As the resident audio engineer at The Verge, I am occasionally asked what microphone one should get if they wanted to start a podcast. For professional use, the answer is complicated. You can’t just plug any microphone into your computer and start recording. But for a hobbyist or someone starting out in the field, there are now more options than ever to get your show up and running for a fairly low price.
When Apple started to sell Blue’s Snowball microphone in their stores in 2005, it opened doors for independent creators to make their home recordings sound significantly better than what the consumer market had offered previously, by just plugging a microphone right into the USB port on their computer. Now that the market is full of these types of microphones, it can be difficult to understand what the best option is for your own setup. So we’ve tested out the top USB microphones on the market today to help you choose your next podcast or streaming investment.
The qualifications for this list are specific to a podcaster starting out or upgrading to using a higher-quality microphone. The microphone should be user-friendly, accessible, and provide excellent sound quality.
Podcasting at its heart is independent and accessible to everyone; for both the creator and the listener. With the rise of podcast companies and the booming on-demand audio industry, there are independent creators left behind who cannot afford a multitude of equipment, space, and time to produce an audio show. So before media companies gentrify the podcast industry, here are some microphones that can help you start making your show sound its best on a budget.
The best option for most podcasters: Røde NT-USB
Testing out 12 USB mics plugged into my MacBook Pro in a quiet environment (Vox Media’s podcast studio), the clear winner for bestsounding mic was the Røde NT-USB. Voice recordings are rich and full, with a wide signal-to-noise ratio (the amount of background noise in a recording in comparison to your recorded voice), and require little equalizing.
What you get in the box is a mountable pop shield for blocking plosives (an unwanted air popping sound from letters like P and B), a stand, and a cable. The mic comes with a USB Type B cable which is fine for general use, but if you want to use this with an iPad (which Røde advertises), you have to go buy a Lightning to USB Type B cable.
Most of the higher-quality USB mics are very big (see M-Audio Uber Mic, Blue Yeti, Samson G-Track Pro). Whenever I suggest someone at The Verge to bring a Blue Yeti along with them to record a podcast remotely while traveling, they are very hesitant because of its size. The NT-USB is fairly compact. If you separate the mic, the shield, and the stand, it’s a lot easier to pack in a bag.
I very much appreciate the mounted pop shield on the mic. It’s built in a sturdy way so it’s the same distance from the mic at all times and is effective at suppressing those plosives. The pop shield for mics like the Blue Yeti are sold separately — I would argue that it is a much needed item to make your audio sound its best and you’d end up buying one anyway.
As far as having everything you need to record yourself for a podcast out of the box, this gets you there.
One thing I wish the Røde NT-USB did have is adjustable gain on the mic itself. This is a weird complaint coming from an audio engineer because no professional mics have that, but a USB microphone is basically an audio interface. Being able to adjust the input gain on hardware is much easier and more convenient than opening settings in your system preferences or a little slider knob in Audacity or other recording software.
A step-up option: Blue Yeti Pro
A standard in podcasting as far as USB microphones go, the Blue Yeti is versatile, readily available in most consumer electronic stores, and easy to use.
Because of its ability to record in stereo, the Yeti is used a lot in the ASMR Youtube community as well as podcasting and streaming.
With the introduction of the Yeti Pro, you now have the option of using it as a standard XLR analog output (with a stereo breakout cable) for using with any audio interface or recorder, as well as the capability to record at 24bit / 96kHz sample rates for higher-quality recordings. That kind of functionality is why the Yeti Pro costs considerably more than the standard Yeti, but it makes this mic still usable if you end up upgrading to more professional studio gear.
For lower budgets: Neat Microphones Bumblebee / Beecaster
A curveball! The names of these mics speak for themselves. They are neat-looking. But how do they sound?
Well, not bad. The Bumblebee and the Beecaster have a dry, yet tonally flat, kind of sound, but they do match up well against the Yeti and the Røde. The way the settings are laid out is very neat and easy to use. For the Bumblebee, the base of the stand has three knobs to adjust for music, voice, or neutral as well as mic gain and headphone volume. For the Beecaster, you are able to switch from mono to various stereo wideness instead of the voice / music / neutral preset and there is also a mute button for cutting off sound from the mic for whatever reason. These two mics do have different frequency responses; I’ve found the more expensive Beecaster sounds fuller and more flexible for a variety of use cases such as recording acoustic guitar or voiceover for video.
These controls are laid out very well, however this means you are not able to take this mic off the stand and mount it on another stand. This is really a desktop mic not meant to be moved. Think of it as a cool thing on your desk that you can use to make conference calls or be interviewed for someone’s show.
The good thing about these stands, though, is they actually have adjustable height, unlike basically every other stand that’s included with a USB mic. I don’t know why no other USB mics have this.
There are situations where your podcasting and audio recording needs may vary. What if you want one super compact mic for a lightly packed trip? What if you want a second, cheaper mic to stay in your office? Well I tested out a bunch of USB microphones, so here are some other options that will do the job, with their own specialties and caveats.
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