When it comes to recording your voice for videos, streams, podcasts, and other content then you may be in the market for a recording microphone. With a ton of options on the market, one of the first questions you may ask is whether you should opt for an XLR or USB mic interface.
These fancy acronyms refer to the type of connection the microphone uses, which will greatly impact the type of interface you use, how complex your recording setup is, and how much money you spend. By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to choose the microphone that is best for you.
XLR microphones use an XLR cable, which is a three-pronged connector that plugs into a mixer or amplifier. In case you missed what we were getting at, that means that you need to invest in additional equipment and that it’s not enough to just purchase the microphone.
That being said, the ceiling for XLR microphones is very high. You can purchase a very expensive and high-quality XLR microphone and a versatile interface. Most interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett offer basic controls including amplification. However, other interfaces such as the GoXLR offer a ton of customization options for streamers, with a soundboard, effects, and multi-channel mixing.
Depending on the exact interface you use, you may be able to plug in your interface into your computer with USB or with a 3.5mm audio cable. While it’s not as big of a deal anymore, XLR setups don’t have to be digital. It’s ultimately an analog setup if you can output with a 3.5mm jack or 1/4 inch.
One of the big draws of XLR microphones is that you can plug in multiple microphones at once, control each separately, and even record them all into different audio channels in recording software. An XLR setup can be customized to your needs and can approach studio quality if you spend enough money.
Another minor advantage is that many XLR microphones have replaceable parts, so they can be repaired with relative ease.
USB microphones connect to computers with a USB cable, and are just plug-and-play. This ease-of-use makes USB microphones attractive. They are friendly to normal users who don’t know (or care) about the complex aspects of audio production. While the power of an XLR microphone is a compelling offer, many people just don’t need that. USB mics sometimes have no controls or just basic controls like gain and recording pattern, unlike the many knobs and sliders found on a mixer. This means that USB microphones will be the best option for most people who just need something to record with, but don’t want to basically have to learn a new skill.
There is a common misconception that USB microphones are worse quality than XLR microphones. While a lot of popular USB microphones are in fact lower quality than some common XLR microphones, they actually tend to use the same technology on the inside. The main downside is that USB microphones usually don’t have replaceable parts, but many XLR microphones do.
One of the biggest downsides of a USB microphone is that it’s nearly impossible to record more than one at the same time, on the same computer. This makes it difficult to record podcasts with USB microphones if you’re in the same room as the other person. That being said, for general use in which you are the only one recording, USB mics are an affordable and compelling offer.
USB microphones are easy to transport since you don’t need any additional equipment, in case you need to travel with your gear.
Which Should You Buy?
Both XLR mics and USB mics are fantastic options and it really depends on your situation and what you’re recording. USB mics are fantastic for people just getting started. They’re easy to use, and only require a USB port and some software to record in. But XLR microphones with a dedicated setup of additional gear can be just what a professional needs. XLR is a must for a multi-person setup, but USB may be easiest for a single person just trying to record their voice. Start with a USB microphone then move into a more expensive XLR setup when you work your way up in your craft and need something of higher quality.
The Blue Yeti is probably one of the most iconic USB microphones out there. It’s fairly affordable, has a good selection of onboard controls, and useful real-time audio monitoring.
The Rode Podcaster is a reliable, high-quality USB microphone designed with podcasting in mind. It has built-in controls and real-time monitoring.
The Electrovoice RE20 is a top-tier XLR microphone used for broadcasting and podcasting more than anything, and it even has a bass rolloff switch to get better control of low frequencies.
The Shure SM7B is a fantastic microphone that comes at a high cost. It’s a versatile microphone, and is a perfect choice for podcasting, livestreaming, or recording singing.