In the past five years, we’ve seen an impressive rise in the public’s interest in podcasts and accessible content, like YouTube musicians and vloggers. If you’ve thought to yourself, “Hey, I’d like to try my hand at that,” but didn’t know where to start on the hardware side of things. From the enthusiast to the professional, a solid USB microphone will jumpstart your passion project.
Editor’s note: This list was updated on November 8, 2018, to reflect the changing market prices and to include contextual information.
The best USB microphone is the Blue Yeti
If you’re one to keep up with the latest audio gadgets and gizmos, then you’ve probably had a run in or two with the Blue Yeti microphone. We’ve reviewed a handful of Blue headphones—yes, the company makes headphones—which are great, but the real stars of the Blue lineup are its USB microphones. The Yeti is a condenser microphone and it allows you to choose between cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional and stereo recording patterns.
Aside from the built-in presets, the Yeti is outfitted with basic controls such as a mute toggle, the ability to adjust gain settings, and a 3.5mm headphone jack for listening in real time. Doing so is great for adjusting levels on the fly and making sure that your annunciation of the word “popsicle” isn’t creating distracting pops and hisses.
Inside the Yeti is a tri-capsule array which consists of three condenser capsules that are each angled differently to record omnidirectional sound. This is great if you want to capture room ambiance, but the ability to switch presets to something more focused—say cardioid mode—is just as valuable. What’s more, this the best of the best USB microphones for a reason and that’s because it records 16-bit audio at 48kHz.
As far as additional hardware goes, the Blue Yeti acts as its own stand; the legs kick out so you can record virtually anywhere with a flat surface. Additionally, you can angle the mic for optimal recording, and it’s available in platinum, silver, space grey, black, and white and is compatible with Macs and PCs.
What you should know about any USB microphone
So, you’re in the market for an easy-to-use USB microphone. Well, there are a handful of things you should know first.
- Not all USB mics are universal, meaning that they work with both Mac and PC operating systems. However, we’ve made sure that all of our picks are compatible with both, saving you the trouble of checking, checking, and triple-checking.
- There is a variety of recording patterns offered from one USB microphone to the next, but not all of them are available with each pick. In brief, cardioid patterns are going to be your best bet; they do a great job at recording sounds that are directly in front of the recording element while simultaneously reducing distracting background noise. That said, if you want to record a certain background presence, you may want something with omnidirectional capabilities like the Blue Yeti.
- There are few instances where you’ll need anything greater than a 16-bit, 44.1kHz recording. We promise.
Should you get a USB microphone?
Well, if you need something portable with zero learning curve, yes. Though most of these are just fine if not superb for a podcast or song that will be streamed as a compressed MP3 file, there are instances where a non-USB microphone will better serve you. For one, if you make your living on recording and mixing audio, then you’ll want to look at something like the Rode NT1A. Its recording capabilities surpass any of the listed following microphones, but it also requires an external recorder, which will cost much more than any of the following options.
Even if you are a professional in the audio industry, you may want a USB microphone as a go-to backup. As they say, “redundancy saves lives.” By having something as easy as a USB microphone, having a backup recording will be a thoughtless process that could save you from a world of frustration.
Related: Best podcasting mics
Don’t compromise quality for convenience. The Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ belongs in your bag and on your desk
Depending on which side of the audio pond you’re from—production or listening—you’ve probably heard of Audio-Technica. The Japan-based audio company has made its way onto plenty of our best headphones lists, but today we’re going to highlight a lesser known product: the AT2020USB microphone. Like the Blue Yeti, this is a condenser mic that records in 16-bit, 44.1/48kHz sampling rate.
The AT2020USB+ includes a standard headphone jack like some of the other best USB microphones listed, which—again—lets you monitor the microphone’s signal sans delay. This USB mic includes a high-output, internal headphone amplifier, delivering a clear reproduction of your subject. Below the microphone’s grill, you’ll find two horizontal dials that allow for basic audio mixing as you go. The left dial mixes vocals with pre-recorded audio; if done correctly, this could save you ample time in post-production. Then there’s the right knob, which adjusts the volume delivered to the headphones.
Just like the other mics listed, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is a universal USB microphone. You can skip any additional downloads because, well, there aren’t any. Just plug in and record. Oh, and lest we forget, this includes an external pop filter, mic mount, and carrying pouch. Sure, it’s a bit pricey at around $160, but it’ll make your project sound oh, so crispy.
Take the Samson Go Mic anywhere. No, really, anywhere.
As is the nature of the best USB microphones, they’re all relatively portable. And by that, we mean relative to something like the Rode NT1A microphone package. Though it’s a fabulous choice, it’s both expensive and a pain to transport. The Samson Go mic takes portability to the next level. It’s smaller than most USB mice and can definitely fit into your pocket. Yes, even the pockets of women’s skinny jeans; it’s that compact.
Samson Go Mic
Though portability is the main selling point, it’s also budget-friendly at around $40. The Samson Go Mic has two modes: cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns. It folds down and into its stand, which doubles as a minimal protective covering when sheathed. You can even” clip it to your laptop screen. Aside from the USB cable and mic itself, the only other inclusion is a zipper carrying case. It provides ample protection while respecting the compactness of the mic.
Now, the Samson Go Mic wouldn’t be here if it didn’t record high-quality audio. And for such a small microphone, it goes above and beyond users’ expectations. The Though it’s not going to compete with the AT2020USB+, it’s great for business people who are constantly traveling and need it for telecommuting and for content creators who need a budget-friendly mic that fits in anywhere and on anything.
The Rode NT-USB is an easier way to podcast
Whether you’ve been yearning to get a jumpstart on that “Which is better: Ketchup or mustard?” podcast idea or you already have a substantial following, the Rode NT-USB microphone is the best USB option for you. From shotgun mics to boom mics, and now to USB microphones, Rode is the brand that content creators can’t get enough of.
The Rode NT-USB mic offers a wide array of features. Starting from the outside and working in, it’s clear that this microphone is built for the road—excuse the wordplay. Its metal chassis is durable, and if something does happen to go awry, the company backs this mic with a two-year warranty. Though, you have to register the product to qualify; otherwise, you’re bumped down to the standard one-year warranty.
Now, at first glance, you may think, “Oh, cool. I can adjust the gain directly from the housing.” Well, not quite. The engineers at Rode made sure that the NT-USB has been set to an ideal internal gain setting, hence why there aren’t any gain adjustments on the microphone. Though it’s fair to say that some users may find this to be a drawback, many who are in the market for the best USB microphone are looking for the most streamlined recording process. Rode? Well, the company has mastered ease-of-use with the plug-and-go NT-USB mic.
Though, the top knob is useful for basic audio mixing between your mic input and the computer, just like the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+. It’s worth noting, that one of the main selling points of this mic is its compatibility with the Apple iPad. You can streamline your work directly with the iPad so long as you have an appropriate USB adapter, like this one. Aside from that, Rode includes plenty of accessories like a pop filter for mitigating vocal hissing, a ⅜” desktop tripod stand, and a pouch for transport. Once you accept the $169 price tag, the Rode NT-USB is an easy pick.
If you want the best value, record with the CAD U37 USB Studio
If you’ve been following the updates to this best list, then you’ll notice that the CAD U37 USB Studio has been here for a while. That’s no mistake. This affordable SB microphone features a large, front-facing condenser mic element easily registers vocals, while the cardioid pattern attenuates ambient noise. This gives full attention to the subject without increasing the gain, risking the appearance of unwanted noise in your recordings.
The CAD U37 is equipped with a 10dB overload protection switch to reduce distortion from loud sources—perhaps a kick drum. It also has a bass-reduction toggle that’s great for immediately reducing room noise; again, this allows for your subject to take center stage when it comes to listener’s auditory attention spans. And like all the best USB microphones listed here, the CAD U37 is a universal mic that works with both Macs and PCs.
The whole package comes with a 10-foot USB cable and a desktop mic stand. If you want a pop filter, you’ll have to make a separate (online) shopping trip for that, but it’s easy enough to get. If you’re still on the fence, just know that CAD has been in the audio game for over 85 years, so it’s safe to say that the company knows how to manufacture a solid microphone. The U37 just happens to be the best value-packed USB mic available.
- Shure MV5: It’s easy to set up and takes up less space than a majority of our picks, save for the Samson Go Mic. It’s easy to transport and provides pretty good sound quality. Though, it’s going to cost you about $100.
- Shure MV51: This is great for users who want to podcast or record in style. Thee mic resembles the company’s siganture Elvis mic design, and it includes five recording presets
- Beyerdynamic Fox: The Fox is the only USB microphone listed that provides 24-bit audio recording; though, it’s at 96kHz.
- Blue Snowball: Similar to the Blue Yeti, the Blue Snowball has managed to accrue a wide base of avid users. Its appearance is similar to that of the Shure MV5 but the stand and general aesthetic are less graceful.
- Samson Meteor: The Samson Meteor is a step up from the company’s Go Mic. It records at a 16-bit, 44.1/44.8kHz resolution and works with Apple’s iPad when using the appropriate USB adapter. It’s a trite complaint, but the Meteor uses a ⅛” headphone jack instead of the standard 3.5mm option.
Why you should trust us
Adam, Chris, and Lily are each dedicated to SoundGuys as their day jobs. Through the countless hours spent testing a wide array of audio products, each of us can identify a good product from a gimmick, saving you time and energy. Ultimately, we want this site to serve your needs and understand that researching audio products can be tiresome and time-consuming, albeit enjoyable too.
We’re not invested in any purchase you much, but we do want you to be happy with whatever product you pursue. None of us may benefit from championing one USB microphone over another and, while the site makes money from referrals, the writers are paid based on their work, period. If you feel compelled, feel free to read our ethics policy.
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