USB vs. XLR microphone: Which one should you buy?

Find out which mic type works best for you.

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez via Unsplash

Choosing a microphone can be tough, especially with so many options out there to choose from. That decision becomes even more difficult when the options divide into two main types: USB or XLR.

Deciding whether a USB or XLR mic is best for you all comes down to three factors. First, what exactly are you planning to use this mic for? Second, do you need to customize the microphone’s settings specifically, or would you prefer something that is plug-and-play? Finally, budget is an important factor to take into account since XLR microphones require additional hardware to connect to your computer.

What’s the difference between USB and XLR mics?

Before we dive any deeper, it’s important to go over the differences between these two types of microphones. For the most part, USB and XLR mics are pretty much the same, aside from the connectors they use. XLR mics are the industry standard for bands and streamers due to the customization that comes with using a sound mixer. They won’t connect directly to your computer without additional hardware, though, which is why they are usually considered more advanced microphones than standard USB options.

Photo by Blue Microphones

On the other hand, using a USB microphone is much easier since all you have to do is plug the microphone into your computer, and you’re good to go after tweaking the settings in your computer’s audio options. This simplicity is part of why USB mics are popular with streamers and content creators who are just getting started. They don’t require the additional cost that comes with buying the equipment needed to run an XLR setup.

You can find USB or XLR microphones to fit all kinds of budgets. Price isn’t necessarily the deciding factor in whether a mic is good or not, so you should always check out reviews of the ones you’re looking into before purchasing one that fits your budget. If buying an XLR mic, remember to budget for the cost of a mixer or interface like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.

Should you buy a USB or XLR microphone?

Determining which mic best fits your needs means identifying those needs. If you’re a new streamer or content creator, starting out with a USB mic is a simple way to improve your audio without spending a lot of money or going through a complex setup. If you’re just looking to play games with friends and have clear audio, a USB mic is a great choice for that too. There are plenty of great USB mics out there, many of which can be purchased for under $150.

If you want to have more control over the sound that you’re capturing, then being able to customize the EQ and levels on a mixer or interface will prove useful. In that case, you should go with an XLR microphone. There are plenty of great options for podcasters, streamers, and other types of content creators, though you can expect to pay more than the price of a typical USB mic if you go with some of the more popular options that streamers and creators use.

Photo by Blake Connally via Unsplash

Space is also an important factor that should be considered when determining which mic best fits your needs. Those with cluttered or small workspaces will find that the single cable USB mics require is much easier to manage than the multiple cables and physical interfaces that come with having an XLR setup. Some mixers have gotten smaller in recent years, but they still require multiple cables to run from your mic to the interface and then to your PC, which can clutter up your desk space if you aren’t careful.

Ultimately, whether you choose a USB or XLR mic should be determined by whether or not that mic will fit your needs. Do you have space for all the cables and equipment? Does it fit your budget? Are you looking for something customizable or something you can simply plug into your computer? Take all of this into account when deciding which microphone you need.