USB Mics

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The top YouTubers may have vastly different content, but they have two things in common.

They all look and sound good.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean they have professional-level production. Rather, their video production amplifies their message rather than distracting from it.

When it comes to audio, your voice doesn’t need to have polished sound like you’re a guest on The Howard Stern Show. But it does need to be clear and intelligible to your audience.

When you consider the narrow frequency range and low output of speakers on phones and laptops, it becomes apparent that you need to ensure your audio is translating across all devices.

In most cases you’ve got just several second to grab people’s attention. And if your audio level is too low, is distorted, or is flat and muffled-sounding, there’s a good chance you’ll lose people that would have otherwise been interested.

Gear lust is one of the most common reasons for procrastination among recording musicians.

“I really need to work on my song. But I want to get high-end mic XYZ first, so it sounds amazing. And I can’t afford it just yet.”

Did that sound familiar?

Sure, many of your music heroes recorded at lavish studios equipped with only the finest gear. And top producers can sometimes pontificate about how a rare vintage microphone or wildly expensive condenser mic from a boutique maker was essential to the perfect vocal take.

However most of them didn’t start out that way.

You may have read about how ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ by Eurythmics was recorded on a TEAC Portastudio in a hotel room. Annie Lennox’s famous lead vocal was captured with a humble Beyer stick microphone typically reserved for hi-hat. The track reached #3 in the UK charts in 1983, and the group’s career shot up like a rocket. But it was primarily talent, arrangement, production skill, and a great song that got them there.

Operation Rising Star winner Melissa Gomez

Traditionally, one of the most important purchases home-recording singers and songwriters made was an audio interface.

Modern music has changed, with much of the hooks and musical phrases now produced by electronic instruments in-the-box. A growing segment relies on libraries and loops; so the ability to record real instruments isn’t a necessity to them. Dedicated singers and rappers who collaborate with other musicians or a producer don’t necessarily need an interface either.

It’s substantially cheaper to merge the mic with USB technology rather than take the established professional route of plugging an XLR mic into an audio interface. It’s also easier to setup and less can go wrong with technical aspect as you won’t have to worry about channel selection, engaging phantom power, etc.

USB mics are thought of as prosumer products, so truly high-end USB mics aren’t here, at least yet. The value packed into USB mics by Blue, Audio-Technica and others is astounding. This makes USB mics the perfect choice for an aspiring singer looking to get his or her feet wet.

The original Snowball is one of the key microphones that helps facilitate the podcasting and YouTube revolution.

Blue managed to set its performance high enough to satisfy the streaming-obsessed crowd, while keeping the price low. The combination of value that wasn’t possible just five years prior and really decent sound won over startup podcasters and aspiring YouTubers alike. They didn’t want one of those dirt-cheap desktop “computer mics” we’ve grown to hate, and couldn’t justify getting a pricey “radio mic” like the Shure SM7B or Electro-Voice RE20 either. The Snowball was and still is the goldilocks mic for a ton of content creators: just right.

Now Blue recognized the Snowball had professional features that the average solo podcaster, YouTuber or gamer would never use. Namely the Snowball has a three-way switch that allows you to do omnidirectional recording (picks up all the sound in the room), cardioid (sound from in front of the mic), and can give you a -10db pad (for recording loud sounds like drums).

Snowball iCE was born by removing omnidirectional capability as well as the -10db pad. These features were wasted for most applications outside of music recording and group podcasting. And by getting to the heart of what makes the Snowball great with the iCE, Blue was able to reduce the price around $20. Nothing huge granted, but even $20 is too much to spend on features you don’t need.

IK-Multimedia-Rig-Mic-StudioBest known for excellent music production software like Amplitube and SampleTank, IK Multimedia has been building their line-up of affordable audio hardware similar to Apogee’s entry-level offerings.

Like the Apogee MiC 96k, iRig Mic Studio may be small in stature but it’s a serious tool aimed at musicians on the go and podcasters.

It can’t reach sample rates of 96kHz like the Apogee, however it’s priced lower and can record 24-bit up to 48kHz. Many professional recording studios don’t use sample rates any higher than 48kHz, so this is plenty for the budding musician or podcaster recording at home. At one time 24-bit was only available in the priciest USB mics to it’s encouraging to see technology advanced to the point IK Multimedia can offer it at such a low price point.

IK Multimedia is emphasing it’s 133dB SPL rating. This means you can record anything from a whispering voice to cranked guitar amps and snare drums.

Frequency response is rated at 20Hz to 20kHz. Sound quality is good with clear slightly exaggerated top-end, which makes it good for recording vocals.

The mic’s design is simple and sleek. On the front there are two knobs: one for recording gain and the other for headphone monitoring volume. There is a 3.5mm/1/8” jack on the back for connecting headphones.