Introduction: Dollar Store Parabolic Mic

Picture of Dollar Store Parabolic Mic

This is a ridiculously easy way to build a very functional parabolic microphone using mostly items purchased from one of those stores where everything is a dollar. Check out the original design at: .Dollar Store Parabolic Microphone

Step 1: Gathering Your Materials.

Picture of Gathering Your Materials.

First, gather all the materials you will need. This is very easy. In fact, this whole project is so easy you almost don't even have to have the instructable.

Find a small folding umbrella hat, a regular nine inch paint roller handle, and small microphone. Make sure the umbrella hat is vinyl and not fabric. Fabric is too acoustically transparent and will not reflect the sound properly. Just about any small microphone will do as long as it is reasonably sensitive. Here I am using a stereo "Clip-On" mic from Radio Shack (33-3028).

You will also need a few tools and supplies. This is basic stuff. Get a hammer, side cutter, sharp knife, razor saw, permanent marker, some gaffer's tape, and a few cable ties. The reamer is optional. A file might come in handy. So might a small laser pointer of some sort.

That's it!

A little note for "dollar store purists:"

It is possible to build this whole thing using only components from the dollar store. Many of them sell small earbud headphones that can function like microphones, albeit very poor ones. The also sell little hands-free headsets for cell phones. Those have real microphones in them. They will require a little surgery to work but a dollar store purist won't mind. Using either of these options will give you a true $3 parabolic mic

Step 2: Let's Prepare the Parabolic Part

Picture of Let's Prepare the Parabolic Part

The first thing to do is get rid of the hat band part of the umbrella hat. Use the side cutters to snip away the plastic holders.

Step 3: Make a Hole for the Handle

Picture of Make a Hole for the Handle

Next, take a look at the very top of the umbrella hat. See that little knob? Slice it off with your razor saw and clean up the hole with a reamer or sharp knife as needed.

Done? Then the parabolic part is almost complete. I told you this was easy.

Step 4: Finish the Parabolic Dish

Picture of Finish the Parabolic Dish

Now, cut a small triangular piece of the gaffer's tape and place it on the outside of the umbrella hat, near the center. Make a couple of small incisions in the tape and umbrella vinyl to form a cross. This will be the reinforced hole through which the microphone wire will pass.

Step 5: Preparing the Handle

Picture of Preparing the Handle

Ok, now let's make the handle. All you have to do is remove the plastic caps and wire frame that hold the paint roller on the handle. Here is where you use the hammer. A couple of good whacks and the job is done. You may have to file away some small burrs on the shaft but otherwise, this step is done!

Is this easy or what?

Step 6: Insert the Handle Into the Umbrella

Picture of Insert the Handle Into the Umbrella

Now just push the shaft of the paint roller handle through the hole in the top of the umbrella hat so that it protrudes about six inches into the interior. Be careful to leave about half an inch between the bend of the handle and the outer surface of the umbrella.

Once the handle is in place, wrap a piece of gaffer's tape (any kind of tape will do) around the handle and secure it with a cable tie. This will keep the handle from slipping back and mark its position.

Then wrap the inside of the shaft with a piece of tape as well. This will provide a gripping surface for the microphone itself.

Step 7: Install the Microphone

Picture of Install the Microphone

This couldn't be any easier. Just clip the microphone to the shaft and thread the mic cable through the reinforced hole. Secure the cable with a few cable ties to make it neat and you are almost ready to go. Make sure the microphone is facing inward toward the umbrella as shown in the photo below. The idea is to have the microphone pick up the reflected sound from the umbrella, not the direct sound from the target source.

You want to place the microphone as close to the focal point of the parabolic reflector as possible. There are several ways of doing this. First of all remember, this is a plastic umbrella, not a scientifically designed parabola! The focal point is going to be a bit fuzzy, to say the least. So here are a some possibilities from the most complicated to the simplest.

1) Point a laser beam at the umbrella from a distance. You should be able to see where it reflects onto the shaft. Mark that point with a permanent marker (that is why it is in the materials list). Repeat the process several times until you are satisfied that you have identified the general region of focus.

2) Plug the mic cable into a recording device, put on some headphones, point the parabolic mic toward a small sound source (a ticking clock is good), and move the microphone along the shaft until you get the loudest sound.

3)Just take my word for it. Place the mic about three inches, give or take half an inch, from the inside surface of the umbrella. Of course this will vary depending on what kind of umbrella hat you decided to use.

Step 8: Voila! There You Have It!

Picture of Voila! There You Have It!

Add a few cable ties to anchor the mic cable and make it look neater and you are all done.

Step 9: Take It for a Test Ride

Picture of Take It for a Test Ride

Plug your new parabolic mic into the microphone input of your favorite recorder. Use headphones to monitor your work. Then point it at something interesting. You are in for a pleasant surprise. Try recording the same sound without the parabolic set up.

Haven't made one yet? Hey, that's okay. I did it for you. Here is a link to an '''a short MP3 file''' that lets you hear how well it works. First you will hear a recording of a growling squirrel with the mic element by itself followed by the same squirrel recorded with the parabolic set up. That is followed by a similar sequence recording a cardinal chirping in the distance, first without the parabolic setup, then with it. The segments are separated by short tones. I think the differences are pretty amazing.

So, make one for yourself and let me know how it comes out.


HackShack (author)2017-05-14

I personally would recommend a line level pre-amp.

Pablokeller (author)2016-02-16

I really appreciate your workk

paulinegarc (author)2015-02-15

What is the conclusion of this study?

apburner (author)paulinegarc2015-05-28

What part of the instructable leads you to believe it is a study of any kind. I is just and acoustical amplifier. Though it is a great idea and would make a very good one. I am sure that jurtle has no intention of making a scientific study of something that has been studied to death before. Good job on the instructable Jurtle.

jurtle (author)paulinegarc2015-02-15

You draw your own conclusion based on whatever you think the "study" you refer to is all about. There is no study as far as I am concerned.

paulinegarc (author)2015-02-15

Uhmmm What is the difference between recording a sound with and without a parabolic microphone?

jurtle (author)paulinegarc2015-02-15

Here is a link to an '''a short MP3 file'''
that lets you hear how well it works. First you will hear a recording
of a growling squirrel with the mic element by itself followed by the
same squirrel recorded with the parabolic set up.

jurtle (author)2015-02-01

I am not sure what you are asking about. I have not written any research papers about the device.

eGadgetGuy (author)2014-09-22

Sooo. I tried this with a cloth [lighting reflector] umbrella and there was NO difference in the sound with and without the umbrella.

I guess I need to find a plastic one.

jurtle (author)eGadgetGuy2014-09-22

The fabric umbrella may be optically opaque but it is acoustically transparent. There is no reflection there. The plastic ones, even if they are optically transparent, are reflective of sound.

Infomasters (author)2013-03-09

Thanks for the useful feedback.

Infomasters (author)2013-03-09

I hooked up a headset with boom mic to my Sony ICD-B600 recorder. Tests fine for recording from the mic and for listening back through the headphones. But I can't hear in the headphones until after the event. What I need is to hear live, as it happens, not on playback from recording. Any ideas for that?

jurtle (author)Infomasters2013-03-09

I don't know that particular recorder but I assume it is one of Sony's small voice recorders. Many such recorders do not allow monitoring while recording so as to avoid any possibility of feedback. Unless your recorder has a live playback option, you may be out of luck. You might try splitting the mic output and running one leg into a small headphone amp but that is another piece of gear in the mix. I have a small Olympus voice recorder that does allow real time monitoring. Maybe a different recorder for you?

Falconldo (author)2012-07-18

Great idea, and sparked some great NFO in the discussion.

I found many hats on Amazon:

if that link doesn't work, here is a tiny URL to the same spot:

There are many that are Amazon Prime eligible... which means you get it in two days and no charge for shipping. IMHO, Prime is worth the yearly fee for that reason alone (it has changed the way I shop forever), but there are many other benefits. If someone you know (Dad) has prime, they may not know that they can put 3 other members on there account and get most of the perks.

Again, I love it!

jurtle (author)Falconldo2012-07-19

Thanks for the tip about finding hats online. Most of those I have looked at are made of nylon, not vinyl, so they are more acoustically transparent and not as effective as parabolic reflectors. That said, the nylon hats do work but with some slightly diminished performance. I have not done this but I think that a coating of clear varnish or some other kind of sealant might make all the difference.

integrator (author)2011-06-27

I wonder if I could figure out a way to make small whisper dishes, like you see at science centers and such? Two of them pointed at each other, you stand in front of them and talk into them, and the reflected sound is heard at the other one 50 or 100 feet away. If it's to small, you may block it though.

HomeProject (author)integrator2012-05-27

I first saw two such dishes at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, CA, in the early eighties. Each dish was about 6 feet in diameter. The effect was astonishing. Twenty-five years later I visited the old Roman city of Jerash in Jordan. The outdoor theater there is still in use today. Find a picture if you can. The horse-shoe shaped wall that encloses the "floor" area in front of the stage is carved all around with mini dishes that are about two feet in diameter and no more than about 6 inches deep, if I recall correctly. They work perfectly to transmit and amplify sound across the floor--at least 50 feet. According to our guide, they were used in Roman times as a novel way of trading gossip during performance events. This model suggest your idea could work. Good luck.

jurtle (author)integrator2011-06-27

All of the whisper dishes I have seen are fairly large, usually four feet or larger in diameter. They are passive devices and fixed in location. They tend to work better if the participants in conversation have their backs to each other. In general, the larger the dish, the larger the gain. Once you start getting into the smaller sizes, you will encounter the problem of less gain compounded by the acoustic "shadows" cast by the heads of the participants. If you built two active devices such as the one in this instructable, you could achieve the same effect, except that the communication would be electronically amplified (as well as reflectively amplified through the parabola). Simply have the two participants point their respective devices toward each other and chatter away. Unlike the ordinary whisper dish sets, these would not be fixed in location. and the participants would be facing each other.

Good luck with your experiments.

clibanarius (author)2012-05-07

So if you happened to have access to a shotgun mike, could you improve its performance by fitting it into one of these babies? I don't actually have a shotgun mike yet, so I'm not sure whether or not the two gadgets are compatible.

jurtle (author)clibanarius2012-05-07

No real advantage to be gained by pairing the two. They work in different ways. Shotguns actually work by excluding off axis sounds. They are directional because of that. Parabolics gather sound from a larger area (so to speak) and focus it toward a more or less single point. They are directional but for different reasons. You would be better off deciding which technology you wanted to use then try to optimize that one.

bigskyjack (author)2011-06-04

i like ur style! i made my own parabolic mic a while bak from 1 of those clip-lites for keeping chicks warm, just took out the bulb socket & replaced with a cork with a hole (chem lab style), ran a wooden dowel thru for the mic boom. for the tuning of the mic placement, i found i needed a distant, constant, 'white-noise' source, so i stuck a small transistor radio tuned between stations out the other side of the yard - worked perfectly - & ur rite, the human ear is by far the best sensor for that 'sweet spot' for the mic!

jurtle (author)bigskyjack2011-06-04

Thanks. I am glad the project resonated with you. I guess it is clear that I had a ball doing it and even more fun interacting with others who like the project.

KingOfCatfish (author)2011-03-14

I love this Instructable!
So you know those really crinkly emergency blankets that resemble foil? Would lining the inside of the umbrella (using spray adhesive or the like) with that help provide better sound? My reasoning with this thought was that the metal-like surface would reflect sound waves better than just the vinyl.

jurtle (author)KingOfCatfish2011-03-14

Glad you like the Instructable. It was fun to put together. As for lining the umbrella with the rescue blankets, I think you would get only marginal improvement if any at all. Those blankets are usually made of mylar, another plastic-like material. Adding another really thin layer of plastic (and glue) to the umbrella might make the whole thing slightly more rigid, thus making it slightly more reflective. My guess is that one would hardly be able to tell the difference in an A-B test. Don't confuse the shiny, almost mirror-like, look of the mylar with good acoustic reflectivity. It will make a much better reflector of light but not of sound.

KingOfCatfish (author)jurtle2011-03-15

Thank you for getting back to me. My eyes have now been opened, ha-ha. So I was looking at some pieces of Lexan that are at my house from another project and was wondering is forming it into a parabola would work. What do you think the outcome would be?

jurtle (author)KingOfCatfish2011-03-15

I assume you are talking about flat pieces of lexan. Yes, you can fabricate a parabolic reflector from that material. It will require some cutting and gluing. Here is a link that will get you started: Otherwise, just do a google search for something like "Make a parabolic reflector." Lots of idea out there. Good luck.

scraggy12 (author)2010-07-05

Hey , can I use an old direct tv dish?

jurtle (author)scraggy122010-07-05

Yes, but because the dish is so shallow, the focal point is farther away from the surface. It will work but you won't get as much gain. See an earlier comment/reply on this subject. Good luck

jacko622 (author)2010-05-11

Could you use a regular umbrella for this? 

jurtle (author)jacko6222010-05-11

There is a major difference in the configuration of the hat and a regular umbrella. In the case of the regular umbrella, there is the center shaft to contend with. Perhaps instead of removing it, one could re engineer it to be the on-axis mic support. That way you have a support for the ribs and a support for the mic. Then it would be a matter of configuring a handle for the device. Here is where your own builder/hacker/engineer self comes into play. Go for it.

dakellymon (author)2010-05-11

 Well done. Great idea.

wingo395 (author)2010-05-09

Oh one more thing - You showed in the photos but perhaps it is worth mentioning - you want the microphone element pointed IN to the center of the umbrella, not outwards.  This is to pick up all of the reflected sound bouncing off the surface of the umbrella and to the focal point.

jurtle (author)wingo3952010-05-09

Good call. I did show the mics facing inward in the photos but nothing is said about it in the text. I will probably amend to make the addition. Thanks for the input.

jurtle (author)jurtle2010-05-10

I have amended the text to point out that the mic should face inward toward the umbrella. Thanks for the input.

pyro ray (author)2010-05-09

Ok for those of you interested I found umbrella hats online for like 2.99 ea at a lot of places, from But they are made out of nylon. But you can also take a can of spray paint to the unbrella to close the "pores " of the nylon

jurtle (author)pyro ray2010-05-09

I have not tried that approach but I do think it would work. Anything you can do to reduce the acoustic transparency of the nylon fabric will help. That said, you can still get some detectable isolation of the sound source, even with an untreated nylon umbrella. You might be surprised.

ilpug (author)jurtle2010-05-10

 use metallic spraypaint to boost the reflectivity of the umbrella... you could even use aluminum foil to line the umbrella. i used a coat of metallic stove black high-heat paint and used a full can... several coats helped alot. i have used these for getting audio on films, and they work great.

wingo395 (author)2010-05-09

Very nice project!  If you really want to get accurate (as accurate as possible given the flexible nature of the umbrella hat), you can calculate the focal point.  All you need to know is the diameter of the dish and the depth of it.

A simple google search will turn up oodles of info:

I once bought a parabolic dish (without the mic) from a college, and I bought a very sensitive electret microphone (electets have batteries in them to amplify the signal).  I don't know if it was omni or unidirectional.  My guess is omni might be better, but would need experimentation.  The funny part?  I have yet to put it all together!!

jurtle (author)wingo3952010-05-09

Glad you liked the project. Yes, one can easily calculate the focal point from diameter and depth in a true parabola. That said, there is no reason to believe the umbrella is actually made to conform to such standards. As I have said in previous posts, the focal point on this device is fuzzy at best. Better to use the methods suggested to get the best result. Much of the physics (and math) that applies to parabolic focus with point sources from infinite distances (therefore parallel rays) just does not apply with variable wavelength sonic sources from variable distances and angles. Too much accuracy is overkill.

herrdoktor (author)2009-12-04

 Could you use a large, plastic salad bowl instead of an umbrella?

jurtle (author)herrdoktor2009-12-04

Yes. Almost any roughly parabolic surface will work. You just have to find the focus or sweet spot for the dish you are using. Of course, the more accurately it approximates a parabola, the better off you are.

herrdoktor (author)jurtle2009-12-05

 Thanks, I'll give that a whirl. Have a dollar store down the street, want to try this out with my kids. We live in the country, so hope to capture a number of sounds. Very cool instructable, thanks for posting.

threedagreexo15 (author)2009-04-20

Hey I'm having some trouble acquiring the vinyl umbrella. Any ideas of where I should look? I tried the dollar store (Dollar General) and few other places and haven't had any success. All i've find is nylon so far.

You could just cover the nylon umbrella with aluminum foil

jurtle (author)threedagreexo152009-04-20

Sorry you are having trouble finding the vinyl ones. Mine came from a chain called Dollar Tree. I think the items are seasonal so you might have better luck in the coming weeks as the weather warms up (at least in the northern hemisphere). As a last resort you could still use a nylon umbrella if you were willing to coat it some way so as to reduce the acoustic transparency. I think a few coats of shellac would work. The umbrellas are cheap enough to experiment with. Maybe something like Mod Podge, available any hobby or craft store, would work. Good luck with the project.

threedagreexo15 (author)jurtle2009-04-23

Thanks. I just realized that I've been looking at regular umbrellas instead of hats. Is there a major difference between the two? It looks like the regular umbrellas need the rod in the middle in order to hold the rods that hold the umbrella out, so removing that might be difficult.

jurtle (author)threedagreexo152009-04-23

There is a major difference in the configuration of the hat and a regular umbrella. In the case of the regular umbrella, there is the center shaft to contend with. Perhaps instead of removing it, one could re engineer it to be the on-axis mic support. That way you have a support for the ribs and a support for the mic. Then it would be a matter of configuring a handle for the device. Here is where your own builder/hacker/engineer self comes into play. Go for it.

jurtle (author)threedagreexo152009-04-21

Another thought: You might also try looking in a toy store for kids' umbrellas. I think I have seen transparent vinyl umbrellas in places like Toys R Us or Target. Modification of the umbrella would be very different but perhaps worth the effort.

jurtle (author)2009-07-20

Begin your research into microphones here:
I am going to stay out of that business with your neighbors. You probably should too.

jurtle (author)2009-07-20

Glad you like it. This is probably not your best bet for secretive recording. It does stand out. My guess is that it will work through a screen but I have never tried it. Good luck.

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