If you have any experience with audio recording, you’ve probably heard someone say that USB mics are not very good.
Given their lower price-point, it’s perhaps tempting to take the risk, but although USB mics are easy to use and carry, that convenience may interfere with the sound quality of your recordings.
But are USB mics bad? Yes, most USB mics are bad, except for some higher-end USB mics.
Here are 7 reasons why USB mics are considered to be of bad quality:
- You can’t improve the interface.
- USB mic software and drivers can be glitchy.
- USB mics require a shorter cable length.
- USB mics are more likely to hum.
- USB mics have higher latency.
- You can only use one USB microphone at a time.
- USB mics have cheaper parts.
Let’s break these reasons down and get to the facts. In this article, I’ll help you understand the drawbacks of using USB microphones so you can understand why so many people dislike them.
You Can’t Improve the Interface
USB mics come with a built-in interface, allowing you to purchase a mic and an interface in a tiny, affordable device. However, with this handy all-in-one setup, there are some drawbacks.
Although a USB mic can be more convenient and cheaper than purchasing an XLR mic, you won’t be able to upgrade or replace parts.
In addition, you can’t plug a USB mic into an audio interface. You can only secure it directly into your computer, which can be limiting if you want to record high-quality sound.
So, when it comes to USB mics, you won’t be able to improve your recording setup, and you won’t ever be able to upgrade unless you buy another mic.
On the other hand, XLR microphones plug into an interface or mixer before you record the sound. Plus, you can always upgrade your XLR setup and get a better interface or mixer if you feel you need it.
This XLR Condenser Microphone (from Amazon.com) is very reasonably priced. In fact, it’s not that much more expensive than some USB microphones, and it’s cheaper than a lot of higher-end models. In addition, it features a low-noise FET preamplifier and an upgraded boom to allow for more movement.
- External Power Source Required: Note: Condenser microphones have active electronics that need an external power source. In order to function properly, you need to connect the TC20 to 48V phantom power, audio interface, mixer, or preamp. Designed for studio recording, home studio, podcasting, voice-over, streaming, YouTube video production, etc.
- Professional Sound: The upgraded mic capsule with low-noise FET preamplifier, high SPL handling, and wide dynamic range provides smooth, high-end clarity, warm and natural sound.
- Cardioid Pattern: TC20 adopts a cardioid polar pattern with excellent off-axis sound suppression capabilities to reduce the sound pickup from the side and rear and better eliminate background noise. Ideal for recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
Last update on 2022-11-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Also, if anything breaks with this kind of microphone, you can replace the damaged component. However, if something in your USB mic breaks, you will have to replace the entire microphone.
USB Mic Software and Drivers Can Be Glitchy
If you are ready to record, dealing with technical issues can be frustrating. That’s why it’s important to note that you are more likely to experience software problems with a USB mic.
Sometimes, computers have trouble identifying USB mics when you plug them in. These technical problems are often caused by a glitch in the mic’s drivers or a new software update on your computer.
Usually, you can fix the problem by restarting your computer or installing a new driver for your mic.
Unfortunately, software glitches will interfere with your mic’s sound quality.
Incompatibilities with your operating system and the microphones drivers can produce stuttering, buzzing, or skipping sounds in your audio. With enough troubleshooting, this issue is fixable, but if you want to avoid problems like these in the first place, you might want to choose an XLR mic.
However, regardless of the cause, USB mics are much more prone to software problems than XLR mics, especially considering that XLR mics don’t need to use your computer’s software to work.
USB Mics Require a Shorter Cable Length
When a microphone picks up audio, it will run the sound wavelengths through a cable. In the case of USB mics, this will be a USB analog-to-digital cable.
Microphones need enough power to push the audio wavelengths through the cable and into your computer without losing sound quality. Sadly, most USB microphones can only be used with a short cord since they don’t have enough power to push sound through a long line.
They have the best sound quality when you use a cable 3 meters (9.8 ft) long or shorter, like this NewBEP 3 Pin USB Microphone Cable from Amazon.com. It’s compatible with Apple and Windows machines as well as the PS2, PS3, Wii, and XBOX.
- Need Independent Sound Card to support Condenser mics! This USB2.0 microphone link cable enables you recording high quality digital music. this cable can be as practical as plugging in and recording using a microphone, guitar,or any other instrument or device that has a male XLR output
- Support plug and play, can be used to all computers. Compatible with Mac OS X, Windows 98SE/2000/XP/Vista/Windows7.Windows 8, also can compatible with PS2/PS3/WII/XBOX
- Embedded A/D convert with audio singnal boost Power supply via USB interface, LED indicator designed, High quality and professional shielded cable, Cannon XLR- Female plug 16bit 48/44.1 kHz digital sound input
Last update on 2022-11-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If you get a cord longer than 3 meters, you might experience bad sound quality, humming, static interference, or volume loss.
So, if you are recording on stage or in a studio, you probably shouldn’t use a USB mic since you will have to stay close to your computer to use it.
USB Mics Are More Likely To Hum
USB mics don’t have noticeably lousy sound quality, but they are more likely to pick up on humming or buzzing sounds from your computer or other electrical equipment nearby.
That’s because, as I mentioned, USB mics have to be close to your computer to work. So when your computer makes sounds, the microphone will pick up on them and record them along with your audio.
The most common cause of humming and buzzing in USB mics is your computer’s fan, which can create a droning sound in the background of whatever audio you are recording.
This means that if you want the purest sound quality, you might want to avoid USB mics.
USB Mics Have Higher Latency
USB microphones send analog soundwaves to your computer through the USB cable. Then, your computer converts these analog soundwaves to a digital format.
This process can take up to a second or more, which often means that USB microphones have noticeable latency. Latency is the amount of time it takes for a sound to playback after you speak, play music, or sing into the microphone.
In some cases, such as podcasting or recording voiceovers, the latency that your USB mic causes won’t make a difference in your recording.
However, if you’re trying to get the timing right for a song or video clip, you will have to do more editing to ensure that your sound syncs with your music or video.
You Can Only Use One USB Microphone at a Time
When you go with a USB microphone, you will only be able to plug one mic onto one computer at a time. That means that if you want to record multiple instruments or sounds from different rooms, you will have to have two or more computers and two or more USB microphones.
However, you can use many XLR mics at a time since they don’t plug into your computer. So, if you need to use many microphones simultaneously, you should go with an XLR microphone.
USB Mics Have Cheaper Parts
There’s a reason why USB mics are usually significantly cheaper than XLR mics.
USB microphones are made of cheaper parts, meaning the sound quality will never be as good as an XLR microphone.
These differences may seem slight to the untrained ear, but they can make a big difference in your audio’s overall quality.
So, essentially, you get what you pay for when it comes to quality. That’s why most people only recommend USB mics for hobbyists and amateurs, but you’ll never see them in a professional recording studio.
The Bottom Line
USB mics aren’t ever as high quality as XLR microphones, and they aren’t as customizable either. They are also more likely to pick up on static or glitch with your computer, making it more challenging to get high-quality sound from them.
Still, there’s something to be said for how convenient and portable USB mics are, which makes them excellent for beginners and hobbyists.
- Audio Technica: Audio Solutions Question of the Week: I’m Hearing a Delay With My USB Audio Device, Is This Normal?
- Wiki Audio: Do I Need an Audio interface With a USB Mic?
- Podcast.co: USB vs. XLR Microphones: Death Battle.
- Miracle Tutorials: How To Reduce Static In My Audio?
- Homestead on the Range: Pros and Cons of USB Microphones for Home Recording.
- Future producers: Why Aren’t USB Mics Any Good??