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These devices are intended to allow the user to hear sounds at a distance that would be inaudible to the unaided ear. The parabolic mikes are excellent for nature listening, especially for birds. Law enforcement uses these devices for surveillance.

Parabolic mics use a large area to gather sound energy and then focus it to a sensitive mike element and amplifier to further enhance performance. Parabolic mics gather roughly 3 times more sound than shotgun mics, but they also cover a wider area and therefore capture more background noise and aren't as good at isolating sounds from a noisy background.

Shotgun mics are more directional and are often used for sound gathering in action movies. They also are used for surveillance by law enforcement. Shotgun mics use a sensitive amplifier with a series of resonant tubes or a single tube with baffles.