It seems like every store, right down to your local drug store, is selling quality USB microphones. Many of these microphones have quality similar to what you’d get from separate a microphone and audio interface.
The convenience and price of USB microphones can be attractive. Let’s dive into some pros, cons and tips along the way for working with USB microphones.
Wait! What is the difference between USB or XLR Microphones?
When you record a vocal on your computer you need to:
- Capture the sound with a microphone element and convert into an an analog electrical signal (using a microphone).
- Convert the analog electrical signal into a digital signal that your computer can understand (using digital to analog converter/audio interface).
The typical setup for home or professional studios is to use a dedicated microphone for point 1 and a separate audio interface for point 2.
With a USB microphone steps 1 and 2 are done in one device.
So what’s so great about USB microphones?
Price and convenience are the first things people notice about USB microphones.
In general, USB microphones cost less than buying the microphone and audio interface separately. Although, one has to be careful in making these comparisons.
There is a larger range of prices and quality for dedicated microphones vs. USB microphones. In addition, any audio interface beyond the entry level price points typically offer more features than a USB microphone.
Convenience can’t be ignored. With a USB microphone you connect the USB cable to your computer or phone. Then you simply plug your headphones into your USB microphone or your computer. It’s a fast and compact setup.
Another benefit of USB microphones is that many versions offer multiple microphone capsules that are controlled digitally. This can provide a variety of polar patterns that may be handy for recording vocals, especially stereo group vocals.
What’s not to like?
The most common objection to USB microphones is they are not “professional”. This is unfair. Many USB microphones rival or go beyond the quality of dedicated components – and convenience is just as important in professional applications.
However, there are some challenges with USB microphones:
- Distance: USB microphones can only be as far away as the length of the USB cable from your computer. Whereas a separate microphone can be located very far from your recording setup with a common mic cable being 25′ / 7 meters. This can be important in getting your microphone away from noise – especially fan noise form your computer.
- Versatility: You can’t use a USB microphone in a live situation. It’s also difficult to record with USB microphones and separate audio interfaces at the same time. This can make your purchase less versatile, and in the end, more expensive. However, it should be noted that some USB microphones also include an XLR output like the Yeti Pro by Blue.
- Mic Stand connection: some USB microphones are not easy to use with a standard microphone stand. USB microphones may include a desktop stand. However, for singing a desktop stand often isn’t useful. You may need to purchase an extra adapter for things to work with your mic stand.
- Unneeded features: multiple capsules and digital control of USB microphones do add value. However, those values are not necessarily priorities for getting started with recording vocals.
Kevin Alexander is CEO and co-founder of Singdaptive, bringing his past experience as CEO of the singing technology company TC-Helicon, as well as live sound, recording and love of music. Recently, he has been a university instructor in Multimedia Learning and is helping to envision an exciting future with technology at the research firm Kinsol.io