Now that we’re all spending a lot more time on Skype and Zoom conferences you probably want to step up your streaming audio quality. Luckily, there are some very good USB microphones in a wide range of prices to choose from.
The advantage of a USB mic is that it connects directly to your computer and there’s no need for a more expensive and complicated audio interface. There’s no additional software required (unlike an interface) so your computer should see it right away in the preferences window. In most cases, all you have to do is select it for input and output for the headphones and you’re up and running.
There are a number of things to keep in mind, though:
- These have USB outputs only. That’s how they connect to your computer and there are no other outputs, so you can’t directly plug one into a PA system or recording device with an XLR cable.
- You can connect a set of headphones directly to the microphone and control the headphone level from there. In all cases, the connection is a small 1 /8 inch plug, so if your headphones uses a larger ¼ inch stereo plug you’ll need an adapter.
- All of the following microphones work on both Macs and PCs and various vintages of operating systems.
- Bundles are available containing the mic, a pop screen and boom, and sometimes headphones. That might sound nice but not be necessary, since the following mics come with their own stands and have integral pop screens that should be sufficient for most use.
Let’s have a look at just a few of the more popular USB mics currently available.
Blue Yeti, $130
The Yeti was the first dedicated USB product from a high-end microphone manufacturer and quickly established itself as the standard for podcasters today. It sounds great, is very versatile, and gives you all the control you need in a single package. There’s a mute switch and headphone volume on the front, pickup pattern selection (cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional and stereo – although you’ll probably want to just keep it in cardioid) and mic gain control on rear. Plus, it has a built-in adjustable stand.
Audio Technica AT2020USB+, $150
This is the USB version of the AT2020, which is a very good sounding condenser microphone (I own four of them), so the sound quality is excellent and perfect for recording music as well as voice. This version comes with a small tripod desk stand as well as a storage pouch if you plan on using it while traveling. It comes with a headphone volume control and a mix control to blend your voice with what you’re hearing. I’d rate it over the Yeti in terms of audio quality but it’s not as versatile.
Neat Microphones Bumblebee/Beecaster, $89
If you want to go on the lower end of the price range, the Beecaster is pretty interesting. It provides an integral stand and boom with some easy-to-use controls on the base. The controls include a tone control with selections for Music, Neutral and Voice, a Mic Gain control and a Headphone Volume control. The headphone jack is on the front and the USB connector is on the back. If you want to move up a notch, there’s the Beecaster that provides a stereo mic feature for $129, but that’s only useful if you’re going to stream music and you’re sure that the stream will be in stereo, which isn’t always the case.
Apogee MiC PLUS, $259
If you really want something on the high-end, then this mic from Apogee is the way to go. Apogee makes high-end studio products so the MiC PLUS doesn’t disappoint. This is also the third generation of the product so its features have been improved over time. The beauty of the MiC PLUS is that not only can you connect it via USB to your computer, but it also comes with everything you need to directly connect to your iPad or iPhone.
There’s an input gain (push it to mute), a headphone blend control, 3 multicolor LEDs for status, input level and blend mode indication. Blend means that you can mix between hearing yourself in your headphones as well as any playback from your computer, like a song or another participant on a Zoom call.
Samson Meteor, $69
Finally, if you don’t want to spend much but want an improvement over your laptop microphone, there’s the Samson Meteor. It’s pretty basic with an integrated stand and foldable legs for travel, headphone volume control, and microphone mute switch, but sounds surprisingly good considering how much it costs.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these choices and you’re going to love it when everyone comments on how good you sound.
Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is one of the bestselling authors in the music industry with 24 books that are now staples in audio recording, music, and music business programs in schools around the world. Visit Bobby’s website at bobbyowsinski.com.