USB Mic vs XLR – Microphone Smorgasboard
1 Microphone of your choice
1 Set of Studio Monitor Headphones
For the love of microphones, which one do I choose? One of the most important purchases you may make (besides your education and demos) will be your microphone. There are many types, price ranges and choices out there and not all of them will be right for you. Everyone will tell you something different – which is very frustrating indeed. I’m going to try and give you all the expertise I have learned from a variety of sources in hopes that I can help make this purchase much easier for you.
First of all let’s talk about the debate of USB vs XLR microphones. If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about then let me clarify. A USB microphone allows you to simply plug into your computer without any mixer or hardware interface while an XLR microphone has a very specific plug that you must have some type of mixer/interface to plug into. Computers are not built with XLR outlets (to my knowledge) because our industry is rare and this type of option would need to be custom designed and could probably get very pricey.
So why wouldn’t we all just bypass the need for an interface and just plug directly into the computer with a USB mic? I truly believe that soon we won’t need the XLR microphones, but to date, in my professional opinion, we still do. XLR plugs are easiest to explain when I compare it to your TV VGA/HDMI cables. There is coax (soon becoming obsolete); which is one cable that includes your sound and video and then there are the RGA cables that have three extensions on them, Two of them are your audio (left and right channel), and the other is for video. The reason for these types of cables is all about quality compared to the old coax method. We also now have HDMI which has combined the three in high quality, basically replacing the coax entirely. USB however still does not have the quality that an HDMI cable will have.
With an XLR microphone you get the highest possible quality that a microphone can produce, as long as you have all the right equipment (computer, mixer and good cables). The USB microphones (at least every single one that I’ve heard and tried) there is a natural hiss in the sound. We need to have 100% clear audio and in my opinion the USB still needs more work. There are USB microphones that I’ve heard of audio experts recommending, but I’ve yet to hear one that doesn’t have a hiss in it. When you work with sound as much as we do, you end up with an extremely sensitive ear, so I’m pretty fussy about my sound.
I am very confident that the USB mics are going to get better and better and we will no longer need to lug around a separate mixer, but in the meantime – I don’t personally recommend the USB microphones. Once I hear one myself that works, I’ll be happy to purchase and recommend it myself, but until then I will stay with old faithful.
When you go to test your microphones out, remember that if you’re hearing noises or tones – this could be ANYTHING. It can be the microphone itself, it can be cables (and many times is), it can be the tone of your room, your computer/sound card etc. so trouble shooting audio issues can be very daunting. I highly recommend taking it to a studio, coach, or music shop to trouble shoot – so you can dissect the problem in the most cost efficient way possible.
This is a very important decision – so make sure you don’t rush it, research, test and make sure you get the microphone that works best for you, no matter what anyone says…including me! Each microphone will suite each talent differently so do your best to try it before you buy it.
If you have any questions send me an email. If you aren’t sure what microphones to purchase make sure and read my article or listen to my DebCast on “Purchasing Your Equipment” where I break down the different microphones and make my personal recommendations. Trust me I’ve gone through a ton of microphones so I’ve learned a ton from the pros and through personal trial and error. Save yourself a ton of time, money and a ton of headaches.