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USB microphone – When to use

October 31, 2019 • 5 min read

Link to What is an USB Microphone?

Link to USB Microphone Pros Should you guess what piece of equipment you'll always find in a basic home recording studio, what would you answer? Let's say a TOP5 maybe. I bet an USB Microphone would be there. No matter if it's for single instruments, vocals, podcasts, live streams... they will always be present, one way or another. Even if you decide to switch to a XLR Mic with an audio interface, sometimes you still keep that old mic around. Which raises que following question. Does it fulfill my needs or should I buy an audio interface right away? Glad you've asked, because that's exactly what I would like to discuss with you in today's article.

What is an USB Microphone?

An USB Microphone is a device used to record audio signals. Just like any kind of microphone, the only difference is that it has all the wiring necessary for you to simply connect it to a USB port and start recording. It's probably the simpler way for you to record any sound signals with quality these days, due to its ease to use and adaptability. You can connect an USB Microphone into pretty much any device (usually they are plug and play). You can find any kind of USB mic (condenser or dynamic... well, ribbon USB I’ve never seen). For condensers, phantom power is provided by the USB port (not directly by the port, but the port feeds the mic preamp, which is a little “box” somewhere along the cable or hidden inside the mic, which then converts the USB port energy into phantom power). If you are looking for the faster way to a somewhat high quality recording setup, USB Microphones are the answer. With them you won't need much additional equipment. And finally, if you're low on budget, you can always count on them for good quality recordings.

USB Microphone Pros

Besides everything I said before, I'm going to list a few more reasons why USB Mics are good options for you:
  • It's great for capturing vocals, either in a home studio or on-the-go;
  • You can use it to record podcasts, for internet radio and chats;
Getting a professional microphone should always be on your to do list, but if you are low on budget you can always count on USB Microphones.

USB Microphone Cons

Knowing when to use or not USB Mics is key if you're planning to upgrade your equipments. I'm going to list you a few cons I could remember and find to give you a better perspective:
  • First and foremost, if you use them, you won't be able to use external preamp;
  • You can't connect it to the same audio card/ interface than other mic;
  • The built-in preamp isn't good. Even if you find a good one, it's not the best you can get;
  • Ain’t professional.
Finally, you also can't record at the same time as other mic unless you have two USB mics (and enough USB ports for that). As an alternative you could set an “aggregated device” (Macintosh stuff) containing the interface and the USB mic. But let's face it, it's a lot easier if you just use an audio interface.

Recording into your DAW

Venturing into the recording world can be fascinating! But it can also be frustrating for you sometimes if you don't have the appropriate equipment. Take a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as example. Even if you are planning to record one thing at a time, DAWs need an ASIO driver. Unfortunately that's only provided by audio interfaces. Macs can do a lot better with their internal audio driver (called Core Audio), but it won't be that easy if you are running Windows. Actually, on Windows you might not even be able to open your DAW, that unless you download ASIO4ALL. Not sure what is ASIO4ALL? Well, in simple words, it's a gimmick that emulates an ASIO driver so that you can open the DAW without an interface connected. In conclusion, although it might be cheaper and overall easier to use USB mics, you're not always going to get the results you want. Not to mention that in some situations it will be a lot harder if you are working with them. picture of an USB microphone with a computer on the background

What's the alternative?

Now that you know pretty much everything you need about USB mics, let's see what are the alternatives to it. Of course, assuming it doesn't fulfill your needs, which is the whole point of this article. Before you decide to go for an alternative, as mentioned before, you must understand that buying an USB mic is a lot cheaper than most alternatives. But assuming it definitely does not fulfill your needs, let's see what could you use instead.

XLR Microphone and Audio Interface

That's the beauty of our blog, we have tons of information on both, professional microphones and audio interface. I'm just going to link as i mention them so you can do further research. The most common alternative to USB mics are the combo listed above. Microphones comes in all sorts, shapes and sounds, from Condenser or Ribbon, to Tube or Dynamic. Our vast library of content can help you decide on which microphone is best suited for your needs. No matter which microphone you choose, an audio interface should be a piece of equipment that you should consider acquiring as well. But again, you'll have a significant difference on price range. So I recommend you to do your research, as much as possible, before you take the final decision.

USB Microphone vs XLR Microphone

Knowing your needs is key when deciding for an equipment over the other. But we have to face the truth, which is that professional mics are XLR. Plain and simply put, all the best mics out there aren’t USB. There is nothing wrong using a USB mic if you are getting started, or for a few sorts of recordings, as mentioned previously. But a USB mic setup is non-scalable, it's an amateur setup. Magroove's tip: If working with audio, go for an interface and XLR mics. USB mics are great for video game streamers, podcasters or internet radio. But if you're a little more serious with audio or DAWs... use XLR.

In conclusion

I said pretty much all I wanted during the course of this article, there's not much left. But here goes a few final friendly reminders. An USB mic is ok if you have just started recording using your PC, for instance. It's cheaper and does the trick for many sorts of recordings. As you upgrade your studio and start doing more "sophisticated" recordings, like for several instruments or if you need higher quality, consider acquiring a XLR microphone and an audio interface. However, do not just store the USB mic somewhere in a box, I didn't say that. Even though you have better equipment, the USB mic will still be useful in many situations, like the ones we listed previously in this article. Keep it around and plug it anytime you need, eventually it will come in hand.
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