X Connector, Locking Connector, and Rubber Boot mics, or XLR mics, have become a mainstay in the recording world. For streamers, the number and types of mics are staggering, and finding the right tool for the job can quickly become an overwhelming task.
Here’s a list of the best XLR mics for streaming and recording different kinds of content on various budgets. Before moving forward, let’s break down what an XLR mic actually is. A microphone that only connects through a USB port generally has preamps and analog-to-digital converters (ADC) in them to begin with. An XLR mic requires its user to have those components on hand as separate products to ensure a computer can take in the audio properly.
That might sound intimidating, but it’s actually very simple: A preamp takes an audio signal and boosts it. The reason for this is simply for more audio gain, which leads to more textured audio. If you’re looking into an XLR mic, for any reason, prioritizing a good preamp will get you the best quality after choosing a solid microphone. The ADC takes the audio and converts it into something a computer can read. The difference between a high-end converter and a low-end converter isn’t going to be noticeable in 99-percent of all situations, so don’t fret over trying to find the best one on the market if you’re a beginner.
And with that as preamble, here are the mics.
Best budget XLR mics
The Q2U isn’t recommended to beginners just because of its decent audio quality but also because it combines XLR and USB functionality for ease of use.
The mic features a sampling rate of 48kHz, which is more than enough for anyone who isn’t trying to snatch studio-grade quality recordings. And the dynamic design means that the mic works when recording one person, but also multiple. Its cardioid polar pattern makes it ideal for blocking out unwanted background noise.
In short, this mic is the ultimate tool for the beginner. If you don’t want to grab your own preamp and converter, this mic comes with those tools built-in, thanks to the USB functionality. It’s quick to set up, easy to use, versatile, and cheap with a price tag of under $100.
This mic’s Amazon listing also comes with a starter package that includes a mic clip, desktop stand, and windscreen, which is likely the perfect addition for someone just starting out in the streaming world.
Similar to the Q2U, the ATR2100x comes with both XLR and USB functionality. The difference between the two is that the ATR can handle a studio-quality sampling rate of up to 192kHz for a slightly steeper price. To make the most of that kind of quality, you’ll need to pick up your own preamp and converter, but the USB option is still there for those who want it.
Just like the Q2U, this mic is dynamic and features a cardioid polar pattern. It will work perfectly fine when recording a single person or multiple people during a podcast and co-op stream.
Best mid-range XLR mics
As the unofficial non-USB variant of the ATR2100x, this is the first pure XLR mic on the list and one of the most popular among professional sound engineers. This mic has a solid price-to-performance ratio and condenser design.
This condenser mic contrasts the dynamic mics in that it’s built for a one-person recording. The AT2035 is a solid choice for the streamer who wants to upgrade his or her audio quality through a pure XLR setup.
The AT2035’s Amazon listing comes with a pop filter, 10-foot XLR cable, and a shock mount at around $150 for convenience’s sake. This is a great choice for the streamer who’s looking to transition to a pure XLR setup. The benefits being that you can reliably record with multiple mics and that the audio quality will increase dramatically.
For this mic, phantom power is going to be required. Phantom power is generally marked on a mixer or preamp as “48v” and allows certain condenser XLR mics to function properly. Make sure you have the proper tools to enable this mic before purchasing.
For those who want studio-quality recordings but don’t want to deal with the hassle of XLR setups, the Yeti Pro is the ideal choice. This mic employs the USB/XLR dual functionality while boasting an internal 192kHz sample rate on top of its condenser design for top-of-the-line USB recording quality.
The main variable to consider is the price tag. Compared to the AT2035, the Yeti Pro sits at about $250, which is a full $100 increase. If you are planning on using an XLR setup exclusively, it might be wise to save that money and go for the AT2035 instead.
If the USB setup is something you’ll use often, then get the most bang out of your buck and grab the Pro since you’ll likely be saving money by avoiding a purchase of an external preamp and converter. Just remember that your streaming versatility and audio quality are somewhat capped if you commit to the USB.
Best high-end XLR mics
Phantom power not required. The SM7B is an iconic tool for streamers and podcasters. The audio quality is unmatched at a price of around $400. This mic requires a pure XLR setup, with no room for USB functionality.
As the name suggests, this mic is dynamic and functions well in a setting where voices are the only noise that needs to be picked up. To get its full effect, the mic requires a high-quality preamp to boost its gain; otherwise, it’s just wasted potential. If you want a mic that will last you years to come and give your stream, podcast, or videos top-tier audio quality, look no further than the SM7B.
Fun fact: this is the mic used by Michael Jackson and Qunicy Jones’ team to record Thriller.
Yes, the U 87‘s quality is reflected in its $3000 plus price tag. Yes, it’s objectively better than any other mic in this list if you know how to use it. Yes, it does come in that amazing wooden box. No, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Ignoring the fact that any of the mics previously mentioned will obtain quality audio for streaming purposes, most users may not have the wherewithal to make the most out of this mic. It’s worth considering your own needs and mic know-how before committing to this behemoth of a purchase. But the option is there for the rare customer who can actually make use of it.
The only real reason that it’s in this list, aside from the fact that it is one of the best high-quality XLR mics, is to show just how high the bar can go when chasing high-end audio quality.
As far as XLR mics go, these offer versatility, ease of use for beginners, and quality for those who do a little research into preamps and ADCs. Before buying, be sure to always check for phantom power requirements, external power sources, and recommended external tools. Happy streaming.
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