Why Do Parabolic Microphones Cost So Much & What Can I Do About It?
By Paul Terpstra
Why Do Parabolic Microphones Cost So Much?
We are asked occasionally why quality parabolic microphones cost as much as they do when small handheld parabolic microphones are available on Amazon for less than $50. And it’s true – this is a completely fair and valid question to ask, and we’re here to answer it for you. If we narrowed it down, there are two primary factors to consider when evaluating a product’s price: quality, and production volume. While these issues are often related, in this blog we’ll try to address them separately.
PARABOLIC MICROPHONES: QUALITY
If you listen to one of the inexpensive units, you will quickly recognize that the audio provided is very low quality.
The small, low-cost parabolic microphones are constructed using inexpensive components, out of necessity. The microphone and amplifier included in such products are very low quality when compared to professional audio equipment or even common consumer electronics such as smart phones. These low-cost components generate electronic noise, recognized as a buzz or hiss.
In addition, the collector dish itself is typically constructed of low-cost plastic, that is brittle, leading to parts that break easily.
Professional parabolic microphones that incorporate electronics typically incorporate higher quality microphones and amplifier components than the low-cost products we have discussed. The higher cost of these products allows for the use of higher quality components.
At Klover Products, as well as several other manufacturers of parabolic collectors, we allow the user to incorporate microphones and amplifier electronics of their choosing. This allows the user to select products that are appropriate for their needs and budget. These products are manufactured by companies that specialize in either microphones or amplifiers. As the manufacturers specialize in their field, their products are typically much higher quality than the components that are incorporated into an “integrated” parabolic microphone.
The collector dishes of professional parabolic collectors are typically thermoformed plastic as opposed to injection molded. The many manufacturing issues make it impractical to injection mold a large plastic collector dish. Thermoforming is a well-known manufacturing process with a long history of success that allows larger dishes to be manufactured with a much lower investment in tooling.
Thermoforming also allows for a variety of different materials to be used. This allows the collector dish to be rigid or flexible, brittle or durable, transparent or opaque. While some manufacturers offer flexible collector dishes, allowing the dish to be “rolled up” for transportation, we at Klover Products believe rigid collector dishes improves the quality of the captured audio. We will address this question in a different article.
Thermoforming Process for KLOVER MiK 26 Collector Dish
PARABOLIC MICROPHONES: PRODUCTION VOLUME
As previously mentioned, the production volume of the small, low-cost parabolic microphones we previously discussed, are obviously manufactured in large volumes. Thousands of these consumer products are sold annually. As the market for professional parabolic microphones is very small, they are manufactured in much lower volumes, hundreds per year or less.
Let’s explore some of the reasons why low volume products cost so much, and what advantages they might have over mass-produced products.
One of the main factors that affect the cost of low volume products is the fixed cost. Fixed cost is the cost that does not vary with the number of units produced, such as research and development, equipment, rent, salaries, marketing, etc. For mass-produced products, the fixed cost can be spread over a large number of units, resulting in a lower average cost per unit. However, for low volume products, the fixed cost is divided by a smaller number of units, resulting in a higher average cost per unit. For example, if a company spends $50,000 on fixed costs to produce 10,000 units of a product, the average fixed cost per unit is $5. But if the company only produces 100 units of the same product, the average fixed cost per unit is $500.
Another factor that influences the cost of low volume products is the variable cost. Variable cost is the cost that varies with the number of units produced, such as raw materials, labor, packaging, shipping, etc. For mass-produced products, the variable cost can be reduced by economies of scale, which means that as the production volume increases, the average variable cost per unit decreases due to factors such as bulk discounts, automation, efficiency gains, etc. However, for low volume products, the variable cost may not benefit from economies of scale, or may even increase due to factors such as scarcity of materials, complexity of design, quality control issues, etc.
For example, decreasing the batch size of a machined part from 100 to 10 may increase the price paid of that part by 5 to 10 times or more. This increase is due to the cost of machinery and tooling being spread over fewer parts. In addition, the time required to set up the manufacturing equipment, such as a machine tool, to make a part has to be spread over fewer parts.
Therefore, low volume products tend to have a higher total cost per unit than mass-produced products, because they have a higher fixed cost per unit and a higher variable cost per unit. This means that in order to cover their expenses, and hopefully make a profit, the producers of low volume products have to charge a higher price than the producers of mass-produced products.
This does not mean that low volume products are inferior or undesirable. On the contrary, low volume products often have advantages over mass-produced products that justify their higher price. Some of these advantages are:
– Customization: Low volume products typically offer more customization options and personalization features than mass-produced products. Because batch sizes are smaller, it is often easier to accommodate special requests. Klover Products takes pride in our ability to customize products to our customers’ needs.
– Quality: Low volume products are often made with more care and attention to detail than mass-produced products, because they involve more human input and less automation. They may also use higher quality materials or components than mass-produced products.
– Innovation: Low volume products are often more innovative and cutting-edge than mass-produced products because they are driven by experimentation and exploration rather than standardization and optimization. They may also incorporate new technologies or methods that are not yet widely available or adopted.
– Value: Low volume products may offer more value to their customers than mass-produced products because they more closely match the customer’s needs than mass-produced products.
METHODS TO REDUCE THE COST OF A PARABOLIC MICROPHONE
There are several methods available to reduce the cost of a parabolic microphone system.
The first is selecting the correct size of parabolic collector. The larger the collector dish is the more expensive it is to manufacture. Concurrently, as the collector dish gets larger, the amount of sound energy that is captured increases. When the diameter of a collector dish is doubled, the effective surface area is quadrupled. This larger surface area provides greater amplification providing greater effective distance or “range”.
The additional amplification needs to be balanced against the increased cost. If the objective is to capture bird songs from 50 feet away, a 26-inch diameter collector dish, with an effective capture distance of over 500 feet may not be a wise investment. In addition, the larger dish mayo be more cumbersome to store and transport.
Some manufacturers use more traditional construction methods for handles and microphone mounts. Utilizing more traditional materials, such as metal tubing, will reduce cost but may create unsafe situations for both the operator and athlete when collisions occur at sporting events. Such collisions are a regular occurrence at sporting events. Utilizing a brittle plastic to manufacture the collector dish may lower the cost but will reduce the product’s durability. The KLOVER MiK collector dishes are molded using polycarbonate. While polycarbonate is one of the most difficult materials to thermoform, it is also the most durable.
Utilizing the most expensive microphone element may not be justified in many situations. Less expensive microphone options often provide audio that is more than adequate for the type of audio that is typically collected with a parabolic microphone. (If the parabolic microphone will be exposed to weather, weather resistance should be the primary factor in the microphone selection.)
Utilizing the amplifier built into a smartphone or camera can reduce the overall investment in a parabolic mic system. However, external amplifiers typically provide better audio quality as they are manufactured by companies focused on audio. Again, the most expensive amplifier may not be justified in many situations. The amplifiers used by television networks may not be the best option for someone capturing nature sounds.
In conclusion, professional parabolic microphones (parabolic collectors) are produced in small quantities due to a very limited market. Therefore, they tend to have a higher cost per unit than mass-produced products due to factors such as fixed cost and variable cost. However, they are built for the market’s unique needs, providing quality, innovation, and value that mass-produced products cannot.
Here at Klover Products, we agonize over prices, constantly balancing the desire to improve our products against the cost associated with those improvements. Just this month we invested over $15,000 to replace a mold used to thermoform one of our collector dishes. Last year we made a significantly large investment in the unique 3D printers that are required by our latest design update.
We hope that our customers can appreciate the struggle involved in operating a small company that manufactures products for a very niche market. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
For more information on selecting the correct product to optimize your investment, please feel free to contact us! Or for more information, check out the rest of our content in our Learning Hub.
To learn more about our full line of parabolic microphones, click here.
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