Discovering the right long-range listening device among the numerous options available can be daunting. These devices, sometimes labeled as bionic ears, optical listening devices, laser microphones, or parabolic listening devices, all share the objective of capturing clear audio at a distance. The ideal product for you largely depends on your specific needs and budget.
Choosing Your Listening Device:
- Professional Needs: To capture crystal-clear audio from significant distances (like conversations held a hundred feet away), consider investing in semi-professional or professional-grade products. While these devices can be slightly costly (starting from a few hundred dollars), they deliver superior performance. Advanced features like background noise filtering or wind noise reduction can increase the cost to a few thousand dollars. These high-end devices are comparable to what a police department, private investigator, or insurance fraud detective might use.
- Hobbyist Needs: If your requirements are simpler, such as using a parabolic listening device for bird watching or a children’s activity, several affordable options are available. You can find a decent device for $50 or less in our ‘Amateur Grade’ section below.
- Portable Solutions: For those seeking subtlety and portability, pocket amplifiers and TV volume amplifiers, priced under $100, are an excellent choice. These devices are small enough to be carried to sporting events, concerts, or church services without drawing attention.
For a more in-depth understanding of various features and a list of our top picks, continue reading.
Top Picks: Long Range Listening Devices
Amateur Grade Options
This isn’t a perfect product, but it is a great place to start. For kids that want to play around with a parabolic microphone, or adults that don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, the HausBell is a good entry-level bionic ear.
For less than $50, you get a lightweight parabolic microphone, included headphones, and a built-in 8x monocular. The sound quality isn’t perfect, and you will still pick up background noise, but this product is a great value for the price.
For bird watching, this is a reliable and well-rated product that also features 12 second audio recording capacity. Along with the audio recording, playback is simple and easy to use.
The device is powered by a 9V battery which needs to be purchased separately. And the manufacturer provides a 1 year warranty, which is solid considering the price range.
For all intents and purposes, this is the same device as the above. The branding is different, but the features are identical.
The only real difference is that the manufacturer markets the Podoy listening device as having a range of up to 300 feet, whereas the HausBell product above doesn’t have a particular rating. In testing, there isn’t any significant difference — one brand just chose to specify a range, while the other didn’t include this information.
Like the HausBell, you get an 8x monocular, included headphones, and the ability to record and play back 12 seconds of audio.
Because this product doesn’t specify any warranty information, choose the above HausBell device instead (with a 1 year warranty) if the prices are the same. Otherwise, just price shop between the two options.
Again, this device is similar to the two above. It includes headphones, a monocular, and 12 second recording capability. We haven’t tested this device, so we really can’t speak to the quality.
No warranty information is provided by the seller. And the technical specifications don’t provide much info, either.
The price is higher than the above two microphones, and the quality seems to be a bit higher. But if you need top performance, you will still have to spend more money to purchase one of the semi-professional or professional grade options listed below.
This is a different style of device than those discussed above. While the above products are parabolic microphones with a monocular for viewing, the Personal Pocket Amplifier is audio-only.
The amplifier is smaller and much less bulky, so it can fit in a pocket or on a belt clip. For this reason, it is a great product to use at church, in a theater, or for TV watching. It can also be used for nature watching and birding.
The device is made in the U.S. and has excellent battery life with 2 AAA batteries (which have to be purchased separately).
Another great feature here is a built-in safeguard that reduces volume to a maximum of 85 dB. This means that if you are nature watching and then a loud noise occurs, you won’t be at risk of hearing damage because the noise will be capped at 85 dB by the device.
The downside with the Personal Pocket Amplifier is that there is no monocular for viewing. There aren’t headphones included, either, but an aux port allows you to plug headphones into the amplifier.
But the significant advantage with this product is that it is small and portable enough to be used at concerts, sporting events, etc. without people looking at you funny. And for less than $75, this device is an excellent value.
Semi-Professional Grade Options
The Sound Shark will set you back about $285, and it only lists a range of 30-50 feet. At first, this seems like too much money for too little range.
However, the quality on this parabolic dish is so much higher than the above-mentioned parabolic mics which are designed more so for kids and bird watchers.
With the Sound Shark, you get a product that is built much more solidly than the flimsy dishes on the parabolic mics discussed previously. However, although it is compatible with a microphone, it doesn’t include one. So this adds an additional expense.
The product also comes with a 1 year warranty.
There are a few key distinctions between this product and the budget-friendly parabolic microphones we discussed earlier. This product has no monocular, no included headphones, and no included microphone.
But the advantage of this product is that the quality is so much higher than the previously-mentioned products on the list. This dish is similar to what you see on the sidelines of professional football games, which the camera crew uses for capturing audio at a distance.
As long as the dish is paired with a quality microphone, sound quality can be exceptionally high. Background noise and wind noise will be reduced with this dish more effectively than with the HausBell or Podoy products listed above.
Detect Ear from Lin Technologies
The Detect Ear is similar to the Sound Shark above, but it includes a microphone and has range of up to 300 yards.
This device has a similar design to the budget-friendly parabolic microphones listed in the “amateur grade options” list above. The difference is that the Detect Ear provides much higher quality and range, while lacking the built-in monocular for sight.
At an MSRP of ~$450, this isn’t the cheapest product on the list. But it has excellent range, a 1 year warranty, and a long battery life powered by 2 AAA batteries. The build quality is significantly better than the budget-friendly options provided on this list.
Detect Ear also has some great features, like a safety shutoff above 95 dB and a jack that allows for easy connections with a tape recorder.
Bionic Ear and Booster from Lin Technologies
This 12″ parabolic sound amplifier is similarly designed to the Detect Ear listed above. However, at 12″ (versus the 20″ disc on Detect Ear), the Bionic Ear is much more portable and easier to operate with only one hand and without the use of a tripod.
Because the dish is smaller, you sacrifice some range. The Bionic Ear is limited to 100 yards. This is excellent range overall, but it lags behind the Detect Ear.
This device can amplify sounds by up to 40 dB using a single 9V battery. The battery life is less than the Detect Ear, but the device is cheaper, more portable, and a 40 hour battery life is still excellent.
For an MSRP of ~$200, the Bionic Ear and Booster also includes headphones, which saves you some money. And the product has a jack to integrate easily with an external tape recorder.
Bionic Ear is made in the U.S. and includes a safety shutoff that activates at volumes above 95 dB.
Professional Grade Options
X64ACS Directional Microphone Pack from AMPFLAB
This phased array microphone setup will set you back more than $5,000. So for an amateur bird watcher, this is going to be overkill.
The range, which is achieved via acoustic radar, is ultra high quality at 450 feet or even more. In addition to the microphone itself, you get a headset, battery pack, and a modified laptop case.
With this modified laptop case, you can disguise and camouflage everything you are doing. So, if you need to adjust the audio or start recording, all you need to do is unzip the outer pocket of your “laptop case” and press a few buttons.
The level of background noise reduction on this product is unlike anything seen on the amateur or semi-professional devices discussed above. You can adjust audio settings to pick up fine details of conversations, even at great distances.
Another massive advantage of this product is the discrete design. A parabolic listening device needs to be pointed toward your subject (picture it like a satellite dish that needs to be pointed toward the audio). On the other hand, the X64ACS Directional Microphone Pack can be concealed in the “laptop case,” so you could be listening to (or recording) audio of a source without the source having any idea.
The device is backed by a 3 year warranty.
4 Intelligence (Multiple Products)
4 Intelligence is a Sweden-based company that makes a number of long distance laser microphones, audio transmitters, and even camouflage audio receivers.
We won’t claim to know a tremendous amount about each of their products, and we sure haven’t tested them! But 4 Intelligence is a legitimate company that works with security companies, police departments, and even militaries.
So, if you are looking for a high-quality surveillance microphone and are willing to pay for it, this is a good resource to consider.
The MiK 26 is a 26″ parabolic dish that provides sound quality unlike any of the parabolic dishes or microphones previously discussed. This operates similarly to the Sound Shark (discussed above), but with a larger dish and higher quality.
This product is what you see on the sidelines of football games, so you know that the quality can be trusted. The device costs ~$2,250, and maximum range is up to 600 feet. Like the Sound Shark, this product doesn’t come with a microphone. Instead, you need a separate microphone which can be installed onto the Klover MiK 26.
This is a laser microphone that retails for more than $30,000. We won’t lie to you and pretend that we have tested it (although we would love to!), so take our opinion here with a grain of salt.
Given the price, it is probably obvious that this is a professional grade device for professional applications only. You can achieve up to 1/4 mile of range, which is incredible, and it has a built-in audio recorder.
Sold by the Detective Store, this is another supplier to consider if you demand exceptional quality and have a large budget.
Features To Consider
Sound Quality & Background Noise Reduction
Be realistic with your expectations when it comes to sound quality.
If you find a $35 parabolic listening device that is marketed as a children’s toy, you probably won’t be able to record a whispered conversation from 1/4 mile away.
On the other hand, if you spend $5,000+ for an optical listening device that is made by a company that sells to police departments and private investigators, the sound quality is going to be phenomenal.
Generally, background noise reduction goes hand-in-hand with sound quality. The professional grade options on the above list have advanced features for dampening and reducing background noise. The budget options on the list don’t do much to reduce background noise, but instead rely on pointing the device directly at the audio source that you wish to hear.
The important thing to remember here is that advertised range does not always equal the actual range.
Instead, the range that is listed by the manufacturer (for example, “up to 150 feet”) usually refers to the maximum range in ideal conditions. So, if you have road noise, high winds, and lots of background noise, expect to lose a lot of range relative to what the product is labeled for.
What all of this means is that you should “over-purchase” your parabolic microphone or long-range listening device. If you need to be able to hear audio that is 300 feet away, purchasing a device that is labeled as “up to 300 feet” probably won’t cut it. Instead, it would make sense to find a product that is marketed as having 400+ feet of range.
If you expect a lot of background noise (cars, wind, etc.) or obstructions (trees, spectators at a sporting event, etc.), it becomes even more important to “over-purchase” a model that is guaranteed to have the range you need.
Most of these products use AAA or 9V batteries. And most of these devices are going to last for many hours before you have to replace (or recharge) the batteries.
For a lot of portable electronics, it makes sense to spend extra for a model with exceptional battery life. But for most uses of a parabolic microphone or laser listening device, it really doesn’t matter whether you choose a model that has 10 hours or 100 hours of battery life. Either one should be sufficient.
Built-in Monocular and/or Audio Recording
Even with the budget models, you can get some excellent added features.
The amateur-grade parabolic microphones listed above include a monocular that is incorporated with the device. This way, you can visually zoom in on your subject at the same time that you point the microphone towards it.
For bird watching and nature watching, you are able to combine your audio and visual magnification in a single device, rather than having to carry a separate set of binoculars. But at the same time, the monocular on these devices can’t compete with a quality pair of binoculars.
Audio recording is a useful feature that also comes included with some long range listening devices.
Some budget options include a 12 second audio record and playback. The upside with this is that it is simple and easy to use. But the downside is that the storage is limited to 12 seconds, can’t be upgraded, and sound quality isn’t anything impressive.
Among the professional-grade options, the audio recording is limited only by your budget. You can find recording devices that have upgradable storage and devices that are compatible with add-on recorders. If you are paying thousands of dollars for a long range listening device, it only makes sense to have a quality audio recorder attached (or built in) that can store hours of high quality audio.
What Can & Can’t Be Accomplished?
As mentioned above, the audio ranges listed by the manufacturer aren’t always accurate. These ranges refer to an unobstructed path in ideal conditions. This means no wind, no background noise, and no obstructions.
When you buy a long range listening device, be prepared to get less range than was advertised. If you actually need to hear audio from 300 feet away, don’t buy a budget device that is marketed as “up to 300 feet” of range.
Also remember that parabolic and optical listening devices don’t function well when obstructed. So if you want to listen to audio that is long-distance but also inside of a building or behind a brick wall, it just isn’t going to work.
There are products that can capture audio through walls, like the UZIMO Thru-Wall and the F-999B Thru-Wall Microphone Amplifier, but these have to be placed right alongside the wall. Rather than being a long-range device, these gadgets have a probe that is placed on the wall to amplify the vibrations and sound waves.
Another consideration is audio clarity. If you want to capture a conversation with enough clarity to hear every word, you really need to pay for a premium long range device. The budget models aren’t going to provide everything you expect.
On the other hand, if you just want to hear bird sounds at a distance, there is no reason to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a premium gadget. A reliable budget model, like those listed above, should suffice.
Who would need a long range listening device?
If you are new to the concept of parabolic listening devices, bionic ears, and optical listening devices, you may be asking why anyone would need such a thing.
It seems like something that would only be needed by James Bond or Sherlock Holmes types, or else nosy neighbors that want to eavesdrop. Truthfully, there are a number of reasons why a person would want a long range listening device.
Young kids can have a lot of fun playing with Mom, Dad, or a babysitter using a parabolic listening device. Simply put, there are a lot of ways to entertain a child with these bionic ears. Hearing the neighbor’s dog bark or listening to cars drive by on the next block can be a lighthearted and exciting project with a kid. Products like the Toy Time Creative Play are built for just such a purpose and can be found for less than $30.
For older children and even teens, building a parabolic microphone can be a fun activity or science project of sorts. The concept of a parabolic mic is simple, with a large dish used to focus and magnify distant sounds. There are a number of guides that can be found which explain methods of building your own parabolic microphone to use as a long range listening device.
One functional use for a sound amplifier or listening device is for the hard of hearing.
Products like the Avantree Bluetooth Headphones for TV watching are simple to use and can make television accessible to hearing impaired individuals. You just plug the product into a TV and it transmits the sound from the TV to your headphones. This way, a person with a hearing impairment can listen to amplified sound while the rest of the room watches television at a typical volume.
There are a number of products made for just such a purpose. For less than $100, people that have lost some auditory function can enjoy television like they did in their younger years!
Sporting Events, Church, Theater, Concerts, etc.
Similar to the above, sometimes you just need to turn the volume up a little bit. For the hard of hearing, it can be tough to enjoy the theater or a sporting event when you struggle to hear what is going on.
Products like the Super Ear Plus can be found for less than $75 and function to amplify sound by up to 50 dB with a range of up to 100 yards.
If you find yourself at the back of church or in the cheap seats at a play or musical, these devices can make the experience a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling.
For anyone that enjoys nature watching or bird watching, adding some audio makes the experience more satisfying.
The Sound Shark, which was discussed above, is marketed for bird watchers and nature lovers.
The ODOMY Long Range Magnification Ear can be found for less than $50 and includes a monocular with 8x magnification along with headphones and a microphone that can pick up audio from 100 meters or more.
Needless to say, both of those products will make bird watching a lot more immersive and enjoyable.
Private Investigators, Police Work, or Actual Spying
Sometimes there is a legitimate need to capture audio from a distance.
This may be a nosy neighbor that just wants to cause trouble. But these devices can also be used for police work, by private investigators, or just private citizens that have a need to listen to distant conversations or audio.
Insurance fraud investigation and casino/gambling fraud investigation often require some degree of observation (“spying”). So, it really isn’t fair to say that everyone who buys a long-range listening device is doing so for nefarious purposes.
We won’t get into this too much, but you can imagine why a person may need to use one of these devices for such a reason. The important thing here is to know the applicable laws of your municipality, and to operate lawfully. And lastly, many of us believe that privacy is a basic human right — so don’t be a jerk!
The world of long-range listening devices can be confusing with hundreds of products available. These devices – whether marketed as bionic ears, laser microphones, optical listening devices, or parabolic listening devices – all have one goal in common: capturing audio from a distance.
Your Needs, Your Budget, Your Choice:
- For the Hobbyist: If you seek a simple device for bird watching or a playful gadget for kids, consider the sub-$100 products on our list. At a modest price of $40 or less, these parabolic listening devices cater to casual users and bird enthusiasts alike.
- For Advanced Users: For a step above, semi-professional grade devices offer a perfect balance of performance and affordability. These products ensure clear audio and extensive range, costing a couple of hundred dollars as opposed to thousands.
- For Professionals: For those requiring the best in the market, the professional-grade products on our list serve as an excellent starting point. While their superior quality comes at a steep price, it’s a necessary investment for some.
Subtlety vs. Performance:
- Visible Devices: Parabolic discs and microphones can capture impressive audio at a distance, but they are bulkier and need to be directly aimed at the audio source. Using one of these at a church service or sporting event could be somewhat conspicuous.
- Discreet Devices: Pocket amplifiers, on the other hand, are easily concealed in a pocket or clipped to a belt loop, offering a less noticeable solution.
In conclusion, the perfect long-range listening device exists for everyone, depending on specific needs and budget. The key lies in identifying your requirements and selecting the right product accordingly.
What are Long Range Listening Devices?
Long range listening devices, often marketed as bionic ears, optical listening devices, laser microphones, or parabolic listening devices, are products designed to capture clear audio at a distance. These devices vary greatly in features, quality, and price, ranging from professional-grade equipment used by law enforcement to affordable devices designed for hobbies like birdwatching.
How do Long Range Listening Devices work?
Long range listening devices work by capturing, amplifying, and refining sound waves from a distance. Parabolic listening devices, for example, use a dish to focus and magnify distant sounds. Laser and optical devices utilize a beam of light reflected off a distant object to detect the vibrations caused by sound waves.
What should I consider when purchasing a Long Range Listening Device?
When purchasing a long range listening device, you should consider the device’s range, sound quality, background noise reduction capability, power supply or battery life, and any additional features such as a built-in monocular or audio recording capability. Your specific needs and budget will largely determine which device is most suitable for you.
What are some uses for Long Range Listening Devices?
Long range listening devices have a wide array of uses. They are often employed in professional settings by law enforcement agencies or private investigators. Hobbyists may use them for bird watching or other wildlife observation. Parents and educators may use simpler models as educational tools for children. Some devices can even be used to assist those with hearing impairment to better engage with their environment.
Are there budget-friendly options for Long Range Listening Devices?
Yes, there are many budget-friendly options for long-range listening devices. While these models may not offer the advanced features of professional-grade equipment, they are often more than sufficient for hobbyist applications like bird watching or for use in educational settings.
Can Long Range Listening Devices record conversations?
Certain high-end long-range listening devices do have the capability to record conversations from a distance. However, it’s important to note that recording private conversations without consent is illegal in many jurisdictions. Always respect privacy laws and personal boundaries when using any type of listening device.
How far can Long Range Listening Devices reach?
The range of long range listening devices varies significantly depending on the device’s quality, type, and the surrounding environment. Some professional-grade devices can capture sound from several hundred feet away under ideal conditions, while more affordable models may have a range of 30-50 feet.
Do Long Range Listening Devices work through walls or obstructions?
Traditional long-range listening devices, such as parabolic and optical devices, generally don’t function well when obstructed. For capturing audio inside a building or through a wall, specialized products are available that amplify vibrations and sound waves in close contact with the wall. However, the range of these devices is typically much less than that of long-range devices.