For many content creators - be that vlogging, podcasting or streaming - simplicity is key. While for some the flexibility of using separate microphones, mixers and an interface is desirable, and does offer more choice, opting for the best USB microphone you can get your hands on will take the legwork out of capturing your content.
Using a USB microphone is as simple as plugging it into your computer, and telling your recording software where to find the signal. In most cases, even that part of it is automatic. If you’re new to the world of recording, however, it can be tricky to know where to start, so we’ve pulled together this list of the best USB mics on the market right now.
- The best podcasting microphones for every level and budget
- Best cheap microphones: budget mics for the studio and stage
Best USB microphones: Our top picks
The best USB microphone for you will be determined by what you want to record. For speech and broadcast/podcast applications, the Rode Podcaster is an excellent choice. We liked the low-cut filter and general build quality, and have achieved great results in a studio setting.
For field or roving use, the IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2 ticks a lot of boxes too, and works extremely well with the bundled suite of apps from IK. A big shout also to the Blue Yeti; it might have been around the block, but for the vast majority of streamers it remains the top choice.
Best USB Microphones: Buying advice
USB microphones are, fundamentally, easier to use than a regular microphone/interface setup, because the interface part is incorporated into the mic itself. That’s not to say a standard microphone setup is difficult, as such, but with a USB mic the process is no more challenging than finding an available USB port on your laptop or computer. Once connected, you’ll find the experience – and the results – the same as if you use an XLR microphone into a mixer or audio interface.
With any microphone, there are certain characteristics and features you’ll need to look out for. Arguably the most important refers to the mic’s functionality; in the USB world this is likely to be either a dynamic microphone, or a condenser.
Dynamic mics work well across a variety of situations, and at a variety of volume levels, making them a superb all-rounder. They work equally well in studio environments, stages and in outdoor settings.
Condenser mics, on the other hand, are better suited to a more static studio environment. The benefit you get from using a condenser is that it is much more sensitive, meaning it’ll pick up each nuance from your voice or instrument.
Players of acoustic instruments like guitars, drums or strings would tend to favour a condenser for recording for this reason, although they work well for speech too. The payoff is that they are more fragile, and their extra sensitivity can also pick up unwanted noises which might need editing or processing out afterwards.
Look for the mic’s pickup pattern too; cardioid pickup patterns, also known as ‘unidirectional’, pick up sound from one specific direction and reject it from outside that area, making them ideal for single-user situations. Bi-directional - aka, a figure-of-eight pattern - accepts sound from two sides, which is good for two people sharing a mic in speech applications, while omni-directional microphones can accept audio from any angle. This makes them useful for round table discussions, where the mic can be placed on the table in-between a number of people.
Additionally, some podcast-friendly mics have features such as low-cut (sometimes called high-pass) filters to help eliminate extreme low-end rumble and noise. Likewise, the condenser versions will usually incorporate a shock-reducing mount to combat accidental vibrations. Finally, the best USB mics offer some facility for monitoring your sound through studio headphones while you record.
What’s important is to find the USB microphone that fits your needs. The requirements of a music recording studio will be different to someone who simply wants to level-up their FaceTime or Zoom setup, for example. Let’s take a look at some of the best USB microphone options for every application and budget.
Best USB microphones: Product guide & reviews
Rode is arguably one of the better-known brands in microphones, particularly in the broadcast world, and in the Rode Podcaster USB mic there is the perfect example why. As a sister product to the Rode Procaster, the Podcaster has clearly been designed by people who understand the requirements of broadcast users and have included all that know-how in one simple package.
The Rode Podcaster has an in-built pop filter to capture those nasty plosives, and we liked the addition of a low-cut filter to nullify any low-frequency rumbles that might ruin a take. A tripod would have been nice but, overall, this is a superb microphone.
Perhaps the first and last word in USB microphones for many users, the Blue Yeti has been synonymous with the rise in popularity of streaming and vlogging. And for good reason too; the Yeti is easy to use, and is extremely versatile thanks to its four pickup patterns. We’ve seen them used for podcasts, for recording musical instruments and for all manner of different studio applications.
One thing it doesn’t have in its favour is portability. Beast by name, beast by nature. But, providing it’s being bought with studio use in mind, the Blue Yeti is still the mic to beat.
Read the full Blue Microphones Yeti review
For podcasts, voiceovers or other speech-driven formats, the Rode NT-USB is well worth a look. It’s relatively small and unobtrusive, but the results gained from the cardioid condenser capsule are quite phenomenal.
We liked the included carry case and six metre USB cable, and the removable pop shield further enhances its speech credentials, however we’d advise upgrading to a more substantial tripod for longer term use.
Read the full Rode NT-USB review
We’re not going to go too deep in debating the relative merits of USB and XLR microphones, which is just as well seeing as the Audio-Technica AT2005USB offers both connections. For a shade under $/£80 you get a sturdy, all-metal dynamic mic which isn’t going to win any awards for recorded sound quality, but it might just save you in a number of different situations.
We can see these being extremely popular as back-ups, thanks to the extra versatility offered by both USB and XLR, while the on/off switch – never guaranteed at this level – is a nice feature to have. Just remember to turn it on before you go live…
If you ever find yourself in the presence of a broadcast news reporter, there’s a high chance you’ll see an IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2. These unassuming plug-and-play mics have grown in popularity with the broadcast crowd on account of their ease of use, great sound quality and native support for Apple mobile devices.
Now in its second iteration, the iRig Mic HD offers that winning combination of simple operation, low price and high performance. Well worth your time.
Anyone with an interest in home studios and recording has likely come across Mackie on their travels. The American brand specialises in producing cost-effective gear to get beginner and intermediate studios up and running, and in the Mackie EM-USB has now expanded its focus to meet newer demands.
The EM-USB has a few neat touches, including an onboard mute button – handy for those mid-sentence sneezes – and it’s nice to see a USB-C connection included too.
Great things can happen when dedicated, optimised hardware and software packages come together. The Shure MOTIV MV51 is a great example, working with the accompanying MOTIV application in perfect harmony. Which is handy, because the MV51 is geared towards iOS users above others, who can use the app to gain quick access to useful tone-shaping tools and presets.
For speech applications, this is a superb package and worth the price alone. For music, however, we’d perhaps look to other, more specialist options.
Read the full Shure MOTIV MV51 review
A common complaint thrown at USB mics is that they can’t be as good as a regular mic, because they are comparatively cheap. While that perhaps has more to do with the demographic they’re aimed at, there is an argument that USB mics are well accepted enough now that there should be some more advanced models to choose from. The Apogee HypeMic answers this, by offering a high level of audio quality – 24-bit/98kHz – with the same levels of overall performance you’d expect from Apogee. The jewel in the HypeMic’s crown is its on-board compressor, which gives you three levels of compression to help tame dynamic voices for that radio-style consistency.
Admittedly, the HypeMic is going to be way above what the majority of users need, but if pristine audio is a deal-breaker for you, and you have the cash to spare, then it’s well worth your consideration.
We might pretend it doesn’t matter, but if a microphone is going to take centre stage in your vlogs or streaming sessions, then it doesn’t hurt for it to look interesting. The AKG Lyra is perhaps the most visually striking mic we’re recommending, but it also has a huge amount of versatility going on under its vintage exterior. Four separate capsules mean you can access a variety different polar patterns depending on the situation in which you’re recording, while the audio quality is also superb.
Admittedly, the looks will put some off but if you can get past that, the Lyra is a well-priced, feature-packed USB mic with plenty to offer.