If you work in content creation, it can mean almost anything: podcasting, music production, video streaming, teaching online courses, or leading group meetings. Regardless of what medium you’re working in, odds are you need a quality microphone.
If you are new to audio equipment it can be hard to know what you’re looking for. Between condenser or dynamic mics, USB or XLR connections, what you need equipment for will be the main decider.
A USB microphone is a great option for a beginner, as most USB mics are easy to use and connect. Whereas, an XLR microphone will require you to use an audio interface to record with.
For this list we’ve found five great microphones, all of which are condenser mics, but three are USB mics and two utilize XLR connectors.
If you stick around after the list, we’ll go into some more specific details about the benefits of each kind of microphone, so that you can make the best decision when you’re ready to buy.
The Blue Yeti is our top-of-the-line USB condenser microphone pick, and you’ll be hard up to find a better USB mic. Every other microphone on this list has a cardioid polar pattern, but the Yeti can be set to a few patterns, so you can use it for almost any recording situation.
This mic also has its own gain control so you can adjust your audio level before it hits your computer, and with a zero latency headphone output, you can monitor yourself right from the microphone.
This XLR option from Marantz is an easily portable microphone that offers studio-grade recording. This is a great investment for those looking to up that vocal recording, whether it’s for podcasting, streaming, or vlogging.
This mic comes with a few accessories to get you going right out of the box; a shock-mount, mini tripod and XLR cable. This microphone aims to capture every sound in full fidelity while minimizing its own noise.
The design is iconic, and the quality is impressive for such an inexpensive option. This microphone is very simple to use, just plug it in and you’re pretty much good to go.
If you’re just looking to sound clearer on video conferences, or trying to start a podcast, it’s beautifully suited to record voices with great clarity. It’s stable on the built-in tripod, and has the ability to tilt up so that you don’t have to crane your neck to speak into it clearly.
This mic has a similar range and sensitivity to the Marantz, but at this price point you also get a wealth of accessories. Since this is an XLR mic, you do need a powered audio interface to use it.
The durable scissor arm can get your mic positioned however you need, and the shock mount will help keep your audio clean. Using the included pop filter or windscreen should also help you adapt to most recording situations.
If you are looking for a more traditional alternative for a low-cost USB mic, Fifine is a good option without compromising the quality of your recordings. It’s designed to work easily with Mac and PC operating systems; all you have to do is you can simply plug in and start recording right away.
This mic comes with a small tripod base, but it also comes with a standard mic mount so you can put it on almost any boom arm.
A condenser microphone needs to be powered to work, and so the main difference between the two is where they get their Phantom Power. A USB microphone is designed to take Phantom Power through the USB (and send your audio back), whereas an XLR will need to be connected to an audio interface that acts as both the power source, and the device through which you send the audio signals back to your computer.
The benefits of a USB microphone is a simple setup that works very well for basic audio recording. This variety is a solid option for streaming, voice recording or a podcast. A USB mic allows you to connect directly to a computer or other device and do any additional audio work with software.
Using an XLR microphone requires an audio interface, but gives you much more control over your audio recording. For example, if you’re recording a podcast with multiple microphones, or you want to record vocals and instruments, you’ll want an XLR mic. Being able to control the audio levels at the audio interface takes away a lot of sound equalizing headaches later on.
Ultimately, choosing between a USB or an XLR microphone really depends on the content you’re creating. As we’ve seen with the Blue Yeti, a USB, while more basic in terms of connection, doesn’t mean that you’re losing quality in performance. XLR simply provides more control over your audio mixing and raw audio input.