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USB Microphone Buying Guide

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How to Choose a USB Microphone

In the audio world, everything starts with the microphone. But when you’re on the go, traditional microphones and the other gear required to use them makes mobile production challenging. But that’s where a USB mic comes in handy. A single cable is all that’s needed to turn your laptop or desktop computer into a full-blown recording studio. Sweetwater’s USB Microphone Buying Guide is here to help you understand more about this technology so you can make a smart purchase. And as always, Sweetwater’s mic experts can help you choose. Call (800) 222-4700!

What Is a USB Mic?
What Applications Can Benefit from a USB Mic?
What Should I Expect from a USB Mic?
Do I Need Phantom Power for a USB Condenser Mic?
What to Look For…


What Is a USB Mic?

A USB mic contains all the elements of a traditional microphone: capsule, diaphragm, etc. Where it differs from other microphones is its inclusion of two additional circuits: an onboard preamp and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter. The preamp makes it unnecessary for the USB mic to be connected to a mixer or external mic preamp. The A/D converter changes the mic’s output from analog (voltage) to digital (data), so it can be plugged directly into a computer and read by recording software. That makes mobile digital recording as easy as plugging in the mic, launching your DAW software, and hitting record.


What Applications Can Benefit from a USB Mic?

Podcasts
If you’re thinking about communicating your ideas and messages through podcasts, you want to devote most of your energy on the content of your presentation rather than the recording setup. The convenient plug-and-play nature of USB microphones makes them the perfect candidates for podcasters. Just plug one into your laptop or computer, and you’re ready to record your podcasts to share them with the world.

Interviews
Bringing several pieces of gear with mountains of cables to an interview can be a bit… awkward. Using a simple USB mic plugged into your laptop computer can eliminate these issues so you can more spend time focused on the information gathered in your interview.

Quick reference recording
Whether you’re a musician traveling on the road or you just need to lay down a scratch track for your guitarist, you need a quick and painless method to record your ideas. USB mics provide a way for you to record a track to your DAW in a matter of minutes.

Voiceovers
Sound quality is important in voiceover work, but many voiceover artists aren’t recording engineers. USB mics let anyone have access to exceptional sound quality, with a single cable connecting you to your recording software. No external gear or expertise required!


What Should I Expect from a USB Mic?

Most USB microphones are condenser mics. Widely known for their applications in recording studios, condenser microphones have expanded their popularity into the USB microphone territory. A condenser microphone utilizes a thin stretched conductive diaphragm held close to a metal disk called a backplate. Functioning as a capacitor when given an electrical charge, this arrangement causes a voltage variance when audio frequencies are picked up. The voltage variation then becomes the signal output of the microphone. This type of circuitry naturally produces a detailed response. This detailed sound of a condenser mic is what you will get from most USB mics, making them good for vocals, acoustic guitars, and various other sound sources.

Shop for Condenser USB Mics »

There are a few dynamic USB mics available that are geared toward vocal applications, but they can also handle instruments well. We should mention as well that there are a few compact adapters that can turn any dynamic mic into a USB mic, so if you already have a favorite dynamic vocal mic, this could be an avenue to explore.

Shop for Dynamic USB Mics »


Do I Need Phantom Power for a USB Condenser Mic?

The short answer is, “No.” Unlike other condenser mics that require a source of electric power to operate (usually 48V), USB condenser mics are different. Requiring only a small dosage of voltage to function, USB condenser mics draw phantom power directly from their single USB connection, minimizing the number of additional cables and connections.


What to Look For…

What is your application?
First and foremost, what instruments/sound sources are you going to be miking most often? Most USB mics are condenser mics, and they’re great for tracking vocals and pianos. For louder sound sources like guitars, basses, and drums, dynamic mics are the ticket.

What is your preference of the recording resolution?
USB mics are characterized by their ability to do analog to digital conversion within the mic. The quality of A/D conversion is categorized by audio bit and sample rate. Like standard CDs, most USB microphones function in 16-bit depth and 44.1 kHz resolution. However many USB mics offer higher resolution.

What is your budget?
Microphones fall into many different price points, and the number and quality of mics is determined largely by the budget you’re working within. Luckily, most USB mics are relatively inexpensive and very durable, providing great bang for the buck.

Hopefully this buying guide presented some insight into USB mics. Don’t forget that your Sweetwater Sales Engineer is one of your best resources when you’re mic-shopping. Give us a call at (800) 222-4700!

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