USB microphones are all-in-one devices that make it easier for users to get started recording or streaming audio. Most USB mics are either dynamic or condenser, both ideal options for recording vocals and musical instruments, and have an in-built audio interface that negates the need for separate hardware.
Plug-and-play accessibility means that buyers don’t need to get any specialist software or extra devices in order to use USB microphones, as they often have a mixture of input gain control, headphone monitoring (and volume control), and/or a mute button for ducking out of live streams or audio recording. Simply plugging them in to a laptop or smart device should automatically start downloading appropriate drivers and get things up and running in no time. Though some brands also bundle helpful software and Digital Signal Processing (DSP) plug-ins for use with recording platforms.
Some devices link up with a single USB, but others also have the option for XLR output for compatibility with professional recording equipment. Most USB microphones stick to a side-addressing cardioid polar pattern for traditional vocal pickup, but there are a few which also offer other pattern types for versatility in different recording situations.
USB microphones are all-in-one solutions for those that wish to stream live via YouTube or Twitch, but are just as capable as standalone mics for podcast recording, voice overdubs, or recording acoustic musical instruments straight into your computer or smart device.
But not all microphones are created equally, and there isn’t one microphone that stands out above all others. The best USB microphone for you depends on your individual needs. Perhaps you need a plug-and-play device for stereo recording of interviews, or a mic that will keep performing in the field undergoing all kinds of drops, knocks, and scrapes? With so many to choose from at differing price points, let us guide you towards the best option for your needs.
Best USB microphones in 2021
Marketed specifically as a podcast, streamer, and DIY musician microphone, the MV7 is reassuringly expensive. Housed in an all-metal housing, it has a flexible yoke which can be attached to mic stands, boom arms, or mini tripods. It comes with multiple USB options as well as an XLR connection for professional setups. A dynamic microphone, the MV7 won’t be as sensitive as some of its condenser competitors but this won’t be noticeable to the average consumer. It also makes it ideally rugged for travel use since dynamic microphones are better equipped to take a bump or two.
One of the most well known USB microphones worldwide, the Blue Microphones Yeti is also one of the best. Its solid construction and sturdy base make it a mainstay in home studios or on location for streamers and musos alike. Inside, the three capsule array allows users to choose from four different polar patterns, to record everything from an entire room, to just two people having a conversation. Its big, tactile buttons and switches make it easy to use, and the no-latency headphone output means musicians can have a foldback without the delay associated with running through a DAW (digital audio workstation).
With a noticeable frequency response peak at around 4kHz, the NT-USB is most suited to vocals, but will also extend to other instruments of comparable tone such as guitar and piano. A single USB connection provides both power and connection to recording devices also compatible with Apple iPad (with compatible hardware). The Rode NT-USB comes with some useful accessories, including a pop shield, ring mount, tripod desk stand, storage pouch, and impressively long 6m USB cable. A two year extended warranty denotes what Rode is known for – reliability in the long-term. Simple control knobs on the side for input gain and headphone volume control combined with sleek aesthetic makes for a gorgeous USB microphone.
Another pro audio giant, Mackie has been running for several decades and provides a range of USB microphones, but at this price point Mackie has hit a home run. Its Built-Like-a-Tank trademark means this mic should be recording for eons, and comes with a whole host of additional software and DSP plug-ins including compressors, limiters, equalisers, and much more. Unfortunately, the headphone monitoring does suffer from some latency which might be off-putting for musicians or those who don’t like delay in their foldback. But it does feature independent volume and gain control and includes an instant mute button.
The cheapest USB microphone in this line-up, the JLab Talk reeks of efficiency. The lightweight body and slight aesthetics make it ultra portable for those on-the-go. It has an insane 96kHz sample rate and 24-bit depth (a bit rate of 4.608 kbps) which trumps all the others on the list, meaning ultra high quality clarity when recording. The controls for gain, headphone volume, muting, and polar patterns are done via just one knob and one button which are aesthetically minimalist but a little fiddly in practice. Fortunately, the light-up LED ring around the knob makes it easy to see what you’re controlling.
A vintage-style USB microphone this one will appeal to hipsters and traditionalists alike. Don’t be fooled by its ancient looks, though, as it comes equipped with some contemporary on-board DSPs for controlling different audio inputs such as Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instrument, and Loud options all operated via the touch buttons on the front. It has automatic adjustment for gain, EQ, and dynamic range control, and even features a built-in kickstand for quick and easy setup anywhere, anytime. A little pricier than others, but with the Shure sound quality and elegant design it should perform perfectly for singer songwriters or podcasters alike. 24-bit depth also improves dynamic range recording and multiple polar patterns mean it’s versatile in a number of situations.