You’ve perfected your Zoom mise en scene: the cheese plant is artfully positioned over your left shoulder, the bookcase has been purged of trashy novels, and the pile of dirty laundry has been shoved just out of shot. But while a lot of care and attention is paid to how we look on camera, not so much is paid to how we sound. This is where USB microphones come in.
Using a USB microphone is as simple as plugging it in. Most Macs and Windows PCs will recognise the device and install the necessary drivers automatically, meaning you can upgrade from your laptop’s inferior built-in microphone in a matter of seconds.
The difference is immediate. Like wearing glasses for the first time, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one. There are two types of USB microphone – condenser and dynamic – and which one is best for you depends on what you want to do with it.
Podcasters and YouTube streamers will generally look for a dynamic microphone, which is tuned for voice work. Musicians who need to record every last frequency, however, will tend towards condenser microphones, which are designed for more delicate sounds.
On top of this there’s digital signal processing (DSP), which manipulates audio on the fly to reduce noise and distortion, producing a clearer sound. Many experts prefer microphones without this feature, choosing instead to process the untouched audio themselves.
How we tested
We’ve chosen ten of the best USB microphones in a range of different categories and budget levels, from beginner mics designed to add some vocal richness to your Zoom calls, to high-end, USB versions of studio-grade microphones.
The best USB microphones in 2021 are:
Best compact USB mic – Rode NT-USB mini: £80.99, Scan.co.uk
Best for Twitch streaming – Razer seiren elite: £127, Amazon.co.uk
Best for voice recording – Shure MV7: £199, Jessops.com
Best all round – Blue yeti X: £159, Currys.co.uk
Best for working from home – Shure Motiv MV5C: £101, Jessops.com
Best for podcasting – Rode podcaster: £176.50, Amazon.co.uk
Best portable USB mic – Blue yeti nano: £90.41, Argos.co.uk
Best gaming mic – Razer seiren mini: £39.99, Currys.co.uk
Best for music recording – Mackie carbon: £129, Gear4music.com
Best budget microphone – Blue snowball ice: £50.49, Amazon.co.uk
Rode NT-USB mini condenser mic
Best: Compact USB mic
A petite condenser microphone, the Rode NT-USB mini delivers superb sound quality in a compact and professional looking package. It sits on a neatly designed magnetic stand, which can be rotated and angled to pick up your voice wherever it’s positioned on the desk.
Of all the microphones in our list, the NT-USB Mini has given the most consideration to those who don’t want a bulky gadget cluttering up their desktop when not in use. Even the cables are thoughtfully hidden away on the back of the mic. Like the Rode podcaster (£179, Scan.co.uk) it’s designed for capturing speech with as much fidelity as possible, and features a highly effective in-built pop shield to catch those pesky popping plosives.
Buy now £80.99, Scan.co.uk
Razer seiren elite microphone
Best: Mic for Twitch streaming
Razer is known for producing super high-quality gaming mice, keyboards and laptops for everyone from esports champs, Twitch streamers to YouTube creators. So, it’s little surprise that the seirÄn elite microphone feels impressively premium straight out of the box.
Understated for a Razer gadget, the microphone’s features are designed with gaming broadcasts in mind. There’s a high-pass filter to cut out the background hum of a PC fan, automatic gain limiting and an LED peaking indicator that glows a threatening shade of red if you’re too loud. Unlike the Blue yeti X (£147.74, Amazon.co.uk) this microphone is cardioid only, so it’s built to focus on one individual’s voice rather than recording in all directions. The resulting sound is impeccable: clean, clear and full of detail.
Buy now £127.00, Amazon.co.uk
Shure MV7 podcast microphone
Best: For voice recording
For professional podcasters working out of their spare rooms, the Shure MV7 is the microphone of choice. This is a hybrid version of the company’s industry-renowned, broadcast quality microphone, and combines a studio-standard XLR connection with a simpler micro-USB port for plugging into a computer or phone. Both can be used at the same time to export a super high-resolution backup recording for post-processing.
The resulting sound quality is pristine. An intuitive companion app configures the microphone automatically and continuously to get the best results for your particular voice and environment, even as you move away from and towards the mic.
Buy now £199.00, Jessops.com
Blue yeti X
Patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Bidirectional, Stereo
One of the most recognisable names in USB microphones, Blue is credited with bringing affordable, studio-quality sound recording to the masses. The yeti X is the manufacturer’s flagship device, and a superb microphone tuned for podcasting, music and streaming.
It also features a ring of LEDs on the microphone, so you can monitor your voice level as you speak, ensuring you’re being optimally picked up and vastly improving the quality and clarity of your recording.
Buy now £159.00, Currys.co.uk
Shure motiv MV5C home office USB microphone
Best: For working from home
The slick and retro-looking Shure MV5C is the ideal microphone for the home office, beefing up the audio quality of your presentations and taking your Zoom game to the next level. It’s a portable and lightweight condenser microphone, featuring straightforward USB connectivity with a Mac or Windows PC as well as an audio jack for plugging in wired headphones. This makes monitoring your own voice levels easy, ensuring you hear precisely what your colleagues can hear. No more overblown plosives or sounding like you’re trapped down a well.
We love the classic design and small form factor of the MV5C – perfect for pretending you’re an “old timey” radio announcer – as well as the microphone’s built-in speech enhancement. We also enjoyed the lack of any arduous setup process for use with conferencing software. Just plug it in and it’s ready to go.
Buy now £101.00, Jessops.com
Rode podcaster USB broadcaster studio mic
Rode is the go-to brand for many professional podcast producers and voice-over artists, and once you use their equipment it’s not difficult to understand why. The Rode podcaster is a USB version of the company’s studio-grade XLR mic – the very similarly named Procaster (£149, Scan.co.uk). So, as with all of the microphones in this list, you can connect it directly to your Mac or Windows PC without faffing around with any additional sound equipment.
The podcaster has an internal pop shield, which prevents those irritating overblown popping sounds you can get on certain words. It’s a dynamic microphone with a cardioid pattern, which means it’s designed to listen in one direction while filtering out ambient noise coming from the sides and rear. The result is a professional sound in even the noisiest rooms.
Buy now £176.50, Amazon.co.uk
Blue yeti nano USB microphone
Best: Portable USB mic
Patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional
If you’re looking to save some real estate on your desk, the diminutive yeti nano is the USB microphone for you. This compact mic includes many of the premium features of its larger sibling. There’s a headphone jack for monitoring your voice levels and behind the grille there’s a dual-capsule condenser. That allows to switch between two recording patterns: cardioid, which is ideal for podcasting and streaming, and omnidirectional, which picks up 360 degree sound and is great at recording multiple speakers seated around the microphone.
The yeti nano lacks any physical controls on the device itself, requiring a companion app to make adjustments to the microphone’s gain, which can be fiddly. That said, the default settings produce a crisp and not too bass-heavy recording.
Buy now £90.41, Argos.co.uk
Razer seiren mini USB mic
Best: Gaming mic
This inconspicuous gaming microphone uses what’s called a “super-cardioid” pickup pattern, which means it pays more attention to everything directly in front of it than anywhere else. The result is a microphone that’s custom built for YouTubers, Twitch streamers and casual podcasters, as the seirin mini is laser targeted on your voice and cuts out almost all other sounds happening around you in the room.
We found this took some getting used to – if you’re prone to moving around as you speak you can accidentally drift away from the microphone’s optimal pick-up area. But, once you’re in a comfortable position the £50 Seiren Mini produces the kind of warm, quality vocal recordings you’d expect from a far more expensive microphone.
Buy now £39.99, Currys.co.uk
Mackie carbon premium USB microphone
Best: For music
Patterns: Stereo, Cardioid, Super-cardioid, Bidirectional, Omnidirectional
The Mackie carbon is a condenser microphone, meaning it’s attuned to more delicate sounds and picks up a wider range of frequencies than a dynamic mic. This makes it an excellent choice for musicians recording demos at home or streaming their performances live.
The microphone is super versatile too, with five pick up modes offering top performance whether it’s positioned on a desktop for podcasting or in the middle of a studio to record a session. Compared to other USB microphones in this list, the specialist Mackie microphone looks a little more conspicuous on the desk but offers a rich and characterful sound quality for instrumentalists and vocalists alike.
Buy now £129.00, Gear4music.com
Blue snowball ice microphone
Best: Budget microphone
Patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional
The snowball is a great entry-level microphone for anyone who wants to sound more professional on Zoom but doesn’t fancy investing in a more complicated or expensive piece of tech. While the features included are basic, the quality of the recording is noticeably rich and vibrant. Connect one of these to your laptop and colleagues will remark on how clear you sound.
Setup is as straightforward as simply plugging it in. What we like most about the snowball though, is its portability. The stand is adjustable and the microphone can be easily raised or lowered to a comfortable level. The entire thing folds away neatly and is tough enough to be thrown in a backpack without worry. It’s a sensible and affordable upgrade to your laptop’s internal microphone.
Buy now £50.49, Amazon.co.uk
USB microphones FAQs
Are USB microphones suitable for recording singing or music?
That depends. Professional musicians and sound engineers working on live performances will nearly always use industry-standard XLR microphones, as they’re simpler, more reliable, and highly compatible with the wide variety of audio equipment, cabling and mic stands used everywhere around the world.
A USB microphone can technically do anything an XLR microphone can, and will produce the same quality of recording, but rather than plugging to a mixing desk they’re designed to connect directly to a laptop or PC. This makes USB mics convenient for everything from Zoom calls and podcasting, to recording vocals and music in a home studio.
The verdict: USB mics
USB microphones can fulfil a range of different applications, so we’ll break our verdict into three broad categories. For everyday voice recording on a desktop, we recommend the Rode NT-USB mini. This low-profile microphone has all the performance of a high-end studio mic, and makes an excellent addition to any home office.
For podcasters who want to sound professional, the Shure MV7 offers peak audio quality and a companion app that’s invaluable for beginners. As for YouTubers and Twitch streamers, the Razer seiren elite is a well-rounded mic with features designed around live gaming.
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