USB Podcast Microphone or Studio Podcast Microphone?
If you thinking of starting a podcast, odds are you either looking at a USB microphone or a studio/vocal microphone. USB Microphones plug directly into the computer and studio microphones require a sound card/audio interface. I’ve already written a comprehensive article on what I believe to be the best inexpensive podcast setup is if that interests you. This article will cover how to choose the perfect microphone and the pros and cons of the different types.
Deciding on the Perfect Microphone
There are so many great options for USB microphones out there on the market. Do USB microphones sound as good as ones that you use with an Audio Interface? Which one is the most cost-effective way and which one can we upgrade if we so choose? Should I buy a dynamic or condenser microphone? These are some of the questions I will answer in this article with 3 years of experience recording my own podcast and 20 years of home studio recording.
There are lots of things to like about USB microphones. If you aren’t technical at all I would probably suggest going for USB microphone over the soundcard/audio interface way. The USB way will appeal to anyone who has a Mac or PC because they’re 100% plug and play. I haven’t come across as single podcast microphone that uses a USB cable the requires any additional drivers or software to get it to work. USB microphones will also work well on Linux as well. I’ve tested at least three USB microphones on all operating systems and all of them 100% plug and play as I mentioned before.
Loud Recording Environments
My first suggestion before you buy anything is to read this paragraph. If you plan on recording in a really noisy room or if you have a really loud computer fan or something like that in the background condenser microphone is probably not the way to go. For noisy situations, I would suggest going to a dynamic microphone. Inherently, condenser microphones will sound better than most dynamic microphones but not all dynamic microphones. The downside of condenser microphones is they will pick up way more ambient noise.
Quiet Recording Environments
If you’ll be recording a podcast in a relatively quiet environment when there’s not a lot of street noise or people slamming doors then you can go for almost anything out there including the majority of condenser microphones. If you do decide on buying a microphone you need to make sure that it has a cardioid polar pattern. Some microphones will have up to 3 different polar patterns. Just make sure whatever microphone you’re looking at it definitely has the cardioid polar pattern.
Dynamic or Condenser Microphone for a Podcast?
This video I put together goes into detail regarding noisy and quiet recording environments and why a condenser or dynamic mic might be best suited for the job. Dynamic and conender microphones are both available in USB and XLR tyle configurations.
Studio Microphone (Pros)
- Many more microphone options are available.
- Generally better audio quality.
- A large selection of both dynamic and condenser microphones.
- You have the option to upgrade the soundcard cable and microphone if you so choose.
- Depending on the audio Interface you buy you can host more than one microphone at a time.
USB Microphones (Pros)
I’m going to break this section down into both the pros and cons firstly I will list the pros.
- USB microphones are plug and play
- Decent sound quality
- Options for both dynamic and condenser microphones
- Many different microphone brands and models available
- Works on any major operating system – Mac, PC, and Linux.
USB Microphones (Cons)
- Non-upgradable. What you buy is what you’ve got. If you decide you need a better microphone you have to buy an entirely new setup.
- The audio quality is good but not quite as great as the options are available with the XLR microphone.
- Some computers won’t be able to use more than one microphone at a time. This means if you need a second microphone you might be out of luck.
- Some up a little bit too expensive for what you get.
Studio Microphone (Cons)
- Some microphones can be very expensive.
- Most studio microphones require phantom power and a decent soundcard to get the most out of it.
- Choosing the right microphone can be pretty confusing.
What are some of the better USB microphones?
The Blue Yeti Microphone
One of the industry standard USB Podcasting microphones is called “Blue Yeti” from Blue Microphones. I have owned one of these microphones now for about four years and they do a really good job. I would say the sound quality and some of the options on the Blue Yeti microphone is very comparable to an Audio-Technica 3035. The Blue Yeti has a number of different polar patterns as well. This means you can choose which sides of the microphone will pick up sound or you can lock it to just the front diaphragm.
The blue yeti is a condenser microphone as well. This means it is very sensitive to sound but you can also adjust the input level directly on the back via a large pot/dial. The blue yeti also features a headphone output underneath the microphone so you can listen to your voice in real-time and make sure that there aren’t any issues with the audio. I’ve used the blue yeti microphone about 100 times now and it’s a great plug and play option. Another cool thing about the Blue Yeti is you can adjust the headphones volume with a huge dial on the front.
Downsides of the Blue Yeti
One small downside of the blue yeti microphone is it almost sounds like it attenuates the “S” words (sibilance) in any given speech patterns. This can help it sound more pleasing to the ear but depending on your own voice it does it for you which means you might not like it quite as much a something which is flat, that you can adjust later on in editing. Every time I use the blue yeti microphone I’m very aware of this sibilance reduction and I can’t “un-hear it”. It is by no means a deal-breaker.
Please also note if you buy a Blue Yeti microphone talk into the front and not into the top.
The Rode Podcaster
The Rode Podcaster is a very solid microphone for the price. You are paying a little bit more for this one than the Yeti but you are getting a very solid microphone. This particular microphone has a very flat response. This means it doesn’t feel like it’s enhancing or taking away much at all. There are a few main differences between the Road podcaster microphone and the blue yeti microphone.
Main Differences between the Rode Podcaster and Blue Yeti
- The Rode Podcaster is a Dynamic Microphone. This means it will pick up less background noise and be overall less sensitivity.
- The Blue Yeti has more polar patterns. You could set it in the middle of the table and have people talk from all angles if you set the microphone correctly. The Rode Podcaster does not have this option.
- The Blue Yeti microphone comes with its own stand so you don’t need to get a microphone boom for a desk.
- One thing I’ve noticed about the Blue Yeti microphone is if you have it sitting on a desk it can pick up noise from the desk such as tapping or bumping.
- My suggestion with either of these although not essential with the Blue Yeti, is to get a microphone Boom arm anyway.
Blue microphones also make a dynamic microphone alternative called the Snow Ball. I’m not sure where they come up with these names but they are quite humorous. Names aside, the snowball doesn’t sound anywhere near as good in my opinion as either the Rode Podcaster or the Blue Yeti. Out of the three mentioned, I would choose the Blue Yeti USB microphone unless you are in a really noisy environment then go for the Rode Podcaster.
Studio Microphones/XLR Microphones
There are 1 million different studio microphones to choose from. The great thing about this is you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a “podcasting microphone” you can buy any vocal microphone or one that you like the sound of a lot. As I mentioned earlier the one big downside to studio microphones is it can be hard deciding on what to buy and how much to spend. It can also be tough working out if the more expensive microphone is actually any better or not.
I’m going to listThe microphones I actually own and use and have used the broadcasts over the years the require a soundcard to be recorded. Each of these microphones has the pros and cons as well and I will list different reasons why you might like or not like each of them.
I’m going to assume if you’re reading this post you probably don’t want to spend more than US$500 on a microphone. If you’re on a tight budget I highly suggest you check out my other article on how to get the best setup for under US$100. Some of the microphones I’ve got on this list are some I’ve now owned for up to or over 10 years and they are still going strong. You don’t have to spend big bucks to get a great sound either. What you do get when you buy a higher grade studio or podcasting microphone are longevity and a decent warranty.
The Rode NT1 is a great “professional” microphone for podcasts. This microphone sounds fantastic and I used to track all of my vocals on my last album. If you follow my guitar podcast you’ve no doubt heard this microphone (and seen it) a lot over the years. Some great things about the NT1 are it’s affordable and it sounds great. You can find these at almost any music or pro audio shop. The road NT1 is a condenser microphone which means it will pick up more ambient noise if you’re in a loud environment. If you want your vocal or voice to sound professional this is a really great choice.
The Audio-Technica 3035:
Value for money this microphone is awesome. You can buy it new or you can sometimes find them used for a bargain. These have more options than the Rode NT1 including a -10dB switch and various polar patterns. This is one of those microphones that can be used flying solo or with someone else on the other side of the microphone. The dual mode polar pattern is called “figure 8” and it also does the cardioid polar pattern too.
The Rode Procaster:
This particular microphone is one that I’ve purchased recently. It’s a dynamic microphone and it does not pick up anywhere near the same ambient sound as even the Audio-Technica or the road NT-1. The Rode Procaster is designed for podcasting. You can get right up on the microphone and it will still sound great you don’t necessarily even need a pop filter for this microphone. While I wouldn’t use this microphone to singing or recording vocals on an album, it definitely does a really great job. In terms of audio quality, it sounds more focused and intimate than the Rode NT1. If your main intention is podcasting, this is a hard microphone to beat. Value for money and audio quality it’s a really great option.
Here are some sound samples of all of the different microphones listed below. I’ve tried to say the same thing a number of times, exactly the same way. I’m sure inflections will vary slightly from taking to take but I’m going to try my best to make sure you can hear them all at the best. The Studio microphones are being recorded into my Steinberg UR22mkII and the USB microphones are direct to the iMac. I have also included a few extra microphones into the sound samples just in case you were thinking of one outside of my list.
JTS NX 8.8 Live Performance Condenser Microphone
Which one to choose?
Please note: None of the microphone sound samples have been altered. They are all recorded straight into my computer using my Steinberg UR22MKII audio interface sound card. The only exception to this is the Blue Yeti Microphone as it works with a USB cable. The only adjustment made to the sound samples was volume to keep them balanced. If one is louder than the other the loudest one usually sounds “best”. I did this to keep the test fair.
After listening back to the recordings and samples my choice would be the following:
- Rode NT1
- Rode NT2A
- Audio Technica 3035
- Blue Yeti USB Microphone
I am quite surprised how well the Blue Yeti did against the more professional studio microphones. The list above is not ranked in any way but they were the clear standouts to my ear. The Steinberg UR22MKII Audio Interface has been so reliable that I now own two of them for different computers at the house here.
How to make the most out of any Podcast Microphone
The thing is, at the end of the day you could EQ any of these microphones to get the sound you are looking for and then the difference between them is minimal. The Rode Procaster also has great sound quality. It would still be the best choice for a noisy environment. If you’re in a quiet area then I would probably opt for whichever larger diaphragm condenser microphone you like the sound of the best.
So a USB or XLR Microphone?
I am sure not everyone can hear some of the subtle differences between the USB microphones and the XLR studio condenser microphones. In the end, it comes down to use what works best for you and your technical know-how and ear for detail.
As I mentioned earlier, if you are not very technical a USB microphone is 100% the best way to go. If you don’t mind installing drivers and want to experiment around with different microphones down the track then go for an XLR microphone and audio interface.
Listen to the sound samples above a few times and see which one you like the best. Somehow, I have ended up with around 30 microphones in 20 years or so. I thought I would write this article to help others who might be confused about the best way to go.