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Dollar Store Parabolic Microphone

Paint Roller umbrella hat
     This project started with a paint roller handle and one of those silly folding plastic umbrella hats shown above. Both came from a local store where everything is a dollar. I just added a short length of 9/32" brass tubing and a Radio Shack 33-3028 Stereo Clip-On Microphone. The whole process took about an hour and cost less than $20.00. Radio Shack has discontinued (and discounted) this great little microphone. It now costs about $16.00 if you can find it.
     Theoretically, one could make this parabolic mic with only dollar store items. I recently noticed they were selling a "hands-free" extension for a cell phone. One could cannibalize the mic from that and use it instead of the Radio Shack mic. The sound would probably be unsatisfactory but as a $3.00 exercise for kids, it cannot be beat. The dollar stores also carry headphones for  . . . you guessed it, $1.00.
Even the glove holding the paint roller handle came from the same store.
     If you find this interesting and decide to try one of these you can find more detailed and updated instructions at the Instructables website.  It is also featured in Make Magazine, Volume 14.  Make has published a video version of the project too. If you decide to make one, I would love to hear about your experiences. Email me.  Jim Lee

The Assembled Mic

The Finished Microphone   
      It looks pretty good, weighs practically nothing, and disassembles easily. This paint roller handle is actually adjustable. Just a twist of the handle and it extends up to 19 inches. The umbrella itself opens to about 19 inches in diameter. It is necessary to remove the headband and punch a hole in the very top for the handle. Otherwise, no modificatons to the umbrella  are needed. As for the handle, remove the plastic roller holders, file off the little burrs that hold them on,  and you are in business.

    I used the beam from a laser level pointed at the umbrella from a distance to determine the approximate focal point of the parabola (such as it is). A flashlight would probably work just as well. Because the umbrella is not a perfect parabola, the focal point is a little fuzzy. Nevertheless it works.

So what does it sound like?
     I made a recording using two identical microphones, one mounted in the parabolic rig and one held next to it. The parabolic mic was sent to the left channel of my MD recorder. The other mic was sent to the right channel. I pointed both in the direction of an obliging squirrel perched in a tree about thirty yards away. There was also a murder of crows located about sixty yards away in the same direction. At some point a cardinal decides to make a cameo appearance. As you can tell, I live in an urban area with lots of urban sounds. Here are the results converted to 128kbps-44.1kHz mp3s. Compare the strong sound of the squirrel on recording (2) with the much weaker sound of the same squirrel on recording (3). Listen to (4) for a side by side comparison.

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