USB Mics

The Go Mic is part of a new breed of micro USB microphones that clip on the top of notebooks. It’s Samson’s answer to Blue’s Snowflake that was released before it.

An appealing aspect of this mic is it takes an already convenient concept: USB connectivity and combines it with ultimate portability and a utilitarian mounting scheme. It borrows from webcam model, which are now commonly built into laptops.

Positioned just above the monitor, the device is right in the sweet spot for VOIP calls, voice overs and podcasting. Alternatively you can attach the microphone stand adapter and get a more traditional setup going.

Web cams are notorious for poor quality in comparison to full-sized video cameras. The difference in quality between the Go Mic and a larger USB mics isn’t as pronounced. Speech is clear with a surprisingly full-bodied resonance. At the very least it blows away the internal mic in your Macbook Pro and the chintzy voice input on your Plantronics-style headset.

There are two switchable modes: cardioid and omni polar patterns. Cardioid grabs audio from directly in front of the mic and rejects sound from behind. Omni mode opens up full 360 degree recording so everything in the room can be heard. The possibility of the omni pattern seemed interesting but superfluous for a product that is primarily designed to sit on a laptop monitor. That impression was proven false when I used the Go Mic to interview someone. It really shines in this application because you can easily see the recording software at work without turning your head.

I can see this as being a very handy tool for a singer-songwriter. When writing music, it is helpful to quickly capture your ideas so you can remember how far you progressed. Think of it as an audio sketchpad. The quicker you can get setup, the better. For this reason it is a good alternative to a portable recorder from Tascam or Zoom. If you have a laptop handy, you’ll save money by going this route. In addition, you won’t have to deal with a cramped LCD screen and cryptic menus. Instead you can use your favourite DAW, such as Logic or Pro Tools.

There’s nothing worse than misunderstanding someone because they are using a crappy mic for VOIP. With the Go Mic, you’ll put the person at the other end at ease. This is especially welcome for business use as it ensures your directions are properly understood and therefore followed through correctly.

There are two inputs along the right side of the Go Mic. One mini-USB input for connecting to your computer and powering the device plus one headphone jack. The headphone output ensures direct monitoring with zero latency so there isn’t a lag disrupting your flow of speech.

Audio resolution is 16-bit/44.1kHz which is the current standard for USB mics. Frequency response is 20Hz – 18kHz so you’ll be able to capture pretty well anything within the limits of human hearing.

The mounting clip folds into the device, making the Go Mic highly portable and less prone to breakage. The mic can be angled in any way you like thanks to the metal joint attaching it to the clip.

Review Verdict

The Samson Go Mic is a very impressive little microphone for the price. I certainly wouldn’t use it for lead vocals for serious music recording. However, for music demos, voice overs and VOIP communications it is wonderfully convenient. The ability to just slap it on the top of your laptop screen ensures it gets used often.

I can’t recommend this over the Blue Snowflake as they are very similar in strength. In this case, it comes down to personal preference.

There is one limitation common to USB mics that has me reaching for an old fashioned XLR microphone: the sample rate. Blue’s original Yeti records at 16bit/48 kHz. That is ideal for streaming content on the Web via podcasting or YouTube videos. For music or more demanding applications it falls short. Anyone making records in 16-bit isn’t thinking ahead. Inevitably high-res, 24-bit digital downloads will be the norm in the future.

This is a trailblazing microphone. First off, it is the only USB mic so far that can record 24-bit audio. Secondly, it is the first mic I’ve seen that accepts both USB and XLR connections. For people on the move that flexibility can be a lifesaver in a pinch, especially when working with others. Plenty of pro audio engineers don’t have experience with USB mics. These types will be at home with industry standard XLR connections and analog post-processing.

The most obvious upgrade to the Pro model is the sexy casing. The black textured body adds an element of class that was missing from the modest original. It weighs in at around 3 lbs and stands nearly a foot tall. The Yeti was already a beast of a USB mic; this thing is a monster.

At the bottom of the unit there is a XLR input positioned above a treaded input for stand mounting. To the left is a mini-USB port and to the right there is a headphone input.

The 1/8” headphone jack is of course useful for people that don’t have the luxury of a professional, full-duplex sound card. You’ll be able to take advantage of low-latency monitoring thanks to the internal audio interface.

Like the original Yeti, there is an array of three 14mm condenser capsules under the grill. By switching on and off any combination of these capsules the Yeti Pro offers your choice of four pickup patterns: stereo, cardioid, omni, and bidirectional. In my previous review for the Yeti I broke down the uses for each of these patterns. You can read it here.

So, how does the Yeti Pro sound? Audio is off the scale awesome for a USB microphone. Right off the bat it has the advantage of being the only 24-bit USB mic (presently) on the market. The jump from 16 to 24 bit makes everything sound richer and smoother. High end especially is more detailed and pleasant. In regular circumstances I wouldn’t use a USB mic as an overhead on drums. If I had to however, this is the USB mic I’d choose. You can’t quite capture the sparkle in the cymbals in anything less than 24-bit.

Controls and switches are identical to the previous model. You have a nice big volume knob with a mute button above it in front. In the rear there is a switch that allows you to switch between recording patterns. Power is provided either via USB or 48v phantom power, depending on how you choose to connect the Yeti Pro.

Review Verdict

USB mics certainly blow away that Plantronics-style headset mic. Still, it isn’t honest to call any USB powered offering I’ve heard yet a professional mic. This is the best “prosumer” USB microphone yet. The addition of XLR is handy if you don’t own several other mics (or only want to bring one microphone to the gig).

Podcasters and musicians that don’t have a fancy audio interface (soundcard) and want to experience 24-bit recording have no better options. This puppy is it!

Walk into any top-end recording studio ask to look inside their microphone cabinet. Without many exceptions you’ll stumble upon an Audio-Technica AT4050 condenser mic. It has become an industry standard due to its virtues as a versatile, “workhorse” microphone.

As great as the AT4050 is, the price tag of around $600 puts it out of reach for most hobbyists. Although Audio-Technica is known for professional products they have come up with the AT2020 to meet the needs of podcasters and DIY recording musicians. In stark contrast to the 4050, the 2020 sells for $115 (street price). On top of that, you don’t need a fancy preamp, and audio interface to make USB mics sound good.

At this price you come to expect a plasticky feel or cheap, roughly finished aluminum. Upon pulling it out of the box the most striking property of this mic is the outstanding build quality. I’m one of the old fashion types that associates weight with well-made gear; the 2020 has just the right amount of weight to make me feel confident in its durability.

The AT2020 design is very utilitarian and similar to its big brothers like the AT4050. It is a simple cylinder shape with a grill so big that it spans half the length of the microphone. The USB cable plugs into the bottom just like traditional XLR mics. It draws its power from the USB port on your computer. To notify you that it’s powered up, the grill lights up blue thanks to an internal LED light.

AT has taken a very different approach than Blue Microphones has. The Blue Yeti and Snowball has a switch that allows you to change up the input pattern of the mic. The 2020 focuses on the most used pattern: cardioid. Although you’ll use the cardioid pattern the vast majority of the time as a podcaster or musician, omnidirectional recording is missed because it is fun to experiment with.

On the plus side, the knobs and switches feel a little flimsy on the Blue USB mics. Clearly this is because USB microphones are sold for so little, making cost-cutting an inevitable reality. Audio-Technica’s decision to make the unit rock-solid, and leave out controls that can just as easily be controlled from your laptop was a smart one.

Bit depth and sample rate meet the standard for current-gen USB mics: 16 bit/44.1 kHz. Frequencies between 20Hz and 16kHz are captured. This was a disappointment initially because Blue’s Yeti has a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz. Granted, we are looking at a range of sound that most adults cannot hear after the age of 30. If voice or vocal recording is your goal, don’t sweat it. Only cymbals have frequencies of any magnitude that go past 16kHz.

Sound quality is very good as is expected from an Audio-Technica product. Tests with acoustic guitar and vocals yielded impressive results. The capsule is sensitive, perhaps too much so for the casual user. You’ll pick up a decent bit of background noise if you have a desktop computer running nearby. Either run a cable into a different room or invest in a shock-mount to avoid picking up noise.

Review Verdict

Audio-Technica’s AT2020 doesn’t have any gimmicks to speak of. It does a good job of capturing voices or instruments coming from in front of the mic. After all, that is all most people will ever need. On-location interviewers and experimental musicians will yearn for the variety of input patterns found in competing mics.

This is an awesomely built device making it the most road-worthy USB microphone tested thus far. Overall the 2020 is simple, strong and effective at recording 16-bit audio.