In Summer 2014 I’d finally bit the bullet and bought a Telinga Universal MK2 parabolic dish reflector, a piece of equipment that I’d been umm’ing and ah’ing about for years. Though a bit pricey in my opinion, this is a well-built, lightweight parabolic with the added benefits of it allowing you to use your microphone of choice and its relative portability due to the dish itself being foldable.
I’m using an MKH8040 in the Telinga, guaranteeing a flat frequency response, high sensitivity & low noise. It being a cardioid mic it is relatively susceptible to handling noise, so some practice is required using this in a parabolic as a lot of this kind of recording is handheld whilst tracking your subject (like flying birds for instance). The above sound file is an example of tracked recording, as these are the calls of common terns that were flying over my head and around me, at distances ranging from ~20 to 5 meters from the mic. They seemed to be playing a game of chase with each other, which I don’t know if it’s a mating ritual or simply them having fun.
The purpose yet unreal effect of using a parabolic reflector such as the Telinga is that when you manage a dead-on focus on your subject, you can get extremely close up and isolated recordings. It can be quite difficult to achieve this focus though, as the signal is mono so when monitoring over headphones you have no sense of localisation or direction. Therefore if you can actually see your subject you’re going to have a much easier time, but this is not always possible. I also tend to have only one ear covered by a headphone pad, with the other ear free to listen to the actual environment, helping me with localising my subject.
Now here are some black-headed gulls that also appeared to chase each other, flying pretty much over my head whilst tracking them with the Telinga. At the closest point, they were maybe ~3m away from the mic.
When I recorded this skylark it was actually quite a windy day, which you can hear in the recording. Nevertheless, the wind protection on this Telinga system is pretty good, and once again if you can get a dead-on focus on your source you can still achieve a useful & nice sounding recording.
Here are the warbling calls of a group of Eurasian Oystercatchers. They were roughly 100 meters away from me, so this is a pretty good demonstration of how close up you can get with a system like this.
Reed warblers are some of my favourite sounding birds, as their calls are bordering on psychotic with their non-stop chattering. Again it was a rather windy day, and the reed warbler predictably hiding in the noisily bending reeds makes for not an as clean recording as I’d have liked, but once again a fine demonstration of the awesome close-upness of a parabolic system. Distance to subject was about 50 meters.
All the previous recordings were made at the marshlands of Rye Nature Reserve. I also went to Lower Wepham Woods where I was spectator to what I found quite a magical moment between two buzzards, who for 30 mins were circling above the canopy and an open patch of land on the edge of the forest, continuously calling at each other. This forest is relatively close to a busy highway and polluted by airplanes flying over regularly as well, so even though I recorded for a long time, the best snippet I got was this here below.
And finally, here’s a cricket stridulating in the grass. In this case, I was able to get the mic extremely close, roughly 30 cm away from the cricket. Due to the 8040’s frequency response ranging beyond the advertised 40khz, and cricket sounds generally reaching well into the ultrasound regions, the results when pitching down are interesting as you retain a lot of high frequency content even until as low as -36 semitones, as demonstrated in the file below.
The logical conclusion of using a parabolic reflector is that it is a unique tool which can lead to fantastic & otherwise unobtainable results. It is of course naturally fairly restrictive as the frequency band where the amplification is such that it achieves a zoom-like effect is limited, depending on the size of the dish itself. In the case of this Telinga dish, the useful frequencies would range somewhere in the bands of human speech and birdsong.
You can also buy smaller and thus more portable parabolic dishes from different companies, but this would limit the useful range to high frequencies only. If you want to achieve a ‘zoom’ like effect on lower frequencies, you either need a humongously sized reflector or, far more practical, a long gun mic such as the Sennheiser MKH70. Guess what is next on my list of gear to be purchased…