Here at Sound Guys we look at a lot of speakers and headphones, but there’s a lot more that goes into audio. Creating audio is just as important as enjoying it, and a good microphone is key to quality sound. There are plenty of ways to record sound, from simple apps on your phone to high end audio interfaces and top of the line microphones. Assuming your needs aren’t too intense, a solid USB mic could get the job done. Whether you’re looking to step up your audio game or start a podcast with some friends, these mics are known for their clarity and wide range of use cases.
Related: Best podcast mics
As you would assume by the name, a USB mic needs to be plugged in to the USB of your computer. From there it draws the power it needs to function properly. A good microphone should get you quality sound in a relatively easy way. Though high end audio setups allow for more control, USB mics are dead simple to use and require no previous audio experience. Just plug it in, and start recording with your software of choice. Hopefully this list of the best USB microphones you can get take some of the research off your plate.
One that you’ve probably heard of before is the internets favorite: the Blue Yeti. We’ve reviewed some of Blues headphones in the past, but it’s their quality USB microphones that they’re best known for. The Yeti is a condenser mic that comes with a number of different presets built-in that help you get the desired effects with a simple turn of the knob. You can choose between cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo as the presets. In cardioid mode the microphone records in a single direction, which is great for a single voice or instrument. As you might have guessed bidirectional mode records in two directions: from the front and the back of the microphone. This is useful to use in an interview situation when two people are speaking. The third mode is omnidirectional which records in all directions. Above, behind, next to, and in front of the mic would all be covered. Definitely a handy mode if youre recording the happenings of an entire room. The last preset is stereo, which records from both the left and the right to give a better sense of spacing. The Yeti also has basic controls for instant mute, adding more gain, and a 3.5mm headphone jack to listen in real time to what you’re recording with a corresponding volume knob. The microphone has a tri-capsule array, which basically means that it has 3 small condenser microphones inside each angled at a different direction to pick up its surroundings. The Yeti is able to record with a bit rate of 16 bit to go along with a sample rate of 48 kHz. For those who really care about the specs, it also has a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz. The Blue Yeti comes with a built-in stand making it ultra portable so you can set up anywhere with a flat surface and has a hinge so you can easily angle it to the best position. It comes in black, platinum, silver, space grey, and white color options and is compatible with both Mac OS X and PC without any driver installations.
Audio-Technica does a lot of things right, and since the word “audio” is in their name it should come as no surprise that they also have some solid microphones to choose from. Many people know them for their headphones, but the AT2020USB+ microphone is another great product from the company. It records in the cardioid pattern as well which means it’s most effective on a desk and therefore comes with its own small tripod. It’s able to record in 16-bit/44.1kHz and has a built-in headphone jack so that you can monitor your recording in real time. There’s even a built-in amp that provides power to your headphones so you can listen with almost any pair of headphones. Below the actual mic are two wheels that let you do some basic audio mixing as you record. One of the controls simply controls the volume in the headphones, but the other one lets you mix your vocals with pre-recorded audio These two knobs work together to let you roughly mix the audio while recording. A common theme with these USB microphones is that they require no additional software , and the AT2020USB+ microphone is no exception. Simply plug it in via your computers USB and it should be ready to go. The OS of your computer isn’t a factor since it’s compatible with both Windows and Mac. A simple trip to audio settings will let you change the input of your computer to the AT2020USB+. Unlike the other mics on this list, this one comes with an external pop filter that helps remove some of the harsher sounds from the recording, especially anything with the letter “s”.
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Though the Blue Yeti gets all the glory, its under appreciated little brother dubbed the Snowball is also worth taking a look at. It has an unconventional ball-like design (hence the name snowball) and is one of the best mics you can get for your basic audio needs. Like the previous microphones it can record in cardioid mode, but the round design also means that its capable of recording omnidirectional as well. The unconventional design is weirdly attractive and it also captures crispy audio. Being able to record in omnidirectional means that you can place the mic in the middle of the room and be able to pick up whatever is going on in any direction. It may be a little less defined that cardioid, but definitely useful for times when you need to record multiple things at once such as a band or group conversation. To eliminate some of the distortion that comes along with too much going into a mic, Blue also has the option to switch to a cardioid mode with -10dB sensitivity. Doing this enables you to record louder sounds at a lower sensitivity, which decreases distortion. The Snowball comes with its own small desktop stand as well so you’ll be ready to record as soon as you open the box. It comes in a total of seven colors: white, orange, brushed aluminum, blue, black, pink, and green.
Rode might not be a name that sounds familiar if you’re into headphones and speakers, but when it comes to microphones they’re one of the most respected brands out there. One of the reasons for that is the Rode Podcaster. Seeing as it’s in the name, you may have guessed that this mic is specifically made for podcasting and you’d be right. It has one of the best cardioid pick-up patterns out there so it can pick up what’s in front of it clearly without capturing the surroundings. The Podcaster can record in 18-bit resolution, meaning the your recordings will have a slightly higher amount of detail in them than if it was recorded at a lower bit rate. The Podcaster also has a built-in analog-to-digital converter for cleaner audio. When it comes to headphones and speakers we’re used to hearing about digital-to-analog converters, or DACs. If you have a good DAC then the sound that is being converted will have higher quality than a file that didn’t pass through a quality DAC first. The same is true with the analog-to-digital converter that is found in the Podcaster. In a way, you can think of it as a reverse DAC. It bypasses the (more than likely) average converter in your computer and gets as much detail out of the sound wave as it can. There’s also an XLR version of this microphone so make sure to pay attention to the model that you get. If you have the equipment then the XLR version might be a good choice for you, but as this list is only for the best USB mics we’re going to recommend the USB version. It comes with everything you need in the box: the mic, a 10 foot USB cable, and a ring mount stand. You won’t even need a pop filter because it has one built-in.
Another USB mic worth bringing up in this list is the CAD U37. It has a single large condenser microphone that records solely in the cardioid pattern. Where the Yeti does a couple of different things, the CAD U37 specializes in single direction recording only. This makes it great for recording voices in particular, though instruments can also be recorded if played in front of the mic. The U37 looks like a standard microphone, but it has two switches on the front that give it a few extra abilities. The top switch protects the recording from distortion by up to 10dB so any loud noises won’t be distorted in the final product. Using it will make the microphone less sensitive to loud noises for a smoother recording overall. Under that is a bass-reduction switch that reduces low frequency sounds in a similar manner that Active Noise Canceling does in headphones. Using that switch means any low rumbles and grumbles won’t show up in the final recording either. This works particularly well with to remove wind and ventilation noises. The CAD U37 comes with it’s own tripod perfect for desks or tables and require no additional software to use. Simply change your microphone input in settings to the U37 and let it do the rest. If you want to start a podcast or need to record any voice overs, the U37 might be the one for you.
If you’re going to start creating or are just looking to upgrade, hopefully this list helped you narrow down your choices. Let us know what your favorite USB microphones are for the next time we update this list.
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