USB microphones are a great tool for getting into audio. You can find them in the studios of podcasters, video game streamers, musicians, and more. While traditional microphones require a special audio interface and accessories, a USB mic can help you dip your toes into the recording world without having to invest in a huge pile of gear. These plug-and-play mics use a port that your computer already has, with minimal setup and little complication.
With remote work and social distancing increasingly common, the popularity of these devices has only expanded, offering a way to improve all your digital chats, personal and professional. After hours of rigorous testing the top USB microphones on the market, the Blue Yeti X(available at Amazon for $139.99) emerged as the best all-around choice you can buy. But while the Yeti X solidifies Blue’s reputation at the top of the heap, there are many worthwhile devices on the market, and depending on your needs, one of our other picks may be better for you.
Here are the best USB microphones we tested ranked, in order:
Blue Yeti X
AKG Pro Audio Lyra Ultra-HD
Blue Snowball Ice
Apogee Hype Mic
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The Blue Yeti X is our overall best in show. It feels solid and well-built, with a wide variety of features that make day-to-day use easier.
A single knob on its front adjusts the gain, headphone volume, and will let you blend the audio coming through the headphones. That means you can choose to hear just what the microphone picks up with no latency, or you can hear the sound coming through your computer, too—crucial if you’re recording music or tracking dialogue.
The same front button also serves as a mute button in case you need to sneeze or cough while podcasting or in a meeting. An LED meter on the front also shows the volume of the incoming sound. If it's too loud, you can see that and adjust the gain on the microphone.
A button on the back will adjust the pickup pattern. This affects where in the room the mic “hears,” so that you can use it in a variety of situations. A regular cardioid polar pattern is great for sitting in front of the mic by yourself, for instance, but in a group, you may want a broader pickup pattern. With the Yeti X, you can make those decisions and adjust them as you go.
The Yeti X’s sound is consistently solid. There are other microphones more focused on tuning out room noise, but this mic does a fantastic job of blending high quality with versatility. It’s easy to use in a wide range of situations, with plenty of features that let you control the sound without having to fiddle with your computer.
We didn't find a ton of downsides to this mic, but the knob on the front may be trying to do too much at once. Navigating its various controls can be a little complicated. The manual makes things clear, but it takes a while before it becomes second nature. And while the weight felt like a benefit in the home studio, it might be a little obnoxious on the go.
Shure’s Motiv M7 is a different beast from most of the other products we tested for this buying guide. It was made as a more affordable alternative to the Shure SM7B (available at Amazon), a studio mic commonly used by musicians and radio broadcasters. The Motiv M7 is aimed at the podcasting space, but it’s still a high-end product, with a price tag to match.
The M7 has a touch-slider on the front that adjusts the headphone volume and the mic gain, with a button to switch between the two functions. It also has a mute button.
Shure’s entry into the USB space is a dynamic mic, instead of a condenser microphone. That means (among other things) that it’s more durable on the inside, and that it’s a little better for uncontrolled environments. It handles background noises and rumbles better than most of the other mics we reviewed.
The M7 makes use of the ShurePlus MOTIV app to control tone, level, aspects of set-up, and more. The app is intuitive to use, and the mobile version is my new go-to for recording song demos and voice notes to myself. Also, the mic has a traditional XLR plug, which makes it more versatile if you decide to upgrade your studio. That's a huge selling point, depending on your long-term plans.
While this mic is great for clarity, it’s also very focused. If two people are conversing from different positions in front of the mic, it struggles to capture them both. If you’re trying to record multiple people, you’ll probably want more than one mic.
We were also disappointed that this microphone does not come with its own stand by default. If you don’t already have a mic stand, you’re going to be paying extra for a mini tripod.
During our testing, we called Shure's customer support number (without disclosing we were reviewing their microphone) and received prompt, thoughtful support that correctly diagnosed a pretty obscure problem. We don’t include this as a warning (our problem won’t be an issue for most), rather, we were very impressed with Shure's customer service in case you do run into any issues.
My name is Michael Garrett Steele. I make most of my living as a writer, but I’m also a composer and recording artist, primarily for video games. I’ve composed for properties like Fallout and Commander Keen, and recorded for game composers like Megan McDuffee and Ryan Ike. I’ve had to record plenty of voiceovers, saxophone, singing, and the occasional bit of kazoo.
To test these microphones, I set them up at my desk (whenever possible) and recorded a series of different passages into the microphone. They included:
A monologue at a steady volume
A monologue at an incredibly varying volume
A multi-tracked “conversation” from two different positions in front of the mic
Claps from around the room
A movement from a saxophone sonata
Each of these tests was meant to examine a different use case for the microphone, to understand how it would function in different common scenarios.
The room we tested in is somewhat treated, but we didn’t go overboard setting up acoustic panels. We wanted the mics to work the way that they would for an average person getting into recording, and testing room noise is part of that. For most people, a USB microphone should be an easy, straightforward purchase. If you’re installing sound baffling in your studio, you’re also probably more likely to shell out for an interface and a traditional mic setup.
Tips for Buying a USB Microphone
When purchasing a USB microphone, the first and most obvious thing to consider is the sound quality. Whether you’re trying to sing opera or just survive a Zoom meeting, if your mic isn’t capturing quality audio, there’s not much point.
But there are other factors to weigh, as well. The build quality of the mic is an important one. Some of the smaller mics we tested delivered surprisingly solid audio performance but were so flimsy that the weight of their own USB cord could drag them across the desk. This doesn’t bode well for long-term durability, and it also made it hard to position the mic where we wanted it in the room.
Also, think about the controls that are available on the microphone itself. Having the ability to adjust the gain (that is, the mic’s sensitivity to sound) can be very valuable. If the gain is too high, the sound can quickly become distorted. You can adjust that in your audio software on the computer, but being able to control it on the mic itself is more convenient for quick adjustments, and provides another point of control.
Features like a headphone jack are also very helpful. Many mics let you plug in headphones so that you can hear the sound coming in with no latency—no delay between what the mic picks up and what you hear.
As you read these reviews, bear in mind that these microphone tests are for general-use, all-around quality. Your unique situation may mean that features that weren’t weighed heavily here are very useful to you.
For example, if you’re doing a lot of podcasting or work meetings, you may want a microphone with a built-in mute button. If you’re starting to put a studio together, you may want a mic that can stick with you through an upgrade. Many of these USB microphones will work with a standard mic stand, and some of them have a traditional microphone connection in addition to the USB port. That means if you ever expand your setup to include a traditional mic interface, you can continue using your purchase.
Some of these microphones also let you choose from different polar patterns. (These are also called pickup patterns.) That means that you can choose how responsive the mic is from different angles. You can choose between a cardioid polar pattern that’s tightly focused right in front of the mic, an omnidirectional pattern that records the whole room’s sound, and several options in between. This can come in handy if you switch between recording yourself, groups of people, or even instruments.
Then again, you might not want to think about any of those things! Maybe you just want to plug a microphone in and not worry about it any more than that. If that sounds like you, there are plenty of mics here to fill that need, as well.
Other USB Microphones We Reviewed
While the Yeti X may be a top scorer, the original Yeti is no slouch. It has three condenser capsules as opposed to the Yeti X’s four, but the sound quality is still crisp. You can also set the headphone volume and the mic gain. (Each has its own, dedicated knob, in fact, which would have been nice to see on the Yeti X.) There’s also a mute button and four different pickup patterns.
There are only a few places where the Yeti doesn’t match up to the Yeti X. While it’s one of the more solid mics we tested, the model we were using had some trouble standing up. The tension knobs on the side should help keep it in place, and yet the mic fell backward and hit the back of the mic stand with a sound that can only be described as a “klonk”.
In addition, the knob on the back to change the pickup pattern could be difficult to turn (though at least you can’t change the pickup pattern accidentally). In spite of these issues, the user experience was still easily one of the most seamless we had. If you absolutely can’t shell out the extra few bucks for the Yeti X, the Yeti is a great backup choice.
AKG’s Lyra is a solid, reliable microphone. Lighter than some of the other mics at this price point, it nevertheless feels well-built. It’s feature-rich, as well. Like many of the other high-end mics we tested, you can control just about every aspect of the recording experience from the mic itself.
The front features a headphone knob for volume control, a mute button, and an LED indicator to display the current pickup pattern. The back has knobs to adjust the gain and the pickup pattern.
The audio quality is among the best we tested. The mic is also lightweight, making it easy to tote, and if you also have the option to affix it to a stand or boom.
On the downside, the layout of the buttons is a little odd. It would make more sense to have the pickup pattern indicator on the back where the knob is so that you can see it changing as you make the adjustments. Likewise, it would make sense to have the gain control on the front. That way it’s easy to turn it the right way if you adjust it while you speak.
Also, the placement of the headphone jack and USB port is a little awkward. They sit down at the bottom of the mic so that they protrude towards the base of the stand. (This isn’t the end of the world, and frankly, we're not sure where else those ports would go.) Still, this is a solid microphone, for a reasonable price, that turns in great sound.
Rode’s NT-1 is my go-to studio mic for many of my work gigs, so I was curious to see how its USB-powered cousin would fare. It’s a solid microphone. Like the Yeti mics, it feels more substantial than many USB microphones in its class. That’s good news on a durability front, but also from a "Will this stay where I put it?" angle.
The Rode doesn’t have a built-in gain control, but it does have a headphone jack and a headset volume adjustment so you can hear what you’re recording with no latency. And if you want to use a traditional mic stand, you can detach the NT-USB from its magnetic base and screw it onto a stand.
We had one complaint—the LED indicators on the front of the mic are very bright. Harsh, even. In low-light situations or with glasses on, they could get distracting in a hurry, and keeping your face close to the mic can get unpleasant.
The NT-USB Mini doesn’t have a lot of frills or special features, but it’s definitely punching above its weight in sound quality for the price. It costs more than other basic microphones, but if you’re looking for a great mic in the $100 price range, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than this.
The Rode Podcaster does a very limited number of things very well. The sound quality is exquisite, but incredibly focused.
This is an “end-address” microphone. Most of these microphones require you to speak toward the front. However, the Podcaster requires you to speak through the top of the microphone. The result is a mic that’s very focused on picking up sound from one direction. It’s great at filtering out background noise (and harsh mouth sounds, thanks to a built-in pop filter), but also limited in its usefulness compared to some other products we tested.
The Podcaster is an unusual creature. It doesn’t come with a tripod; it demands a traditional mic stand. But unlike some of the other microphones on this list, there’s no option for traditional input. So you have the inconvenience and expense of needing to purchase a mic stand, with no option to use it as an XLR microphone if you expand your setup later on.
Once you’ve got the mic affixed to a stand, the headphone jack and volume knob sit sort of clumsily off to the side. I had them on top, which was awkward. The instructions show them on the side, which is marginally better, but still sort of odd.
It’s just hard to know who this mic is for. The quality of the sound is phenomenal. Even with every part of the user experience working against it, the quality of the recordings it turned in was strong enough to land it in the middle of the pack. But at the same time, there’s not a good use case for it that isn’t covered by other mics.
If you’re looking for a top-tier mic that can grow with you in the studio, you can get the Shure Motiv M7. If you’re looking for convenience as a beginner, you should look elsewhere. If you live or work in an environment with a decent amount of audio equipment and you want a high-quality mic with a little flexibility, there may be a place for the Podcaster in your studio. But it probably won’t be anyone’s choice for a first microphone.
Blue’s portable powerhouse has been a mainstay of the recording world for a long time. Now that the field is more crowded, it’s facing stiffer competition, but it still gives you plenty for your money. However, this mic disappointed in a few key areas.
The sound itself wasn’t always what we wanted and was a bit of a letdown compared to the mic’s reputation. The pickup pattern is fairly wide, which gives you a lot of room noise if you’re not very careful. Unlike many other Blue mics (including the regular Snowball) there’s only one pickup pattern, and it’s going to hear just about everything.
Likewise, when tested for dynamic range, it disappointed again. It was a little too easy to blow the mic out. On top of that, there’s no gain control on the mic itself. Instead, you’ll have to adjust the mic sensitivity in the recording software or through the computer’s audio settings.
That said, it’s substantial. It feels better built than most mics in the price range, and the metal tripod is a nice touch. But the sound quality honestly felt outclassed by the similarly-priced Amazon Basics mic, and that’s not the result we were expecting at all.
Audio-Technica’s ATR2100x looks most like what people think of as a mic. And in many ways, it’s the most straightforward microphone here. It has an on/off switch, a USB port, an XLR port, and a headphone jack. There’s also a volume slider for the headphones.
The mic comes with a small tripod and a holder for the mic to slide into. The mic holder can be affixed to a traditional mic stand, as well.
In some ways, this would be a great mic for someone looking to expand their studio in the future. Compatibility with a traditional mic stand and interface are great future-proofing, and the sound quality is above average.
Unfortunately, the build quality is sorely lacking. The tripod broke immediately while trying to set it up, and on the model that we tested, the headphone volume adjustment didn’t seem to work.
There are no other frills present. You have to adjust the gain on the computer itself, and instead of a mute button there’s an on/off switch. Turning a mic on and off can sometimes make a popping sound that you definitely don’t want in a meeting. So while this mic would be solid for recording podcasts or maybe even vocals if you put it on a better stand, you probably wouldn’t want to use it for work meetings.
The AmazonBasics USB mic gave surprisingly, almost upsettingly good recordings for the price. Unfortunately, that’s about all this mic has going for it.
The mic feels cheaply made, light enough and flimsy enough that the weight of the USB cord attaching it to my PC was enough to scoot it across the desk whenever I tried to set it down. The good news is that it wasn't seriously damaged after it fell off of the desk. The bad news is that it wouldn’t have fallen if it had been more substantial.
There’s no gain adjustment, and there isn’t even a headphone jack. The stand height isn’t really adjustable unless you stack books under it. You can also affix the mic to a traditional stand, if you have one. But that seems to defeat the purpose of a sub-$50 mic.
The AmazonBasics mic delivers shocking audio quality for the money, but beyond that, you’re not getting much in the package.
The Apogee Hype MiC is an interesting, often frustrating microphone. On one level, the mic seems very nice. It comes with everything you could possibly want—there’s a carrying case, pop filter, a whole host of different USB cables for use with all sorts of devices, a tripod, and a tripod mount that can be adjusted to also work with a mic stand.
The front of the mic has a button for adjusting the audio blend in the headset. You can use it to adjust the balance between zero-latency mic monitoring and what you hear in your computer. This is great if you’re recording dialogue, music, or anything else where you might want to hear your recording session. There’s also a knob for adjusting the gain.
The gain control knob can also be pressed like a button to cycle through various compression settings. This is part of what makes this microphone unique. Rather than using the more common DSP (digital signal processing) technology, the Hype MiC has several analog signal processing options that can adjust your tone in the microphone itself with a real compressor.
Unfortunately, not many of these settings are actually helpful. The most extreme setting, called “Smash,” is meant to give a close-up, intimate sound, but in practice, it makes the mic almost unusable as it amplifies the room noise and crushes your voice. At the end of the day, it makes more sense to record the audio without any effects, and apply compression using a computer (if you want to). That way if you apply too much, you can just undo it.
That’s sort of a recurring theme with the Hype MiC. There are a lot of cool features that would be a lot more exciting if they were implemented well. When we placed the included pop filter onto the mic stand, we found that it made it very difficult to get the mic firmly affixed onto the stand.
Likewise, it was challenging to position the pop filter in front of the mic well. The tripod has very long legs, but it’s hard to get them to stay in any position except for the lowest one.
All in all, the mic feels over-engineered in a lot of ways. There’s a whole host of features, but not all of them are useful, either by nature or by implementation.
The FIFNE K669 is an interesting mic. The mic, cable, and tripod mount are all built together as one solid piece. On one hand, that means that there are fewer steps to perform on your end. On the other hand, it’s not that hard to plug in a cable, so streamlining that process doesn’t feel like a huge added convenience.
Because these pieces can’t be swapped, the microphone presents some unique issues. If you need a longer cable, you’re out of luck. If the cable wears out, then you’re just buying a whole new microphone.
There are some nice things about the FIFNE K669. The sound is solid. The tripod mount is also compatible with a mic stand if you have one. There’s no headphone jack, but you can adjust the gain on the mic (using a knob labeled "volume").
It’s not a bad microphone, but if you can pay a little more for the Amazon Basics (or something more substantial) you’ll probably be happier in the long run.
The Shure MV5C was one of the most frustrating mics that we tried to use. Compact and light, it was another microphone that was hard to keep in place. And while there are some aspects to the engineering that are clever, the small form factor makes it very difficult to hit the buttons you’re trying to use.
The headphone jack, USB port, mute button, and another button are all tightly jammed together in the back. For some reason, you can’t simply plug in headphones. You have to unplug the mic, plug in the headphones, hold the “mode” button, and plug the mic back in. This is incredibly frustrating to do since the mode button, headphone jack, and USB plug are all in each other’s way.
It’s all the more irksome since this is the only mic we tested that makes you undergo some arcane ritual in order to use your headphones.
There’s one DSP setting in the form of a “Speech mode”. Speech mode uses a combination of gain, EQ, and compression presets to help your voice come through more clearly. This is not explained in the manual in any way, shape, or form. I had to learn it by looking up information online.
Once you finally get it set up, the audio quality is good. The pickup pattern doesn’t grab a lot of room noise, and the dynamic range is solid. But the overall experience of using this microphone is far harder than it needs to be, and you can pay the same amount of money for a less frustrating experience elsewhere.
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