Microphones: What Is A USB Microphone? - Musician Nerd

Updated on Dec 14, 2020




Microphones, throughout their 150 year history, have become easier and easier to use, while becoming more and more affordable. Just a little over 50 years ago, you would need a custom-tailored power source for every model of microphone, up until Phantom Power was invented, through the form of the Schoeps model CMT 20.

Phantom Power simplified the process of using a condenser microphone by normalizing the type of power required for these studio-grade audio devices. However, for the common person to use a condenser microphone at home, they would still need to use a preamplifier. Otherwise, the inner electronic components of the capsule won't have enough charge to give recordable output.

Closeup Picture Of A Condenser Microphone
Closeup Picture Of A Condenser Microphone

The superior quality and accuracy given by condenser microphones boils down to a scientific process known as Capacitance, which is the ratio of the change in electric charge of a system to the corresponding change in its electric potential. (Learn more about it in our article: What Is A Condenser Microphone?)

In the early 2000s, USB Microphones began gaining traction on the market. These devices offered the ability to plug your microphone right into the computer, download some drivers, maybe get a little audio interface (often included), and bam! Good to go!

However, as this is the age of technology, that process has become less and less, turning into what we have today. Very simple "plug-and-play" Studio Grade microphones, for any budget!

What Are They Used For?

Now, you might be wondering what purpose USB microphones can serve, and whether they're really worth buying.

USB Microphones have become very popular to use as gaming mics, podcast mics, streaming mics, and even recoriding mics. While these are the common choices, they're far from being the limit.

One of the first reasons we see people using them for streaming & gaming is because they're often already at the computer, so it's only a matter of plugging in the mic.

Gaming USB Microphone In Front Of Computer
Gaming USB Microphone In Front Of Computer

When recording on Twitch or YouTube, it's going to be handy to have your microphone sitting right below you on the desk, plugged into your computer, as opposed to having a preamp & boom stand taking up a lot of space.

The same goes for podcasting. When all of these activities revolve around your computer, it would only make sense to invest in a quality computer mic (USB) as opposed to investing in studio microphones. We're fortunate enough to live in a time where those two categories are almost becoming synonymous.

In fact, one of the major downsides we find in <$200 condenser microphones is the level of self-noise paired with the high sensitivity (Read about Why Microphone Sensitivity Matters). And when you're using these microphones at home, you're probably not going to be sitting in a soundproofed room, and condensers are designed to pick up a lot of noise. For this single reason, I often suggest people who are only using their microphone for singing, if your budget is under $200, go with dynamic microphones instead.

JLab Audio Talk Directional Pattern Modes And Examples
JLab Audio Talk Directional Pattern Modes And Examples

Fortunately, the designers behind the more popular USB Microphone brands have taken this all into consideration, and frequently offer the ability to change the directional pattern of the capsule. This essentially lets you block noise coming in from the sides of the microphone that it's not needed on. While it's not a perfect solution, it is a hell of a band-aid, and offers massive flexibility.

The versatility offered by some of the more popular USB Microphones gives you the flexibility to turn your gaming mic into an interview mic, and even a 360-degree conference room microphone! And on top of all that, it's becoming more and more frequent that we see high-end components built into these microphones, and the series release of "pro editions" and other alike, it gives you the potential to reach studio-level quality, depending on how high you can stretch your budget.

Pros & Cons

The Pros

  • More Affordable
  • USB Compatible (No XLR)
  • No Preamp Required

The Cons

  • Less Noise Control
  • Poor Shock Suppression
  • Poor Pop Filtering
  • Less Depth

Best For

  • Recording PodCast / Streaming / YouTube / Gaming
  • Recording Videos / Voice Overs
  • Recording Vocal Audio

Summary

The way USB Microphones have impacted the industry allow for more and more people to express their creativity. In a time where we have platforms like SoundCloud, allowing anyone to upload their music for streaming, and places like YouTube or Twitch TV, letting you create your own videos and live stream your gameplay, it's only fitting that microphones evolve to the point where anyone can create studio quality audio at the ease of "plug-and-play".

I still think back to the first USB Microphone I ever had, and when I compare that piece of scrap metal to what we have today, my mind is blown. It makes you beg the question of, what's going to be next? Someday, we may be able to record studio-quality audio right into our phones.

Until then, I hope you enjoy everything the best USB Microphones have to offer. Rock on!


Posted on Sep 23, 2020

Gaming

Have questions for us? Email us at info@musiciannerd.com


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