best usb microphone

Best USB Microphones (2019)

USB microphones have risen in popularity in recent times because they offer unparalleled ease of use and bypass all that mucking about with audio interfaces and preamps. That said, they are not going to be as versatile in a recording environment or quite reach the levels of quality that you’ll find with XLR-based condenser mics, but for the right application, a USB microphone can be the perfect solution. Do note that we are talking about microphones designed for some level of professional recording, not headset, dictation or gaming mics.

So, what would be a useful application for a USB microphone? Podcasts immediately spring to mind or anyone who wants to up the quality of their audio when making videos for YouTube or live streaming to Facebook. But they can also be great for live recording or capturing the moment during jam sessions and performances. Once you start introducing other instruments or more microphones then you’ll need to be looking at audio interfaces and proper studio mics. But for what they offer, USB microphones are brilliant and get more professional sounding all the time.

For this roundup of the best USB microphones, I’ll cover a range of price points and features so that you can make the best decision based upon your budget and requirements, with an eye on the following:

  1. Sennheiser MK 4 Digital
  2. Apogee HypeMiC
  3. Blue Yeti Pro
  4. Rode NT-USB
  5. Audio Technica AT2020USB+
  6. CAD U37
  7. Blue Snowball
  8. Samson CO1U Pro

Best USB Microphones of 2019

1. Sennheiser MK 4 Digital

Sennheiser MK 4 Digital$349*

*At time of writing

Kicking off this collection of USB microphones is the high-resolution sound of the MK 4 Digital from Sennheiser. It’s a combination of Sennheiser microphone quality and Apogee conversion technology that offers a studio quality condenser microphone that’ll plug straight into your Mac, PC or iOS device. And, get this, it’s the only USB mic on our list to come with a Lightning cable in the box so you don’t have to mess around with an Apple camera kit or any other adapter.

The conversion quality matches the HypeMiC, our #2 pick, at 24bit and 96kHz but it goes that extra step and features a high-end 24-carat gold plated 1-inch large diaphragm capsule that’s internally shock mounted for low handling noise.

There are no bells or whistles like headphone sockets or gain controls just confident quality and the ability to handle a wide range of sources from spoken word to vocals, drums, and amplifiers. If sound quality is your only consideration, then the MK 4 is for you.

2. Apogee HypeMiC

Apogee HypeMiC$349*

*At time of writing

Apogee have a couple of USB mics in their range but the HypeMiC is a little bit special. Capable of recording at 24bit and 96kHz, (so the Yeti Pro, which we’ll discuss next, does beat it in that respect) it is a premium cardioid condenser microphone, but it just so happens to have an inbuilt analog audio compressor. This is going to pull up your signal, even out the dynamics and give you better clarity when recording.

There are three compression settings ranging from a small amount for instruments and vocals, a medium amount for podcasts and broadcasting and then a massive amount for when you want that in-your-face sort of sound. The compression control also offers input gain and mute.

It has a headphone socket with blend control like many of the other mics here. And like the Yeti Pro it also has an analog output so you can use it as a regular microphone through an audio interface. Compatible with Windows, MacOS, and iOS, you get a lot of functionality within this microphone.

There are no bells or whistles like headphone sockets or gain controls just confident quality and the ability to handle a wide range of sources from spoken word to vocals, drums, and amplifiers. If sound quality is your only consideration, then the MK 4 is for you.

3. Blue Yeti Pro

Blue Yeti Pro$269*

*At time of writing

The first Blue microphone in our line-up is the Yeti Pro. Now, Blue does a range of USB Yeti microphones, but as the cheaper end of the market is a bit crowded, I thought I’d pull up their “Pro” offering to see what you get for your extra dollars.

First of all, the recording quality leaps to 24bits and up to 192kHz. Then it has three custom condenser capsules and four different patterns. It has the regular cardioid pattern, but you can also record in a defined stereo environment as well as omnidirectionally. Or if you want to go front and back then a bi-directional figure-of-8 pattern is what you need. Blue says it’s the highest quality USB microphone available in the world today.

Rather than a pad for sensitivity, you get a gain control to set the perfect level. It also has a mute button which is remarkably useful in podcast or recording situations. It has the headphone output with volume control and mixing with audio playback. Yeti Pro comes with its own drivers for Windows. This means that the latency is going to be very low, even when monitoring through software. This can be vital, especially on Windows where the native drivers tend to be slow and can cause noticeable delay to audio. It also works great with MacOS and iOS as well.

Lastly, the Yeti Pro is also an analog microphone and comes with an XLR socket for connection to a proper preamp or audio interface. So, you can use it quick and easy on USB or put it into a wider context with XLR through studio gear. And as a bonus, it looks fabulous as well.

4. Rode NT-USB

Rode NT-USB$169*

*At time of writing

Rode is another maker of quality and affordable studio microphones. This one follows the stylings of their NT range of studio microphones and offers an excellent level of features and recording quality. It’s quite a neat package with an included pop shield and mic stand adapter along with the obligatory desktop tripod. And it has the controls down the side so that the pop shield doesn’t get in the way.

The specs feature a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer and recording at 16bit and 48kHz. The polar pattern is cardioid and can handle 20Hz to 20kHz. There’s a headphone jack for direct monitoring and a knob for mixing in the audio from the computer.

The NT-USB looks great, especially with the pop shield, which is the sort of thing you might find yourself buying for any other mic to reduce plosives and pops from vocals. It will work with iOS as well as MacOS and Windows and comes with an unfathomably long 20-foot USB cable.

5. Audio Technica AT2020USB+

Audio Technica AT2020USB+$149*

*At time of writing

Let’s head down the ladder price-wise with the Audio Technica AT2020 USB+. It has the same sound and technology as their acclaimed AT2020 condenser microphone, which brings this USB microphone into the realms of studio quality.

The AT2020USB+ records at 16bit and 44.1kHz or 48kHz over a regular 20Hz to 20kHz response. It has a standard cardioid directional polar pattern for great off-axis sound rejection and comes with a little stand and an adapter for a proper mic stand.

But it also features a built-in headphone jack with volume control. This allows you to both monitor your input without latency or mix in recorded material.

The AT2020USB+ is a good, solid if unexciting microphone for Windows and MacOS that will do a decent job all day long.

The NT-USB looks great, especially with the pop shield, which is the sort of thing you might find yourself buying for any other mic to reduce plosives and pops from vocals. It will work with iOS as well as MacOS and Windows and comes with an unfathomably long 20-foot USB cable.

6. CAD U37

CAD U37$69*

*At time of writing

A great budget choice is the U37 from CAD Audio. It’s a large diaphragm condenser microphone offering a warm and rich recording quality.

It has a single cardioid pattern for directed and intentional recording while minimizing the background noise. The frequency response is best suited for speech, vocals and instruments and it has that handy -10dB pad switch if things get a bit too loud. These “pads” are particularly useful in a USB microphone because you are not using a microphone preamp that would usually have gain and level controls. The U37 also features a bass-reduction switch that helps reduce room noise and rumbles.

It comes with a little tripod and a ridiculously long 10 foot USB cable so you can be in another room than your computer if you wish. It records at 16bit 48kHz from 20Hz to 20kHz and is compatible with Windows and MacOS.

7. Blue Snowball

Blue Snowball$69*

*At time of writing

The Snowball from Blue has become a bit iconic for its good looks and usefulness. It’s surprisingly versatile and is available in a nice snowy white, gloss black or rock-and-roll chrome. It comes with a metal desktop stand and is ready to go out of the box.

Inside there are two condenser capsules featuring cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns. Cardioid is perfect for picking up sounds from the front or directing it to an instrument. For loud singers or instruments, there’s a -10dB pad for reducing the sensitivity. Omnidirectional lets you place the Snowball in the middle of the action and it will record everything from everywhere. It runs at a sample rate of 44.1kHz at 16 bits.

At $69, along with the CAD U37, it’s the cheapest microphone on the list and is a simple and easy solution for both Windows and MacOS.

8. Samson CO1U Pro

Samson CO1U Pro$89*

*At time of writing

Finishing off our list is the CO1U Pro from Samson Technologies. The original CO1U was one of the first USB microphones designed for music and sound recording rather than telephony. That was way back in 2005. In 2015 they brought it up to date and released the C01U Pro and it remains a remarkably good sub-$100 choice despite many other microphone manufacturers entering the market.

The CO1U Pro is a large 19mm diaphragm microphone with a natural warmth and detail and greatly improved signal-to-noise ratio. It’s shock-mounted inside a solid die-cast metal enclosure and comes with a little tripod desktop stand. It can capture audio at 16-bit and 44.1kHz or 48kHz with a flat response of 20Hz-18kHz.

On the front of the microphone is a very handy headphone socket. This allows you to directly monitor the microphone without any latency. You can also use it to hear the playback of what you’ve recorded so that you don’t have to use another audio system on your computer.

The CO1U Pro is compatible with Windows, MacOS and also iOS using Apple’s Lightning USB Camera Adapter.

Image via Blue Designs.

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