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USB vs XLR Microphone: Which is Better?

Who would win in a shootout comparison between XLR vs USB microphones? Find out!

By Laura Shenton | 31/10/2018

I’m sure most audiophiles have already answered this question in their heads but let me stop you there! While a lot of professionals move to XLR microphones and swear by it that they are better quality than USB mics, is that actually true?

Many USB microphones actually use the same condenser element as regular XLR microphones. But, on the other hand, XLR mics have a sense of reliability and quality about them that, for some, does make it difficult to put them on the same plane as USB.

What's the Difference?

Well, the main difference is simply in the connections. With an XLR microphone, it has 3 prongs in its connection. It will need to be connected to an interface and then to your computer. By interface we mean, for example, a mixer, as the XLR connection will not connect directly to your computer.

With a USB microphone, it can connect directly to your computer. You don’t need a mixer or any kind of interface in order to connect it up.

Which Should I Use?

Really the answer to this is personal preference. The USB microphones tend to be used by those looking to start a podcast as a hobby, not a profession. This is because they are easier to set up and quite often they are a lot cheaper than XLR microphones too. They are really good starting ground for a beginner, due to the low cost and the lack of technical knowledge needed.

XLR microphones tend to be a step up from USB’s. Usually people move to an XLR after they grow out of their USB and want to get something more technical with more adjustability and capability. As these microphones have to be connected through the use of a mixer, they tend to be used by those who are considering a more professional setup and approach to podcasting.

XLR Microphones

Here are a few XLR microphones that we suggest for podcasters:

Electrovoice RE20

Used by celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, this microphone has a bass roll off switch and an internal pop filter so that you can adjust how your microphone records audio.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Rode Procaster

The Procaster is the XLR version of the Podcaster, which is USB, and features an internal pop filter to get rid of those peaks.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Shure SM7B

The Shure SM7B is designed to reject electromagnetic hum, and alos has an internal pop filter. Widely recognised as one of the best microphones for podcasting its higher price tag is justified.
(Side note: We also use these in the Podcast.co Studio which you can check out here!)

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

USB Microphones

Here are a few USB microphones that we suggest for podcasters:

Blue Yeti

A popular choice with podcasters, the Blue Yeti is a handy, versatile little USB mic. You can directly control the gain and it has a zero-latency headphone line so you can monitor your audio in real time.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Samson Meteor

A good option for podcasters on the go! The Meteor is compact in design but still manages to deliver good quality audio. It even has its own built in stand.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Rode Podcaster

The USB version of the Procaster. Again, it's from Rode so reliability is no question. A favourite amongst podcasters with a built in shock mount and zero latency headphone line with volume controls built onto the body.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

XLR & USB Microphones

The best of both worlds! These microphones offer both a USB and an XLR connection, so they can adapt as your podcast and its setup grows:

Samson Q2U

Delivering high quality audio anywhere, Samson actually boast the fact that you can connect this mic up to an iPad or iPhone using a lightning to USB adapter. Perfect for travel podcasters, this is a fantastic starter microphone.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Blue Yeti Pro

With four built in polar patterns and a gain control on the body, this mic offers fantastic adaptability for every situation. Another mic that boasts a zero latency headphones input, so you can monitor your audio in real time.

Get it here: Amazon UK or Amazon US

But Which Is Better?

Here are a few Pros and Cons we found during our tests and discussion:

XLR Microphones

Pros

  • XLR mics offer a lot more adaptability and customisation because they have to be routed through an interface.
  • They are often built with durability in mind, so they're more likely to withstand the tests of time.
  • You can often replace individual components without a problem.


Cons

  • Larger investment - you will need an interface and possibly a phantom power source.
  • The lack of transportability due to it being connected to an interface means it's not so great for taking on the road.

USB Microphones

Pros

  • Highly portable so you can record anywhere!
  • No need for routing through a mixer or interface as this is either built in or can be done on your laptop/computer.
  • Relatively low in cost which means it's a great choice for a podcaster on a budget.


Cons

  • Less customisation due to the lack of need for a mixer.
  • If they break, they break - no replacing components here you'd definitely be looking at replacing the whole thing and paying up for a whole new microphone.

Final Verdict

So in conclusion, it really depends on what you’re looking for in a microphone. USB microphones might be lacking some of the quality of XLR microphones, but they’re generally more transportable and a lot cheaper. XLR mics definitely pack more of a punch, but the price tag is higher and you’ll need to invest in other equipment too.

Generally, we’d recommend that eventually, you have one of each. This means you can have your XLR set up as your standard microphone where you do most of your recordings. Then you have the USB for episodes on the road, going to record interviews to reduce the complications of taking your XLR and as an emergency back up should anything mess up with your XLR setup.

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