If you have decided that you need a microphone for your set up – whether that’s for podcasting, video conferencing, working from home or even streaming, a quick search on Amazon will reveal plenty of choices. Many cheap microphones will be packed full of dubious online reviews stating how they are the best thing ever and when you actually buy one and it arrives, you will wonder if it just you that is getting awful sound from it.
Things will depend on your system, your room and even what’s in it. You will have seen popular YouTubers no doubt with sheets of foam glued to their walls to dampen the sound. These are the kinds of extremes you will go to if you want that perfect audio, but if you are just looking for a quality boost from the mic on your phone or your laptop, you have come to the right place.
The advent of USB microphones have made things oo much easier. Once the best mics came with simply an XLR connection that you didn’t have a hope of connecting to Windows or macOS without extra equipment such as an audio interface mixer.
These days, plug one in as you would any other peripheral, and with a quick settings change, you will be chatting to your friends or even Cortana within seconds.
Audiophiles will tell you that USB mics can never be as good as a pure XLR connection, and while that may well be the case, for the majority of us, it won’t matter. A good USB mic will be good enough for all the instances above and even things like recoding instruments with a minimum of post-processing.
We have chosen five of the most popular USB microphones on the market today. There are no prior quality offerings here, any one of them will do the job for you, but there are features some have that others don’t that will swing the decision for you one way or another. Some are bigger than others, and that may affect what accessories you need for them. The heavier ones may not sit well on cheap boom arms or fit in cheaper shock mounts. We will guide you here too.
A simple voice test played back for clarity. Microphones were placed at the recommended distance in cardioid mode where available and marked for clarity, echo, and tone.
Best USB microphones in 2021
Build-quality that would survive a nuclear war
Four audio patterns for all situations
Too heavy for a lot of stands
Difficult to find a cheaper shock mount than the official offering
Before we start with this one, it’s not blue okay. Well, you can get it in blue, but Blue is the manufacturer, they also make the Blue Snowball. I’ve been using a Blue Yeti for my streaming and, more recently, all my virtual meetings and calls for a long. Coincidentally, mine actually is blue as well.
The Yeti certainly wasn’t the first USB microphone I tried using in my setup. I had a Snowball a while back, which was fine, but I didn’t really like the design, so I sold it on. Then, when I was looking for a mic more recently, I initially went for a cheap option on Amazon. It had great reviews, even video reviews on YouTube, but it didn’t work for me. The volume level was so low it was almost inaudible. Some Google-Fu revealed that there is a problem with Windows 10 and some USB microphones – check out the FAQ below for more information. Anyway, back it went, and I resigned myself to spending more and plumped for the Blue Yeti, and it’s been an excellent choice for me.
Everything about the mic screams premium; it’s brushed metal casing with metallic paint options, easy to reach control knobs on the front and rear, and the weight of the thing, especially when combined with the stand.
With said stand, it has quite a large desktop footprint that doesn’t make it easy to position correctly because your keyboard will generally get in the way. Ideally, you will have to place it behind your keyboard directly in front of you, but I couldn’t do that because I have an array of other equipment there.
My next step was to buy a desk-mounted microphone boom arm. Here you have to be careful because the Yeti is too heavy for a lot of the cheaper ones. It’s the same with a shock mount (the mount that suspends a microphone, so banging on the desk or typing doesn’t cause vibration and noise). The official Blue one is expensive, and I still haven’t found a suitable cheaper alternative – if you have, leave a comment and I’ll thank you forever!
Technologically the mic itself has three condenser capsules that can easily be switched between Cardioid/Omni/Figure 8 and Stereo. This covers you for pretty much any recording scenario from solo speaking to interviews.
On plugging in the mic effectively becomes a sound card you can select. It has its own headphone jack so you can monitor your voice and a volume knob for that too.
It’s not the cheapest add-on, it carries a little bit of a premium price coming from Blue, but there is a Yeti Pro and a Yeti Nano (small form-factor) that give you some choices on the price you pay.
You will love it though; there’s a reason so many people stream with it. You might be able to get better sound from other mics, but the Yeti gives you great sound from the get-go without any post-production or messing around. If you speed some time tweaking as well, you will get even better results.
Warm audio tones
More compatibility with accessories than the Yeti
You probably won’t use the tripod
Audio Technica has long since built up a reputation for great microphones in the XLR world, and bringing that knowledge to the USB market has been a great thing for anybody looking for a quality mic.
Along with the Yeti, this is the content creators weapon of choice, especially for those that want perhaps a more traditional looking microphone that doesn’t carry some of the quirks of its main competitor. It’s a more standard size and weight, so more generic accessories will work fine with it, although it is bundled with a pop filter, stand and mount along with a nice little pouch to carry it all around in.
It has one potential advantage over the Yeti in that it has an onboard audio mixer of sorts built-in, meaning you can mix vocals and pre-recorded audio or even an instrument if you are careful, which if you are then going to post-produce this could save a heap of time.
You won’t be concerned with that though if you are just streaming, podcasting or video calling, so it’s by no means a feature everybody will use.
There is a standard headphone jack for monitoring, and like the Yeti, you won’t need to install software, it just works without the bugged Windows 10 sound driver for hassle-free use.
The quality and tone of the recorded audio is probably a little warmer than the Yeti right off the bat. It’s a great mic once again, there’s no doubting it.
I wanted to check what the pros use so I asked my friend Henny, a Grammy-winning music producer what he’s carrying around in his studio bag these days. He had no hesitation in recommending the Hype Mic from Apogee as the perfect mic, not only for recording into your laptop or desktop but also for connecting with an iPad for on the go recording work or interviewing.
Like the Audio Technica it comes with a carry case, pop filter, USB cables (including a USB-C and Lightning cable for the aforementioned iPad work) and tripod.
This is a brilliant, brilliant microphone, but Grammy award-winning producers don’t tend to carry around cheap stuff, and this is no exception, coming in at more than twice the price of the other two. Still, if you want the best and have the budget for it, this is the one to purchase.
If you want to capture instruments and vocals, the sound quality up to 24-bit/96kHz is unrivaled here. It has a blend option for mixing the signal and vocal through attached headphones that works really well, and this means it is suitable for many a home or small studio setup.
Things To Consider
Other accessories - will I need any?
The short answer is no, you won’t need any, but you the longer answer is that you will get better results if you add a pop filter, an off-desk mic stand and a shock mount. Now a couple of the picks here have the pop filter included so you won’t have to get one, but you can get a cheap one for about $10 anyway.
The stand and the shock mount are going to cost more and worth considering if you go the Yet route is it’s none standard size, right down to its screw thread, which is annoying.
Cardioid microphones should be a couple of inches from where you are speaking to pick up the most clarity, so if you use the desk stand you are going to need space. Also, if you use the desk stand, they are going to pick up noises every time you bang your knee on the table.
The best option is to get a flexible boom arm that can be positioned and then moved out of the way when you are not using it. Just make sure you get one that will support your mic’s weight.
Will my microphone work with Windows 10?
This will come down, seemingly to how much you spend, otherwise, it is hit or miss. Any of the big brands, and certainly the mics listed here will work with minimal effort. Any USB mic that uses the generic Windows 10 driver, which is still broken after all these years, will only record audio at such low levels as to be totally useless. We can’t believe it hasn’t been sorted out yet, and it may well never be, but stick to the known brands, and you should be fine.
If you really do want to go for a cheaper option, there is a workaround here but it involves extra software and settings, so we aren’t recommending that as a route you go down.
Can I monitor my incoming audio with no latency even though it’s a USB connection?
You can, because all the mics here have an onboard headphone jack with allows you to get to the signal before USB can add some tricky old latency too it. It’s another wire snaking across the place, but if you are recording vocals it is a Godsend of an option on all three.
Any one of these microphones will do a fantastic job for you, right up to the standard of recording vocals for a track you are thinking about releasing. The Hype Mic is terrific but too expensive for us to justify making it our Best Pick. Most people are not going to want to spend that much on one, but if you want the best sounding and have the cash, pick it up immediately.
I’m choosing the Blue Yeti as our winner. The sheer volume of satisfied users can’t be wrong. The Audio Technica has some advantages, but the Yeti is just so damn cool, sturdy, and sounds so impressive. If you have only ever heard audio recorded from your phone or your webcam, this will really open your eyes, and indeed ears.
It comes in a range of nice metallic colors that are always being added too as well as some limited editions. The fact it also comes in a couple of different guises to suit different budgets is nice too.
Basically, if you buy a Blue Yeti, you won’t need another USB microphone for a very long time indeed.