If you’re looking to get into pod casting, home recording or next-level voice chatting, you've probably seen the huge number USB microphones on the market today. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so to cut through the noise, we grabbed a number of mics to give you a quick guide of the choices and our personal favorites. Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive guide -- there are entire publications dedicated to mics. We do cover the big guys like Blue and Audio Technica to give you a reference to put you on your way to great sound.
Got questions or requests? Let us know in the comments below.
Recording notes: the sound samples on this page are by no means scientific. Rather, we hope to give you an idea of the sound you'll achieve in your home. Most mics were recorded simply by plugging the mic into the PC with levels set to medium with no additional audio or software tweaking. For XLR, we set mic gain by ear, but the levels are different depending on mics and when we recorded the samples. Simply adjust your volume to get a better representation of the mic sound. Also, recordings were done in a small room with some acoustic padding behind the mic and to the sides of the desk. The room isn't acoustically treated in any other way, aside from having piles of keyboards, mobos and graphics cards on every shelf. Because we're like that.
The Snowball has been the defacto microphone in the podcasting world -- sounds good, looks cool, no frills. Its omnidirectional polar pattern lets you record multiple people talking at once without sacrificing volume or sound quality, no matter how they’re arranged around the microphone. At 70 dollars, it’s also the least expensive mic in our roundup.
The $129 Blue Yeti is arguably the most popular USB microphone in the market today, and for good reason. It features sturdy construction, excellent aesthetics, and four different polar patterns each designed for different recording situations. The Yeti can now be found in numerous colors.
The “Pro” version bumps up the price and adds 24 bit recording and both USB and XLR inputs, meaning you can use the Yeti Pro as a plug and play mic or incorporate it into your existing prosumer audio setup. If you use the XLR output, note that since this is a stereo microphone, the Yeti Pro uses a 5 pin XLR output, and needs the included splitter to plug into a traditional 3 pin XLR input on a mixing board.
However, all that power and flexibility comes at a price – the Yeti Pro retails for $250, putting it near the top of the pack in price.
Blue Yeti Pro:
The $199 Blue Raspberry is designed for portability – it weighs just 9.6 ounces and is about the same width as a smart phone. It's basically a mini studio mic made for solo recording on the road. At $199, it's not a budget USB mic by any means. But it's all about quality. In our tests (and sound below), the quality of the recording is really great for the price. It also has passive acoustic dampening inside the mic. So while it looks like a retro open mic, it's actually a standard cardiod mic.
The acoustic dampening helps cut out the outside noise a bit. While not as isolating as a dynamic mic, the Raspberry is arguably the best on-the-go streaming or live podcast/video mic if you're in a hotel room or corner of a lobby. If you're in a live environment like a convention or public space, then true pro lav or shotgun mics are better choices.
It’s also the only one with a Lightning cable included for plugging straight into your iPad or iPhone. It also has standard USB for the non-Mac among us.
RAZER SEIREN PRO ELITE
While Razer is known for their gaming accessories, they're not afraid to take on other markets like audio with the Seiren Pro Elite. Like the Yeti Pro, the Seiren offers four different polar recording patterns and both USB and XLR inputs, though the XLR is a 5 pin connection since it's a stereo microphone using an analog output. 5 pin to 3 pin is included. The Seiren also has a hi-pass filter to help reduce lower, ambient noise from your recordings.
The Seiren Pro Elite really shines when it comes to recording instruments, delivering a rich, bright sound. Its excellent sound quality is sometimes at odds with some questionable design choices, like the un-adjustable stand. It's 250 dollars on Newegg.
AUDIO TECHNICA AT2020 USB+
Audio Technica is a major professional audio company with some of the best gear in the world. Unlike Blue, the Audio Technica mics are black and unassuming -- basically, they put their money on sound quality. The Audio Technica AT2020 USB+ combines excellent construction and sound quality into an inexpensive package. It’s designed to be an entry-level mic that matches the excellent construction and audio fidelity of their XLR microphones. Basically, we love this thing around here.
However, with only one polar pattern, it lacks the versatility you might want in a USB mic, and is really only made to record one person or instrument at a time. It runs 150 dollars on Newegg.
Audio Technica AT2020:
AUDIO TECHNICA AT2035
The $149 Audio Technica AT2035 is a large diaphragm XLR cardioid condenser microphone designed for versatile use. XLR means you need a separate adapter to get into your PC. We included this XLR mic in the roundup so you can hear the difference to the $149 Audio Technica 2020 USB version. We used a $99 Shure USB to XLR adapter to make the connection, so that jacks up the total price. Worth it? You decide.
Just like the 2020, it utilizes a cardioid polar pattern exclusively, so just solo podcasts or voice over. It’s tempting to go with the cheaper USB version of this mic, but if you need XLR (you know who you are), then this is the ticket. The AT2035 also comes with a custom qualityshock mount which is a nice little bonus. You can buy one of these sweet Audio Technica mics here.
Audio Technica AT2035:
AUDIO TECHNICA AT2005 USB
Audio Technica has made professional microphones for years and the $79 AT2005USB takes one of their budget dynamic mics and adds USB. The good news is the AT2005 is a fantastic effort, combining excellent construction and sound quality into an inexpensive package. It’s the only dynamic microphone in our roundup, meaning it picks up less room tone and sounds a bit less “harsh” than condenser mics. This is popular with a lot of podcasters in a single room each with their own mic. You can pick one up here.
Audio Technica AT2005:
NEAT KING BEE
Neat is a relatively new kid on the block – the company was founded by the co-founders and several other former employees of Blue.
The $349 Neat King Bee is is their top of the line XLR microphone, designed to handle absolutely anything you throw at it, and can deliver the recording quality that’s second to none...at least, in this roundup.
Simply, this is our favorite-sounding mic. It's made to do one thing right -- sound great with no other frills. Built like a freakin' tank, this thing is so impressive, the bee-themed colors are the only drawback. I do love black and yellow together. But the stripes are a bit much. Maybe just yellow accents, like the awesome included honeycomb pop filter.
It also includes a pro-level shock mount. This mic is no joke, which is why all of our video voice over is now recorded using the Neat King Bee and Shure XLR adapter.
Pick up the Neat King Bee here. Neat also makes the $199 Worker Bee, basically a smaller version of the King Bee with a 25mm vs 35mm condesner diaphragm for capturing the good stuff.
Neat King Bee:
Neat's direct assault on the USB mic category includes the $329 Beecaster and $199 Bumblebee (shown here). Both are USB with articulating boom arms, integrated pop filters and internal shock mounting. The only difference is the patterns. These things scream quality, both in construction and sound. The model we received is the Bumblebee.
The Bumblebee is a solo mic with a cardiod pattern while the Beecaster gets fancier with multiple patterns and stereo capture. What it lacks in features it makes up for in excellent sound quality and superb vocal reproduction thanks to its “Sonic Signature” knob that adjusts the tonality of the microphone. You are also able to control mic gain, headphone volume. The only feature missing is a mute button, great for voip or yelling to teammates to get on the point. Take a look at the Neat Bumblebee and Beecaster here.
In order to provide some context, we’re going to take a quick look at two gaming headsets. You will notice a substantial decrease in the quality of the recordings. Keep in mind these mics are not designed for professional applications, but to scream obscenities when one loses in Overwatch.
SENNHEISER PC350 HEADSET
Sennheiser has always been known for high quality audio gear, and the $99 Sennheiser PC350 is their popular low-frills gaming model so we thought it would be a good comparison. Compared to comparably priced circumaural headsets, the PC350 holds up well in terms of build quality, comfort, and overall sound. You’ll notice of course that the quality of the microphone is significantly diminished when compared to a full USB or XLR microphone. Everything is scratchier and tinnier, but the mic is still sufficient for gaming or simple voice projects. It’s connected with two 3.5 mm jacks into your mic and headphone input, and ships with an adapter for more traditional 3.5mm setups. You can pick up this headset for $99 here.
Sennheiser PC350 Headset:
CORSAIR VOID PRO RGB HEADSET
For the same $99, the Corsair Pro RGB 7.1 is very clearly a gaming headset...you can tell by the RGBs. It’s wireless via USB so, combined with the RGBs, there isn't much budget left for a high quality mic. Listen to the track below -- the sound is far from ideal for recording and barely acceptable (in my opinion) for quality trashing talking. It’s clearly a gaming headset leaning towards the gamer rather than the mic-user. As a nice gaming headset, it's nice, but the mic is just murdered by everything else available.
Corsair Pro RGB:
Which one of these mics should you use? That depends on what you’re looking to do.
USB PODCAST SOLO VS GROUP
For podcasts, it depends how many people you’re looking to record. If you’re bringing on two or more guests, you’ll want a mic with an omnidirectional polar pattern that’s able to capture multiple voices without having to buy multiple mics. The $249 Seiren Pro, Blue Yeti and Blue Yeti Pro, and Snowball all fit the bill. All of these mics sounded similar to one another, accurately conveying the highs and lows of the human voice, with the Yeti Pro and Seiren Pro essentially neck and neck, and the Snowball trailing, as it sounded significantly thinner.
If you’re primarily recording just one guest, you’ll want a mic with a bi-directional polar pattern, which is designed to record two people sitting across from one another. The Seiren Pro, Yeti and Yeti Pro have both of those polar patterns.
If you’re recording by yourself - you’ll have a lot more flexibility. The human voices has a much smaller frequency range than instruments, so most mics will sound good and replicate your natural speaking voice.
The Audio Technica AT2020USB at $149 is a giant killer in terms of solo sound quality. The dynamic $79 Audio Technica AT2005 is also a budget beast and better than every other mic here for noisy environments (it also includes a mute switch). Stepping it up to the $199 Neat BumbleBee gets you a slightly different sound, but with some audio features that are worth the price compared to the Audio Technica AT2020USB.
Finally, the best quality on the go is possibly the Blue Raspberry, which is perfect for the mobile podcaster hopping from location to location but also wants to get great sound at home.
PRO VOCAL RECORDING
The Neat King Bee excels at what it’s designed to do, and dominates the competition here, sounding absolutely incredible no matter what you throw at it. But it is XLR, so you need to have a separate XLR to USB adapter.
The Yeti Pro is not too far behind it, with its gain knob and 24 bit depth recording. I also quite liked the AT2005, as when it was put in an isolated environment, sounded just as good for significantly less money. Though if you go with the 2005, you might want to pick up a less flimsy stand than the one included in the box. However, if you’re serious about recording, you might want to check out an XLR large diaphragm condenser mic – an XLR setup will be more costly, but it might be worth the extra dough if you’re obsessed with authentically capturing every single sonic frequency.
An XLR setup is also far easier to upgrade down the line as your recording needs grow.
If you’re recording instruments and looking for a music-tuned sound, the King Bee or the Bumblebee are the clear picks, depending on your budget. The AT 2005 is also worth mentioning if you don’t have a dedicated home studio – it hardly registered any background noise in our tests.
But which one of these mics sounded the best overall? It’s hard to say. All these mics sound good, but I have to give the edge to the King Bee, and its little brother, the Bumblebee. Both those mics sound like “broadcast-quality” style microphones that you can use in a professional setting. However, the Yeti Pro is very close, with a bright treble and nice, round, fat bass. It also handles distance the best out of all the mics, picking up minimal background noise. I also want to mention the Raspberry, as it sounded essentially just as good as the regular Yeti in a much smaller package.
A question people often ask is if XLR mics sound better than USB mics. We tested the mics capable of both XLR and USB and found minimal difference. The AT 2005 sounded slightly brighter via USB, and flatter and more natural through XLR. We also tested the XLR-capable mics with a dedicated XLR mic to see how they compared. The sound quality was essentially indistinguishable – some slightly more powerful bass frequencies were heard on our sample XLR mic, but that probably has more to do with the mic itself than the XLR connection.
Overall, we slightly preferred the sound quality of XLR mics, but you’ll still be happy if you connect through USB.
Overall, the Neat King Bee with XLR and the Yeti Pro are the kings of the hill. The Yeti’s top-notch recording quality, multiple polar patterns and inputs, and rock solid construction make it the best USB microphone in the widest variety of situations. If you don’t really care about multiple polar patterns and just want an excellent-sounding USB, mic, pick up the Bumblebee. If you’re going XLR, you just can’t beat the King Bee when it comes to quality, construction, and overall depth of sound.
My ears also liked the sound of the Audio Technica AT2020 USB+ -– though you’re sacrificing some features and bit depth, you can almost the same level of sound quality for significantly less money. We'd love to see an even higher-end version from Audio Technica to test out.
If you’re partial to Razer or plan on recording lots of instruments that span a wide variety of frequencies, you’ll be happy with the Seiren Pro. However, if you’re looking for portability and need a mic for your iPhone or iPad, the Blue Raspberry is a no-brainer. If you’re on a budget, or only need your mic to record one audio source at a time, the AT 2005 is the clear pick.
Second Opinion: Leo Parrill
Hi, you might recognize my voice from the samples you just listened to, or a bunch of the videos we’ve been producing. Or maybe you can’t, because you’re reading this and not listening to me talk.
Anyway, I do a lot of the voice over around here, in addition to plenty of gaming, so I’ve had the chance to use all of these mics and then some.
The truth is, you can’t go wrong with any of these, it’s all about what you’re going to use them for.
I actually use the Corsair Void Pro headset at my desk, but mostly for music and the occasional CS:GO match when no one is looking. I like that it’s wireless, and since the mic isn’t a priority the vast majority of the time, it more than gets the job done. It’s great for gaming, but I would never use it for anything that required vocal fidelity.
We often use the Razer Seiren for recording groups, like during video game tournaments. The Seiren seems to be the best at picking up multiple sources clearly and accurately. Not to mention it looks badass.
But at the end of the day, the mic I use to record VO for Unlocked and for personal projects is the Neat King Bee. I’m not sold on the visual design, (I don’t like yellow), and the bee aesthetic is strange, but I don’t care about any of that when it sounds this good. It may not be the fanciest mic out there, but its relatively compact size, included shock mount, and all around excellent sound make it my go to for recording.
Third Opinion: Josh Ray
After testing the mics, I think the Neat BumbleBee and Beecaster have taken the Blue formula to the next step. The Blue Yeti suffers from some microphonics, meaning it picks up sound from your desk or attached cables. The Neat mics are just a bit more refined in every way. The downside is looks -- Blue looks retro-fab, while Neat doesn't quite match with any modern desk setup. Maybe just go all white?
Also, the Audio Technica mics are no joke -- their pro roots really shine in pure quality of sound, though not the various patterns offered by Blue or Neat. I think the lack of style like Blue hurts their adoption. After all, there isn't much visual difference between a $150 Audio Technica 2020 mic and a $15 pretender.
My recommendation: really consider if you will ever use the multiple patterns of a Blue Yeti like omni or bi-directional. My guess is the vast majority of owners simply use normal cardioid aka solo mode. If you are like most people, for the same price as a Yeti there are better solo mics, including others from Blue's own portfolio.
That said, any real mic is worth the coin, even for gaming. While some mech keyboard noise will come through, mics like the Audio Technical 2005 or Neat BumbleBee offer insanely superior sound over any gaming headset on the market.