XLR vs USB Microphones: What Should You Pick? 2021 Comparison & Guide

If you need a microphone for your studio but you’re not sure which one to get, you have two great choices: an XLR or a USB.

But what if you’re a beginner who’s not sure which one to pick?

Then this is your must-read guide on how to choose the best microphone – it’s better to consider both microphones’ pros and cons before you jump into a decision! 

Which microphone offers better sound quality?

This is the bottom line of what you want to achieve with your microphone, but both USB and XLR achieve excellent sound. The main difference between these two microphones is their connections. 

So, with that in mind, to help you find the best one for you, let’s check out XLR vs USB microphones. We’ll start by looking at how to define both in greater detail. 

What Are XLR Microphones? 

xlr mic connection

XLR microphones are known as the gold standard when it comes to the audio industry. They are generally used in a variety of ways, such as when it comes to recording podcasts, radio shows, and rock music.

How these microphones work is that they collect an analogue signal with the use of three-pronged connectors. Since they’ve become such a must-have, it’s worth noting that most professional audio recording equipment is designed to work with XLR microphones. This makes XLR microphones highly versatile.

While buying a microphone for home recording, there are three primary types to consider. XLR microphones fall into each of the following three groups.

  1. Dynamic: Musicians and artists utilize dynamic microphones. Audio engineers like it at high levels because it’s ideal for voice fluctuations.
  2. Condenser: These microphones offer the most versatility and may be extremely sensitive to any sound. Although they’re not suitable for live performances, they’re perfect for recording.
  3. Ribbon Microphones: Old school, but not outdated, studio engineers that appreciate a sensitive sound palette use modern ribbon microphone models.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, so unlike the more general USB, the XLR may be adjusted to your specific needs, sound, and recording goals at home.

Even sound experts refer to XLR cables as a “phantom power” because of their flexibility and agility. This implies that XLR cables enable mixing boards to provide electricity to microphones in a way that no other cable can.

What’s A USB Microphone?

USB mic

A USB microphone can be plugged into a USB port on your computer. Its plug-and-play feature makes it very convenient and user-friendly. It also means that you don’t have to worry about buying extra audio gear in order to record audio files, such as if you’re hosting a podcast. 

A USB port is found on almost every computer. USB ports come in three different versions: 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1, with data transfer rates being the fastest in later versions. All of these connections are USB Type A.

Although USB Type C is a novel interface, most microphones on the market only have a USB Type A connection. Any of the three versions of the USB port will suffice for the data transmission requirements of a podcasting microphone.

This is why USB microphones are usually recommended for audio-recording beginners who don’t know a lot about microphones or don’t have a professional audio recording setup at home.

Okay, But What Are Their Drawbacks? 

While both XLR and USB microphones have their benefits, as we’ve seen above, it’s good to be aware of their potential drawbacks so that you can choose the best one for you. 

When it comes to USB microphones, one of the things that could be an obstacle for you is that it’s difficult to record several USB microphones at once. This is as a result of how computers will battle to detect which microphone is which, which means that your audio won’t be recorded with high quality. To fix this problem, you’ll have to purchase software to enable your computer to differentiate between the two microphones. 

XLR microphones are a lot more versatile than USB microphones because any equipment you have that offers an XLR connection can be used in your home recording studio setup. That said, XLR microphones do have some drawbacks.

One of the biggest ones to consider is that you can’t use an XLR microphone on its own. Since this microphone works via an XLR cable, you’ll have to use an audio interface in order to plug it into your computer. 

How to Choose Between a USB or XLR Microphone

Voice Quality 

While both USB and XLR mics have the same technology, XLR is more capable of transmitting high-quality audio signals. The audio from XLR microphones is crisper and has greater depth, which is sometimes lost when using USB microphones. 

This gives you greater flexibility when editing the audio, which is why professional recordings use XLR. Even if you’re recording a voiceover for a personal project, the advantages of higher-quality audio will be appreciated.

Convenience 

It takes some effort to get an XLR microphone up and running. Using an audio interface adds complexity to your setup, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when attempting to improve your audio. USB microphones are unbeatable in terms of convenience. 

Although some USB mics come with software that allows you to modify the sounds, you may not need them. A USB microphone can be set up in a matter of minutes, which is a significant advantage when comparing the two connections. 

There’s no reason to go for an XLR if you don’t require the higher-quality audio that it delivers.

Pricing 

Depending on what you’re purchasing, USB and XLR mics may cost a lot of money. For around $30-$50, you can purchase a decent USB microphone. A $100 microphone, on the other hand, can give a great combination of audio quality and functionality if you want to move up the ranks. 

However, the improvements in sound quality will be minor. Some more expensive microphones may include additional capabilities. The Elgato Wave 3 is an excellent example — a small $160 microphone with an adjustable dial and excellent audio mixing for live streams.

Which One Should You Choose?

usb and xlr microphones

While both XLR and USB microphones have their benefits and drawbacks, you should really consider what you need them for in order to make the best choice. 

Are you going to be recording audio, such as in a podcast, directly onto your computer program? Are you going to be doing one-on-one interviews, such as via video chat? Do you want to avoid spending too much money on a mic? If these sorts of questions apply to you, then the convenience of a USB microphone is worth considering.

On the other hand, do you want to record lots of people at the same time?

Then, an XLR microphone is the smarter choice. Similarly, when you want to record vocals in your studio, an XLR microphone is a good choice because you can find XLR cables that come in longer lengths to enable you to have more flexibility in your studio.

If you want a more technical, professional setup in your home studio, the XLR microphone is your best bet – but it does come with a higher price tag than what you’ll find on USB microphones, which is what makes it more appropriate for professional uses.

Don’t Forget!

One of the most important things to consider when deciding between XLR and USB microphones is if you want to upgrade your recording setup in the future. If so, it’s a better idea to start out with an XLR microphone.

If you start out with a USB mic, you’ll need to buy extra gear in future, such as an audio interface. On the other hand, if you start with an XLR mic, you’ll already have an audio interface in order for it to work so it’ll save you money in the long run. 

Related Questions 

What is an audio interface?

audio interface brands

While it sounds complicated, an audio interface is simply a box that contains inputs so that you can plug multiple mics. It also has an output that plugs into the USB port of your computer.

Do XLR cables handle noise better? 

XLR cables remove interference that’s picked up by the cable itself, whereas USB cables don’t have that feature, which means that XLR cables have better noise-reducing properties.

Conclusion 

If you need to record audio, you’re going to have to take some time to think about the microphone you’ll use.

Should you opt for XLR or USB microphones? In this short guide, we’ve featured the pros and cons of each, as well as helped you to make the best choice. 

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