There was a time when creating high-quality sound recordings required at least renting out a recording booth and quite possibly enlisting the talents of an experienced editor, but we’ve now reached the point where anyone can record seriously with the lightest of gear. A USB microphone is one of the simplest, most versatile, and all-around best options for everything from podcasts to video game streaming.
But that doesn’t mean you should just pick up the first USB microphone you find on store shelves. We’ve provided you with 12 of the top microphone models for recording, and we’ve also come up with a detailed guide you can put to use if you decide to expand your search further.
If you’re in the market for the best microphone for your setup, you’ll want to keep a few factors in mind. Besides your personal preferences, you should also consider factors such as frequency response, recording resolution, and pickup pattern, as well as portability if that’s important to you. We’ll explore all of these in-depth in our buying guide.
12 Best USB Microphones:
- Elgato Wave:1 USB Microphone
- BLUE Microphones Yeti USB Microphone
- Blue Snowball iCE USB Micro
- Elgato Wave:3 USB Microphone
- HyperX QuadCast USB Microphone
- Samson Go Mic Portable USB Microphone
- Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ USB Microphone
- CAD Audio U37 USB Studio Microphone
- Shure MV5 USB Digital Microphone
- Razer Seiren X USB Streaming Microphone
- Rode NT-USB USB Microphone
- Apogee Hype Mic – USB Microphone
1. Elgato Wave:1 USB Microphone
Elgato is a household name in video game capture and streaming technology, so they naturally have a place on this list. In Elgato's own words, the Wave:1 fuses plug-and-play convenience with broadcast-grade circuitry. Its steel grille provides both smooth sound diffusion and a sleek, professional-looking finish. Its heavy-duty desk stand is designed with a U-mount, allowing you to adjust your setup quite liberally to best suit your needs. A built-in headphone jack also allows for zero-latency headphone monitoring. Using Elgato's complimentary Wave app, you can also control both your Wave:1 and up to seven other audio devices at once.
2. BLUE Microphones Yeti USB Microphone
Blue is one of the only brands to earn two spots on our list, and we're particularly confident in including the Yeti. The ability to shift seamlessly between four different polar patterns is the obvious advantage here, making it a great choice for any recording environment imaginable. The setup process is a complete breeze, too; just plug your USB cable into your source device, and you're ready to go. Gain control is completely adjustable, so even an inexperienced user can pretty quickly reduce the risk of interference when recording. And the studio controls are particularly impressive; everything from pattern selection to the mute button is easily and intuitively accessible at all times.
3. Blue Snowball iCE USB Micro
Need a boost over what your built-in computer mic can provide? The Blue Snowball iCE constitutes a respectable step up without breaking the bank. This microphone is especially well-suited to working with streaming services like YouTube, Skype, or Discord. It's also compatible with both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 protocols, so you can make the most of the highest transfer speeds possible. The design here is also especially cool thanks to the rounded top, which does a great job of resembling a more traditional studio recording mic.
4. Elgato Wave:3 USB Microphone
The Elgato Wave:3 builds upon the strong foundation of the Wave:1, adding in a slew of extra features. For a little more than the cost of the original model, the Wave:3 also comes with a capacitive mute function to silently disengage mic input and a multi-layered noise shield. The additional multifunctional dial allows you to adjust input gain, adjust headphone volume, and crossfade between mic and PC audio. As an extra cherry on top, this model also features LED indicators to help you monitor your input volume and mute status. And, of course, the Wave:3 is also compatible with Elgato's Wave app.
5. HyperX QuadCast USB Microphone
HyperX is best known for its gaming headsets and headphones, and these talents make them equally well suited to designing microphones. The QuadCast is a pretty serious microphone that's tailor made for professional use. The shock mount is specially crafted to minimize the effect of vibration on the quality of your recording. It even offers four different polar patterns, so you can adjust the settings to fully suit the needs of any given situation. It also promises the full frequency response range of human hearing. All of these combine to create a best-in-class microphone that can be employed in a wide variety of different scenarios.
6. Samson Go Mic Portable USB Microphone
Not everyone needs a microphone focused on professionals. If you're the type of customer who wants something cheap and functional but which packs in a lot of bang for your buck, the Samson Go Mic is a great choice for you. It's small enough to fit comfortably in your palm and can fold right into itself, and it offers some serious plug-and-play compatibility with most major operating systems. It also has enough versatility to suit whatever your recording situation might be. The Samson Go Mic can swap seamlessly between cardioid and omnidirectional pickup patterns, and it can be mounted in a variety of different ways, making it great for more guerrilla recording artists.
7. Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ USB Microphone
Any product you pick up from Audio-Technica is bound to be high quality, and the fact that they offer a $150 microphone makes them one of the best choices to check out when you're looking for a mid-range model. Full mix controls give you more control over the final product when you're trying to record professional or semi-professional audio, and the versatile platform compatibility means you can seamlessly jump from one computer to another. It also offers a smooth frequency response range that covers practically the full extent of human hearing. Best of all, this Audio-Technica microphone comes with all of the key accessories you need to get going right away.
8. CAD Audio U37 USB Studio Microphone
The CAD U37 isn't the best microphone on our list, but it's a strong contender for the best value mic around. The extended frequency response allows for higher fidelity performance when recording anything from vocals to music mixes, and it also features 10 decibels of overload protection, so you run a lower risk of having to deal with distortion. You don't even need to worry about the acoustics of your room causing excessive reverberation thanks to the built-in bass reduction switch. This microphone does a great job of focusing directly on the sound you're trying to deliver, isolating it from any other sounds in the room.
9. Shure MV5 USB Digital Microphone
You can pick up the Shure MV5 for under a hundred bucks, but it's well suited to aspiring professionals and especially those who need to adapt to different environments outside of the traditional fixed studio. It comes with its own stand, but it's also designed to be easily mounted. What's especially refreshing is how adaptable it is. There are different established settings for different recording formats, and the plug-and-play design ensures it will work without the need to download drivers. And if you're just getting started, it will completely handle equalization, gain, and compression so you don't get overwhelmed by the recording process.
10. Razer Seiren X USB Streaming Microphone
Razer is another brand that's almost entirely ensconced in the world of video game peripherals, and while the Seiren X is a great choice if you're looking to record a Let's Play or to stream your multiplayer adventures, it's just as good for recording podcasts or even music. With a height of less than nine inches and otherwise compact dimensions across the board, this is a great mic to take with you on your travels, and the headphone input promises zero-latency monitoring. As you might hope from a mic designed to be carried with you, this model is also shock-resistant, so it can offer great recording even in less-than-ideal situation.
11. Rode NT-USB USB Microphone
The Rode NT-USB microphone features all the basics you could want for professional or semi-professional recording in a single package. That includes a pop filter, tripod, storage pouch, and ring mount. These are good tools to have, too, since this lightweight mic can comfortably go with you anywhere. Even better, it's designed to work with both Mac and Windows operating systems as well as most major recording and mixing software platforms. It also provides zero-latency headphone monitoring so you'll be sure that the voice coming out of your mic sounds as good as it does in your head.
12. Apogee Hype Mic – USB Microphone
The most immediate advantage that the Apogee Hype offers over the Cad U37 is that it comes with double the recording resolution, but this mic also does a lot more to justify its significantly higher price tag. This is a highly portable and easy-to-use microphone, making it one of the ideal choices for people who know they're serious about podcasting and recording and want an affordable model that can grow as they do. The Apogee Hype also features zero-latency monitoring for more seamless performance wherever you happen to be, as well as some great sound quality that belies its highly compact and portable design.
USB Microphone Buyer’s Guide
Shopping for your first USB mic? Understanding the different factors you need to check when seeking out the best sound quality can be difficult, and a simple company name won’t always tell you much about the quality of a mic. Read on to level up your knowledge to help you shop for a mic with more confidence.
Any device that records or plays music is going to need to deliver audio across the frequency response range. A higher number does a better job of detecting higher pitch sounds, while a lower number represents bass and other low frequencies. The human hearing range is 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz (or 20 kilohertz), but if you’re just recording a podcast or a video, chances are you don’t need a mic that covers the whole frequency response range, since the human voice falls squarely in the middle of the frequency response scale.
If you’re looking to record music or simply have a wider range of sounds available to you, you should concern yourself a bit more with having a wider range. What’s most important is the consistency of scale for the frequency response level. If you really want to find the most consistent mic on the market, you can easily track down a frequency response scale for most of these mics.
Check for models that represent a flat line for the frequency response range (and particularly in the middle, as that represents most of the human speaking range) if you want reliable results for the quality of your audio recordings.
One of the biggest advantages of USB mics is that they don’t have to rely on the sound card in your computer at all. Instead, they essentially serve as their own sound card, and the recording resolution provides you with an understanding of the quality of the recording you can expect with a given mic.
This is most often measured in bit level. The bit level essentially tells you how much data is used to record your sound, and a higher bit rate expands the floor and ceiling for frequency recording as well as the fidelity of the audio in your recording. Less expensive mics tend to employ 16 bits, while higher-end mics offer 24 bits.
Bit depth also determines the highest frequency response range possible. With a 16-bit mic, you can expect a maximum frequency of 192 KHz, while a 16-bit mic can offer about 44 KHz. In either case, this goes well beyond the range for human hearing, but that also creates denser audio with a better sound stage. Whether that will have a major impact on the quality of your audio depends on the situation, but it probably doesn’t need to be a big concern unless you’re trying to produce professional-level music.
The pickup pattern tells you from what direction your mic picks up audio. This is a situation where there’s no one best solution, but where the ideal choice will instead depend on your recording circumstances. For that reason, mics that allow you to shift between different pickup pattern modes are the most versatile choices around.
- One of the more common patterns, cardioid pickups resemble a heart. They pick up the sound directly in front of them clearly, with some of the background noise to the side picked up as well. That makes them a great all-around choice.
- Hypercardioids tighten the sound coverage and block out the majority of background noise. For that reason, they’re often used for recording instruments or vocals.
- Unidirectional mics tighten that coverage even more, offering an audio interface that strips out all but the sound directly in front of them. If you want only your subject to be heard (and for them to be heard clearly even in a noisy environment), this could be a great shout.
- Bidirectional mics pick up the sound coming from opposite directions with each direction focused tightly. As a result, they’re an optimal choice when recording interviews in a single room.
- Omnidirectional mics record with an equal level of clarity in any given direction, and for that reason, they’re an immersive way to capture subjects in more active environments where what you’re trying to record might be moving around.
Just because what you’re saying sounds great in your head doesn’t mean that’s what your audience is hearing. That’s where headphones can be an incredibly valuable asset. With an in-built headphone jack, you can monitor your own sound to hear what’s being recorded as it happens. You should check for models that promise zero latency, otherwise there may be a delay between what you’re recording and what you’re hearing. And if you want to pair your mic up with great headphones, check our guide to the best studio headphones in 2020.
Do you plan on traveling with your mic? In that case, you’ll want to find a model that’s portable in terms of both dimensions and weight. Most USB models are pretty mobile, but if you’re looking for one you can carry on a plane with you, you may want to pay closer attention to the dimensions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are USB Microphones Good for Recording Vocals?
That really depends on the mic. While USB mics generally provide good performance across the board, there are also some popular options that focus specifically on recording vocals. If you’re looking to record a podcast or engage in another type of voice recording, Yeti is a name you should pay close attention to.
Are USB Mics Better?
That depends on your setup. USB mics act as their own sound card, so you can get great sound quality regardless of the computer you’re using them on. If you’re on a budget and can’t invest in a computer with a heavy-duty sound card – or if you want the freedom to record wherever you go – then mics that use a USB cable are one of the top options.
What Are USB Microphones Used For?
Anything a traditional mic can be used for! USB mics are used for everything from streaming games to shooting YouTube videos to recording music or podcasts. Their mobile design and ability to hook up to any modern computer make them a versatile choice.
What Microphone Do You Use for Vocals?
We particularly like the Blue Yeti. It offers three audio recording patterns in addition to the traditional cardioid pattern. This condenser microphone offers great audio quality and the ability to travel, and you can improve your professionalism even more by making an upgrade to the Blue Yeti Pro.
Whether you’re looking to record your first podcast or simply improve your gaming performance, a USB mic can absolutely fit the bill. These will work regardless of the quality of your computer, and you can find great models from trusted company names for less than a hundred bucks. Check our list, and we’re pretty confident you’ll find something you need.If you liked our article on usb microphones, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.