With every passing year, it gets easier to record professional-quality audio at home. This is partially due to software improvements and partially due to the advancements in recording hardware. One such development is the introduction of USB microphones.
You don’t need an audio interface to start recording anymore. A USB mic is essentially a digital microphone with a tiny one-channel audio interface built-in.
Why Go with a USB Mic?
While it isn’t very useful to recording engineers seeking to record multiple sound sources, a USB mic is indispensable for simple applications. It’s best when used to record artists doing vocals, overdubs, or online broadcasters creating podcasts or audio for their YouTube videos.
Another benefit of USB mics is the fact you can get a quality device for under $150. If you go the traditional route by purchasing an audio interface plus XLR microphone, you’ll need to spend at least $500 for a decent setup.
Granted the best USB microphones can’t match up to high-end offerings in the XLR category. However, if you’re looking for a budget microphone, USB options are well worth considering.
It’s a particularly good fit if you prefer the portability of using a laptop. With a USB mic, you don’t need to mess around with all that extra gear.
Some mics never go out of style. It’s true of analog condenser mics like the Neumann U 87. And it’s true of the Blue Yeti. In the USB mic category, it’s the closest thing we have to a classic.
Released back in 2009, the Yeti quickly became the most popular USB mic out there. And it has remained an iconic choice for podcasters.
But is Blue’s Yeti right for you? Let’s explore that.
If you think of USB microphones as flimsy, scaled-down versions of pro XLR mics, think again. Blue’s Yeti is a substantial beast measuring 12 inches high and weighing in at 3.5 pounds (with the stand affixed). It towers over other USB mics; including two models offered by Blue: the Snowball and Snowflake.
Overall the Yeti is very solidly built, thus the weight. The only area to nitpick at is the wobbly volume knob. It feels a bit cheap compared with the rest of the unit.
Its design is a big reason it’s seen as a workhorse for podcasters. It sits just right on a desk. Its positioned high enough to capture clean speech, yet low enough to avoid covering people’s faces when shooting video.
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.
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.