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The Best USB Microphones of 2020

The Best USB Microphones of 2020

If you need a microphone and want to make it easy, USB mics are hard to beat. Models like the Blue Yeti are popular with podcasters as a way to get professional audio without extra gear. Video game streamers and YouTubers often build their rigs around discrete options like the Blue Snowball. Musicians use digital mics to record vocals and instruments with ease, and get better sound for online music lessons.

They're also the best microphones for video calls. If you work from home or take remote classes, a USB mic is the easiest way to improve the clarity of your speech while reducing outside noise. Just plug your mic into the computer. Apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams will let you select it as your audio source. No expertise required. Plus, USB mics like the Shure MOTIV MV5 have a physical mute button, so you can be 100% sure nobody hears anything they shouldn't. We can't stress this enough: the mute button is the work-from-home feature you didn't know you needed.

At the heart of every USB mic is the ability to convert analog sound into digital data that your computer can understand. It’s really two items in one—an analog microphone and an audio interface. In practice, that means these mics are so convenient that you don’t even have to know what’s going on inside. However, they do vary in important ways. The quality of the converters, the type and number of capsules, stereo capability, accessories, included software and cost—these differences are what determine the best mic for your needs. So, make sure you know all the ways you want to use your mic. Are you recording to your computer or a tablet or phone? Are you planning to travel often with your mic? Are you recording two or more voices at once?

Make a quick list of everything you need your mic to do and consider what you’re willing to spend. This guide will make it easy to match your list to the perfect mic.

Note: If you see yourself expanding your recording to include multiple mics, instruments or other audio sources, consider getting an external audio interface. It’s the same conversion tech that’s built into a USB mic, but it can convert multiple sources at once, through one port on your computer. That leaves room to expand your setup. USB mics are best for people who want an easy, all-in-one solution centered on one mic. On that front, the convenience is hard to beat.

Trusted by Musicians: Audio-Technica AT2020USB+

The Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is one of the most popular USB mics around, and for good reason. It's got neutral, accurate sound, plus a few features that make it especially useful for musicians. If you want to capture solo vocals, record instruments or take online music lessons over video chat, this mic deserves a serious look.

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Microphone

Pictured: Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ 

For musical applications, the AT2020USB+ benefits from pedigree. Audio-Technica is beloved among musicians for making high-quality, no-frills studio gear. You can trust their stuff to do what it says on the label, do it well and skip the gimmicks. The AT2020USB+ is based on Audio-Technica’s popular cardioid condenser mic, the AT2020, known for clean and crisp vocals. It produces that neutral “airy” effect sought by professional vocalists and sound designers.

This USB model takes the AT2020 and adds the converter (of course), but also throws in some hardware features. It has a built-in headphone jack with a dedicated volume control so you can monitor while you record with zero latency. And in a gesture toward musicians, it also has a mix control, which lets you blend the sound from your mic with your computer audio. This is a game changer when you want to make quick adjustments to your headphone mix while tracking music, or balancing the sound of your own voice with other people on a call.

Keep in mind that the AT2020USB+ is a uni-directional mic. It excels at picking up audio from the front only. For musicians, that means you'll get the sound that makes the analog AT2020 so popular, while blocking unwanted noise. This mic is fantastic for recording and taking online music lessons. It can also be your go-to mic for calls or remote learning. If you're recording a single source at a time, it's hard to go wrong with this one. Plus, it's from a brand respected by audio pros worldwide.

For Working From Home and Remote Learning: Shure MOTIV MV5

No list of microphones is complete without Shure, the ubiquitous maker of recording gear, including the SM57 and SM58, perhaps the two best-known mics on the planet. For digital mics, we’ll be looking at their MOTIV series.

The Shure MOTIV MV5 is a condenser mic that's perfect for Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams chats. That's partly due to the compact size. USB mics might not look big in photos, but you’d be surprised how much desk space the average one can take up. The MOTIV MV5 is only about 5.5" tall, less than half the height of a Blue Yeti. There are other small options like the RØDE NT-USB Mini (see below), but the MV5 has an extra feature: a mute button. This button can save your life during calls for work or school. If you've never accidentally turned on your camera when trying to unmute yourself with the cursor, you're one of the lucky few. It's awkward. It's embarrassing. Don't let it happen to you. A built-in mute button prevents slip-ups like those, and it offers reassurance that you won't accidentally say the wrong thing on a hot mic.

Shure MOTIV MV5 USB Microphone

Pictured: Shure MOTIV MV5 

Beyond the mute button, the MOTIV MV5 also has useful controls for musicians. Three DSP modes are built into the mic: instrument, vocal and neutral. These settings give you a quick way to set it up for whatever source you’re recording, before doing any finer work in your DAW. It’s also a handy feature for anyone who livestreams music. You can flip from playing acoustic guitar to speaking with the push of a button.

Shure MOTIV mics also carry a unique feature for iPhone and iPad users, thanks to their premium apps. When attached to a MOTIV mic, the Shure MOTIV iOS apps let you manually control the gain on your mic, tweak other settings and monitor the waveforms. And if you record mobile video, the Shure Video App is best in class for recording video and audio at the same time on a mobile device.

If you’re looking for a desktop USB mic that stays out of your way, the MV5 is a solid option with a few convenient tricks up its sleeve. And it’s coming from Shure, a company known for making mics that hold up for decades.

The Go-To Podcasting Mic: Blue Yeti Studio

Among podcasters and content creators, the Blue Yeti Studio Recording System needs no introduction. If you listen to a lot of podcasts or hang out on Twitch, there’s a good chance one of your favorites uses a Yeti. It’s the most popular USB mic in the world. Grabbing a Yeti lets you record pro-quality audio with ease, even if you’re a beginner. This is due to a combination of bundled software and three capsules.

Blue Yeti Blackout Studio USB Microphone

Pictured: Blue Yeti Blackout Studio 

You’ll notice we called the Yeti a “recording system.” That’s because of the software. The Yeti comes with specialized recording software from PreSonus and iZotope, which work together to record and master your tracks easily, even if you have no experience with recording. PreSonus Studio One Blue Edition saves you the need to find a DAW. Just push the record button and you’re on your way. You can stack tracks, string them together and edit them, all in an intuitive workflow. And the included mastering software from iZotope can make those recordings sing with built-in presets for voiceover, narration, podcasts and music, plus the ability to create your own.

On the hardware side, the Yeti uses three capsules to make it highly versatile. They allow for four settings: unidirectional for vocals and solo speech, bi-directional for interviews or two-person podcasts, omnidirectional for grabbing a whole band or a group podcast, and stereo for separating left from right. Oh, and it’s got a hardware mute button that saves you the need to cut out coughs or asides. Combined with software that can optimize the audio for all these different applications, the Yeti earns its reputation as a true workhorse. And while it’s not a budget option, it’s still remarkably affordable considering everything it can do.

If you’re a podcaster or content creator who never wants to worry about audio quality again, it’s hard to go wrong with the Blue Yeti Studio. Even if you're just looking for better Zoom calls, this mic will make sure you never regret your purchase.

Another Option for Musicians: RØDE NT-USB

The RØDE NT-USB condenser mic has a lot in common with the AT2020USB+, with a few extra features that justify the slightly higher price. It’s another side-address cardioid condenser (read: one source at a time), and it also comes from a respected name in music. It’s a USB option within RØDE’s well-regarded lineup of NT studio microphones. The recordings it captures are clear and neutral. Just like the AT2020USB+, the NT-USB has a headphone jack with volume and mix controls. All this makes it great for the same applications: solo recordings and video calls.

Rode NT-USB Microphone

Pictured: RØDE NT-USB 

In addition to the above, the NT-USB has a couple bells and whistles, the most important of which is a premium RØDE pop filter that mounts to the mic. If you’re singing or recording speech, you’ll eventually want to pick up one of these filters to prevent popping sounds from plosive sounds. A good pop filter doesn’t run cheap, so it’s a big plus to have one in the package, built to fit this specific mic. If you see similar mics that are less expensive, check if they have a pop filter. If not, the RØDE NT-USB could end up being a premium option that also saves you cash in the end.

RØDE is also handy for travel, since the mic is smaller than options like the Yeti, and it can be easily detached from the stand and pop filter. And thanks to the free RØDE Rec app for iOS, recording on the go is easy, with no questions about compatibility with third-party apps (though it works with lots of those, too).

A More Discrete Choice: RØDE NT-USB Mini

The RØDE NT-USB Mini takes a lot of what we love about the NT-USB and shrinks it down, both in size and price. It’s still a cardioid condenser that provides high audio quality, especially for voice, and it has the built-in headphone jack and volume control (no blend, though). That makes it work for the same users: solo podcasters, streamers and vloggers, plus musicians who just need one mic. But what really shines about the NT-USB Mini is just how unobtrusive it is, even while offering studio-quality sound.

Rode NT-USB Mini USB Microphone

Pictured: RØDE NT-USB Mini 

The attached mount keeps the NT-USB Mini shorter than 6" while still allowing for 360º rotation and vertical swiveling. It’s always free to face the right way without rearranging your desk. For Zoom calls and streaming, the small size keeps it out of the frame. If you work in an office and don’t want questions about the big microphone on your desk, the NT-USB Mini can slide right in between your monitor and coffee cup. And the styling is subtle, with all-black coloring and a squared-off vintage shape that’s quite attractive. Find the right spot and you’ll forget this mic is even there—in a good way. 

For the Audiophiles: AKG Lyra

The previous mics on this list have good recording quality, but the AKG Lyra is for those who demand more than good. AKG has made some truly legendary mics, like the C414, used in some of the most prestigious recording studios and broadcast booths in the world. AKG applied that same attention to detail when making the Lyra. This mic is perfect for those who want to pick up the nuances of voices or instruments. Thanks to the premium components, it can record just about anything.

AKG Lyra USB Microphone

Pictured: AKG Lyra 

The AKG Lyra sports four capsules, with a simple control on the front for switching between four distinct modes. Front mode is for solo work where you address the mic directly. The tight stereo mode captures left and right when both sources are on the same side of the mic—good for conversations between two people sitting at a desk, or for a guitarist next to a singer. The wide stereo mode records from every direction, while still keeping the sides separate. And if you’re looking to record a full band or a group of people around a table, there’s front and back mode. All of these modes are easily monitored with the built-in headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring, plus a convenient volume dial. There are always limitations to using a single USB mic, but when used correctly, the AKG Lyra can make them almost disappear.

It’s not just the capsules that endear this mic to audiophiles. The Lyra has a super high-end audio interface inside it, with 24-bit/192kHz conversion. We’ll spare you the details (read the converter section of our interface guide for that), but all you need to know is that 24-bit/192kHz is about as good as it gets. It ensures that the digital recording matches the source with accuracy. This mic is compatible with all DAWs and works for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, though it’s best for stationary use. Thanks to the gorgeous AKG vintage styling and a swivel stand that keeps your cable out of the way, the Lyra is a premium USB mic you won’t want to hide.

Next-Level Controls: Shure MOTIV MV51

The Shure MOTIV MV51 has the same vintage vibes and modern approach you see with the MV5, but pretty much everything about it is heightened. It’s a large-diaphragm condenser, with the recognizable square throwback shape to match. The larger diaphragm gives it a lush sound, especially for vocals, and picks up slightly wider angles. For game streams and video calls, that means you can move around more without messing up the audio quality. And in keeping with the premium price tag, the MV51 has solid all-metal construction that’s durable and feels nice in your hand. That being said, the best reason to get the MV51 is the enhanced controls.

Shure Motiv MV51 USB Microphone

Pictured: Shure Motiv MV51 

Rather than three DSP preset modes, the MV51 has five—speech, singing, flat, acoustic and loud—and they’re all controlled with a touch interface. In addition to buttons that mute the mic and headphones, there’s also on-unit gain control. This is a rare feature in USB mics, which typically rely on software alone to control the gain.

The MOTIV MV51 also comes with all the benefits of the MV5, including Shure’s apps and expert build quality. It’s good for all kinds of desktop uses, especially those that lend themselves to large-diaphragm condensers.

The Blue Budget Option: Blue Snowball

If you’re attracted to Blue’s reputation but don’t want to spend quite so much, the Blue Snowball is their budget option. It’s a solid vocal mic for an extremely low price—you could pick up more than one for less than the price of the Yeti. The Snowball has two capsules that let you switch between cardioid mode for recording from a single direction and omni mode for putting it in the middle of the table and recording multiple people at once. And while it doesn’t include the software suite that comes with the Yeti, it does work with any common DAW on Mac and PC.

Blue Snowball USB Microphone

Pictured: Blue Snowball 

The focus on speech makes the Blue Snowball an affordable choice for remote learning and working from home. And if you’re getting started as a podcaster or streamer, the Snowball will get you out the door without a big hit to your wallet.

The Premium Option for iOS: Shure MV88 Stereo

The Shure MV88 isn’t technically a USB mic, it’s a mobile digital mic. Instead of USB, it has a built-in Lightning connector for iOS exclusively. The MV88 is designed to take maximum advantage of Shure’s MOTIV apps, resulting in an unrivaled mobile recording system for content creators, journalists and bands who want to record straight to their iOS device and share the tracks on the spot.

Shure Motiv MV88 iOS Microphone

Pictured: Shure Motiv MV88 

The MV88 centers on a stereo condenser mic, mounted on a swivel for easy angle adjustment. It picks up sound from the middle and sides to make sure interviews and field recordings come out clear and balanced. It handles adverse conditions well due to the included windscreen. But what sets it apart most is the way it integrates with the iOS ecosystem. The MOTIV apps (both audio and video) give you access to those same five preset modes from the MV51, so you can optimize the mic to your source on the fly. For those who want to go deeper, the app also includes advanced settings like adjustable stereo width, EQ and a limiter/compressor.

The Shure MV88 limits itself to iOS users, but in that arena, it’s as good as it gets. Many phone accessories are cheap and not built to last, but this little mic packs real studio specs and takes advantage of modern smartphone software. It won’t be mistaken for a toy, either—the vintage styling is attractive and exudes quality.

Video for iOS and Android: Shure MV88+ Video Kit

For a lot of mobile videographers, the smartphone cameras of today are more than good enough for a professional result. The microphones, not so much. The Shure MV88+ Video Kit solves that problem. It takes all the thoughtful features of the MV88 and applies them to mobile video recording on iOS and Android 6.0 or later. If you want to record good audio for your smartphone videos and don’t mind paying a premium, the MV88+ is the best-in-class solution to get it right.

Shure MV88+ Video Kit

Pictured: Shure MV88+ Video Kit 

The Shure MV88+ video kit comes with an adapted version of the MV88 mic, which attaches to a phone clip to orient the stereo capsules toward whatever you’re filming. The clip also attaches to the included tripod stand, which can fold down to a handle for filming on the move. The mic itself has a connector that works with included Lightning and USB-C cables to connect to iOS, Android and even Windows or Mac computers. The computer compatibility makes it a great way to record videos at home, too, since smartphone cameras have far outpaced the webcams on laptops. When using the Shure MOTIV Video app for iOS, you can monitor audio and video at the same time without switching apps, turning your phone into a powerful production studio. If you’re using Android, the kit is compatible with apps that allow external mics.

If the Shure MV88+ video kit is within your budget and you want the best mobile audio/video recording combination you can get on your smartphone, it’s hard to recommend anything else. It fits a video production studio into a carrying case.

All About Freedom: Samson G-Track Pro

The Samson G-Track Pro stands out from all the other mics on this list due to a unique feature: a 1/4" analog input that lets you use it as an audio interface. All USB mics use their built-in interface to convert the sound from the mic, but the Samson G-Track Pro lets you capture and convert sound from a mono instrument or stereo line-level device as well. That means you can plug in your guitar, keyboard, DJ controller or other audio source while recording with the mic simultaneously. The headphone jack can monitor both inputs, just one, or play audio from the computer. For musicians, this makes the G-Track Pro uniquely capable as a home recording tool.

Samson G-Track Pro USB Microphone

Pictured: Samson G-Track Pro 

While the extra input steals the show, the Samson G-Track Pro is a respectable USB mic on its own. The polar pattern is switchable between uni-, bi- and omni-directional setups for solo, double and full-room sources. Thanks to the three patterns and the 1/4" input, the G-Track Pro is also an intriguing option for podcasters who want to trigger live sounds from an external source while recording their voices.

For the Audiophile on the Go: Apogee HypeMiC

Many USB mics come from brands that made analog mics first, but the Apogee HypeMiC comes at it from the other direction. Apogee specializes in digital audio conversion. They make some of the best audio interfaces you can buy, from desktop models all the way up to super-expensive studio racks. One of their most acclaimed products is the Apogee Duet, an interface that fits top-tier conversion into a highly portable size. That’s the same philosophy that the HypeMiC follows, and the results are uniquely impressive for podcasters and musicians alike.

Apogee HypeMiC USB Microphone

Pictured: Apogee HypeMiC 

The HypeMiC delivers some of the best audio on this list, and it does it in a package that’s even smaller than the two “small” desktop mics we already listed, the RØDE NT-USB Mini and the Shure MOTIV MV5. This thing weighs less than half a pound, and it can get excellent recordings of everything from quiet vocals to wailing guitars.

How do they do it? Analog compression. In addition to a quality converter and cardioid capsule, this mic contains an analog signal path that can compress audio before it’s converted. If you’re an audiophile, you know that would be impressive in any USB mic, let alone one this tiny. The compression gives incredible presence to voice and instrument recordings alike. It’s part of why this mic can handle such a range of sources and make them all sound great. External controls let you switch between different levels of compression—shape, squeeze and smash. For podcasters and streamers, the compression will give your voice a broadcast “pop” that’s tough to emulate. And the fact that it does this to the analog signal, rather than using DSP presets, puts the HypeMiC in a class of its own.

In keeping with its size, the Apogee HypeMiC comes with a small carrying case that fits the mic and all the accessories. That includes a tripod, nice pop filter and cables for Lightning, USB-A and USB-C connection to phones and computers. It also has a headphone jack with a blend function, plus another rarity: stereo monitoring. You can output to speakers or run the audio into an interface to integrate into a larger setup. The three lights on the front help you monitor the audio to avoid clipping.

With its built-in compression, the Apogee HypeMiC harnesses one of the best features of analog recording and puts it into a near-handheld size. In this sense, it stands alone among USB mics for the kind of presence it can add to your recordings. You pay for it—the HypeMiC is the most expensive mic on this list. But considering that other USB mics give you no access to the analog stage at all, the price can be well worth it.

Premium Features for Less: M-Audio Uber Mic

The M-Audio Uber Mic gives you affordable access to four polar patterns, a feature usually found in higher-end mics like the Blue Yeti. Thanks to the three capsules, the M-Audio Uber can record in uni-, bi- and omni-directional modes, plus stereo mode. This means it can specialize in solo recordings, interviews and group sessions. The built-in headphone monitor eliminates latency and has a blend knob to adjust the balance between direct and computer monitoring, which and lets you find a mix that feels comfortable. That’s especially important for musicians recording over backing tracks. And to top it off, a crisp display makes these adjustments easy.

M-Audio Uber USB Microphone

Pictured: M-Audio Uber 

Taken together, the M-Audio Uber Mic has an impressive combination of features matching some of the premium mics above, at a price that’s lower than most.

What’s Next?

The main benefit of a USB mic is that it’s a simple solution. You just plug it in and you’re good to go. From there, it all depends on how you like to edit your recording, and that depends on what DAW you use. For a rundown on the best DAWs, check out the DAW section of our home recording article. And as always, you can get in touch with our experts online, by phone or in-store for help with whatever you need.

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