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The Best USB Condensor Microphones: My 2017 Picks
5 Amazing USB Microphones for Recording / Podcasting
Any professional musician will tell you that the right microphone makes or breaks a good recording. Luckily, there are a ton of great brands producing mics these days. If you like to record on your computer, finding the best USB condensor microphone is an effective and inexpensive way to record your music, and you'll be surprised by just how great they can sound.
In days gone by you needed a lot of specialized equipment in order to record properly. Preamps and phantom power are just the start, you also needed a means of recording storage. Even modern computer based setups require some equipment when recording with traditional mics, and you'll need at least an audio interface for it to work. The best USB condensor microphones take care of a lot of that hassle, and most are 'all-in-one' packages that you can just plug in and start using.
This article looks at five of my favorite USB microphones for recording vocals and instruments. We'll look closely at the pros and cons of each mic and describe the kind of usage each one is best suited for. Before we get to the microphone reviews, we'll briefly look at how USB mics differ from conventional offerings and how that affects your recording setup.
USB Condensor Microphones: Best & Worst Features
What makes the USB mic unique?
Obviously even the best USB condensor microphone will differ in several significant ways from a traditional device. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the differences can make things interesting or become detractors depending on your situation. Here are some things to keep in mind when weighing the positives and negatives.
- Lack of Hardware:
Better quality USB condensor microphones for recording are very lightweight in terms of gear and equipment. They generally can be plugged directly into a USB port and don't require extra wires or hardware in between. This is good because you generally don't have to invest in an audio interface to record using your computer. However, USB mics aren't compatible with traditional recording systems as is, or sometimes at all.
- Single Recordings:
Because you can generally only run one at a time, even a great USB microphone for recording isn't generally advised for recording ensembles or multiple instruments. A more traditional setup with a USB audio interface and multiple inputs is more what you'll need. A USB condensor microphone is for recording vocals or a single instrument at a time. It's perfect for anyone starting out or a singer / songwriter who doesn't need a complicated setup.
- Affordable Entry to Recording:
Because you don't have to invest in any additional cabling or audio interfaces, and because most of the products on offer are intended for the home recorder, the prices are really reasonable. Some of the better USB condensor mics will even come with built-in recording software and gain filters. When any of my friends express an interest in writing and recording some music, I recommend this route as an affordable entry point.
Audio-Technica: A Great, Brand-Name USB Cardioid Condenser Mic
If you've done any research already you'll know that Audio Technica is a big name in the recording industry and they're well known for producing good quality, affordable microphones. I'd consider their stuff to be entry to mid-range in terms of quality, but many major studios swear by these mics, and they're great for vocals.
What I like about this particular one is the versatility it presents. It's one of the best home USB condensor microphones around because you can use it for music, vocals, voiceovers or virtually any other application.
It's a cardioid mic, which means that it's somewhat directional, giving a natural tone and letting you control what gets picked up. It's a nice pick because it's compatible with whatever recording software you prefer, and for such an inexpensive mic you'll be surprised by the audio quality with its 16 bit capabilities.
Blue Yeti: Modular, Versatile USB Condensor Microphone
Versatility, thy name is Yeti!
A big player in the USB microphone industry these days is Blue, and their Yeti line of mics is hard to beat. I'm reviewing the 'Silver' edition here. This is one of the hands down most versatile performers you can find, and no matter what you need to record it's probably got a setup that will work for you. First off, you can select the different 'capsules' that you want to use. Each capsule presents a different kind of recording filter, letting you choose between omnidirectional, bidirectional, cardioid and stereo. If you're doing an interview, for example, or recording a two-part harmony, bidirectional could work perfectly.
It also has built-in gain controls and a handy instant mute options, both of which are great for on the fly adjustments during a recording. The included 'retro' styled stand is a handy feature, letting you adjust the direction just so. It's a great USB condensor microphone with a nice track record and tons of positive reviews, worth a look.
Samson Meteor: Stylish USB Condensor with Cardioid Pattern
Portable, Simple, Excellent Sound
If portability is as important to you as sound fidelity, you'll probably like the Samson Meteor. It may not be as full featured as some of the fancier microphones out there, but it packs a punch and it's perfect for the recorder who tends to be on the move. I often recommend this mic to travelling musicians who write while on tour, or for music instructors who need a powerful portable USB mic for teaching purposes.
It's got a cardioid pattern, but it's got a wide field that will pick up a lot of detail and dynamic. One super nice design feature is the fold back legs that let it sit upright without a stand. These legs adjust to let you position the mic wherever you need, and it has that gorgeous minimalist look that audiophiles tend to love.
It can work with a traditional mic stand too, for the purists out there. The 16 bit sound is deceptively excellent, and because it doesn't use any drivers, you can plug it in to virtually any computer. For the musician on the move, this is one of the best USB condensor mic that I'd fully recommend.
Shure: One of the Best USB Condensor Microphones, Great Brand
super popular mic for vocal recording
Shure is one of those brands with legions of devoted fans, and they've been in the industry long enough to produce a consistently excellent product.
This USB microphone is exactly that: a no-nonsense, versatile and multi-purpose piece of recording equipment that even seasoned musicians would find little to complain about. It may not look like much but the sound quality is the real selling point, with a clarity and depth that few other mics in this price range can replicate.
It may look like a traditional mic but it's definitely a plug in and go type with no drivers to mess around with. You can plug in a 1/8' headphone set to monitor in real time without latency or lag. You also have control over the input strength with the integrated gain controls, giving you minute control over peaking.
It's a 'side address' mic, meaning the input is perpendicular to the mic housing. I have a soft spot for Shure and it's a great USB microphone for recording vocals, speech or instruments.
Blue Snowball: A tiny, top quality USB condenser microphone
Tiny Yet Powerful
I wanted to showcase another microphone by Blue simply because it's so cool, portable and capable. The Snowball may be tiny, but it's one of the best USB condensor microphones because it gives you a range of recording options while taking up very little space on your desk. Their claim of CD quality recording is well justified, and the recordings sounds great.
It's another plug and go condensor USB microphone that doesn't require extra drivers or set up. Another nice feature is the fact that you can choose between cardioid and omnidirectional recording patterns, so you can vary how the microphone picks up sound depending on what you're recording.
It also includes a gain pad that's useful if your recordings are peaking. It comes with an adjustable stand, and the whole thing has a retro inspired look, so you won't need to keep it tidied away when it's not in use.
Recording Stands, Accessories and Gear
If you're in the market for a USB condensor microphone for recording, you'll probably want a few accessories like stands and filters too. A mic is a good starting point but be sure that you've got a stand that will fit to the type of recording you'll want. If you want to record acoustic guitar, for example, you'll want an adjustable stand that can place the mic within a foot or so of the sound well. A pop filter can really help with vocal recording, both singing and spoken word.