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Understand the important features to pay attention to
Figure out which microphones are best suited for your personal needs
A list of our top choices across various price points for USB microphones in 2020
USB microphones are an affordable and effective way to learn about proper recording techniques, gain staging, cardioid polar patterns and a whole plethora of other technical aspects and other acoustic recording techniques; in a streamlined and non-confronting manner.
In this article, we’re going to guide you through some key features of USB microphones as well as a list of 8 accessible and affordable USB microphones available on the market in 2020.
Understanding Microphone Polar Patterns
Before we give you our top choices for USB microphones, we thought we should highlight some features that could help you determine what type of microphone would meet your needs.
Polar Patterns and their types
Dynamic and Condenser microphones
The polar pattern of a microphone is its sensitivity to sound relative to the direction of the source of the sound.
Polar patterns are the resulting effect of changing the amount of charge supplied to a condenser mic capsule. Changing the charge supplied to the capsule can present a number of variations in the way sound is picked up and transduced into electronic signal.
This all depends on circuitry and electronics that are better fundamentally understood than technically understood. Unless you have the time to go down that rabbit hole, here are some of the basic patterns uses.
Cardioid/Super-Cardioid polar patterns record from the front and rejects from the rear. This is perfect for streaming at a keyboard or computer or recording near a reflective surface or as part of a group.
Super-cardioid has a much stronger rear repulsion effect and will more likely be found in the application on stage at a live concert or on a TV interview panel or live audience show.
Stereo records the entire front center, left and right of the microphone, suited for capturing vocal performances or recording acoustic instruments, for example a 4 piece band from the perspective point of the audience.
Omnidirectional picks up sound from all angles surrounding the device, best suited for group discussions, conference calls, group interviews or larger podcasts where multiple people are talking at once. It also saves on buying multiple mics, but can wind up leaving you with a lot of editing.
The Bi-directional polar pattern also known as Figure 8, aptly named as the microphone captures from the front and rear of the capsule and rejects from the sides.
This makes it perfect for conducting two-person interviews or recording a musical duet. It’s also great for travelling journalists of podcasters who do more interview-related content.
Dynamic vs. Condenser Microphones
When choosing a type of microphone, one important thing to consider is the environment that you will have when recording.
Dynamic microphones capture sound through a magnetically charged diaphragm, the diaphragm vibrates in response to the sound. This makes the mic effective for capturing loud and strong sounds or vocals. They are also less likely to pick up sounds like the tapping of a keyboard, clicking of a mouse, the squeak of your chair, or the bark of the dog next door.
Condenser microphones in contrast, are more effective in enclosed environments such as studios. These microphones capture sound through a lightweight diaphragm suspended by a fixed plate. The thin diaphragm allows the mic to pick up delicate and crisp sound perfect for recording softer and more articulate vocals.
A gain stage refers to any point in a production where you can control the volume level of an individual device or track.
Gain staging itself is the process of managing all of these volume levels within a project before or during recording for the purpose of achieving the cleanest mix possible at the final stage of production.
This helps to avoid the need to re-record, missing out on great moments, or losing the impact of a statement made on the fly during a group podcast session.
The process of gain staging doesn’t end when you’ve finished recording, as you will still be able to playback your recordings and ‘mix’ them accordingly to other layers or tracks that you might like to add.
Aiming for a recording level of -18dB to -12dB is your best bet, as this will drastically reduce the potential of the audio signal clipping, and leave plenty of headroom to adjust gain later on during the mixing and final production processes without the signal clipping in the DAW you’re using.
Monitoring is the process of keeping an eye on or ‘monitoring’ your signal as it is being recorded.
This allows you to hear in real-time if you are too loud, or there are unwanted artefacts in your signal such as room reflections, room noise, or signal interference.
The monitoring process goes hand-in-hand with the process of gain staging.
After successfully gain-staging your signals before recording, you should be able to monitor or listen to your audio in real-time with little-to-no worry.
Having been around for a significant period of time, YETI from microphone company Blue has been a staple in the bedroom/amateur and semi-pro setup since at least 2009.
I personally remember finding out about these as early as 2013 when I was looking for my first at-home solution to recording hip-hop vocals.
Since the inception of the YETI not much has changed, the design is relatively the same and the functionality is as rock-solid as ever.
The YETI provides the user with a choice of 4 polar patterns. This microphone uses a condenser diaphragm and so is extremely sensitive and is best used in conjunction with a proper gain staging method.
This microphone ticks all the boxes for someone looking to apply it to multiple different applications and is a fantastic all-rounder and a great and easy way to introduce yourself to the world of recording.
The Audio-Technica ATR2500x is a snazzy little all-rounder when it comes to application and use. Featuring the same 3.5mm headphone monitoring port as most of the devices on this list, the Audio-Technica ATR2500x also has a built-in 24-bit 192kHz A/D (analogue to digital). When combined with the large and highly sensitive diaphragm, it delivers incredible clarity, and is really quite fantastic for capturing the finer timbres of a singer or instrument in the studio.
It also features a rear-and-side rejecting cardioid polar pattern making this mic more than suitable for use in interviewing, podcasting, conferencing or even field recording situations.
The mic comes with 2 cables for both older and newer USB-a and USB-c devices, meaning your current technology isn’t left behind or obsolete when standing next to this device, for those of you still rocking 2014 MacBook Pros.
This mic also comes with a convenient little desk-stand in the form of a detachable tripod, and also includes a standard mount for use on any microphone stand, again meaning you can integrate this into your pre-existing recording setup with minimal fuss.
Built with ease and functionality in mind, this USB microphone works with any recording software and has front-facing controls so that adjustments can easily be made on the fly, and with a range of 30Hz to 15kHz, this mic is less likely to pick up high-pitched annoyances.
Audio-Technica is probably among one of the oldest and most experienced companies on this list, let alone the market, having originated in Japan in 1962. Building stereo phono cartridges, they quickly expanded into other sectors of the audio gear industry.
Since then they have made leaps and bounds in their technology and design, remained the top of the field and become a globally recognized brand synonymous with quality.
The AT2020USB+ (a mouthful, I’ll admit) is probably the best option on this list for those looking for a more premium end-user device on the USB recording spectrum. This mic has all the standard features and functionality that you’d expect from a company like AT.
Unlike the other mics on this list, the AT2020USB+ actually gives the ability to blend pre-recorded audio into the signal which can be monitored in real-time through the device’s external 3.5mm headphone jack.
This allows Solo artists a leg-up on what they could do with something like the (much) cheaper G-Track Pro, and that is layer their music as they go and play over the top of it, adjusting the mix as they see fit.
This mic is highly recommended to those with the budget for it or those looking to capture a more detailed recording in an isolated environment. As this is locked to a standard cardioid polar pattern, it is more suited to capturing subtle details from those looking to ensure their recordings contain detailed nuances.
The HyperX podcast and streaming mic from QuadCast is a beautiful thing to look at. Being a pre-existing gaming brand with other gaming devices and peripherals on the market, QuadCast has done will to think of including a microphone on their list of offerings, and like their other devices, this one looks really freakin’ cool.
The microphone itself is a full aluminum construction with a bright red pop filter situated inside the housing and symmetrical circular holes present on the body and a softer finish capping the top of the device, where quick-access a ‘tap to mute’ sensor is located, combining with a light that shows you whether your mic is muted or live.
This mic has been certified by both Discord and TeamSpeak for having met their requirements when it comes to both the clarity and quality of the audio signal.
The HyperX also boasts 4 different cardioid polar pattern selections, making it suitable for a number of uses including streaming, podcasting and studio recording. Overall this microphone is well suited to gamers or anyone looking to film themselves while streaming, as it provides a cool aesthetic and simultaneously delivers you great sound.
A lot of musicians (specifically solo artists) often wind up creating first and recording later. This leaves themselves with technical or equipment-based limitations which leads to the need to purchase lots of different pieces of gear and learn to use them WHILE learning how to record using a DAW.
It can all be a bit overwhelming for a folk singer who wants to lay down a jam they’re working on at the moment of inspiration. Enter the G-Track Pro; with some of the more impressive functionality on this list, the G-track Pro allows the user to not only record an acoustic signal using a selection of 3 polar patterns but provides a ¼” jack for the artist using it to include their instrument of choice, be it a guitar amp output, a semi-acoustic guitar or a portable keyboard.
The G-track Pro also has dedicated rotary knobs on the front of the device plus a 3.5mm jack to help you balance your levels in real-time and hear your signal output before recording, allowing you to get your levels right and hopefully wind up with a much more streamlined recording process or workflow.
Razer has been blowing people’s minds with cool designs and uber functionality since the company’s inception in 1998. They remained relatively unknown on the international scale but in recent years have gained more attention through sponsoring pro-gamers, streamers, and content creators all over the world, giving them global recognition for their signature brand of edgy style.
The Razer Seiren USB microphone range is brilliant and innovative, and has been designed not to break either the bank or itself, with a selection of models starting in the lower price range of around $99.
With easy-access front-facing buttons and a 3.5mm headphone jack the user also has the ability to monitor their audio signal from this range of devices with zero latency.
One of the nicer features (available on the Elite model) is the flashing ring that extends around the mic to let you know if your signal is clipping while recording in a situation where you aren’t able to monitor.
The Razer Seiren ‘Emote’ actually has the ability to display illuminated emojis and messages upon the grille of the microphone itself, which is REALLY cool.
The super-cardioid polar patterns drastically eliminate a significant amount of background noise that would otherwise be picked up by standard cardioid patterns and has a more directional focus on the user, giving a clearer overall signal.
Razer is an official partner of Sony Playstation, and comes in a cool black/blue PlayStation colour scheme as well as a selection of other cool colors. Sony also collaborated on this design with Razer directly and the mic includes FULL PS4 integration and functionality.
The last thing I’ll say about this pretty little range is that they were designed to travel and look good while doing it. With a metallic body and internal shock mount on even the lowest tier of the range, these space-saving mics won’t use up much space in your bag if you’re traveling between locations while streaming or recording.
This microphone can be used for a variety of purposes and looks good on camera, but due to the nature of the scissor arm design, this mic can also be placed above the audio source and be positioned discreetly off-camera.
As the only mic on the list that comes with this accessory, it’s definitely worth a look for those looking to host a ‘radio-style’ panel or podcast.
Buying a scissor arm, shock mount, and pop filter separately can be a costly exercise and waiting for all your packages to arrive or going out and trying to source the gear can be annoying. The AU-404 setup takes care of that by including everything you’ll need to get started.
This microphone is a great little low-budget option for solo content creators looking to ‘cut their teeth’ or try to take the dive into recording and creating their own content.
This mic would be recommended more towards someone who wants to get started and begin learning and creating without breaking the bank.
You might find that you outgrow this mic and want to move onto something better, but for the price, you really can’t argue with what’s in the box.
The Fifine K670 functions as an audio interface, giving you the ability to monitor your recordings with a 3.5mm headphone jack. With the combined USB connectivity and accessible ‘volume’ (gain) knob on the front, this is perfect for beginners.
Other features include a swivel stand and detachable base, cardioid polar pattern and ‘multi-system’ compatibility, delivering probably one of the best bang-for-buck options currently available on the market.
As a footnote to this list of microphones, it is worth noting to all you readers that Waves Audio has recently released a special collection of plugins that are made for the sole purpose of streaming and podcasting.
This pack contains 4 great plugins including Greg Wells’ VoiceCentric, NS1 Noise Suppressor, Playlist Rider and WLM Plus Loudness Meter.