USB Microphones vs. XLR – Which One Should You Choose?
Because of their advantages, both USB microphones and XLR mics have earned their spot on the market. Both types are widely popular but shine in different scenarios. This blog post breaks down the pros and cons, the key differences, and why you should pick XLR over USB. Let’s get started!
At a Glance: USB Microphones vs. XLR
So what are the main differences between USB and XLR microphones? First of all, USB microphones are the most popular microphone type in use today. Unlike XLR microphones, they plug directly into your computer without the use of external devices such as standalone audio interfaces or preamps.
XLR microphones are more commonly found in professional recording studios. Why? The XLR connector makes them more compatible and allows them to be plugged into more studio-grade audio gear. XLR is also a balanced cable, meaning it’s more resistant to interference and produces a higher-quality audio signal.
In a nutshell:
- USB microphones are convenient because they’re easy to use and don’t require any audio interface.
- XLR microphones provide better sound quality and produce a more professional sound.
- USB microphones are more prone to interference from other electronic devices.
- XLR microphones also have the advantage of being able to plug into a wider range of devices, including mixers, preamps, and audio interfaces. This means that you can get better sound quality by using an XLR microphone instead of a USB microphone.
What is XLR?
XLR is a type of audio connector used to carry balanced analog audio signals. It is a 3-pin connector typically used in professional audio applications. The three-pin construction consists of two signal conductors and one ground conductor. The signal conductors are used to carry the audio signal, and the ground conductor is used to shield the signal from interference.
XLR cables are typically made of copper, and they have a variety of connectors, including male and female XLR connectors, 3.5mm jacks, and 6.35mm jacks. The male version has a panel-mountable plug, while the female version has a socket that can be mounted in a panel or chassis.
What is a USB?
USB cables come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all have one common goal: to transfer data between electronic devices. How does it work? USB is a serial bus, meaning that the data travels down one wire at a time. When you plug in a USB cable, the computer looks for a specific sequence of signals on the wires. Once it finds them, it starts sending data back and forth.
The USB cable has four wires: two for power and two for data. The power wires supply 5 volts of electricity and the data wires carry the actual data. To send data in both directions, the computer uses two different sets of signals on the data wires. One set is used for sending data (TX) and the other is used for receiving data (RX).
USB Microphones vs. XLR: Pros and cons
USB microphones have gained in popularity in recent years because they are convenient and easy to use. Most models plug into a USB port on a computer, eliminating the need for an audio interface or mixer. This makes them perfect for podcasting, voice-over work, and online meetings.
USB microphones come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small clip-on mics to larger studio mics. They typically have a cardioid polar pattern, which helps to reduce noise from the sides and rear.
Many USB mics also come with built-in DSP (digital signal processing) that provides features such as EQ, compression, and de-essing. This can help improve the sound quality of your recordings.
Overall, USB microphones are a great option for anyone looking for an easy way to get started with home recording or podcasting.
Advantages of USB Mics
If you’re tired of using the low-quality built-in mic from your computer, USB microphones are a great plug-and-play solution. Not having the need of an audio interface or a mixer, along with the ease of use is the most significant advantage of a USB microphone.
- Ease of use
Disadvantages of USB Mics
There are several disadvantages to using USB mics that should be taken into consideration before making a purchase.
The first disadvantage is that they often produce lower quality audio than XLR mics. This is because they rely on the computer’s built-in sound card for D/A conversion (Digital to Analog) Many computers’ sound cards are not up to par with dedicated external audio interfaces.
Another downside to USB mics is the unbalanced cable, making them quite sensitive to interference from other electrical devices. This can cause pops and clicks in the audio, or even complete drop-outs during recording.
- Lower sound quality
- Susceptible to interference
- Prone to audio clipping
- Limited dynamic range
- Unsuitable for high-end recordings
An XLR microphone is a professional-grade microphone that uses a three-pin XLR connector. They are often used in recording studios and on stage for live performances.
XLR microphones are usually more expensive than other types of microphones, but they offer superior sound quality. They can be used with a variety of professional audio equipment, including mixers, preamps, and amplifiers.
Advantages of XLR Mics
If your goal is to get into audio recording at a professional level, it makes more sense to purchase an XLR microphone. You can upgrade your equipment more easily, you can choose between different types of microphones, etc. Also, if you at some point want to upgrade your home studio setup, all professional audio gear will be compatible with each other.
- Greater dynamic range
- Higher signal-to-noise ratio
- More accurate sound reproduction
- Lower distortion
- Rugged construction
Disadvantages of XLR Mics
XLR mics are popular in the pro audio world, but there are some clear disadvantages worth mentioning.
First, they can be expensive. XLR mics can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, and that doesn’t even include the price of a quality preamp or audio interface.
Secondly, they’re not always portable. XLR mics are often large and heavy, which makes them difficult to transport.
Lastly, they rely on additional audio equipment to function. To use an XLR mic, you need a mic preamp or a standalone audio interface with XLR inputs. This extra gear can be costly and takes up space in your home studio.
- Heavier than USB-mics
- More expensive
- Requires a standalone audio interface or a mixer
What Is An Audio Interface?
An audio interface is a device that allows you to connect your audio equipment, such as a microphone and speakers, to your computer. This can be useful if you want to use your computer to record audio or share audio files with other people.
Which Microphone Should You Choose?
So, the million-dollar question: should I pick a USB microphone or an XLR mic? Personally, I use both microphone types but for different purposes and scenarios.
Thanks to the easy plug-and-play, USB microphones are a convenient option if you’re looking for a microphone to use while gaming, streaming, or participating in online meetings. No hassle – simply connect it to your computer’s USB port.
XLR microphones are your best option when it comes to recording audio professionally. The 3-pin balanced connector is ideal for voiceover, vocals, and instruments.
If you’re looking to purchase a microphone with USB connectivity, have a look at our review of the best USB microphones for vocals. Below you’ll find some of our top picks:
If you’ve decided that superior audio quality is worth the extra dollars, then XLR microphones are your best bet. There are tons of options on the market, but here are some of our picks of the best microphone for vocals:
Why I Prefer XLR Microphones
XLR-connectivity Offers More Microphone Options
There are many microphone manufacturers on the market. Still, only a few really cut above the noise and become standards in professional settings. It’s fair to say that some of the top microphones on the market are XLR mics. Flagships from manufacturers such as Shure, RØDE, and Neumann all have XLR connectivity.
But that’s not all. While 95% of all USB mics are condensers, there is a wider range of XLR microphones on the market. Below are some of the most common types of microphones.
A dynamic microphone is a type of microphone that uses a moving coil to convert sound into an electrical signal. The coil is attached to a diaphragm, which moves when sound hits it. This movement creates a current in the coil, which is then converted into an electrical signal. Very few USB mics are dynamic.
A condenser microphone is a type of microphone that uses capacitance to convert sound into an electrical signal. This type of microphone is typically used in studio settings, as it can capture a wider range of frequencies than other types of microphones. Condenser microphones also tend to be more sensitive than dynamic microphones, making them better suited for capturing subtle sounds. You can read more about condenser vs. dynamic microphones here.
A ribbon microphone is a type of microphone that uses a thin metal ribbon to capture sound. The ribbon is suspended between two poles and the sound waves cause it to vibrate. The vibrations create an electrical signal that can be converted into sound. Ribbon microphones are known for their warm, mellow sound and are often used for recording vocals and acoustic instruments. They are also popular for use in podcasting and voiceover work.
Better Sound Quality
Unlike XLR cables, USB cables are unbalanced. So what does that mean? Unbalanced audio cables are a type of cable that is used to transmit audio signals. They are often used in low-power applications, such as in personal audio devices or consumer-grade HiFi speakers.
Unbalanced audio cables are distinguished from balanced audio cables by their use of two wires instead of three. This makes them less resistant to noise and interference, which electrical appliances or other electronic devices can cause.
Balanced audio cables are designed to carry an audio signal between two devices while minimizing noise and interference. In a balanced audio cable, the signal is split into two identical copies, each of which travels down a separate wire.
The wires are then recombined at the other end, and any noise or interference that occurred along the way is canceled out. This results in a cleaner, a more accurate signal that is less likely to be affected by outside noise.
Balanced audio cables are most commonly used in professional settings, where sound quality is of utmost importance. However, they can also be used in homes and other settings if you want the best possible sound quality.
When choosing a balanced audio cable, make sure to get one that is specifically designed for your type of equipment. There are many different types of balanced audio cables available, so it’s important to do your research before making a purchase.
XLR cables can be bought in a wide array of lengths, from 1 meter to 20 meters or more. This means you can move more easily in your studio as you see fit. Also, you might not need to depend on a computer that has a USB port for audio recording. There are several handheld recording devices with XLR inputs.
Record Multiple Microphones Simultaneously
The major issue with USB microphones is that each one acts as an interface and, consequently, can only be recorded and monitored one at a time. Or can they? Well, it’s actually possible to record two or more USB microphones simultaneously on one computer, but the end result will be far from perfect.
This workaround requires the addition of a new interface that can combine both audio signals from each USB mic. This interface communicates with the computer (instead of the built-in interfaces of the mic). This workaround is done with the help of computer software.
However, that’s not the ideal technique, and I would by no means suggest using two different USB microphones to record simultaneously. Not only are they generally lower in quality, but the workarounds can get glitchy and difficult. However, If you still want to record two or more USB mics simultaneously, these are your options:
- 1. Combine USB mic interfaces in ASIO4ALL (Windows)
- 2. Combine USB mic interfaces in Audio Aggregate Device (Mac)
- 3. Use multiple computers
Sounds complicated right?
If you’re looking to record vocals like a pro, using an XLR microphone is your best bet. While USB microphones are convenient and easy to use, they often cannot produce the same sound quality as XLR microphones.
Because of the unbalanced cable, USB mics are also more sensitive to interference from other electronic devices found in home studios. On the other hand, XLR microphones are more expensive, but they provide a richer sound that is better suited for professional use.
USB mics are a good option if you’re looking for a simple plug-and-play solution while streaming or attending online meetings. Since USB microphones act as an audio interface on their own, you’ll need additional software to record two mics simultaneously.