While they started out as just a gimmick…
There’s no doubt that today, USB microphones are more popular than ever.
With home studios, podcasters, Youtubers, and many others…
They have become standard tools of the trade.
And while they aren’t quite at the level of professional recording microphones yet…
They get closer and closer with each passing day.
So if you’re looking to add one to your setup…
In today’s post we will look at the top USB mics to see exactly how they compare.
But before we start, first off…
Why Use a USB Microphone?
USB mics appeared from the necessity of providing decent sound to the biggest number, without the need of professional equipment.
You plug them into your computer and they just work. This much, everybody understands.
However, what you might not have considered is HOW MUCH you can actually save with USB microphones.
For example, compare the Shure SM7b and its USB counterpart — which is almost twice as cheap — the MV7.
At first you might think:
The SM7B is just twice as expensive, what’s more to it?
While you’d be right, you’d actually also be ignoring EVERYTHING ELSE you need in order to actually be able to use the SM7B, such as:
- An audio interface
- An XLR cable
- Sometime even a stand or arm,
- And potentially a mic pre-amplifier such as a Cloudlifter (Amazon/B&H/Thomann) or a FetHead (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
Typically, USB microphones are designed as an all-in-one solution, precisely because they KNOW people who buy them don’t necessarily know a lot about sound flux and routing.
Which means you get cables, a stands and even a shock-mount with some models.
The hassle of finding compatible separate parts or accessories is virtually eliminated and you know that in 99% of cases, as soon as you receive your box, you’re pretty much good to start recording.
What type of USB mic should you get?
Since most USB microphones share many features, let’s quickly state the most common use cases and the mic that’s best suitted for them:
Streaming and gaming.
Get a cardioid dynamic microphone.
Cardioid polar pattern will only pic what’s in front of the microphone and dynamic mics are much better at isolating sounds…
Meaning they won’t pick up these loud, nasty keyboard noises.
Ideally too, get a microphone specifically designed for streaming, as they’ll generally come with a tailor-made software…
And sometime even with an anti-clipping feature, so that when you finally beat your personal record and scream of excitement you don’t make your viewers deaf.
These software generally allows for controlling any audio input and output so you can decide exactly what to monitor…
As well as what your audience hears.
Get a condenser mic with a good stand and ideally a shockmount, as well as a pop-filter.
Condenser mics are much more sensitive and are therefore perfect in a velveted environment, like a voiceover studio/cabin.
However, make sure you are indeed in a silent environment when using them, as they’ll pick up much more surrounding sounds than dynamic mics.
For music recording you have 2 options:
- A good condenser mic – in other words a condenser mic with a high sampling rate
- A mic that serves as an audio interface too – meaning a mic with an instrument input and enough built-in controls
Of course this second point is pretty discriminating as it reduces the choice drastically…
But with nomad home studios becoming ever more popular, you actually get a few good options today.
Get a multi-polar patterns dynamic mic
Although podcasting is virtually the same as streaming, there are a few differences, in particular allowing for various participants to talk at the same time…
Which is why you’ll want a mic that offers at least 2 polar patterns, including cardioid AND figure-8 patterns.
Simply because if you have a guest and you don’t want to buy a second mic, you’ll need a figure-8 polar pattern that picks up everything in front AND in the back of the mic, where you or your guest will be seating.
So now that you have a pretty good idea of what type of USB mic you’ll need, let’s move on to the list.
1. FiFine K669B
The perfect mic to get a good sound at a bargain
You know what’s nice with technology?
As time goes by, you get better quality products at a lower price. It’s just a natural rule of technology.
And so considering this, let’s start with a ridiculously cheap mic.
But don’t get fooled by its price, the only thing cheap about the FiFine K669B is, indeed its price.
The sound quality on this thing is impressively good and it even comes with a small tripod.
It’s basically fully ready to be used right out of the box.
As for specs, this mic is a condenser mic with a cardioid polar patter.
If you’re not sure what any of those terms mean, check out these posts:
- A Beginner’s Introduction to Microphone Polar Patterns
Now, just to be clear, in 99% of the use cases you’ll want a cardioid since you’ll mostly be talking alone, towards the microphone.
So, there obviously are some drawbacks, or at least some missing features when talking about such a cheap device.
And since these might be actual deal breakers depending on what you’re planning on using your USB mic for, you might want to take a look at them first. So here are a few drawbacks:
- No detachable cord – if for some reason you pull the cord to hard or trip on it for example and you end up tearing it apart from the mic, you can say bye-bye and look for a new copy.
- No headphone out – not that anybody would expect one on such a cheap mic but still, no being able to monitor yourself with zero latency directly from the mic might be a no-go for some.
- No led indicator – yeah, you just can’t know if you’re actually recording or not unless you look at your DAW.
So if none of these disadvantages are a big deal for you and if you’re looking for a very cheap and super easy to use mic, don’t think twice, the FiFine K669B is your best bet. Check it out:
- Click here to see prices – (Amazon)
2. Mackie EleMent EM91CU
The rugged, noob-friendly, affordable condenser mic
More famous for their toughly built loudspeakers and monitor controllers…
Seattle-based company Mackie actually developed a small range of USB mics. The EleMent 91CU happens to be the cheapest model in their USB mic line…
And is surprisingly good. Among the dozens of USB mics options available in this price range, the reason why I chose Mackie’s is because:
- It’s very well built
- It’s super cheap
- It’s perfect for content creators
Now, if you’re planning to record anything else than spoken words with this mic, keep reading as this model will NOT sound good with music recording.
But for anybody looking to sound better on their Zoom calls or on their YouTube videos this is a great place to start.
Check it out:
3. Audio Technica AT2005USB
The versatile and affordable dynamic handheld mic that sounds amazing
While both previous models are condenser microphones…
There are situations for which you’ll want to use a dynamic mic.
For example: if you’re a streamer or a gamer who types a lot on your noisy mechanical keyboard while talking, a dynamic mic will be MUCH more efficient at isolating these keyboard noises, compared to a condenser one.
And if you’re looking for an affordable model mic with a handheld form factor, the Audio Technica AT2005USB is probably your best bet.
Being a dynamic mic it is great at isolating anything outside its pickup area.
You also get a headphone jack input with a dedicated gain knob, for zero latency monitoring.
So let’s make a quick run-down of the AT2005USB’s features:
- Super robust construction – although it’s not on the level of a SM58, the AT2005USB has a very rugged construction and will withstand many hits and falls
- XLR/USB connection – for more versatility
- Insane value for the price – most users and reviewers simply agree that the sound on this mic is way above other models in this price range
Furthermore as a hybrid XLR/USB you can absolutely use it in your studio set up with your audio interface, whenever you decide to use one. Check it out:
Now, the AT2005USB has quite a presence boost around the 5kHz area, which some people absolutely love.
But in case you just prefer flat frequency responses
, check out the Samson Q2U which has a very flat frequency response:
4. ElGato Wave 3
THE mic for streamers
Here’s a company that specializes in streaming gear for gamers, such as light, image, live transition effect and… sound.
And with their Wave 3 they did assert their legitimacy on the market, especially thanks to one feature:
Now, this feature is so good some users report NEVER being able to go back to a microphone that lacks this feature.
Essentially it is a compressor but its ease of use is what makes it stand out.
If you’re a streamer especially, this is a highly useful feature.
Picture this: you’re gaming and finish first. You then scream in excitement.
Now, this is what happens in most case, and I’ll explain it very simply:
Clipping and distortion
That’s right, you start sounding terrible when your mic is not prepared to handle those loud peaks. Luckily, the ElGato Wave 3‘s clipguard feature prevents you from clipping, EVEN when you suddenly start screaming out of nowhere.
Now, if you’re a musician, singer or a podcaster, you might not care for this feature since there is no apparent reason for you to start screaming out of nowhere…
But trust me, if you’re a gamer/streamer, it’s an extremely helpful feature Check out this video to see the Clipguard in action:
On top of that you get both 3/8th and 5/8th thread mounts thanks to an adapter, so you can use the ElGato Wave 3 on any type of mic stand.
Check it out:
5. Samson Q9u
The mic for podcasters looking for premium sound at a competitive price
Let’s step up our game a bit, ok?
If you’ve been in the podcasting/YouTube world for a while, you might know there is essentially ONE king of all dynamic mics…
And this is the Shure SM7b. So if you’re familiar with this model you’ll most likely notice the similarities in the design of the Samson Q9u.
This is of course a voluntary decision on Samson’s end to directly compete with one of Shure’s best seller.
Priced right in between the beginners mics and the professional ones, the Samson Q9u is a true heavyweight when it comes to build quality with an all-metal construction. The mic feels very sturdy and is also quite heavy.
Other useful features of the Q9u include:
- Integrated low and high boost filters – these provide frequencies respectively around 200Hz and 2000Hz of around 3dB.
- Type C USB port – It might not seem like a big deal but when comparing this to the ridiculous amount of micro-B USB ports still built into newer devices it is a VERY welcome feature.
Now, why would I choose a Samson Q9U over, say, the Shure MV7 which is essentially Shure’s USB equivalent to the all-time classic SM7B?
Well for these reasons:
- The Q9u can record up to a 96kHz – the MV7 only up to 48kHz
- The Q9u has a type-C USB port – for some mysterious reason, Shure chose to stick with a very outdated micro-USB port for their MV7
- The Q9u is actually cheaper – as of writing this article the Samson Q9u is $50 cheaper than the MV7
All in all and as it stands, the Samson Q9u is one of the very best podcaster dynamic microphone, especially considering its price. Check it out:
6. Samson G-Track PRO
The perfect mic for home musicians…And pretty much anything else
It’s funny how some brands can take over a market in just a few years in the business.
If you’ve been recording for some time you probably know brands such as Shure, Sennheiser, Audio Technica and so on. And the reason is simple: they’re industry standards.
Well, you probably also noticed this is the third Samson microphone in this list, a brand not exactly known for their “regular” studio microphones.
In fact, after launching the first “professional USB microphone” back in 2005, they’ve slowly but surely increased their authority in the USB mic niche…
Until eventually pretty much uncrowning one of, if not THE king of USB mics: the Blue Yeti.
If you don’t know it, the Blue Yeti is essentially the most popular mic among YouTubers, because of how groundbreaking it was when it was first released, a decade ago.
At that time it was virtually impossible to find a USB mic with 4 switchable polar patterns, a bulletproof construction and a great sound.
So why did I chose the G-Track PRO over the Yeti? Well, for these reasons:
- It is an actual audio interface – it has a 1/4″ instrument input and a full mixer incorporated
- It is heavy duty – and I mean it. At a 3.5lb weight, this thing is massive and just feels great, even more so than the already well built Yeti.
About the mixer, what you get are 3 volume knobs for the headphone, instrument and gain inputs, a mute button and a REALLY neat “2 tracks” feature that allows you to record your line input and your microphone on 2 separate tracks.
All in all the Samson G-Track Pro is one of the most versatile USB microphones out there.
Check it out:
7. Rode NT USB Mini
The no frills high quality USB mic
Now as you may have noticed from this list…
USB mics tend to be a little “gimmicky”.
They always seem to have at least one weird feature that no other mic has.
And don’t get me wrong…that’s awesome.
But what if you don’t want any gimmicks?
What if all you want is the quality of a studio microphone, with the convenience of a USB connector?
Well…that’s exactly what you get with the Rode NT USB Mini.
You get one polar pattern only, and one knob to control the monitoring gain. Speaking of which, the headphone amp in this little guy is actually pretty powerful…
8. Earthworks Icon USB
The pro USB mic without DSP
You might not know the Earthworks company, but audiophiles and professionals do…
Which is why I want to introduce you to this company.
Earthworks is particularly known for their Drums microphones, used by Lady Gaga, Daft Punk or Ariana Grande‘s drummers, just to name a few…
But also for their unique design, that look extremely high quality, and actually is.
So as you can guess, when such a company decides to create a USB microphone, it becomes highly anticipated.
With this mic you get everything that made the SR134 so famous:
- Extremely rugged build quality – with a full stainless-steel construction, this mic can take a hit without a problem, and displays a unique design
- Insanely detailed sound – browse around and you’ll see what pros like about this mic is its unmatched level of details
- DSP free signal – you get the purest sound possible
More on this last point: DSP (Digital Signal Processing) is — simply put — used to process digital signals (audio or other) with the intent of creating a processed output, thanks to various presets.
Essentially, most consumer microphones have DSP integrated so that the sound you get is “usable” or ptimized straight out of your recording.
In the case of the Earthwork Icon however you get the cleanest output possible, so you can treat it however you please afterwards.
Needless to say this is definitely not directed at newbies, but it is one of the signature of this model and a feature very sought after by more pro users.
So if that’s something important for you, this mic offers it.
Check it out:
And for our final pick…
9. ANTELOPE AUDIO AXINO
The ultimate all-in-one USB microphone/audio interface for every single use case
For our last pick I want to show you what I believe to be one of the most impressive USB mic I have personally ever seen so far.
If you’re unfamiliar with Antelope, just know they are mostly famous for their master clocks, as well as their high-quality audio conversion.
Apart from all the features already seen on all the previous models of this list, the Antelope Audio Axino is an “All in one recording system in a USB microphone“, as per the company itself.
Just like the Samson G-Track Pro we saw earlier, the Audio Axino is a full audio interface too.
However, unlike the G-Track Pro, the Axino has much more powerful features, such as:
- 192kHz AD/DA conversion – the highest conversion seen on any USB microphone so far with a 124dB dynamic range on the headphone output, significantly more than most mid range audio interfaces
- Synergy Core real time effects – extremely powerful FPGA + DSP processors allowing for real time effects and analog gear effect simulation
- Classic mics emulation – from the Shure SM7B to the Neumann U87, you get 18 classic microphones sounds emulated in the included software
- 64 bit clocking – this is the same technology you’ll find in their professional master clocks and it allows for unmatched details in your recording
Check it out:
And That’s It
So they’re you have it, the 9 Best USB Microphones currently available on the market.
Hopefully you’ve found the right one for you!
‘Til next time.