In the past couple of years, there's been a meteoric rise in interest and popularity for accessible digital content-especially during this dreadful pandemic-from music, podcasts, vlogs, streaming platforms to the good ol' YouTube. Are you thinking of having a go at audio recording but are somewhat balled up on where to start, particularly on the hardware end of things? Well, a solid USB microphone is right where you kickstart your journey.
- A USB Microphone. Why?
- 1. Blue Yeti
- 2. Rode NT-USB
- 3. Blue Snowball iCE
- 4. Samson Go Mic
- 5. Shure MV7
- What Should You Look for in the Best USB Microphones
- Frequently Asked Questions about USB Microphones
- Bottom Line
A USB Microphone. Why?
For enthusiasts and experts alike, USB microphones are remarkably efficient. Firstly, most USB mics are portable, making it very convenient to move around with them. Just as important, these mics have close to no learning curve-you plug it in and off you go. While this might sound more appealing to beginners, it is equally nifty for professionals, especially as a back-up mic.
That said, there might be instances where a non-USB microphone might be more preferable. For instance, if you are deep into recording and mixing audio, an XLR mic-which has better recording capabilities- and an external recorder are more suited for the job. As such, there is one or two things you should know about USB mics first before you set out to find an ideal fit for you.
- Some USB mics are incompatible with some PC operating systems, especially MacOS. Worry not though, as all our 5 picks sidestep this drawback.
- Recording patterns differ from one mic to the other. Have a clear picture of the intended use before you choose between cardioid, stereo, bi-directional or omnidirectional patterns.
- On very rare occasions will you ever need more than a 16-bit, 44.1kHz mic.
With this in mind, we mustered 5 top USB microphones, so that you won't have to be swamped with myriad choices available on the market.
1. Blue Yeti
- Tri-capsule array - 3 condenser capsules can record almost any situation
- Multiple pattern selection - cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional & stereo
- Gain control, mute button, zero-latency headphone output
- Perfect for vocals, musical instruments, podcasting, voiceovers, interviews, field...
- Compatible with Windows 10, Windows 8 (including 8.1), Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows...
The Blue Yeti is undoubtedly our top pick as one of the best USB microphones on the market, for its unmatched recording capabilities. The new 'Tri-Capsule' technology brings an extra dimension to the table, to produce crisp pristine renditions. This translates to having all 4 recording patterns in one USB mic, which is music to the ears of users.
The Blue Yeti has a remarkable degree of recording accuracy, thanks to the well-graded patterns. It follows that this USB mic is great for versatile use; music, narration, voice-over, interviews etc. The user-friendly controls make switching through the patterns and adjusting gain control quite straightforward, with a convenient mute button to boot.
This is an excellent choice for both professionals and enthusiasts. Its cutting edge tech and impeccable audio production remained unparalleled. Plus, the rapid frequency response means the Blue Yeti will hardly ever disappoint you.
2. Rode NT-USB
- High quality studio microphone with the convenience of USB connectivity
- Pop shield, Tripod desk stand, ring mount, storage pouch and 6m (20’) USB cable included
- 3.5 millimeter stereo headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring
This is yet another great product from the popular Australian audio brand. The Rode NT-USB is an impressive side-address microphone that produces clear DSP-free signals.
Some might argue that this mic is somewhat limited in features, but it more than makes up for it with convenience: a simple set-up and an easy-to-use design. You get everything you require straight out of the box. Monitoring levels and mixing on this mic is as easy as turning just two dials.
Thanks to the built-in stereo headphone jack, the Rode NT-USB offers exceptional zero latency monitoring. Therefore, the audio is always in sync with that is being recorded, not to mention with excellent clarity. It also spots a top-end pop shield at an optimal distance from the mic. The pop filter ensures your recordings are never marred by unwanted interference or jarring sound spikes.
This USB mic, plus a well-crafted ring mount and tripod stand, offers everything you need right from the get-go, more so at an affordable price.
3. Blue Snowball iCE
- Custom condenser capsule offers crystal clear audio for Skype, Messages and FaceTime
- Record vocals, create podcasts, and add narration to your home movies
- Add crystal clear audio to recordings for YouTube. Frequency Response: 40 –18 kHz
- Easy plug and play directly to your Mac or PC-no drivers to install
- Snowball ice is a USB 2.0 device (USB 3.0 compatible as per USB 3.0 backward compatibility...
The iCE is a more recent iteration of the much-vaunted Snowball dual capsule USB condenser from Blue Designs. However, unlike the typical norm for brands to add features on newer models, the iCe cuts down some of the original's capabilities.
As opposed to the predecessor, which had an optional omnidirectional recording, the Blue Snowball iCe is entirely a cardioid pickup pattern mic. Such reductions have translated to a pocket-friendly USB mic that still delivers remarkable sound and recording capabilities, making it one of the best budget buys featured on the list.
The frequency response stands at 40-18kHz with mid-range equalization. The polar response doesn't come off as the best of the crop, but that's not to say it performs badly. While it also lacks physical decibel controls, you can still adjust this functionality using an OS or recording software just as easily. This is a great pick for someone just getting started or simply trying their hand at it.
4. Samson Go Mic
- Portable USB condenser microphone
- Plug and Play Mac and PC compatible, no drivers required
- Custom compact design that clips to a laptop or sits on a desk
- Perfect for recording music, podcasting and field recording
- Ideal for voice recognition software, iChat, VoIP and web casting
The Samson Go is characteristic of brands producing smaller versions of their model recently. This new compact design means this mic can be easily clipped on a desk, or even on your PC.
It packs dual cardioid capsules for both front-facing and side-address and (optional) omnidirectional patterns. Despite what the size might lead you into thinking, the Samson Go mic delivers more than decent sound, but it would be prudent to trim any unrealistic expectations.
Its size also seems to limit how it handles sound pressure levels, particularly high pressure. This makes it somewhat unsuitable for percussive instruments or recording from a distance. Leaving that aside, the Samson Go mic is excellent at up close recording, such as interviews or audio notes, and still performs well with on-the-go recording.
5. Shure MV7
- Built-in headphone output allows for direct headphone monitoring while recording
- Optimized frequency response for rich and natural vocal reproduction
- Rugged all-metal construction for outstanding reliability
The Shure MV7 is a prime example of a brand making the best of both worlds. It not only delivers the expected versatility from Shure's USB mic line-up but also comes with pro gear characteristics.
There is plenty to like if you are looking for a clarity-focused easy to use mic. It's a front-address cardioid USB mic with a frequency range of 50Hz to 16kHz, with both 16-bit and 24-bit audio recording rates. The Shure MV7 also supports both XLR and USB connections, which is very handy for most users.
Its companion software, the Motiv app makes it very easy to adjust and fine tune the USB microphone. The Shure MV7 produces a vast range of superb sounds. Be it at a podcast or recording from the studio, its delivers the same clean and crisp audio quality across the board. In short, this is an ideal choice for anyone looking for a ready-to-go USB microphone with added functionalities.
On the down side, the tripod side, mic stand and boom arm stand are sold separately. You might, therefore, end up spending a bit to get all the necessary accessories.
What Should You Look for in the Best USB Microphones
Sifting through all the best USB microphone options available can be overwhelming. More so, there's hardly ever a one-size-fits-all option. Therefore, it is important to consider the following aspects before you settle on your final choice.
Typically, your budget is what determines the product you'll end up buying. It all hinges on what you are looking for. Luckily, the best USB mics come in a wide range of price points. If you are looking for an entry-level mic that simply gets the job done, you can rest assured you'll find something that won't leave much of a dent in your wallet. However, if you want a solid build quality, professional-level USB microphone, you can certainly expect its price to be a bit higher.
Generally, most USB mics offer a decent degree of versatility. Nevertheless, the intended use will significantly influence your decision making. For instance, if you'll be mainly recording audios, it would be best to get a USB microphone than can be easily mounted on a stand or clipped on desk/table. Similarly, if you intend to move around with your mic, it only makes sense to get a compact one that is conveniently portable. Therefore, as you look around for viable options, it is important to have a clear idea of how you want to use your USB microphone.
3. Pickup Patterns
From which side is your USB microphone going to pickup ? Pickup or polar patterns, essentially refer to the orientation from which the mic will record audio. Therefore, your specific use case(s) is what ultimately determines the pickup pattern to go for. There are 3 main variations:
- Cardioid - Also known as unidirectional, where only the sound in front of the mic is recorded. This is ideal for one-person recordings, such as gaming or a home recording.
- Omnidirectional - As the name suggests, sound is picked up from all directions, making them superb for outdoor or expansive recordings.
- Bi-directional - This means that the mic only picks up what's playing in front and at the back of its surroundings. As you have probably guessed by now, the bi-directional polar pattern was quite popular in radio back in the day. But they are still great for interviews or live performances.
Frequently Asked Questions about USB Microphones
1. What makes a good USB condenser microphone?
While this is a common and substantial question, the answer is almost always subjective. It really depends on how you to intend to use the mic. It is worth noting that condenser mics within the same price range tend not vary too much in terms of features and functionality.
However, if we attempt to be as objective as feasibly possible, a good USB condenser mic should:
- Be plug and play; no need to install drivers.
- Deliver clear audio and voice recording without interference or picking up background noise. Sound quality should never be compromised.
- Have at least 16-bit audio quality, with a 32-bit being more preferable.
- Have zero latency monitoring.
- Durable build quality.
2. Does an XLR mic have better recording capabilities than a USB mic?
Generally, yes. This is solely based on how each of these two is fundamentally built. XLR microphones have a three-pronged output that isolates incoming and outgoing currents. Conversely, USB microphones normally have a single channel for incoming and outgoing electrical currents, which tends to distort sound.
3. Which is the best mic for Zoom calls?
It depends on how frequently you move around during a call. If you are mostly sat in one position, then a cardioid USB condenser microphone is more than sufficient. On the other hand, if you tend to move about, say for demonstrations or exercises, then an omnidirectional pickup mic is more suited to the job. Out of our best USB microphones list, the Blue Yeti-with its spectacular sound quality optional pickup patterns-is undoubtedly our top pick for Zoom calls.
Disruptive tech advancements, plus contemporary cultural shifts, have created more opportunities and reasons for us to record ourselves, others or even our surroundings. In which case, you need a performing tool to help you get the job done well. Whether you are a podcaster, vlogger, musician, etc., a meticulously-chosen USB microphone will seldom ever let you down. Hopefully, this guide will save you the immense trouble of incessantly mulling over the best USB mic to go for.
Happy voice recording!