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Best USB microphones: The best microphones for podcasting, game streaming, music, chat and more

Stuart Andrews Aleksha McLoughlin
16 Dec 2021

Sound your best with the finest USB microphones from £55

Do you want to make a podcast but hate the sound of your own voice? Do you want to record music but can’t get a decent sound? Do you spend time in web chats and video conferences, but struggle to be heard? The problem might not be you – it could be the microphone you’re using.

The microphones built into laptops, gaming headsets and webcams aren’t often all that great. They might be too far away to capture your voice clearly, or they might suffer from a thin or treble-heavy tone. They might be prone to picking up fan noise or the clicking of your mouse and keyboard, or they might push clarity at the expense of warmth.

A USB microphone fixes this. They’re bigger, more sensitive and can be placed nearer your mouth. They’ll be tuned to make your voice sound better. They’ll record professional-quality audio for streams and podcasts, and – for music – cover your home demos or even your next SoundCloud hit. They’re easy to use – just plug the cable into a USB port – and more forgiving than some professional mics. And some are surprisingly affordable. You don’t have to splash out huge amounts of cash to get something good.

How to buy the best USB microphone for you

What should you look for in a USB microphone?

While there are several different types of microphone that you’d find in a recording studio or a conference room, USB mics generally fit into just two categories. Condenser mics use a lightweight membrane suspended by a fixed plate to pick up the sound, while dynamic mics use a wire coil. What really matters is that while dynamic mics are great for recording really loud sounds, condenser mics are fantastic at picking up detail. Most USB mics are condenser mics.

The next thing is the polar pattern. This describes the area around the microphone that’s most sensitive to picking up sound. For vocals or speech, you generally want a cardioid pattern, where the mic’s most sensitive at the front and least sensitive at the back, but you’ll also find omnidirectional mics, which are sensitive to sounds from all around, and mics with bi-directional patterns, which are great for recording interviews. There are even mics with stereo patterns, designed to capture a stereo spread for recording ambient sound or music.

Most of the USB mics designed for podcasting and streaming will have a cardioid pattern, but you’ll also find some omni-directionals and some that combine an array of mics with digital signal processing to give you a choice.

Finally, you might want to check out the sample rate and the frequency response. Because USB mics have to convert an analogue signal into a digital signal, they have to sample the sound many thousands of times per second, and with a specific bit rate or resolution. 24-bit/96kHz is the gold standard for audio recording, meaning it can capture a 24-bit sample 96,000 times per second, which matches today’s high-resolution audio formats. However, USB mics tend to stop at a CD quality 16-bit/48kHz.

As for frequency response, this just covers the frequencies the mic can capture, from, say, 30Hz at the bass end to 18kHz at the treble. Most mics now offer a decent range, and it’s unlikely you’ll be recording really deep sub-bass on a USB mic.

In any case, take all the specs with a pinch of salt. While they have an impact on the sound the mic will capture, mics are well known for having more important qualities that you can’t tie down to a number.

Is there anything else?

Some kind of stand is a definite plus, along with features to prevent ‘pop’ – the sound you get when fast, percussive syllables hit the microphone, particularly Ps and Bs. Some mics also have a headphone output, so that you can monitor the audio with zero delay. It’s even better if this has its own volume control and the mic has a physical gain adjustment.

If you’re getting serious about streaming or podcasts, you might also want to use a shock mount, which isolates the mic from any mechanical noise transmitted through the stand or desktop, or a studio arm stand or boom arm to get it off the desk and nearer your face. These don’t have to cost a fortune and can make a real difference while recording. Most of the mics below will work with a wide range of mounts and stands, but some are trickier than others.

READ NEXT: The best webcams for streaming and video chat

The best USB microphones

1. Blue Snowball iCE: The best USB microphone under £50

Price: £55 | Buy now from Amazon

The Blue Snowball has become the classic entry-level mic for streamers and podcasters. It’s cheap for a high-quality condenser mic and cheerful, with a compact design and a bundled tripod stand that enables it to work at a wide range of angles. If you’d rather have it off your desktop, it’ll fit a range of stands and shock-mounts.

The clever thing about the Snowball is that it’s better and more versatile than you might expect, flicking between omnidirectional modes for general recording and a cardioid mode for vocals and podcasts. The sound quality, meanwhile, is great for the money; it picks up tons of detail without any background hum. If you’re just starting out with streams or podcasts, this is the mic to buy.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 44.1kHz/16-bit; Frequency response: 40Hz to 18kHz; Stand: mini tripod; Connections: mini-USB; Weight: 460g

2. Samson Meteor: The best-value USB microphone

Price: £69 | Buy now from Amazon

There’s a lot to like about Samson’s USB mic, starting with the way it looks. The all-metal construction and chrome finish give the Meteor a classic 1950s style, and it feels every bit as solid as it looks. The design is practical, too, with the three legs of the built-in tripod stand folding flush against the mic for travel. At the back there’s a mini-USB socket to connect the mic to your computer, plus a headphone out for monitoring the audio. At the front, a tiny volume control for the headphones surrounds a handy mute button.

Audio wise, the Meteor is very sensitive, so you’ll need to ratchet down the gain in your streaming or recording app to get the best results. It’s also pretty directional, with no choice of polar patterns, and at its best up close with the mouth right in front. Get the positioning right, though, and the sound is impressively clear and detailed, with a great tone and good control of pop. The meteor has its limitations but it’s great for streams, podcasts and simple demos, and the ideal cheap mic to throw in a bag and lug around.

Key specs – Type: Portable condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/16-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: Integral tripod; Connections: mini-USB, headphone; Weight: 658g

3. Blue Yeti X: The most flexible USB microphone

Price: £159 | Buy now from Amazon

The Yeti X is Blue Design's flagship podcasting mic and it boasts a number of significant upgrades over and above its illustrious predecessor. It has an overhauled four-capsule condenser microphone array inside instead of the three of the old model and a host of extra features.

That microphone array contributes to warmer, richer recordings, and lets you select from four different pickup patterns - cardioid, stereo, 360-degree recording and bi-directional for across the table podcast chats. There's a new multifunctional, clickable gain knob on the front that lets you not only adjust microphone levels but, also, at a long press adjust headphone volume and, with another, the blend between computer audio and microphone heard through the headphones.

The button also has live microphone-metering built-in via a ring of bright LEDs that surround it so you can get instant feedback as to whether you need to adjust the levels up or down. And there's a host of useful extra features delivered via Logitech's G Hub gaming software, including the ability to select from a huge array of different microphone profiles and adjust voice EQ settings for the perfect sound.

Perhaps the Yeti X's killer feature, however, is the ability to apply advanced effects live to the microphone input, without the need to route the signal through professional audio editing software. These effects include a noise gate, a high-pass filter, a de-esser, compressor, noise reducer and a limiter, and there's a surprising amount of fine-tuning you can carry out within each effect. There's even the ability to tweak the colour of the microphone's LEDs to suit your mood.

The Yeti X is the ultimate microphone for streamers and podcasters: it sounds great, it's easy to use and comes packed with features. It might cost a bit more but it's well worth the extra spend.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/24-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: Desktop; Connections: micro-USB, 3.5mm headphone; Weight: 1.28kg (microphone and stand), 519g (microphone only)

4. Shure MV7: The best USB microphone for sound quality

Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon

If you've just started out in podcasting and realised your first microphone isn't cutting the mustard, you'll probably want to take a close look at the Shure MV7. Modeled on the legendary Shure SM7B, the MV7 is a professional-level microphone and it comes with both USB and XLR connectors so you can hook it up to whatever interface you need to. It also has a 3.5mm headphone socket for monitoring and you can even record via USB and XLR at the same time.

Everything about this microphone is well-made. Its metal barrel is heavy and feels durable. It has a touch-sensitive recording level and headphone adjustment control and it comes supplied with a foam pop screen for keeping plosives under control, too. The only thing we don't like is that there's no stand in the box and you have to buy the microUSB to Lighting cable separately.

Nor does the MV7 offer multiple polar patterns like the Yeti X; it's designed solely to record your voice and nothing else. However, it's brilliant at that, picking up far less background room echo than the Yeti X and delivering clean, full-bodied recordings you'd struggle to achieve with most other USB mics. You do have to sit close to it to get the very best quality, though.

Combined with the Motiv software, available on iOS, Android, PC and Mac (it doesn't work with USB-C equipped iPad Pro tablets, though), the MV7 is also a doddle to set up and use, with an auto-level mode to take the hassle out of setup for novices and a manual mode that offers up just enough control to make getting the perfect setup quick and easy.

All-in-all, the Shure MV7 is the best USB podcasting microphone you can buy. It may not be the most flexible but, for outright sound quality, it has the competition soundly beaten.

Key specs – Type: dynamic recording cartridge; Sample rate: 48kHz/24-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: None; Connections: micro-USB, XLR, 3.5mm headphone; Weight: 1.21kg (microphone and bracket)

5. Audio-Technica AT2020 USB+: The best USB microphone for recording

Price: £124 | Buy now from Amazon

It doesn’t have much in the way of looks or fancy features, but the AT2020 USB+ feels like a serious audio tool. It’s surprisingly heavy and comes with a solid two-part tripod stand, plus USB and Lightning cables, all supplied inside a leather case. You have to be a bit careful with the stand or the mic falls over, but it does a great job of keeping it pointing towards whoever’s speaking, and you can easily fit the AT2020 to a studio arm stand using the built-in 5/8in thread or 3/8in adaptor.

You have to live without built-in monitoring, but the mic has a level control at the front. More importantly, the sound quality is hugely impressive, capturing professional quality speech for streams or podcasts and working well with guitars and other instruments as long as the mic is fairly close. While not as versatile as the mics with switchable polar patterns, this is a mic that knows its job and can handle it really well.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/16-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: Mini tripod; Connections: micro-USB, headphone; Weight: 386g

6. Blue Yeti: The best USB microphone for podcasters

Price: £120 | Buy now from Amazon

For ten years the Yeti series has set the standard for podcast-friendly USB mics, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it does the same for another decade. This compact mic incorporates three specially-tuned condenser capsules, along with Digital Signal Processing (DSP) that can switch between four different modes, including Cardioid, Stereo, Bidirectional and Omni. You also get a gain control and a headphone socket for monitoring, along with a handy mute button. The sturdy desktop stand keeps it all in place, but it’s not hard to find a third-party studio arm stand if you’d prefer one.

As for the audio, the Yeti captures rich, natural and very detailed sound, though you have to be careful about ambient noise, particularly outside of the Cardioid mode. If you’re streaming or podcasting, you’re not going to find much that sounds this good without spending a lot more money.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/16-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: desktop; Connections: mini USB, headphone; Weight: 550g

7. Trust Gaming GXT 258 Fyru: The best USB microphone for streaming

Price: £119 | Buy now from Amazon

Most of the big names in gaming hardware have launched their own USB mics, hoping to make an impact on the growing community of YouTubers and streamers. Most of them go big on the looks and RGB lighting, but get things wrong on the sound quality and practicality. The Trust GXT 258 Fyru gets just about everything right.

This is a big, solid-feeling mic which comes with a hefty stand. It has a choice of four polar patterns – cardioid, stereo, bidirectional and omni – and built in monitoring with independent level controls for the mic gain and the headphone volume. The stand is a little too susceptible to vibrations – picking up a pounding noise from the keyboard and even the movement of the mouse – but nothing you couldn’t fix with a cheap studio arm mount. Otherwise, the sound is excellent, with a real warmth, clarity and detail and impressive pop control. It’s not as good as the Audio-Technica or Yeti for recording music, but it’s a brilliant streamer’s mic.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/16-bit; Frequency response: 30Hz to 18kHz; Stand: mini tripod; Connections: USB Type-C, headphone; Weight: 626g (1Kg with stand)

8. RODE Podcaster: The best USB microphone for handling background noise

Price: £155 | Buy now from Amazon

Where most of the mics on this list are condenser models, the Podcaster uses a dynamic capsule. The results are obvious: a really good, crisp and detailed sound that does a great job of minimising background noise. It’s brilliant for podcasts, particularly when you’re working from a home or office, rather than a studio, but also for game streaming if you’d like to keep the noise of mechanical keyboards and mouse buttons out of your feed.

It’s a big microphone, but well-designed, with a headphone jack for monitoring, a built-in pop filter and an internal shock mount, though be aware that it comes without any form of desktop stand. If you find other mics can’t get you the professional sound you’re looking for, try this one. As the name suggests, it’s an exceptional mic for podcasts, streams and really anything involving voice.

Key specs – Type: Dynamic; Sample rate: 48kHz/18-bit; Frequency response: 40Hz to 14kHz; Stand: none; Connections: USB Type-B; Weight: 655g

9. Shure MV88+: The best USB microphone for mobile video

Price: £160 | Buy now from Amazon

Most USB mics are designed for use with laptops or PCs, but Shure’s little wonder has your smartphone or tablet in its sights. In fact, the holder that attaches to the bundled Manfrotto Pixi mini tripod will hold your smartphone while holding the mic securely on top. This gives you a useful grip for smartphone video while the mic captures quality sound.

Both USB Type C and Lightning cables are included, to work with a wide variety of phones. Shure’s Motiv app, meanwhile, can handle all recording duties while configuring the mic for your perfect sound. You can also select between a range of bidirectional, stereo and cardioid polar patterns.

The MV88+ is designed to work at a longer range than your average USB condenser, though it still works for streams and podcasts if you’re after an ultraportable mic. The sound is very crisp and clear, with the bundled foam windshield helping to minimise wind noise, and there’s still room for a built-in headphone output, though no volume or gain control. Serious about smartphone video? This is the mic to own.

Key specs – Type: Portable condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/24-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: Phone grip and mini tripod; Connections: micro-USB; Weight: 810g

10. Shure MV51: The most versatile USB microphone

Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon

The MV51 looks and feels like a serious bit of kit. Weighing nearly 600g, it’s a surprisingly big, chunky microphone with some stunning retro looks. It’s strength, though, is its versatility. A kickstand at the rear keeps it upright for portable use but unscrew the rubber foot at its end and you’ll find a thread to fit to a microphone stand. Meanwhile, the touch controls on the front allow you to switch between five different DPS modes, optimised for singers, acoustic instruments, speech or loud sounds (ideal for rock gigs), plus one that’s just flat. There’s a headphone output for built-in monitoring, and you can adjust the volume and the gain from the panel at the front. What’s more, Shure throws in USB and Lightning cables and the mic works with the firm’s Motiv mobile recording app.

None of this would matter if the sound wasn’t up to scratch, but it’s fantastic. If anything it’s a little too sensitive to ambient noise once you move outside the speech mode, so think about placing it on a studio arm mount and moving it away from your desk. It’s one of the best mics around for clarity and detail, and it’s also great for recording acoustic instruments or broadcast-quality speech. The downside is that it’s so expensive, but as a brilliant, do-it-all microphone it’s hard to beat.

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/24-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: integral kickstand; Connections: micro-USB; Weight: 575g

11. Shure MV5C: The best high-end microphone for your office

Price: £102 | Buy now from Amazon

With its compact design and great voice capture, the Shure MV5C has enough grunt to endure long business meetings and work conferences, whether you’re at home or in the office. Its lightweight construction is a boon to portability, but may also be to its detriment as, in our testing, we found it was easy to knock over by mistake.

Powering the microphone is a standard USB to micro-USB cable. The one that’s provided with the unit is a mere 1m long, but as these are such common cables, it’s highly likely that you own some longer ones to extend the microphone’s reach without straining yourself or trailing USB extenders all over your desk unnecessarily.

There’s a series of bespoke lights on the mic that show the vital information, including whether you’re muted or if there’s headphones plugged in. These are good to know, but the lights themselves, as well as the volume control wheel, we found were a little on the small side.

The most important question, however, is how the microphone itself sounds, and we’re happy to say that the Shure MV5C doesn’t disappoint. It impressed us in our testing with its ‘speech enhancement’ mode that reduced irritating sibilant hissing whilst providing clear, crisp sound, making this mic ideal for home use and even podcasting.

At the same time, this is one expensive microphone. With so many different options on the market under £100 that provide a solid experience, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend that you rush out and buy one immediately, but if you’re looking to be heard at your next board meeting, then you could do a lot worse.

Read our full Shure MV5C review

Key specs – Type: Desktop condenser; Sample rate: 48kHz/24-bit; Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz; Stand: adjustable; Connections: micro-USB; Weight: 160g

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