What Is A USB Microphone? How Does A USB Mic Work?

USB mics are being used widely because of their plug-and-play ease which makes them ideal for interviews, podcasts, voiceovers, and short reference recordings. Moreover, they are convenient to use, all you need is a single wire to turn your computer or laptop into a portable recording studio.

But. how does a USB microphone work?

A USB microphone, like any other mic, transforms sound (mechanical wave energy) into audio (voltage). USB mics have a built-in analog-to-digital converter that amplifies and transforms the analog audio signals into digital (data) to be transmitted via a USB connection to a computer.

If you want to learn more about USB microphones, how they work and what are they best suited for, then read on! We have also included a list of the top 5 USB microphones for your convenience further in the article.

Related: Best USB Microphones; Reviews

What Is A USB Microphone?

A USB microphone includes all of the components of a typical microphone, such as the capsule and diaphragm. Its incorporation of two additional circuits – an inbuilt preamp and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), sets it apart from other microphones.

But, what is a USB microphone?

USB Microphone is a mic with an in-built audio-to-digital converter that transforms analog audio signals from its transducer element into digital signals. These digital signals are then outputted via a USB connection to a computer or a digital audio device and read by recording software.

The USB Microphone’s audio interface allows it to be plugged directly into the computer’s USB port. Because the sound is recorded without using the computer’s built-in sound card, the recording turns out to be significantly superior. It also has the necessary amplification to ensure that the signal is amplified to the appropriate level.

Related: Best USB Dynamic Microphones; Reviews

How Do USB Microphones Work

The main distinction between USB microphones and other microphones is that they feature built-in audio interfaces. To understand how USB microphones operate, we must first understand how traditional microphones work.

What Is A USB Microphone, How Does A USB Mic Work?

Sound is converted into a tiny electrical current via a microphone. Sound waves strike a diaphragm that vibrates, which moves a magnet near a coil. The coil moves within a magnet in some designs.

Microphones such as condenser mics work on the principle of capacitance. Capacitors are made up of parallel conducting plates that retain charge and are used to smooth out signals in a power supply, such as voltage changes. The incoming sound vibrates one plate of a capacitor in a condenser microphone. A matching electrical signal is generated from the varying capacitance.

Related: Best USB Microphone For Vocals

In the case of a USB microphone, the diaphragm moves around inside of the microphone capsule due to the pressure from a person’s voice or sound from an instrument. 

While moving, the diaphragm continuously changes the distance between the front and backplate and creates an electrical charge in the process. 

This electrical charge is handled by the next part of the mic, which is the active impedance converter, and then an audio signal is sent out of the mic and it’s ready to be interpreted by the audio interface connected to a computer. 

5 Best USB Microphones

USB microphones offer a no-frills solution to recording. Most USB mics are plug-and-play ready and can be immediately recognized by recording software.

Below are the top 5 USB microphones available in the marketplace today, along with a short review.

Blue Yeti

The Blue Yeti is hands down the most well-rounded USB mic on the market, offering a wide range of models for almost any budget. In terms of quality, the Blue Yeti produces studio-grade accuracy, providing a level of richness & depth that not every USB microphone can achieve. The low-mass diaphragm and high resolution offer deep, warm lows & crisp highs for a level of volume we expect from studio microphones.

Shure MV7 

The Shure MV7 has a highly directional cardioid pickup pattern that rejects unwanted background noise and boasts excellent sound quality and features built for content creation.

Its optimized frequency response flatters voices of all kinds and has a pleasing proximity effect. This USB mic offers both USB and XLR outputs so you can record however you want to. 

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+

The AT2020 USB+ condenser microphone brings the sound, quality, and affordability of the AT2020 to the desktop for direct-to-computer simplicity. This upgraded USB microphone is perfect for any recording situation where ease of use is a must, but the quality is essential. From podcasting to tracking your masterpiece the AT2020 USB+ provides reliable and accurate pickup.

Blue Yeti Pro USB/XLR Mic

For those who want a high-quality experience out of their USB microphone, the Blue Yeti Pro USB/XLR Mic offers high-resolution audio, powerful versatility, and superb simplicity, all while providing a stylish on-screen appearance. Whether you’re creating online content, recording your instrument for YouTube, making podcasts, or fashioning ASMR content, the Blue Yeti Pro will deliver a high-class sound.

Rode NT-USB Condenser Microphone

The Rode NT-USB is a highly versatile USB condenser microphone that can be used for a variety of applications, from recording singing & guitar to recording speech for podcasts, streams, gaming, and voiceovers. The Rode NT-USB microphone appears small in size and fits perfectly on any desk.

What Is A USB Microphone Used For

Because they don’t require XLR cables or audio interfaces, USB condenser mics are a perfect complement to a home studio or home office. What’s fantastic about these devices is that they’re ready to use right out of the box. All you have to do is simply plug the microphone into your computer and you are ready to go.

A USB Microphone should be on your shopping list if you want to create a good quality recording but don’t have the funds or time to buy all of the different components you’d need to set up a small home studio.

The convenient plug-and-play nature of USB microphones makes them the perfect microphones for podcasts, interviews, voiceovers, quick reference recording.

Moreover, USB microphones are really good at capturing vocals and performances of acoustic instruments.

Do USB Mics Need Phantom Power?

USB condenser mics vary from other condenser mics in that they do not require a source of electric power to function (normally 48V). USB condenser mics require only a minimal amount of electricity to perform, and they take phantom power straight from their single USB connection, reducing the number of cords and connections.

Pros & Cons Of USB Microphones

Pros

Low Cost

There’s a super obvious benefit to using a USB microphone over a “regular” microphone, and that is COST. USB microphones are typically under $200, and they are the only thing you need (besides a laptop and headphones) to start recording.

A high-quality soundcard or audio interface, as well as a conventional condenser microphone that receives phantom power from a mixer or the audio interface itself, are required to successfully record high-quality vocals or instruments, such as podcast voiceovers, interviews, and singing. 

A preamp is also recommended. That’s a lot of gear to invest in, especially if you’ll only be doing basic recording. A USB microphone, on the other hand, achieves largely the same result as all of this equipment, but you only have to buy one piece of hardware.

Simplicity of Use

It’s a plugin and plays. Very easy to use, you don’t need anything. Plug the mic into the USB port on your computer, and you are done.

Portability 

USB microphones are powered by the computer, thus they don’t require phantom power. This reduces the quantity of equipment you need to transport when recording. All you need is a microphone, a stand, a wire, and a computer.

Cons

Quality

A USB microphone will not create sound as well as an XLR condenser microphone. You may not notice the difference, but you receive more value for your money by purchasing the correct equipment rather than settling for convenience. Latency is generally higher with USB microphones than with a “real” microphone when plugged into a decent interface.

One USB Mic at a time

You can typically only record with one USB microphone at a time and get good results. A digital audio interface allows for recording multiple instruments at once with multiple inputs; even the most basic interface will typically allow for recording both one XLR signal and one high-Z signal (for plugging in electric guitars).

Latency

Latency issues plague USB microphones. In other words, there is a time delay between when sound enters the microphone and when it exits your headphones. Low latency is a priority when most audio interfaces are designed.

Difficult to Troubleshoot

it is not easy to sort out the problem or where the problem is when something is not working. Suppose you don’t know where the problem is, what can you do about it. It always leads to buying a new one.

Drivers, Firmware, and Compatibility

Analog microphones and other standard audio equipment never has compatibility issues. A Shure SM57 you bought in the 1990s will definitely still work with your PA or recording equipment today. The same can’t be said for a USB microphone. Changes to audio drivers, operating systems and other software issues can make your USB microphone behave erratically or cease functioning altogether.

Less Control

The USB microphone will do whatever it is built to do, and that’s it. Little room for adjustment here, whereas, professional standalone interfaces often provide many more options for controlling their analog microphones.

Written by:
Amit Gupta
Amit Gupta

Hi, my name is Amit Gupta, and I am the owner and contributor at Radaudio. My passions include guitar, bass, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments that I have been playing since school.

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