If you think microphones can only function with long cables connected to potentially expensive audio interfaces, you’re wrong! The latest technology in recording has allowed many manufacturers to develop USB microphones. They work like any other USB device: you can plug them into your laptop, mobile phone or tablet, and you’ll be all set up to record! So you won’t need any additional drivers or external equipment.
USB microphones are designed to incorporate everything you need to get recording. Whether you’re just starting out making music, recording your podcast, or you’re already a pro, these mics are an affordable and compact solution to record in any situation.
What’s a USB microphone?
A USB microphone is a microphone with a digital output, that is the USB connection. It’s becoming more and more popular thanks to the rise of podcasts and live streaming, it is also a more affordable alternative to an XLR mic. The main difference is that an XLR mic needs to be pre-amplified and recorded through an audio interface, that acts as a bridge between the analog signal coming from your microphone and the digital information your DAW needs to do its job.
USB mics, on the other hand, have a built-in interface and an A/D (analogue-to-digital) converter, hence you can simply connect them to your laptop or mobile phone and record with no need for other devices. What’s more, some of them will also have a headphone amp for direct monitoring.
What can be a USB mic used for?
USB microphones are great for a variety of activities. First and foremost, they can be a good way to start recording music. Thanks to the latest technology they’re becoming better and better in terms of sound quality. Since they’re plug and play, they’re good for beginner music producers and artists on a budget or on the go, who need an affordable and still good quality mic.
Secondly, USB mics are great for podcasting, live streaming, recording voice-overs and also conferencing. They give everyone access to high-quality audio recordings on a budget.
Types of USB microphones
Most USB microphones are condensers, which are the most common type of mics you find in recording studios. Condensers are built with a diaphragm suspended by a fixed plate; the sound causes pressure against it making it move. Their pickup is very accurate, meaning that they will capture all the details of the sound source.
You can mainly find 3 types of condenser USB microphones depending on their polar pattern: cardioid, omni and figure-of-eight. Cardioid will pick up anything that is in front of the diaphragm, omnidirectional picks up the whole ambience and figure-of-eight (or bidirectional) picks up the equal amount of sound from the front and the rear, but the sound from the sides is blocked out.
The main differentiator between USB microphones is how they use DSP (digital signal processing). Some mics have it and use it in a subtle way. Others don’t have it at all and give the highest bitrate audio they can. Other models have a heavy DSP and use it on thick coats, offering anything but pure signal. This last kind of mics is generally designed for gamers, although it’s not always the case.
Best USB Microphones for Podcasting
The best USB microphones for podcasting are cardioid and super-cardioid, specially designed for vocals. At Andertons we stock a wide range of cardioid condenser and dynamic USB mics, as well as mixers and all-in-one consoles to have a professional podcast studio at home. It might be worth getting a mic with some DSP in it, to avoid laughter and bursts of sound going into distortion.