by Michael Crider on
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A good USB microphone is a fantastic way to record studio-quality sound on your computer without investing in a full studio setup. Here are the best options on the market.
The advantage in a direct USB connection is that uses can plug the mic directly into a PC or Mac (and sometimes mobile devices, too!) without requiring an advanced amplifier or converter from a standard XLR microphone cord. It’s an elegant, all-in-one solution for users who want to begin recording without investing in a more expensive setup.
We’ve selected the best models on the market for general users, advanced “pro” upgrades, frequent travelers, and those on a budget. All of the choices below include condenser diaphragms for ultra-sensitive sound pickup, CD-quality (16-bit, 44kHz) digital output or better, and integrated headphone jacks for monitoring the audio directly. For the best results, you’ll want to add a pair of headphones and a pop filter to soften hard vocal sounds.
Ask any podcaster which microphone you should get if you’d like to make a high-quality recording at home, and nine out of ten will tell you to pick up a Blue Yeti. This rock-solid design combines a multitude of recording features with easy-to-use controls and adaptability.
The biggest pro is its four-way recording mode support: cardioid recording for a single user, stereo for a natural sound good for ambient music, omnidirectional for recording groups, and bidirectional for two clear audio sources. This is achieved by integrating three different high-quality condenser capsules into the beefy metal body.
The design includes a heavy-duty desktop stand, but you can stick it on a standard microphone mount as well. Users can plug in a pair of headphones for zero-latency monitoring, and the front-and-center mute button is handy for conference calls or game streaming. In fact, the Yeti is so popular with the Twitch crowd that it’s now offered in a multitude of colors to match streaming setups, and even with a few game bundles.
Rode gets the nod for our upgrade pick thanks to a selection of features geared towards a more precise, professional user. Unlike the Yeti, the NT-USB is designed for cardioid recording only, so it’s ideal for a single-user recording setup (or multiple mics used for simultaneous recording of different sources).
The design includes a stylish and useful pop filter that sits right on the base of the mic, ready for easy installation with either the included desktop stand or a standardized microphone mount. In addition to a zero-latency headphone jack for audio monitoring, the NT-USB has controls for mixing the microphone and source audio directly on the mic body itself. Pro customers praise this particular model’s extreme sensitivity, making it ideal for home recording studios. A surprisingly long USB cord—20 feet—allows the Rode mic to be used with any existing mounts or arms without the need for additional cables or extensions.
This smaller microphone comes in at $70 retail, around half the price of the full-sized choices above. It’s a better upgrade than a smaller headset or lapel-mounted mic for those who want some serious quality for their recordings. Despite the small size, the Meteor uses a 25mm condenser diaphragm that allows it to match the industry standard 20Hz-20kHz recording range, and its 16-bit recording quality will handle most situations well.
But don’t let the rounded look of the case fool you: this mic is designed for cardioid recording from a single source only. The Meteor beats out similar budget designs thanks to a more stable integrated base, superior bass pickup, and an included zero-latency headphone jack for audio monitoring.
Sticking a big, heavy desktop-class microphone into your carry-on luggage isn’t going to do any favors for your back, and those designs are prone to damage from relatively minor bumps, too. If you need high-quality recording on the go, this Samson model has you covered.
The microphone and its integrated stand are only a little bigger than a cell phone, and the package includes a handy carrying case. The stand’s design is particularly notable: it can either support the mic on its own on a desktop or table, or clip to the screen of your tablet or laptop for easy setup in a tight space. Despite the small size and low price, the Go includes a high-quality condenser diaphragm and a zero-latency monitor headphone jack, features that are missing on some other travel-friendly microphone designs. This mic makes a great tool for on-the-go podcasts or impromptu jam sessions.
Image credit: PLE Computers
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