The Pros and Cons of USB Microphones

Two women podcasting using the Blue Yeti USB Microphone

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If you’re a musician or aspiring podcaster, you’ve probably looked into purchasing a USB microphone (or you already have one). There’s no doubt about it: USB microphones can be super convenient, budget friendly, and seem to be a great starter mic. But there are some negatives to going this route. And I want to make sure you know what they are before you spend the money.

Before I get into my pros and cons list, I’d like to share a video I put together (way back in 2015) reviewing two of the most popular USB microphones: the Blue Yeti and the Audio-Technica 2020 USB. Just a note: Audio-Technica has since come out with the AT2020 USB PLUS, which addresses a few of the issues I found in this review, namely the gain and volume controls built into the mic, like the Yeti.


Now that you know more about these two mics, let’s talk about the upsides and the downsides to using them for podcasting!

Benefits of USB Microphones

Budget

There’s a super obvious benefit to using a USB microphone over a “regular” microphone, and that is COST. USB microphones are typically under $200, and they are the only thing you need (besides a laptop and headphones) to record a podcast. It’s definitely attractive (and understandable) for the first-time audio engineer to spend less money. Just be sure that if you are buying a USB microphone, you are buying a highly rated one—don’t bother with cheap knockoffs.

All-in-one Hardware

Setting up audio equipment can get complicated, fast. With a USB microphone, it’s basically plug-and-play, so you don’t have to worry about multiple cables and settings to get yourself ready to record. The controls for the mic are usually built in, and even the stand and cable comes with it. They really can be great for beginners!

Portability

Since the hardware is all built-in, all you need is the mic, headphones, and a laptop and you’re ready to record—which makes it super easy to do on the go!

Disadvantages of USB Microphones

Flexibility

Once you buy a USB microphone, there’s really not much else you can use it for besides podcasting and maybe demoing some music. You’re only spending a hundred or so dollars, but that amount of money is being applied to a very narrow purpose. Buying a microphone that isn’t USB means you could also use it if you’re recording a live podcast (because it can be hooked up into a PA system, too), without a laptop, or even to use as your vocal mic if you’re a singer!

Recording More than One Microphone Simultaneously

I’d say by far, the biggest disadvantage to using a USB microphone is that it gets cumbersome to try and record multiple people at once. Some mics, like the Blue Yeti, have bidirectional polar patterns, which means you can set up across a desk from your other host or guest and talk into the same mic. If you’re trying to use one mic for two people, you’d have to get very close to each other’s faces to record a good quality sound (otherwise you’ll be too far from the mic and get more room noise). If you want to use more than one mic, you have to download a special plugin that circumvents your computer’s instincts to only recognize one USB mic at a time. Basically you have to trick your computer into recording two USB mics at once. To me, that’s not reliable.

What Should You Do?

My suggestion is if you’re trying out podcasting and you’re not sure you want to pursue it long term, get the Blue Yeti or AT2020 USB PLUS and have fun! (Or give it a test run using something you probably already have at home!)

But, if you know you are going to be podcasting, or you want to start with the most professional options first, you need to invest in an audio interface, regular vocal microphone, cables, and stands. It’s not that much more money, and it’s going to get you a MUCH better result. Check out my Resources page for my recommended professional podcasting tools. I also have a video of my podcast setup on YouTube, plus more podcasting resources there.



Featured photo by CoWomen on Unsplash