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USB Microphones vs XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?


The battle between USB microphones vs XLR microphones seems to be constant and people often have a hard time choosing which of the two is better for them. It’s a known fact that USB microphones will always have the user-friendly aspect to their advantage while XLR microphones win for their excellent audio quality.

With these in mind, you would want to own both. But not everyone can afford to purchase more than one microphone. Therefore, we’re here to put the dilemma of choosing between a USB or XLR microphone to an end by breaking down which is better for you in this simplified and straight-to-the-point guide.

What is the Difference Between an XLR and a USB Microphone?

USB Microphones vs. XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?

While all microphone types have the same main function to record and amplify sound, each of them still has features and components that set them apart. The main difference between an XLR and a USB microphone is the type of connectors they use.

A USB microphone makes use of a USB cable and USB connection. It’s among the most used digital cable connections – hence its name “Universal Serial Bus”. These microphones come with their audio interface software or drivers, which allows you to plug them right away into your computer to start your recording process.

An XLR microphone makes use of an XLR cable, which you will need to have a separate connector. An XLR microphone also needs phantom power to run and needs a separate audio interface to convert its analog signal to a digital signal. For this reason, you cannot plug an XLR microphone directly into a computer.

What is Better: a USB Mic or an XLR Mic?

USB Microphones vs. XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?

Determining if an XLR or USB microphone is right for you will largely depend on the recording application you intend to use your mic for.

USB microphones are better for a streamer’s setup in a humble home studio. Recording applications such as podcasting, streaming, basic music recordings, work video calls, and remote learning are the ideal uses for USB microphones as you won’t need much extra audio equipment to achieve quality sound. Such a convenient setup and good audio recording quality are made possible as a USB microphone has a preamplifier and audio interface built-in into its internal components.

XLR microphones are better for users who are looking into building a recording studio and want to capture audio to a more professional standard. An audio engineer or a musician would be better off using an XLR microphone for recording vocals and instruments as an XLR setup will allow the user to use different microphones simultaneously to add depth to the recording and pay more attention to frequency response. Although an XLR microphone will require extra audio equipment such as an audio interface, XLR cable, XLR connection, and a mixer with more than one input making the overall cost more expensive.

Simply put, USB microphones are better if you want to start recording off the bat with a simple plug-and-play setup while XLR microphones are ideal if you want a more professional sound quality and setup.

What is the Benefit of a USB Microphone?

USB Microphones vs. XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?

Without a doubt, the primary benefit of USB microphones is the convenience it provides to the user. While most microphones will require multiple steps before you can start recording, USB microphones have a simple plug-and-play setup that allows you to plug the USB cables into the USB port of a computer to get the ball rolling.

Another benefit of USB mics is their compact all-in-one design. In a single USB microphone, you will already find a USB cable, headphone jack, pop filter, onboard volume controls, and physical controls. Depending on the manufacturer, they may even throw in a mic stand upon purchase!

On a similar note, the packed design of USB mics makes them highly portable. The tiny and lightweight USB microphones are favored by on-the-go users as they won’t take up much luggage space or desk space.

Between USB and XLR microphones, USB mics will cost less than the latter. Thus, affordability is another benefit we can add to a USB microphone. It generally costs less because of the technology and material it uses compared to an XLR microphone.

There is also less equipment you will need for USB mics, which helps in bringing down costs in the long run. Although you may opt to use a USB mixer and purchase an external audio interface for better audio quality, these will still cost less than the equipment needed to set up XLR mics.

An example of a great USB mic is the Blue Yeti Nano, which is hailed by many streamers as the golden standard for USB mics. The Blue Yeti Nano is a premium USB condenser microphone that is only 8.31 inches in size but does not skimp on features a user may need to achieve a great sound. The Blue Yeti Nano’s microphone capsule has an internal shock mount, a gain knob, low-latency monitoring capabilities, a mia c mute, and controls for headphone volume.

Here’s our list of the best USB microphones if you think this recording device is the right one for you!

What is the Benefit of an XLR Mic?

USB Microphones vs. XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?

The main benefit of XLR mics is the excellent sound quality it can achieve. For professional audio recording applications, XLR mics are better than USB mics. Such superior audio quality is made possible because of the technology and equipment an XLR microphone requires.

Another benefit of an XLR microphone is versatility. Since you need to purchase separate equipment for the setup, you have the option to mix and match what audio interfaces, mixers, and audio gear you prefer to use. This also makes it easier for users to upgrade their gear as they progress in their craft. Thus further improving the sound quality of their audio recordings. Trust us, all these components add to the overall audio quality of your recording, which is part of the reason why XLR microphones sound better than USB microphones.

When it comes to option choices for microphone types, the battle between XLR and USB mics is won by the former. There are three types of XLR microphones to choose from: dynamic microphones, condenser microphones, and ribbon microphones. A dynamic mic is the standard microphone that most people use. It does not require power to operate. On the other hand, a condenser microphone requires phantom power to operate. Condenser mics are also the most sensitive type of XLR mics. Ribbon mics are the most natural-sounding microphones.

XLR microphones also allow you the option to record more than one person simultaneously because of their setup. The individual setup allows you to balance more mics, avoid feedback, and use a different audio interface accordingly. Although, just make sure that your computer or preamp can handle it! Here’s a guide on how you can connect your XLR microphone to your computer.

Final Note

USB Microphones vs. XLR Microphones: Which is Best For You?

In the battle between USB vs. XLR microphones, the winner will be determined based on your intended recording application. A USB mic is the winner for simple plug-and-play recordings while an XLR mic is the right choice for professional applications.

If you plan on having multiple recording scenarios, then the battle between XLR vs. USB mics may not need to happen in the first place! It might be a better choice for you to purchase both and we have just the right guide to make choosing the best studio microphone for you easier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is XLR or USB Mic Better for Gaming?

If you want your gaming setup to be more versatile and you have the means to invest in pro audio gear, then an XLR mic is a great gaming mic to use. Although the setup has more extra steps before you can connect it to your computer, the audio quality of your stream will sound more crisp, clear, and professional because of it.

If you want to play and record right away, then a USB mic is the better gaming mic for you. These types of microphones are also ideal for solo streamers who are looking for a more convenient and simple setup.

Here’s our list of the best microphones for gaming so you can weigh out your options some more.

Can I Use a USB Mic as an XLR Mic?

Not all USB microphones can become an XLR microphone except for a few. The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an example of a microphone that can do both. It’s a cardioid condenser studio mic that boasts USB connectivity and can turn into an XLR mic. However, you will need to purchase the XLR cable separately. Despite the Audio-Technica AT2020 capable of being both, the price of this recording device is affordable.

What audio interface should I use for my XLR mic?

Since an XLR mic needs its audio signal to be converted into a digital format for it to work on your computer, you will need to use an audio interface.

The Behringer U-Phoria UM2 is a small and compact audio interface that has one XLR input for use. It’s one of the few more affordable interfaces, which makes it a popular choice for many. Another great audio interface to use is the M-Audio M-Track Duo which has two XLR inputs so you can use more mics at the same time.

Naomi Feller

Originally from the East Coast, Naomi started singing as young as 3 years old. In her early teens Naomi made some embarrassing YouTube videos before settling on a love for Podcast editing. When she's not pouring over endless amounts of audio, she lends her expertise to us here at Shout4Music with her crystal clear and finely tuned microphone reviews.

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