You’ve been thinking about getting a new microphone for your home studio, but you’re not sure which type is the best. You could go with an XLR mic that plugs into your recording interface, or you could try out a USB microphone.
Which one should you get: USB microphone Vs XLR mic?. The answer may surprise you! We’ll explore this topic in detail below and give some pros and cons of both types to help make up your mind.
What is XLR?
What is an XLR mic, you ask? It can’t be directly connected to your computer.
The most popular XLR cable, the 3-pin XLR, is used by almost all devices in studios, homes, and on stage.
An audio interface is required to access the digital world because the XLR mic is an analog connector.
How to set up an XLR mic
These are examples of how to set up an XLR microphone system.
Setup 1 – Omnidirectional Mic XLR with an XLR to-USB Cable, Connected to a Laptop
An XLR-to USB cable can be used to connect an omnidirectional microphone (such as a Shure 58) directly to your computer.
Podcasting has produced this video that shows you how to use an XLR/USB cable. This video also shows how to use an XLR/USB cable with a condenser microphone. The condenser microphone will not work if it is plugged into a computer. The USB cable is not sufficient to power a condenser microphone.
Setup 2: XLR Mic and an Audio Interface Connected To a Computer
An alternative way to use an XLR microphone is to connect it with an audio interface and then click your computer’s audio interface.
Anson Alexander produced this video. It shows how to use an XLR microphone with a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 sound interface. The cost is around $140. He adds a Cloudlifter CL-1 (which costs about $150) to the mic-cable path as a pre-amp. This is used to increase the volume of the mic before it connects with the audio interface.
The video shows that the audio interface connects to the computer directly using a USB cable. The USB cable provides all the power the interface needs to function. The audio interface can receive an additional signal from an instrument.
The audio interface has a monitor output that allows you to hear the input signals in real-time without any delay. To listen to what you are recording, headphones can be worn. In the video, the reviewer is using headphones and a headset microphone. Both headphones and mic are connected to the audio interface.
Because the mic he uses requires a lot of power, the Cloudlifter device was necessary to complete this setup. The audio interface does not have enough energy to boost the mic signal from mic to line level. Cloudlifter provides a mic with a 24dB boost in clean gain. It may not be necessary to add this additional piece of equipment depending on which mic you use to increase the mic gain.
Kettner Creative produced this video. It shows how to connect three microphones:
- An omnidirectional dynamic Shure SSM58 mic.
- A dynamic Shre SM7B microphone.
- A wide-diaphragm condenser mic that requires 48V of Phantom Power.
The Shure SM58 can be used with an XLR to USB cable connected directly from the microphone to the computer. An audio interface can give the Shure SM7B some gain. He shows a PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL audio interface device. It is compatible with the Shure SM58 and Shure SM7B condenser microphones. When using a condenser microphone, the audio interface can be set to switchable phantom powers.
Let’s now move on to the main rivals of XLR mics — USB microphones.
What is a USB?
You already know that a USB can be used to connect different peripherals to your computer.
If your keyboard, printers, hard drives, and gaming controller are not wireless yet, you can connect them to your computer via USB.
How to set up a USB microphone
Although some USB microphones may require you to download software to make them work, this is rare. The majority of USB microphones can be connected to your computer with the included USB cable. If the USB cable included with the mic does not match the input jacks on your computer or another device, you may need to purchase a USB adapter or hub.
Which Should I Use?
USB microphones are more useful for everyday applications such as talking to your computer or recording voice-overs, podcasts, and internet radio shows.
XLR mics are better suited for music recordings since you can record the microphone signal directly into your mixing console without using any additional hardware (the USB cable runs from the mic straight to your computer).
What are the main differences between XLR and USB microphones?
For this article, we will be looking at the difference two types of microphones. XLR and USB.
There are three main differences between these two types of microphones. Those being: flexibility, sound quality, and cost.
- XLR mics are not as flexible as USB ones in that they require an external unit to plug them into (usually a mixer). However, XLR mics usually come with superior sound quality than their rather common USB counterparts.
- On the other hand, USB microphones are extremely versatile since you can plug them into any device that has a USB port – from your phone to your PC! This makes it an incredibly convenient tool for musicians since there is less need for setup or relocation when recording music.
- For this reason, USB mics are hence more suitable for beginners since setting up an XLR mic can be a tad complicated.
These are some notes on the differences between USB vs XLR microphones in the recording studio and live performance.
- XLR microphones are more commonly used in professional audio recording sessions.
- XLR microphones have a higher quality than USB mics.
- XLR microphones are only one component of a three-component setup (mic, preamp, and analog-to-digital converter). It’s easier to upgrade components.
- USB mics combine the preamp, mic, and analog-to-digital converter into one device. It is not possible to upgrade one of these components.
- Many USB cable condenser microphones use the same mic elements that their XLR counterparts. The sound quality is almost identical. Only the connection of the microphone to another device is different.
USB vs XLR Microphones: Which is Better?
Pros and Cons of XLR Microphones:
XLR microphones are usually cheaper than USB microphones since you don’t need any additional hardware beyond the mic itself. XLR is a tried and tested format that has been used in professional sound applications for many years, so it’s industry standard.
If you’re using XLR to connect your audio device (mixer, recorder equipment), you’ll be able to read its manual without having to worry about incompatibility issues.
XLR cables can be expensive if purchased individually; you will have to purchase multiple microphone cables individually, which can get costly!
It can also be difficult working with long cables when performing live on stage or recording in a remote environment such as a studio at the other end of the hall… so keep this in mind if you’re planning to use XLR microphones!
XLR microphones need phantom power from your mixer or recorder to operate. The most common way of supplying this audio signal is by using a 48V or 24V DC supply powered by a 9V battery (sometimes AA batteries are used instead) or via AC wall power.
Phantom power supplies are unnecessary for plugging into a USB port since the digital signals relayed through USB lines alone are sufficient to run the mic and transmit audio data… However, phantom power can be useful when recording because it helps eliminate high-pitched hissing.
These sounds result from the electromagnetic interference caused by turning equipment on and off and potentiometers moving back and forth.
Digital signals are much better at dealing with minute vibrations since they have a very high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).
Pros and Cons of USB Microphones:
Using USB microphones means you don’t need to worry about purchasing XLR cables or external batteries. It’s the easiest solution if all you want is to plug in a mic and go! Many internal PC sound cards do not feature any XLR inputs, so this might be the only option for computers that aren’t equipped with an audio interface.
If your audio device doesn’t support XLR microphones, then it’s probably worth taking a look at USB microphones as they may suit your needs better. Most desktop PCs come with 1 or 2 USB microphone ports which makes these mics very easy to use.
USB microphones are extremely compact and can fit into your laptop or computer bag without any hassle! If you want to perform live on stage, it’s pretty difficult lugging around a huge mixer or a bunch of XLR cables… so USB mics are perfect if you plan to do some travelin’. Some USB mics (shock-mounted models) are even collapsible, which makes them easier to take apart!
Since there are many different models available on the market today, finding one USB mic that has excellent audio quality at an affordable price can be a difficult task.
Cheap USB microphones can’t handle high volumes or sibilants very well; they’re also more likely to exhibit background noise and have delayed/reverberated sound, which can be distracting.
USB mics are limited since you cannot connect them directly to a mixer. You’ll need an audio interface to convert the USB mic signal into digital data (which is sent via USB) so that it’s transmitted over your computer on two distinct channels: left and right audio, also known as stereo.
In conclusion, it depends on what you’re looking for in a microphone: USB vs xlr microphones are both also good. USB microphones might be lacking some of the quality of XLR microphones, but they’re generally more transportable and a lot cheaper. XLR mics pack more of a punch, but the price tag is higher, and you’ll need to invest in other equipment too.
Hopefully, this post has helped clear up any confusion about which type of mic may best suit your needs! If not, feel free to leave comments or contact us directly with questions. Hooke Audio is here to help make sure that you get all the right gear for your recording project so that you can create something amazing!