Top 5 Budget USB Microphones For Your Home Studio
I generally thought USB microphones was a waste of money until I went into screencasting. USB microphones despite being only usable with a computer can be pretty handy when it comes to recording quick voice recordings.
Of course having a dedicated audio interface and an XLR microphone beats the purpose of having a USB microphone. However I found USB microphones to be really convenient whenever I needed to do some quick screen recording, without messing with the gains, phantom power, cables and what not. (Imagine having a Skype call or having to record a quick video tutorial). Plug the USB microphone to an unused USB slot on your computer and you’re ready to record on any software!
Carrying a USB microphone is also a whole lot more convenient as compared to carrying an audio interface, XLR microphone and a table microphone stand. (My Samson Meteor Mic folds its legs nicely for easy travelling purposes).
In this post I’ll feature 5 USB microphones which would be a great buy as of year 2015. However before I go into the top 5, I’d like to talk explain the pros & cons of owning a USB microphone.
USB Microphones Pros & Cons
Most USB microphones are condenser microphones. Condenser microphones are popular because of their great capability in recording a wide frequency spectrum. In layman terms that means your recording will sound ‘fuller’. Condenser microphones also have a more sensitive frequency response compared to normal dynamic microphones. This means it’s more sensitive to recording sounds in your room; it will be able to pick up the sound of your air conditioner or even the whirring sounds from your computer.
- Inexpensive (To start making good & acceptable recordings)
- Fast set up. Just plug and start recording
- Pre-amps and converters all built into the microphone. No need for additional hardware.
- Easy to travel with
- You can only use it with a computer
- Sound cannot be enhanced with a pre-amp
- Analog to digital converters built in USB microphones are usually of inferior quality to dedicated audio interfaces.
- Having USB in a mic means it has a digital interface. This things can break down deeming the mic useless.
- Monitoring problems. You don’t have functions such as ‘direct monitoring’ found on many audio interfaces.
- Not future-proof.
Top 5 Best USB Microphones
As you may see, the USB microphone would appeal to pod-casters, screen-casters and people who does not want to fumble with the technicals of setting up an XLR microphone. With that said however, USB microphones are still generally very useful, so here are the 5 best USB microphones that is on the market if you’re looking for one.
1. Samson Meteor Mic – $69.90
I’ll admit it first. The Samson Meteor Mic is not the best-sounding USB microphone out there. In fact, there are many USB microphones which beats the Samson Meteor in terms of sound quality. However in terms of pricing the Samson Meteor is by far one of the most affordable USB microphone you can buy.
The Samson Meteor Mic was recommended on this list mainly because of 3 factors. Firstly, it’s really inexpensive. With such a low investment, you’ll be getting a condenser quality microphone that should record pretty fair sounding voice recordings and perhaps some acoustic instruments. Secondly, it’s really small. As I find myself traveling more and more, the Samson Meteor Mic is small enough to be put into the pocket of my jacket or jeans. I love how the legs of the microphone folds up nicely. Lastly, there is a monitoring knob and mute button on the microphone! This means you can control your monitoring level on the microphone itself. The mute button comes in handy when you need to quickly mute the microphone usually when in a Skype or Webinar call.
Oh, the Samson Meteor works with your iPad too. 🙂
Ins: Small & easy to carry, nice mute feature, and inexpensive!
Outs: Can sound inferior to other USB microphones.
2. Blue Yeti USB Microphone – $129
Blue microphones are pretty popular for its unique build and sound. The sound recording quality on the Blue Yeti is amazing and is even ideal for some instrument recording. The sound you get from the Yeti is one of the best you can get from the many USB microphones.
A popular question I get a lot from readers is how does the Snowball compare to the Yeti? The Blue Snowball is about half the price of the Yeti. The major difference between them is the better sound quality you get on the Yeti. No doubt the Snowball does record quality sound, you’ll hear more depth and clarity on the Yeti when compared to the Snowball. Watch the video below to see a comparison in sound.
Sound comparison between the Snowball and Yeti by Bob Tobias
The Yeti also comes inbuilt with a 3 condenser capsules that allow you to record in many different scenarios. You can select the pickup pattern from cardiod, bidirectional, omnidirectional $ stereo.
This means with a single mic, you could possibly set up a podcasting show where you and another host sits opposite each other, speaking into the microphone. Or if you like, the omnidrectional pickup pattern would be amazing for small group recordings. You simply open up to more recording options with the various pickup patterns on the Blue Yeti.
Ins: Great sounding USB microphone, multiple pickup patterns, zero latency microphone output (great for monitoring your recordings, especially when recording vocals)
Outs: Pop filter encouraged, some complaints on being too sensitive for podcasting & is really heavier than many USB microphones.
3. Rode NT-USB USB Condenser Microphone – $169
The Rode NT-USB is the most expensive choice among the list of USB microphones featured here but is indeed remarkable if you have the budget. Rode Microphones have a reputation in the industry for creating all types of different microphones for broadcasts and studio. When they launched the Rode NT USB Condenser, they didn’t disappoint.
The USB cable supplied by Rode is extremely long which is a good thinking by the manufacturers as some of us prefer to latch the microphone on a microphone stand or do a recording a little away from the computer. The microphone itself is a beauty while it comes with 2 very useful knobs to control both level and mix monitoring levels for the headphones. Monitoring is very important and with the different levels, you can do a great soundcheck on your headphones making sure your levels are right before you hit record. Rode even went a step further in providing a nice pop filter that latches nicely on the microphone.
Sound-wise? It’s probably one of best USB microphones I’ve heard. Extremely quiet and good, your listeners wouldn’t even know that you’re really just using a USB microphone. Perhaps the only thing that is negative about the microphone is its stand which can be a little non-sturdy.
Ins: Best sounding USB microphone, solid build, great noise cancellation. Works with your iPad, Mac & Windows.
Outs: None. Other than it being a USB microphone.
4. Audio Technica ATR2500 – $64
Why buy the Audio Technica ATR2500 and not the Audio Technica AT2020? Simple because there is no zero latency monitoring on the AT2020. The absence of zero latency monitoring can be a nightmare when recording vocals so I’d advise you to get a USB microphone that comes with a zero latency monitor.
The condenser microphone on the ATR2500 is excellent and is good for first time podcasters or beginners. The microphone is pretty sensitive and it records quite a bit of the background and environmental noise. However, it’s fair to throw in some slack for its given price.
Complaints on the ATR2500 include the noticeable cheaper build and the stand that comes with it. The stand that comes with the ATR2500 is somewhat flimsy and be very easy for you to accidentally topple your microphone over.
Ins: Affordable, great for beginners, nice zero-latency monitor via the built-in headphone jack
Outs: Cheap build, non-sturdy stand and probably won’t use it to do serious instrument recordings.
5. CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser – $46
The CAD U37 may look a little off fashion to some but it does what it does at a very affordable price. The CAD is very popular due to its low entry price in the market.
There is no direct monitoring on the microphone, however, there is a nice low-cut switch on the microphone. This means you’ll be able to reduce the low rumble that is coming from your A/C or computer by using the low cut switch, EQ-ing the low frequencies off your recordings. The microphone has a really high gain, which explains why it also comes with a 10dB overload protection switch that minimize clipping or distortion that occurs when your sound source is too loud. This can be very handy if you happen to record loud-sounding instruments like trumpets or drums. However, I would recommend using this microphone for mainly voice recording only as I didn’t manage to achieve very good instrumental recordings on the CAD U37.
Background noise rejection is good on the CAD U37 where you don’t have to worry about having the background noise being recorded into your recordings. The complains about the CAD is on the built itself where it can look a bit plasticky and cheap.
Ins: Amazingly affordable. Great if you’re into recording your voice for podcasting, screencasting, and doing voice overs
Outs: Looks cheap. Not so good for instrument recordings.
At the end of the day, a USB microphone is merely a tool. And chances are, you won’t go wrong with any of the ones listed above. Just make sure to avoid ‘brandless’, too-good-to-be-true cheap microphones.
Which USB microphone are you rocking on in your studio? Would you like me to review and add them to this list? Let me know in the comment below.