What is a USB Microphone?
Just like a traditional microphone, a USB mic has components like a capsule and a diaphragm. But a USB mic contains two additional circuits that allow it to record using devices like a computer or tablet: an onboard preamp and an analog-to-digital converter.
- Onboard preamp: Thanks to this feature, the USB microphone doesn't need to connect to a mixer or external preamp
- Analog-to-digital converter: Converts the microphone's output from analog to digital.
The addition of these circuits makes it possible to plug a USB mic directly into a desktop computer or tablet. You can begin recording without any additional pieces of recording equipment.
USB Microphone Types
You can usually find three kinds of USB mics: cardioid microphones, omnidirectional microphones, and figure-8 microphones. Each type records sound differently using specific polar patterns.
The pickup pattern of a microphone determines the direction that the mic receives and records a signal. Each pattern has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to recording certain types of sound. Understanding the differences will help you choose the best USB mic for your needs, based on your show’s content and the set up of your recording studio.
Cardioid microphones get their name from the shape of cardioid pickup patterns, which resemble a heart extending from the front of the mic.
This type of mic is most sensitive to sound signals coming from directly in front, but will also pick up some sound coming from the sides. Generally, a cardioid mic won’t pick up sound coming from directly behind.
Musicians frequently use cardioid microphones for live performances when accompanied by a band and facing a live audience. In this scenario, the mic will mostly pick up the singer's vocals while simultaneously capturing some of the sounds from the band without picking up sounds from the audience.
When it comes to podcast applications, this type of USB microphone works well for getting quality recorded vocals spoken directly into the mic from the front.
An omnidirectional mic indiscriminately records sound from any direction. This USB mic type picks up on sound signals coming from the front, sides, and back with equal strength. Instead of a heart facing out from the mic, picture a mic surrounded by a large bubble in which any sound is recorded.
If you're singing and playing an acoustic guitar, this type of microphone will pick up your voice and capture the guitar at the same time. However, if you're trying to record spoken vocals, an omnidirectional mic will pick up unwanted background noise more than a cardioid mic, which blocks out any sound coming directly behind the microphone.
Figure-8 microphones are also named after the shape of their pickup patterns. They pick up sound coming directly in front and behind, but reject sound coming from the sides. Picture the polar patterns in the shape of an 8, with the microphone at the number's very center point.
Only a handful of manufacturers make this type of USB microphone. While good for recording in stereo or recording two voices at once, figure-8 microphones don't have many applications for podcast recording. If you're looking for the best USB microphone for recording quality audio for your show, you might want to steer clear of figure-8 microphones.
What is the difference between a USB microphone and an XLR microphone?
The main difference between a USB mic and an XLR mic is how they connect to other equipment for recording. XLR microphones require more advanced podcast setups with additional equipment, like an audio interface and phantom power source. USB microphones are much simpler and use USB cables to connect to Windows PCs, Macs, and even mobile devices like an iPad or iPhone—great for capturing sound from anywhere.
Easy to use with a variety of devices, USB mics are great for any level podcaster, especially those who sometimes record on the go. You don't need any additional equipment to start recording using a USB mic. You can invest less in your overall setup and spend more of your podcast budget on a quality microphone.
Should I get a USB microphone?
A USB mic is a great addition to any podcaster's tool belt, no matter your level of experience or the other equipment you have. You can find plenty of quality USB microphones available at any price point.
Their main draw: ease of use and price. You can plug them into a computer and start recording immediately, and they're cheaper than a conventional mic, which requires more equipment to record.
USB microphones are a great starter mic for anyone new to the podcast game. Established podcasters can also use a USB microphone for a more advanced setup, too. A USB mic can help if you have technical difficulties with your other equipment and need a fast solution to continue recording.
What should I look for in a USB microphone?
The best USB mic will vary depending on how you intend to use it. Consider the following when shopping around for USB mics.
Polar patterns have a big impact on how a microphone picks up sound. Go for an omnidirectional USB mic if you need a microphone that picks up all of the sounds in your studio, like for musical performances. If your podcast mostly involves interviews or spoken vocal recordings, try a cardioid mic that picks up sound coming from directly in front.
Headphone Monitoring Capability
Many USB mics have headphone jacks with built-in volume control. You can perform zero-latency monitoring using headphones and hear your voice in real-time as you record. If your mic doesn't have a headphone jack, your voice has to travel from the microphone into your computer, through your recording software, and then through your headphones. This could cause a delay and echo effect that makes it difficult to listen to and monitor your recording as you go.
Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones
If you're looking for the best USB mic for your podcast, look for a condenser microphone. A condenser microphone picks up delicate sounds very well, an ideal feature for recording podcast vocals. Dynamic mics are better suited for capturing loud sounds and live performances.
Microphone Features and Controls
When considering which USB mic will work best for your podcast, pay attention to the different features and controls of each microphone. A mute button is handy if you want to quickly cut the signal of a mic during an interview. Other microphone controls include EQ mode switching ability and pad control.
Make sure that the USB mic has a good frequency response and can capture the full range of human hearing from 20 to 20,000hz. Pop filters are another feature to keep an eye out for - a microphone with a built-in pop filter will pick up much less background noise and produce a cleaner recording.
What is the best USB microphone?
USB microphones cost a lot less when compared to the cost of XLR mics and the additional equipment that they require. Below, we’ve highlighted the best USB microphones for different price points and uses.
Best Budget USB Microphones (Under $100 Usd)
Blue Snowball iCE USB Mic ($49.99)
This cardioid microphone comes with an adjustable stand but doesn't have a headphone output. It's more affordable than some of the other USB mics out there. However, it doesn't come with more advanced features, like mute and gain control.
Samson Meteor Mic ($69.99)
Samon's Meteor mic is a condenser microphone that uses a cardioid pattern to pick up audio signals. This USB mic has a 20Hz-20kHz frequency response and mute and volume controls—great for a mic at such a low price point.
Mid-Range USB Microphones ($100~300 Usd)
Blue Yeti USB Mic ($129.50)
The Blue Yeti USB mic is a mid-range microphone that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
It comes with three condenser capsules, and it can pick up four different polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, figure-8, and stereo). This mic also has a headphone jack, volume control, and mic gain control. A trusted name in the audio industry, Blue Yeti is known for delivering quality products.
RODE NT-USB Mic ($169)
This condenser microphone is fully compatible with all Mac and Windows recording programs. The RODE mic has a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz and on-mic mix control. The microphone also includes a zero-latency headphone monitoring jack, a tripod stand, pop shield, and ring mount. You can spend a little extra on the mic without having to purchase the extra equipment. It’s also a great starter mic for recording music or singing.
Shure MV7 USB Podcast Microphone ($249)
Many professional podcasters use the Shure MV7 for their programs because of its versatility and features. This dynamic mic comes with built-in automated features, so you can produce high-quality audio without having to manually adjust things like vocal tone and sound levels. The mic is specifically designed for podcasting. It focuses on capturing your voice and the amount of background noise picked up while recording is minimal.
Premium USB Microphones (Above $300 Usd)
Earthworks ICON Studio-Quality USB Streaming Microphone ($349)
This mic from Earthworks uses cardioid polar patterns for picking up audio and has a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz. If you're looking for a unique piece of equipment that looks as good as it sounds, this might be the best USB mic for you. The stainless steel design looks great. A custom triad-orbit desktop comes with the mic (something you won't find anywhere else).
Apogee Hype Mic ($349)
If you're willing to spend extra and invest in a more expensive microphone, you can't go wrong with this Apogee mic. The Apogee Hype Mic performs excellently when recording anything from singing to acoustic instruments to podcasts and interviews. The mic offers a headphone jack and comes with premium accessories that include a custom pop filter, a desktop tripod, and HypeMic recording software. The mic is compatible with Windows PCs, and a lightning cable is included so you can easily connect it to any Apple device.
Best USB Microphone For Podcasting
There's a reason so many podcast professionals use the Shure MV7. Packed with so many features, you have to do very little work when it comes to editing your audio. We've selected this mic as the best USB microphone for podcasting because it does all of the work for you! All you have to do is hit record to start capturing professional-quality audio.
Best USB Microphone For Live Streaming
The Earthworks ICON Studio-Quality USB Streaming Microphone has many impressive features and is very aesthetically pleasing. We're making this our pick for the best USB live streaming mic. With this mic, you don't just sound great, but you also look great while live streaming because of its unique design. Though on the more pricey side, it's worth the price as you won't have to worry about upgrading your USB mic in the future.
Best USB Microphone For Singing
We've selected the Blue Yeti USB Mic as our recommendation for the best USB microphone for singing because of the versatility and amount of features. You can change how the mic picks up polar patterns, which means you can use it to get great quality if you’re singing solo or with the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar or full band.
Are you still trying to figure out whether or not a USB microphone is right for you? Take a look at our bonus FAQ section to learn more about USB mics to help you determine whether or not investing in one is the best move for you.
Is a USB mic better than an XLR?
A USB mic is better than an XLR mic in the areas of mobility and compatibility: USB mics don't require additional equipment and are therefore easier to set up, transport, and take down. They use a USB connection so they're compatible with almost all devices.
Can I convert a USB mic to an XLR?
It’s not possible to convert a USB mic to an XLR mic, but you don’t really need to. XLR mics use additional equipment to convert their analog outputs to digital outputs, while USB mics already produce digital outputs.
Do I need an audio interface if I have a USB microphone?
You won’t need an audio interface if you choose to use a USB mic. You can use USB microphones for recording without any additional equipment, which makes buying one less of an investment overall.