Microphones are available that have a USB computer interface built right in. They connect directly to the computer with a USB cable. No preamps to deal with. Very convenient.

This can be useful in several applications, but there are a few things to watch out for. Let’s look a bit deeper to see where a USB mic makes sense, and where it doesn’t. Since our main focus here is broadcasting and voice-over, the importance of the features is skewed in that direction.

Some models are extremely compact. You never need to leave the mic at home. The small size makes it easy to keep it with you.

Some do not include a headphone jack. Plugging your headphones into the computer’s jack usually delivers a delayed signal… very distracting. Look for a USB mic that includes a headphone connection and “zero latency monitoring”.

The majority of USB microphones use a condensor mic element. If you have read this column before, you know that a condensor mic’s highly sensitive pickup can be a problem for spoken voice work in a small room. A dynamic mic is preferred in these cases. A few USB dynamic mics are:
Rode PODCASTER, AT2005USB, and Samson Q2U

In general, it is not possible to mix several USB mics at the same time within your computer. If you need more than one mic, it’s best to use conventional microphones and a mixer.

Your favorite mic may not be available with USB built in. In that case, you can use a separate interface. This is my preference; some of my best mics were made before USB existed. A stand-alone USB interface allows me to use them anywhere.

There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at separate USB mic interfaces. Many don’t have sufficient gain for dynamic mics. Check the data sheet… you want at least 40 – 50dB gain to properly work with a dynamic mic.

Some can’t turn off the phantom voltage. Condensor mics require phantom voltage, and while it won’t damage most dynamics, there may be increased noise.

It’s usually only the very lowest-priced interface products that have these limitations. But it’s best to be aware before you buy.

Popular stand-alone USB mic interfaces that have zero-latency headphone monitoring, sufficient gain for dynamic mics, and switchable phantom voltage are MICPORTPRO and X2U.

Check our variety of USB mics and stand-alone USB mic interfaces here.

If you need your studio mic, but you can’t be in the studio… a USB mic may be your solution.

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