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 of the best USB microphones was updated on September 16, 2020, to replace the Samson Go Mic Connect with the Samson Go Mic.
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 work with both Mac and PC operating systems. However, we’ve made sure 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 your best bet; they do a great job at recording sounds 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 Nano.
- 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 vocals 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 an XLR mic 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. We can help you out if it comes to it, but a USB mic sidesteps this issue.
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.
If you plan to take a more on-the-go approach to recording audio, you’ll be better off getting a digital voice recorder. These can be cheaper than USB microphones as well as being more portable, and some can double as audio interfaces.
Related: Best podcasting mics
The best USB microphone is the Blue Yeti X
We’ve reviewed a handful of great Blue headphones—yes, the company makes headphones—but the real stars of the Blue lineup are its USB microphones. The Blue Yeti X is a condenser microphone and it allows you to choose between cardioid, bi-directional, stereo, and omnidirectional recording patterns.
Blue Yeti X
The Yeti X has a MicroUSB output as well as a 3.5mm headphone monitoring output. It sports a gain knob with LED lights that indicate if you are peaking or close to peaking. The back of the microphone has a knob for selecting your recording pattern. If you have a PC, you can make use of the Blue VO!CE recording software for adding real-time vocal effects, but this software is not available on MacOS.
Inside the mic is a four-capsule condenser array, with each condenser 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: the Yeti X records 24-bit audio at 48kHz, so you’re afforded more wiggle room for edits in post production than you would be with the Blue Yeti.
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 condenser mic 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. Listen to these samples of the Audio-Technica AT2020, which is the XLR version of the AT2020USB+.
Audio-Technica AT2020 speaking sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 singing sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 acoustic guitar sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 electric guitar with amp sample:
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.
The best USB microphones are portable—after all the whole point of them is not to need any additional equipment. However, while most the other items on this list are excellent choices, they’re most desk-bound options, which makes them a bit of a pain to transport. That’s where the Samson Go USB microphone comes in. This tiny microphone is built to work just about everywhere, just plug it into a laptop or computer and point at the sound you want to record.
Samson Go MicFull Review
At $49, this mic is pretty budget-friendly and very portable. It’s built to clip neatly on top of any kind of monitor, but the folding stand can rest on any flat surface. The Samson Go Mic allows you to switch between an omnidirectional and cardioid pickup pattern, making it versatile for recording while sitting at a laptop or for recording a full room meeting.
The Samson Go Mic record 16-bit audio at 44.1kHz, which is great for something in this form factor, though it won’t compete with the more premium options on this list. Still, as we mentioned above, it’s pretty rare to actually need more than 16-bit audio. The mic doesn’t do a great job of attenuating background noise, but there is a -10dB setting to reduce distortion. If you’re really worried about it’s audio quality, the mic is also compatible with Samson’s Sound Deck software so you can tweak as much as you like.
The HyperX Quadcast 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 HyperX Quadcast is the best USB microphone for you. While this is billed as a gaming mic, it has nifty features that bode well for podcasters, too.
HyperX QuadcastFull Review
One of the most practical things about the Quadcast is how it’s built. Its tilting stand elevates the capsule, which rests in the included dual-shock mount. This makes it more accessible and lessens vibration. A foam material under the grill effectively diffuses plosives (p, pf, etc) and fricatives. This means you don’t have to run out and buy a pop filter before using it. On top of the capsule there’s a broad touchpad to easily mute and unmute the mic. This is particularly useful if you have unpredictable roommates and don’t want to restart the entire recording.
When you’re recording you want to choose the cardioid pickup pattern, instead of the hyper or bi-directional options. Its heart-shaped pattern means sounds directly in front of it get recorded while off-axis noises are effectively stifled. For less than $150, it’s a good choice.
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.
- AmazonBasics Mini Condenser Microphone: Amazon’s been making big strides in the affordable consumer electronics space for a little while now and it’s recent mic entry is a strong budget contender. This unidirectional desktop condenser mic will work with just about every recent version MacOS, Windows, and Linux. It’s a got a decently long 5-foot USB cable, and an included stand, all for under $45.
- 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.
- 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
Related: What to look for in a microphone
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Through the countless hours spent testing a wide array of audio products, the team at SoundGuys 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
XLR mics produce higher quality audio than USB microphones because of the inner mechanisms in each type. In a USB mic, the electrical currents that exit the microphone share a channel with the currents that enter it, often resulting in distorted sound. XLR microphones, on the other hand, have separate channels for the incoming and outgoing currents, so they don’t interfere with one another. This is what the three-pronged output is for. Think of it like a roadway: if you’re driving up a very narrow road and a car coming the opposite direction is trying to pass you, it’s likely you’ll scrape against each other. However, on a highway, the oncoming traffic is separated from your lane by a median, so there’s no danger of collision.