After spending an extensive period of time researching and testing mics, our team ultimately determined the best USB microphone for most people is the Blue Yeti. We decided on this choice based on the versatility of the adjustable polar patterns, native headphone monitoring, sleek appeal and robust construction.
Our runner-up choice is Rode's NT-USB Condenser Microphone which offers the same performance benefits of the Yeti yet lacks the versatility of multiple polar patterns and a significantly higher price. With this model, you can only utilize a cardioid configuration although this is the most popular recording pattern for most USB microphone enthusiasts.
Lastly, the optimal choice for those seeking a good budget USB mic then the Blue Snowball is the best choice. With a lower build quality than its older Yeti sibling and only polar pattern options, the Snowball still excels at recording vocals, podcasts or voiceovers while catering to both cardioid and omnidirectional use.
Our top choice for USB mics offering a high versatility, performance and build quality.
One of the most popular USB microphones for YouTubers and Twitch streamers, the Yeti by Blue offers high quality audio recording capabilities and a wide array of competitive features without the high price-point that you'd expect.
A runner-up to the Yeti, Rode's NT-USB mic offers similar performance with fewer features.
Rode is one of the biggest names in prosumer and professional audio equipment and their NT-USB is a top performer in the USB mic category. While it offers an excellent design, build and performance, it only offers a cardioid recording pattern and notably higher price-point than the Yeti which makes it less appealing.
Best Budget USB Microphone
The Yeti's younger sibling, offering lesser features and build quality for a lower price.
Our top budget choice for USB mics is yet another model from Blue called the Snowball. Offering a less sleek round design with not as impressive of a build quality, the Snowball still performs well with only two options for polar patterns (instead of the Yeti's four).
Our team wrote this guide for digital content creators (YouTubers, podcasters, filmmakers, video game streamers, etc.) that want to take their audio recording quality to the next level by way of a good USB microphone.
However, a recommendation guide like this of such quality takes a lot of time and resources to compile. Since we aren't charging you for access to this information, we utilize a mixture of display advertising as well as affiliate linking to trusted retailer partners which may earn us a small commission if you were to purchase a product through our links.
RELATED - Q&A: What Are The Best Earbuds Under $100?
Rest assured, our company prides ourselves on our integrity and quality recommendations. Unlike other websites, we will never recommend you an inferior product over another just to earn more commissions, and in some cases, the products we chose may not have any commission potential at all yet we still recommend them based on the high value for our readers.
If you are looking to get the most benefit out of this guide on USB microphones, then we recommend reading the entire article as we cover many of the questions and concerns you may have about buying your first USB mic.
Once you are done reading this guide, if you have any further questions then you can reach out in the comments section below, and our staff will do our best to provide any answers, advice or a personalized recommendation based on your concerns.
Why Should You Invest In A USB Mic?
If you are reading this guide then you probably already have at least one reason why you might want to invest in a USB microphone, but here's a few more to consider:
- Audio quality - the most obvious reason to invest in a USB microphone would be the increased quality of recorded audio versus a webcam or built-in mic from your computer. With dedicated components for capturing crisp, accurate audio signals, a correctly configured USB mic will almost always outperform an integrated microphone in your computer, monitor or webcam thus providing a better playback experience and more professional look for your created content.
- Versatility - unlike more higher-end microphone models which run off XLR and require additional hardware for capturing to a computer like a DAC/an amp, a USB microphone can be plugged directly into any modern PC or Mac for instant connectivity and usage.
- Cost - because of the nature of the USB mic industry, you don't see any crazy high prices for these microphones as most of the highest-end mics will utilize XLR or another analog format over USB. This makes the USB mic industry a smaller niche, but still competitive enough to drive high-quality studio-level microphones without the high costs.
Things To Consider Before Buying A New USB Microphone
As you've probably already realized there are many models of USB microphone on the market. We understand how this can be very confusing for someone new to this market as you aren't exactly sure which mic is best for your specific needs.
At the beginning of this article, we made baseline recommendations for most people who are looking for a USB microphone with our editor's choice, runner-up and best budget option. However, those who want to do further research to ensure they choose the right model can get a better understanding of the features and attributes of USB mics in this section.
Here is a list of the most important criteria to evaluate during your search for the best USB mic for your needs and budget:
The company that makes a USB mic is an crucial aspect to consider for a few reasons. If it is a reputable and popular brand in the audio industry than you can often expect a high-quality product with solid performance (though these assumptions should all be relative to price-point).
If you choose a foreign or knock-off brand, you won't be able to predict the quality of the mic. You'll often be taking a risk for longevity and warranty redemption if you ever run into a defect or broken unit.
A hard thing to overlook when in the market for a new mic is the price. Name brand models will often be on the higher-end offering more bells and whistles and a better design or a more robust form-factor.
On the lower-end, you can expect a cheap exterior build or fewer features for the price, but that doesn't always mean that the recording quality will be notably poor or that much worse than a higher-end model.
A popular term used in the audio capturing industry is frequency response which "defines the range of sound that a microphone can reproduce and how its output varies within that range." (Shure Blog)
The frequency response is represented graphically by a response curve to show the sound signature of the microphone upon the graph. In our case, we will be looking at the range of the frequency response rather than the actual response itself (flat or shaped) to see how much of the spectrum the microphone is capable of capturing.
Another popular term in the audio world is sample rate which signifies "the number of samples of audio carried per second." (Audacity Wiki) This is usually measured in Hz or kHz (aka 1000 Hz). In the USB mic market, you'll see the maximum sample rate be 48 kHz with some models only offering a maximum of 44.1 kHz.
Technically speaking, the 44.1 kHz is the scientific frequency that is audible by humans, so it makes the most logical choice for recording, but 48 kHz is more common as it is held as the standard for DVD audio discs. Additionally, you can capture at lower rates for lower file sizes or resource bottlenecks, but this isn't recommended for most situations.
Tied closely with the sampling rate, the bit rate or bit depth of a piece of audio means the number of bits used to carry the data in each sample of audio. The bit depth can ultimately limit the dynamic range of the capture audio recording. Higher bit rates require more resources to process and manipulate while lower values are easier to work with.
In this event, the maximum bit rate that we will see these USB microphones capturing will be 16-bit which is the standard for audio CDs (as well as suitable for vinyl) and as a general purpose 'high-quality setting.'
Polar Pattern Count
The polar pattern of a microphone refers to the inherent directionality or the sensitivity of a given mic to capture sounds arriving from different angles, compared to its central axis (Rode Blog).
We will go more in-depth as to the actual polar patterns meanings below, but in this case, we are looking more specifically in the overall count of polar patterns as to whether a USB microphone only offers a single pattern for recording or multiple options.
Stereo describes a polar pattern that utilizes both the right and left channels in their entirety to capture a wide and realistic sound image. Recording in stereo is ideal for an instrument like an acoustic guitar or a larger vocal performance such as a choir.
The most popular polar pattern for content creators is cardioid which will only capture sound from sources who are directly in front of the microphone. This leaves the resulting audio sounding rich and full-bodied without distracting background noise. Cardioid is perfect for podcasts, video game commentary/streaming, vocal performances, voice-overs and single instrument recording.
An omnidirectional polar pattern is used for picking up sound quality equally from all directions around the mic in 360-degrees. This type of pattern is typically used for capturing the total ambiance of an environment such as a live concert or multi-person podcast, but it also functions well for conference calling with multiple participants in the same room.
When using a bidirectional polar pattern, you'll be able to record from both the front and the rear of the microphone while eliminating captures from the remaining sides. This is ideal for recording a vocal duet, two-person interview or podcast.
Native Headphone Monitoring (Latency-Free)
Headphone monitoring refers to the ability to plug in a pair of headphone and monitor the audio from the microphone at the same time that the sound is being captured. While this can be done digitally, the purest and more effective way to track your incoming audio is through a native monitoring solution.
In a USB microphone's case, this will utilize a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack that allows you the ability to plug in a pair of headphones and then listen to any captured sound in real-time with no latency (delay).
Nearly all USB microphones will be able to be installed and operated on modern versions of Windows and Mac operating systems, but in some cases, further configuration, installation or driver location may be present.
Physical Gain Control
While not a necessity by any means, a physical (analog) gain control is built into some USB microphones to allow you to accurately scale an audio signal to utilize the digital dynamic range more effectively. Additionally, for someone who is going to use a USB mic for video game streaming, it allows you to make quick "on the fly" adjustments to your gain without relying on a digital program which will force you to exit your game screen temporarily.
Whether or not the model in question has a stand or base fixture included with the purchase of the microphone. In the case of USB mics, most of them will come with a suitable stand/base whereas a lot of higher-end XLR microphones will not.
Keep in mind, a shock mount is not the same as a base or stand. Most often, a shock mount will require mounting to a separate base or stand for normal operation.
Comparing The Top USB Microphones
NT-USB Condenser Microphone
Meteor USB Mic
20Hz - 20 kHz
20Hz - 20 kHz
20Hz - 18 kHz
40 Hz - 18 kHz
30 Hz - 15 kHz
20Hz - 20 kHz
20Hz - 20 kHz
Physical Gain Control
The Best USB Microphones (2018)
The Yeti USB microphone is one of Blue's most successful products having made a mark in the realm of online content creation. Much of its success comes from its affordable price-point while still tacking on competitive features, exceptional audio recording performance, and a look/build quality that captures the admiration of many.
One of the most innovative features within the Blue Yeti is the design's tri-capsule array which harnesses three condensers to allow the USB mic to record almost any situation you throw at it. This multi-capsule design is what enables the Yeti to switch between all four polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional and stereo. There is a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack for native (real-time) audio monitoring.
This makes it suitable for all types of recording environments including vocals, voice-overs, musical instruments, podcasts, interviews, field recordings, conference calling or video games. With versatility like this, it is no surprise that the Blue Yeti is one of the most popular USB microphones for the YouTube and Twitch communities.
Right out of the box, the Yeti is compatible with all versions of Windows that are actively being used today (Windows XP through Windows 10) as well as Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher without the need for any annoying drivers. The Yeti's built with a robust design that feels higher quality than you'd get for the price. With its included stand, you receive not only high stability but the option to adjust the microphone's angle of use. For more information, can read our full review.
Rode has one of the highest reputations in the world of professional microphones and audio accessories. While most of their products focus more on the high-end of the spectrum through the use of XLR audio connections, their NT-USB is a suitable USB microphone for those who want to capture or record audio directly to their PC or Mac computer.
Coming in at the highest price on this list, the NT-USB remains a solid contender in the USB mic market although it offers nearly the same performance as the Yeti while harnessing less versatility and features. On-paper, the Rode matches the Yeti in both frequency response, sample rate and bit rate.
From a feature-standpoint, the NT-USB doesn't offer any support for more than one polar pattern. As you'd expect, the single pattern that this model provides is Cardioid. Fortunately, this is the most sought after recording pattern for digital content creators and the choice that most people would use on a regular basis.
The NT-USB does offer a robust design with a quality build and includes a tripod stand, pop shield and ring mount. You'll also get convenient features like native headphone monitoring (via a 3.5mm headphone jack) and a physical gain knob for on-the-fly adjustments.
The second USB microphone to make this list from Blue is their budget model dubbed the 'Snowball.' Priced almost half as much as their higher-end Yeti mic, the Snowball offers a lower quality build and design with fewer features, yet the audio performance doesn't suffer all that much despite the lower-cost.
Offering a circular design that resembles a snowball (hence the name) this model is comprised of cheaper exterior components especially concerning the included tripod stand. Internally, the design consists of a two-capsule array which allows this model to switch between two polar patterns: cardioid and omnidirectional.
While it is only two modes compared to the Yeti's four, it still offers more versatility than the other five competing USB mics included in this guide which only have a single cardioid pattern. The Snowball is an excellent option for recording vocals, podcasts, voice-overs, interviews, instruments or gameplay/streaming commentary.
Something you will note about the design of the Snowball is that it doesn't offer any form of native audio monitoring and also lacks a physical gain control. While these aren't dealbreakers as you can still find a way to monitor or adjust gain digitally, there are downsides to this approach that ultimately offer less convenience for the user.
If you are an audiophile, then you have probably already heard of Audio-Technica as their headphones are highly regarded as some of the best sounding in the consumer market. Their microphones are also popular for prosumers and professionals with their ATR2020USB+ being an ideal choice for content creators who want to record directly to their PC or Mac.
Priced higher than the Yeti yet lower than the NT-USB, the ATR2020USB+ matches the audio performance in regards to frequency response, sample rate and bit rate. Like Rode's NT-USB model, the ATR2020USB+ only offers a single polar pattern capable of cardioid recording.
As for the design, the ATR2020USB+ offers a professional appeal with a build quality that matches its look. The chassis has a mix control knob for blending your microphone signal with pre-recorded audio as well as a headphone jack and volume control for zero-latency audio monitoring.
You might see another Audio-Technica mic dubbed the AT2020USBi mentioned in other sources. While this is another reliable option (though priced $50 more), this model is designed for use with iOS devices like the iPhone iPad or iPod. It does offer higher bit and sample rates, but connects via lightning ports and has no native audio monitoring (lacks a headphone jack).
The MPM-2000U is a USB microphone from Marantz that is deemed as studio-quality without the high price-point that you'd expect from such a mic. The look of this model offers a very professional feel and it even ships in a nice protective carrying case with a soft foam interior and hard exterior plastic.
From a performance standpoint, the MPM-2000U matches most of the specs for the top of the line models listed within this guide yet falls short just slightly on the top end of the spectrum in regards to the range of frequency response.
As you'd expect, this model only offers a single cardioid polar pattern. Unfortunately, it also falls short of the remaining features including a lack of any native monitoring (no 3.5mm headphone jack) or a physical gain control. There is no included stand, but it does have a shock mount which must then be attached to a mic stand or an equivalent mounting accessory.
Our second USB microphone to make this list from Audio-Technica is their budget-friendly ATR2500-USB model. Priced at nearly half its older sibling, the ATR2500-USB offers a similar experience with some notable places where Audio-Technica had to cut corners to remain profitable at this low price-point.
While the ATR2500-USB looks similar to the ATR2020USB+ in terms of design, the build components are cheaper. For example, it lacks a physical gain control and instead only offers cheap looking buttons for adjusting the volume of the headphone monitoring. Additionally, the included tripod stand is not as high of quality.
From a performance standpoint, the ATR2500-USB offers the same single-pattern cardioid recording capabilities as all of the USB microphones listed in this guide apart from those manufactured by Blue. While this model matches the sample and bit rate as the competition, it falls short in the range of frequency response which falls short in both the low and high ends.
If you have made it this far then you have consumed all of the information that we have shared within this recommendation guide on USB mics for your Mac or PC. For most consumers, we do believe the Blue Yeti is the best option on the market. If you found all of this knowledge too overwhelming to make a decision right now then don't worry, you can always bookmark or save this article for rereading when you are ready to purchase.
As we stated earlier, this article is designed to help consumers like yourself. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this entire article then use the comments section below to get in touch with one of our staff members who will respond with additional advice, guidance or a personal recommendation as soon as we get a chance.
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From all of us at The Tech Reviewer, we hope you found this recommendation guide helpful in your search for the best USB microphone!