Update, 4/7/23: This article has been verified, updated, and expanded for 2023.
What to Look for in a USB Microphone
There’s a decent amount of stuff to consider when looking at a microphone, whether those are cold-hard specs or the physical design of the product itself.
- Audio Quality: There’s little point in picking up a microphone if it’s going to sound awful. The issue is it’s hard to gather how good a mic sounds just from the product listing. Looking at the specs sheet can help a little, but it’s not 100% reliable even if you know everything about how microphones function. This is where reviewers can come in handy; looking up a couple of sound tests online is your best bet for getting a taste of how a microphone sounds. And all the microphones on this list offer quality that matches their price tags of course.
- Sampling Rate and Bit Depth: This is more important if you’re trying to do professional recordings with your microphone. The sampling rate and bit depth both have to do with how much data is being sent by the microphone, which doesn’t matter if you’re just joining voice calls. The standard rate and depth are 44.1 kHz and 16-bit, respectively (commonly called “CD Quality”). Anything higher is called “high-definition audio,” so if you’re planning on doing professional recordings, it’s worth looking out for mics with a higher sampling rate.
- Polar Pattern: You can think of a polar pattern as the area around a microphone where it will gather sound. There are a few pickup patterns out there, with the most popular being “cardioid.” This pattern focuses on picking up sound directly in front of the microphone, which can also help eliminate background noise. Other popular patterns are stereo (which uses the left and right channels for a more immersive sound), omnidirectional (which gathers sound from every direction), and bidirectional (picks up sound from in front and behind the microphone). Some mics also have settings to let you switch between these patterns.
- On-Device Controls: Many microphones will have dials or buttons to adjust certain things. It’s a useful feature to be able to mute the microphone or adjust the gain (volume, basically) on the fly without having to mess with any software. Many mics will also include zero-latency headphone monitor jacks, which are useful if you want to, for example, hear your audio live while recording a voiceover.
- Software: Speaking of, the software of a microphone is important to be aware of. Microphone software can range from a versatile, feature-packed tool to a place where you just change the gain of your microphone. Usually, the former is preferable, but not every microphone needs a complex software suite, so we’ll go into detail on how each software manages.
Best Overall: Blue Yeti
- ✓ High quality audio recording capabilities
- ✓ Easy to use
- ✓ Durable and reliable
- ✗ Expensive
The Yeti is a well-known name in the world of microphones, but it’s a safe call for voice calls, streaming, and voiceovers. For features, the Yeti keeps things simple yet practical; there’s a dial for adjusting volume through the zero-latency headphone jack, a mute button, and a switch for adjusting the polar pattern (it supports omnidirectional, cardioid, bidirectional, and stereo).
It uses a sampling rate of 16-bit, 48 kHz, which is adjustable through Blue’s Sherpa software, alongside the gain. The simple mic stand the Yeti comes with is fine for setting it up, but Blue also offers a dedicated boom arm mic if you need more movement (and most third-party arms will support the Yeti as well). Thanks to a combination of smart features, an elegant design, and good support among the accessory market, the Yeti is an easy choice to make.
But that’s not where the Yeti’s legacy ends, as there are a couple of other microphones under the Yeti label that, while similar to the original, offer some unique features. First up is the Nano, the Yeti’s smaller follow-up that still delivers similarly great audio—in fact, it even has a higher bit depth at 24-bit. Besides that, the specs are extremely similar, though the Nano only supporting cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns.Second is the Yeti X, which is an upgraded version of the standard Yeti that offers better specs and audio, alongside a more versatile dial that can now adjust the gain. It’s a worthy upgrade if you already have a Yeti, or want something with some more features.
A well-garnered microphone that balances price, features, and quality excellently.
Best Mid-Range Pick: Blue Snowball
- ✓ Easy to set up and use
- ✓ Good sound quality for the price
- ✓ Can be used with both Mac and PC
- ✗ Limited features compared to more expensive models
If the Yeti clan is out of your price range, then Blue still offers an excellent substitute—the Snowball. The Blue Snowball is an oddly shaped microphone that still delivers some great audio quality. With a sample rate of 44.1 kHz and bit depth of 16-bit, the microphone does a good job for the money. You still have a couple of polar patterns to switch between, namely cardioid and omnidirectional, and Blue Sherpa still controls your microphone gain. There are no on-device controls to speak of, nor is there a headphone jack, but considering the more casual approach to this microphone those are understandable.
And if the Snowball is still out of your price range, then the Snowball iCE lowers the price even further. This microphone is only capable of using the cardioid polar pattern and cuts down the number of condenser capsules (which, put basically, is the tech inside the microphone that actually records audio) from two to one. This does decrease audio quality overall, but the iCE still sounds fine and is more than enough for video calls.
Another option from Blue that offers some solid audio quality for a lower price.
Best Budget Option: Fifine K669B
- ✓ Affordable price point
- ✓ Simple to use
- ✓ Good sound quality
- ✗ Limited features
Considering how inexpensive this microphone is, it still delivers an impressive level of audio quality. The K669B is a basic microphone though; there’s no software, no headphone jack, and it only supports the cardioid polar pattern. The mic still sounds good though, it has a gain dial on the front, and it records at 16-bit, 48 kHz. If you don’t need anything fancy, the K669B is good enough for most audio purposes—but it will disappoint if you try to use it for anything professional. Just turn off your fan when using it, because most reviewers cite it as being pretty sensitive to background noise.
An inexpensive mic that, while sensitive to background noise, still lives up to the price tag.
Another Affordable Option: Neat Bumblebee II
- ✓ Affordable
- ✓ Small and lightweight
- ✓ Outstanding recording quality
- ✗ Design takes some getting used to
The Bumblebee II microphone offers high-quality audio at an inexpensive price. It’s ideal if you’re looking to improve your video calls or do some amateur recording. And one of the best parts is that it often goes on sale, so watch for that.
Visually, the Bumblebee II is pretty cool and compact, but it can be awkward. It also has a bit of a learning curve, which is a shame because the audio quality is so good. The desktop stand that comes with it isn’t convenient, either. It gets in the way of the USB and headphone jacks, making it challenging to plug things in. Plus, it’s not ideal for recording because the front-facing capsule means you have to speak into the front of the mic where the big knob is located.
But those are just quibbles compared to this USB mic’s sound quality. Most of that is thanks to its 25mm condenser capsule with a cardioid polar pattern and an internal shock mount. The Bumblebee II captures 24-bit audio at a 96kHz sample rate, which is better than most USB mics in this price range. The audio quality is impressive, with a clear, smooth sound that’s not too treble-heavy or boomy on the low end. It’s not quite as good as an expensive studio mic, but it gives the Blue Yeti a run for its money.
All things considered, the Bumblebee II is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an affordable microphone with high-quality audio. It has a few quirks but nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of practice. Just make sure to check to see if it’s on sale, and be prepared to invest in a better stand or boom arm if you want to get the most out of it.
Neat Bumblebee II - Professional Cardioid Directional USB Condenser Microphone with 24 bit/96 kHz Digital Audio for Recording, Streaming, Podcasting, and Gaming - Black
A neat little microphone with great sound quality at an affordable price.
Best Premium Microphone: Audio-Technica AT2020USB+
- ✓ Professional-level sound quality
- ✓ Included tripod desk stand
- ✓ Built-in headphone jack
- ✗ Requires XLR to USB cable
Forget fancy features and software, if you just want great audio quality, the AT2020USB+ has it. Audio-Technica makes some of the best microphones around, and the AT2020USB+ is a shining example of that. It records at 16-bit, 48 kHz and has two dials on the bottom; one for mixing audio from the mic and computer, and the other for headphone output volume through the zero-latency jack. It’s limited to the cardioid pattern, which is unfortunate, but if you’re just doing voice recordings that shouldn’t be an issue —you’d want to use cardioid for that either way.
If you’re looking to do professional recordings but aren’t quite ready to make the jump to XLR, then the AT2020USB+ is a nice middle ground.
A high-end USB mic that delivers quality sound.
Best Ultra-Premium: Blue Yeti Pro
- ✓ Ultra high-quality audio recordings
- ✓ As easy to use as other Blue microphones
- ✓ Wide range of recording formats
- ✗ Heavy and bulky design
We have one more stop to make in the Blue realm, this time with the Blue Yeti Pro. While it is technically a part of the standard Yeti family, the Pro offers a lot more upgrades than even the Yeti X in terms of quality—for a much higher price. It records at a max of 192 kHz, 24-bit (adjustable through Blue Sherpa), and can be switched between cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo polar patterns. It also keeps the headphone output volume dial, zero-latency jack, and mute button of the standard Yeti.
But the most interesting feature of the Yeti Pro is it’s not solely a USB microphone—it also includes an XLR port. XLR is an alternative connector for microphones capable of transferring higher-quality audio signals, which makes it preferable for professional recordings. It does have some drawbacks, however. It’s more complicated and requires an audio interface to work. This feature makes the Yeti Pro a smart choice if you think you’ll want to switch to XLR in the future with the simplicity of USB to start.
Blue Yeti Pro
Another mic from Blue which offers high-quality audio and a choice between USB and XLR connection.
Small and Powerful: Razer Seiren X
- ✓ Excellent sound capture
- ✓ Handy front LED panel
- ✓ Small and compact design
- ✗ No built-in pop filter
If you’re familiar with Razer, then it’s no surprise that all its microphone released over the years are marketed as “gaming microphones.” However, that shouldn’t dissuade you from the Seiren X, because at the end of the day, it’s a great microphone in a sleek and compact package. There’s been a lot of these smaller microphones released over the past few years, mostly targeted at streamers, and the Seiren X makes a compelling case for itself.
The Seiren X records at 48 kHz, 16-bit which can be adjusted alongside the gain in Razer Synapse. The most unique part of the Seiren X is the polar pattern it uses: Super Cardioid—an even more focused version of standard cardioid. This helps eliminate background noise, which is something a lot of other USB microphones struggle with. It also features a zero-latency jack, a dial for adjusting the volume, and a mute button.
Then there’s the Seiren Emote, which is extremely similar to the X but uses the “Hyper Cardioid” polar pattern, which is even more focused than Super. It also has an LED panel on the front of the microphone that can display small images and animations. This is mostly a fun alternative to the Seiren X than an upgrade per se, although you’d be forgiven for thinking the latter as the Emote is nearly twice as expensive as the X.
Razer Seiren X
A sleek and compact microphone that uses a unique polar pattern.
Best for Streamers: Elgato Wave 3
- ✓ Great quality audio recording
- ✓ Easy to use for beginners
- ✓ Comes with free mixer software
- ✗ Expensive for what you get
While any of the microphones we’ve listed so far would make for competent streaming microphones, the Wave 3 is a special case. Elgato is well-known for making some of the best streaming peripherals you can buy, and the Wave 3 is no different. In terms of hardware, it’s a pretty solid offering; compact form factor, a sampling rate of 24-bit, 96 kHz, cardioid polar pattern, and a versatile dial that can adjust gain and headphone output volume. (There’s also a zero-latency jack.) There’s also a dedicated mute button located on the top of the mic.
But the software is where things get more interesting. Through Elgato Wavelink, you can access a lot of features and settings that simplify the streaming experience. The main feature is you can balance and mix up to nine audio sources, including the microphone itself, games, or other programs. And then there’s the “Clipguard” setting, which automatically balances your microphone audio to avoid clipping on stream. Clipping occurs when your audio is too loud and overloads your microphone. Clipguard will ensure your audio never gets to that point by dynamically lowering the gain.
It’s a feature-packed microphone, but admittedly expensive. That’s where the Elgato Wave 1 is handy—it loses the multifunction dial and dedicated mute button, but still keeps the great functionality of Wavelink.
Elgato Wave 3
A feature-packed microphone built for streamers.
Versatile: Audio-Technica AT2005USB
- ✓ Affordable price
- ✓ High quality sound
- ✓ Goes anywhere
- ✗ Not the best for studio-based recording
The final microphone on this list is one for users who want some freedom. The AT2005USB features a sampling rate of 48 kHz, 16-bit, and uses the cardioid polar pattern. So nothing too unique there, but unlike most of the other mics on this list, it has an XLR port alongside a USB. This allows you to switch from USB to XLR on the fly (assuming you have an audio interface for the XLR) and choose whether you want the simplicity of USB or higher quality audio of XLR. This is also a dynamic microphone, which means it’s more suited for recording loud noises and instruments than the other microphones here (which are all condenser mics).
Either way, the microphone still sounds pretty good for the mid-range price point, so if you want the ability to switch connector types at will, it’s an inexpensive way to do so.
An XLR/USB microphone that performs better when recording loud sounds and instruments.