If there’s one sub-genre in the music and audio production world that can’t have gone unnoticed, it’s the meteoric rise of the USB microphone. Where once using a microphone required a whole bunch of extra gear - mixers, audio interfaces, PA speakers and the likes - nowadays there are plenty of superb options available from all the biggest brands. Why? Because fundamentally the best USB microphones are really, really easy to use. This has opened up entirely new markets of people who wouldn’t normally consider investing in a decent microphone.
Now, with streaming, vlogging, podcasting and video conferencing, USB microphones are enjoying something of a golden era. The technology is mature enough that even the best budget USB microphones will provide exceptional results, and can be used to their full potential by people who’ve never even picked up a mic before. In this guide, we’re going to show some of the best USB mic options available to you right now, as well as explaining a bit about why they’ve become so popular.
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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.
A newer entry on the block is the Shure MV7. With great brand pedigree, the option of USB and XLR connections, and killer bundled software, this is another great all-rounder
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.
Read the full Rode Podcaster review
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You can generally tell when a new product segment is being taken seriously when the respected brands get in on the act. Shure has been content to wait to release its flagship USB mic, and the results are well worth it. The Shure MV7 offers both USB and traditional XLR connectivity, so it will work both with audio interfaces and direct into your computer and retains that simplicity of operation that users demand.
We are big fans of the bundled software, which gives you fine control over a variety of settings, with a few presets to keep things easy for the uninitiated. It’s a step up, price-wise, from some of the other models on this list but you can’t go far wrong putting your trust in Shure to get it right. The Shure MV7 is a real success, and we can see it going on to dominate the field for years to come.
Read the full Shure MV7 review
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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
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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
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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…
Read the full Audio-Technica AT2005USB review
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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.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2 review
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.
Read our full Mackie EM-USB review
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
Take a look on YouTube or Twitch now and you’ll see even the most basic streaming setups include an external USB mic. Gaming peripheral brand Razer knows this, and has branched out to include a small range of USB mics to appeal to these producers. The result is the Razer Seiren X, which is a small, unobtrusive mic which is ideal for desk-based setups.
Interestingly they’ve opted for a super-cardioid pickup pattern, whereby the axis for capturing sound is reduced slightly and the area which rejects ambient noise is increased. This is perfect for streamers, but also for podcasters where the user will largely be in a static location speaking directly into the mic. We like the look of it, with its matt black finish, making for a great low-cost option for anyone looking to buy their first USB mic.
Read the full Razer Seiren X 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.
Read our full Apogee HypeMic review
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.
Read our full AKG Lyra review
Best USB Microphones: Buying advice
USB microphones are, fundamentally, easy devices to use. Whereas with a regular mic you’ll need to connect it to a mixer or an audio interface, a USB mic requires only a spare port on your computer, laptop or smart device. Everything is taken care of within the mic itself, which assumes the role of audio interface and usually offers a way to monitor directly by connecting a pair of headphones. You don’t need any other gear, and that’s why they’re so popular right now.
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So with connection and basic operation so straightforward, what should you be looking for instead and what features could make the difference for your needs? A key characteristic of any microphone is its pickup pattern. This governs the direction (or directions) from which the mic captures a sound. Most common is cardioid, where the mic picks up sound from a specific direction, and does its best to reject noise coming from outside that axis. This works particularly well for speech because, providing the subject is in the right place, the mic will capture only their voice and will reject ambient noise from the back and sides.
Alternatively, some mics feature bi-directional or omni-directional patterns, meaning they take audio from two sides or from all around the mic respectively. These pickup patterns are useful if you’re aiming to use a single mic to collect audio from multiple angles like, for example, at a round table session.
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. Some models also incorporate a shock-reducing mount to combat accidental vibrations.
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. There are plenty of options to choose from though, for all budgets and ability levels.