a studio setting but not in the field.
Size Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The Sennheiser MKE2 is a very small lavalier microphone with the following dimensions and weight:
- Diameter: 0.16″ (4mm)
- Length: 0.28″ (7mm)
- Cable length: 5'3″ (1.6m)
- Weight: 0.6 oz (17 g)
As we can see, the Senneheiser MKE2 is extremely small and lightweight, making it practically negligible compared to the size and wieght of a parabolic dish. The cable length of the MKE2 allow its positioning in even the largest dishes without worry of needing an extension cable.
Durability Of The Sennheiser MKE2
The Sennheiser MKE2 is built to last. It's strong for its size and it's very unlikely the mic with suffer any physical trauma when positioned in a parabolic dish set up. Sennheiser uses its trademarked Umbrella Diaphragm technology in the MKE2, making it practically sweatproof and capable of withstanding very moist outdoor conditions (though I wouldn't call the microphone completely waterproof).
The Countryman B3
The Countryman B3 is an industry leading lavalier microphone. Like the Sennheiser MKE2, it works wonderfully in a parabolic microphone set up. This miniature omnidirectional microphone comes in a plethora of styles and specifications. Countryman will manufacture their B3 microphones to order, allowing the customer to select from multiple options in sensitivity, output connection, and colour.
The Countryman B3 is featured in My New Microphone's 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones).
Before getting into the discussion on why the B3 is such an awesome parabolic mic, let's talk about Countryman's versatile manufacturing.
Output Connection Options Of The Countryman B3
When purchasing the B3 from Countryman, you'll be prompted to input the following information:
- Brand: In brand you'll choose either hardwired (XLR output connector), or you'll choose one of the many popular wireless microphone transmitter brands.
- Model: If you chose to go wireless with the B3 and have chosen the bran of wireless transmitter you'll be using, Countryman will prompt you for the specific model of the transmitter. Countryman will manufacture their microphone specifically for your situation.
- Color: There are a variety of colours to choose from. This is more important when using the B3 as a lav on performers. Black should be a good option for the B3 as a parabolic mic.
- Sensitivity: Finally you can choose between mid gain for theatre head miking or standard gain for practically everything else, including use as a parabolic mic.
Once submitted, you'll receive a Countryman B3 designed specifically for your scenario. Proper powering (phantom powering for hardwired or transmitter specific powering if wireless) and connections will be fully taken care of. Then it'll be time to fit the B3 into the parabolic dish system and start recording!
Now let's discuss why the B3 is such a great parabolic mic.
Polar Pattern Of The Countryman B3
The Countryman B3 is an omnidirectional microphone. As you'd expect, its polar pattern graph looks like this:
The omnidirectional pickup allows the B3 to capture all the reflections within the parabolic dish evenly. This yields a very natural capture of distant sound sources.
Frequency Response Of The Countryman B3
The Countryman B3 has a frequency response range across the human range of hearing (20 Hz – 20,000 Hz). Here is a graphical representation of the B3's frequency responses.
The Countryman B3, like many high-end lavalier mics, comes with multiple caps (mic covers) that influence its high-end response. Depending on the situation, try experimenting with the caps to hear which one sounds best in your specific parabolic dish.
Other than the variation in the high-end response, we see that the frequency response of the B3 is very flat across the low and mid frequency ranges. This is great news when trying to capture a natural sounding signal from our parabolic dishes (which is practically always the case).
Sensitivity Of The Countryman B3
As mentioned previously, the Countryman B3 comes in two option for sensitivity:
- W4 (most uses): 12.0 mV/Pascal (-38 dB re 1V/Pa)
- W5 (head mics): 4.0 mV/Pascal (-48 dB re 1V/Pa)
For parabolic use, we'll go with 12.0 mV/Pascal. This is a decently high sensitivity rating and the B3 will reproduce a strong signal from the reflected sound within the parabolic dish.
But more important than the sensitivity rating on the B3's specifications sheet is the way it picks up sound. The extra small diaphragm of the B3 is extremely responsive to sound pressure variations. This is critical for capturing the nuanced and distant sound in a parabolic mic system. The Countryman B3 is more than accurate enough to reproduce a beautiful sound from the disc reflections.
The B3's self-noise rating of 24 dBA is practically unnoticeable.
Size Of The Countryman B3
The Countryman B3 is tiny and easily protected in most parabolic dishes. The mic capsule itself is 0.23″(5.8mm) long x 0.18″ (4.6mm) in diameter and weighs 0.012 oz (0.34 g). That is incredibly small.
Durability Of The Countryman B3
The B3 is completely water-resistant, making it very durable in harsh weather condition. When using the B3 as a parabolic mic, it's typically well protected in the framing of the parabolic dish. These two factors make the microphone extremely durable and able to last for a long time.
So there you have it, my top two recommendation for choosing a parabolic microphone. Again, here are my top two choices:
- Sennheiser MKE2: An excellent lavalier-style parabolic microphone.
- Countryman B3: Another excellent lav mic that is built to your specific needs.
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.