Best USB Microphone for Live Streaming Music from Home - Careers in Music
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We are all masters of live streaming these days whether that's Zooming with our mates, Skyping a presentation or Facebook streaming to your fans.

It’s become a very important way of how you connect to your audience but it’s also a personal lifeline of communications during a time of lockdown and turmoil. You can do it all with a phone or a laptop very easily but the sound quality of inbuilt microphones, while fine for conversation, leaves a lot to be desired if you want to perform or run a YouTube channel.

Studio microphones are undoubtedly the best way to record vocals and instruments at the highest quality but they work best in a controlled studio environment. If you want to live stream spontaneously from your laptop then setting up a studio microphone is not going to cut it. This is where USB microphones come in. They are standalone microphones that connect directly to your computer without the need for any other equipment and give instant high-quality sound.

Some USB microphones are designed primarily for speech rather than singing or instruments and so (as this is a website about music) our focus is going to be towards those microphones that’ll capture your performance as well as your chat. And what’s good for broadcasting music is also going to be great for speech as well.

For this roundup, I’ll cover a range of price points and features so that you can make the best decision based upon your budget and requirements.

The best USB microphones are:

  • Razer Seiren Elite
  • Blue Snowball
  • CAD U37
  • Audio Technica AT2020USB+
  • Rode NT-USB
  • Blue Yeti Pro
  • Apogee HypeMiC
  • Shure MV51

But first, some FAQs:

Are USB Microphones Better?

USB microphones have some definite benefits. They are a complete recording solution in a single device that connects easily and conveniently to your computer or phone. You don’t have to worry about using a mixer or preamps and they give you a vastly better level of sound quality than the microphones built into your device.

When compared to studio microphones then we generally find that USB mics are aimed at the lower end of the market and can give great results but you will find better quality in the studio microphone market.

Are USB Mics Worth It?

For ease of use and instant satisfaction then definitely they are worth every penny. They will radically improve the quality of audio in your live streams and recordings and make the whole podcasting or live streaming experience less stressful.

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Is a USB Mic Better Than XLR?

The connection is not really the issue here. Whether your mic is connected via USB or XLR, the audio has to be converted into digital audio at some point and that’s where the quality lies. In a USB mic, the audio conversion is done in the microphone itself whereas in a studio microphone using XLR you would need to plug it into a separate audio interface.

So a USB mic is better in terms of ease of use and value but a studio mic via an XLR connection can offer a higher quality of sound via a professional audio interface.

The Best USB Microphones 2020/2021

Razer Seiren Elite

Razer Siren Elite USB microphone

Razer is a company who are well known for their mice, keyboards, and other peripherals and so it’s unexpected to find them with such a great USB microphone.

The Seiren Elite is a straight-forward single capsule dynamic microphone that looks stunning and gives you the perfect combination of features for live streaming and performance. It has a built-in high-pass filter to take out the rumble of your environment like footsteps, traffic, and your air-con.

But perhaps its coolest feature is the inbuilt limiter which keeps your voice from distorting when things are getting too loud. When your voice starts to peak a band around the middle of the mic flashes red to show you that you need to back off a little bit to keep things right.

Normally you’d have to monitor such things on a mixer or in software whereas the Seiren Elite puts it right on the mic.

The rest of the specs are decent with 16-bit recording up to 48kHz, a cardioid polar pattern, and a signal-to-noise of 114dB.

Street Price: $199
razer.com

Blue Snowball

Blue Snowball USB microphone

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.

Street Price: $69
bluedesigns.com

CAD U37

CAD U37 USB microphone

Another 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.

Street Price: $69
cadaudio.com

Audio Technica AT2020USB+

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ USB microphone

Let’s head upmarket a little bit 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.

Street Price: $149
audio-technica.com

Rode NT-USB

Rode NT-USB USB Microphone

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.

Street Price: $169
rode.com

Blue Yeti Pro

Blue Yeti Pro USB Microphone

The second 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.

One thing that hasn’t appeared on the other mics so far is that the 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.

Street Price: $269
bluedesigns.com

Apogee HypeMiC

Apogee HypeMiC USB Microphone

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 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.

Street Price: $349
apogeedigital.com

Shure MV51

Shure MV51 USB microphone

A dramatically retro-looking large-diaphragm condenser microphone from Shure that “looks like the past and sounds like the future.”

The MV51 is made of metal, has a built-in kickstand, or can plug into a regular mic stand. Along with the USB port, it’s also got a Lightning port for direct connection to an iPhone or iPad. It comes with Shure’s own MOTIV audio app for instant recording and sharing in 24bit and 48kHz.

What’s nice is the front panel controls with 5 presets to cover 5 possible live streaming or recording scenarios like speech, singing, instrument, music, and general. There’s also a microphone mute switch right on the front which can be remarkably handy in live situations.

Street Price: $199
shure.com

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