THE B&H 2009 Holiday Buyer's Guide
USB microphones offer quick plug-and-play solutions for voice recording into both Mac and PC desktop computers. Building a desktop audio studio is as simple as plugging a USB mic into your computer. Next, edit your recorded audio with the drag-and-drop ease of desktop software such as Apple's Garageband. Reasonably priced and easy to use, USB microphones offer even novices the capability to produce professional, high-quality audio on their home computers.
USB Microphones can also be used to attain pristine audio quality on online voice chats like Skype or iChat. "Everybody's talking. They're podcasting, or recording voiceovers for radio shows on the web. USB mics give people an easy, quick way to record their voices on the web for podcasting or web radio shows," says Azel Brown, one of our friendly Pro Audio Salesmen at the B&H SuperStore. "Before, XLR and audio interfaces were necessary for audio recording. USB mics offer the same audio recording capabilities with just one jack."
In general, there are 3 types of microphones—cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-of-eight—each with very specific uses. The most common USB mic is the cardioid microphone, so named because its recording pattern is heart-shaped. The cardioid mic's directional pickup is ideal for voice recording. Omnidirectional mics are commonly used for groups of singers or instrumentalists, but may also pick up unwanted ambient sounds. Figure-of-eight mics pick up sounds in front of and behind the recording element. Thus, most USB mics are of the cardioid variety for optimal voice recording. More advanced models offer the flexibility of switching between cardioid, omni, and figure-eight.
B&H offers a variety of USB microphone solutions for the budding novice or seasoned professional. For the novice or the hobbyist, budget-friendly plug-and-play kits provide all the equipment needed to get your voice online. Professionals can take advantage of the advanced features of specialized microphones that offer custom settings, wide dynamic ranges, built-in headphone outputs, and variable switching.
The basic equipment needed to get started with audio recording on your desktop is:
- a USB Microphone,
- microphone stands and shock mounts,
- basic sound-editing software, and
- a trusty pair of headphones.
In this USB mic guide, we'll sample a selection of the mics available here at B&H, from basic, wallet-friendly options to professional, specialized options to get your voice recorded quickly and easily. We'll close with some portable USB adapters that offer USB connectivity to high-quality XLR studio mics.
FOR Novices and Hobbyists
These mics offer economical USB-recording solutions, with plug-and-play ease, right out of the box.
For novices, Alesis brings a complete podcasting bundle, with all the necessary equipment to get started, at a very reasonable cost. This complete podcasting solution includes a desk stand, headphones for monitoring, Audacity software, and 30 free days of web hosting. Easy-to-use Audacity software allows even novice users to record, edit and upload podcasts with ease.
Its plug-and-play simplicity and unique design make the Blue Snowball one of our best selling USB mics. Start recording right out of the box. The design's 2-capsule construction gives you a choice between cardioid recording (for single vocals) and omni- pickup (for group instrumentals). Formally and functionally aesthetic, the Snowball comes in brushed aluminum, gloss black, or white.
The CAD U37 delivers studio-grade quality, with USB convenience, at a modest price. A large condenser-capsule element features a warm, extended frequency response for smooth vocal and instrumental reproduction. The cardioid polar pattern effectively reduces off-axis noise and feedback. The U37 is an ideal solution for vocals, speech, instruments, podcasts and desktop recording.
The MXL Studio 1 USB Desktop Recording Kit offers a complete, no-frills solution to audio recording. Essentially, 16-bit digital audio capture ensures quality reproduction. A built-in headphone jack and handy desktop stand round out this package for the discriminating novice.
The MXL USB.006 has a larger diaphragm than the Studio 1, for a wide dynamic range and smooth, professional sound. Seamlessly switch between 0dB, -5dB and -10dB settings, and 44.1 kHz and 48kHz sampling frequencies.
Simple and cost effective, Samson brings you the C01UCW. The basic hypercardioid condenser greatly reduces ambient off-axis noise, for detailed sound quality. SoftPre applet software for Windows PC extends the range of the mic to include remote volume control, high-pass filter and phase switch.
If you already have a firm grasp of the basics, these mics will kick your audio recording capabilities up a few vital notches. Supplemental features go beyond the basics. Detailed components for better sound quality characterize these mics, ideal for the enthusiast or serious hobbyist.
The reputable brand, Audio-Technica, injects quality components into the AT2020USB, for low noise and crystal-clear quality. A side-address diaphragm with off-axis sections and a cardioid polar pattern effectively mask ambient noise. A wide dynamic range and frequency response allows the AT2020USB to capture loud signals with minimal peak distortion, for accurate signal reproduction.
The Samson C03UCW is a multi-condenser microphone that offers variable switching between super-cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8 patterns, for a variety of studio applications—from voice overs to instrumental recording. A 10dB Pad switch prevents peak distortion for excessively loud audio signals, and a hi-pass filter switch eliminates noise caused by hum wind and low frequency ambience.
The instrument line input and custom adjustment dials distinguishes the Samson G-track from the competition. The G-track is designed to help singers, songwriters, and musicians record vocals and instrumentals with minimal setup. A built-in analog stereo 1/8" interface enables input of mono or stereo instruments or MP3 players, and a second 1/8" mini output connection provides latency-free headphone monitoring. Three manual dials provide individual control over instrument, microphone and headphone levels, for quick audio tweaks and adjustments.
USB Mics for Specialized or Professional Use
These mics are designed for specific uses such as narration, and offer custom-tailored switches for optimal sound quality. Top-of-the-line components and circuitry on these uncompromising mics offer professional-quality recording, with plug-and-play simplicity.
Blue's action-packed Yeti is the industry's first THX-certified microphone. Rock-solid metal construction encapsulates a triple array of Blue's premium condensers, for an incredible degree of presence and flexibility. This mic is designed to record custom audio specs: switches between 4 different pickup patterns—stereo, cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8; adjusts mic gain control and mute; and a high-quality headphone amplifier offers volume control for direct monitoring.
Specifically designed for narrators, voice overs, and announcing, the MXL USB.008 utilizes a large diaphragm condenser microphone to ensure, full, rich vocal reproduction. Professional studio engineers will also find it a suitable microphone for capturing vocals.
The Rode Podcaster is another broadcast microphone designed specifically with voice over recording in mind. Plug headphones directly into the microphone with a built-in amplifier, completely eliminating the need for external mixing consoles. Rode's free and exclusive podcast upload service is included.
The USB2200a from sE Electronics is the USB counterpart to its 2200a studio condenser microphone. Special circuitry eliminates noise associated with USB powering. Wide frequency response and cardioid polar pattern are ideal for voice over applications. Built-in headphone monitoring results in zero latency.
The PG42USB mic enters into the foray of professional-quality USB mics with Shure's uncompromising quality and inimitable construction. Tailored frequency response maximizes performance by accentuating the high tonal characteristics of vocals. A 1/8" mini headphone output jack provides latency-free monitoring, and a monitor mix control provides the perfect mix between the vocal performance and recorded audio.
USB Adapters, Preamps and Converters
Add plug-and-play ease of USB to any non-USB equipped studio or analog microphone with these handy little devices:
MXL USB Mic Mate - Preamp and USB Interface for Condenser Microphones
MXL Dynamic MicMate - USB Adapter for Dynamic Microphones with XLR Outputs
Perfect for on-the-fly recording, the pocket-sized USB Mic Mate from MXL converts any existing condenser microphone to USB. The MXL Dynamic MicMate offers USB compatibility for dynamic microphones. Both Mic Mates include a studio-quality USB mic preamp for 16-bit digital audio connectivity to any computer, and 3-position analog gain control.
The Shure X2u XLR to USB Adapter attaches to dynamic or condenser microphones. It includes an onboard 1/8" headphone output for latency-free monitoring, and three custom rotary dials to monitor microphone gain and output volume level control. Phantom power rounds out this adapter, delivering pristine 16-bit, 48kHz audio fidelity and resolution.
The Icicle from Blue Microphone's impeccable design provides USB connectivity to both dynamic and condenser mics. The preamp's fully balanced, low-noise front end provides 48V phantom power and automatic analog gain control. Plug-and-play compatibility requires no external converters or drivers for operation.
"Often Imitated, Never Duplicated," the MicPort Pro is the only portable mic preamp with a built-in 24-bit, 96kHz analog to digital converter, capturing ultra clean signals for professional recordings. Compatible with all professional mics, the MicPort Pro offers 48V phantom power via USB, and a 1/8" stereo mini-headphone for dedicated volume control, and zero-latency. No batteries. No latency. No headaches. Just plug in and record.
A really fine, ultra-portable USB condenser microphone/headphone kit is available in a special package exclusively from B&H. The Samson Go Mic Bundle consists of a Samson Go Mic USB microphone and a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M20 closed-back headphones.
The Go Mic features a USB audio output, a 1/8" (3.5mm) output jack, and a folding clip for mounting the unit onto a laptop . Switchable polar patterns provide cardioid and omni-directional pick-up patterns and 44.1kHz / 16-bit resolution for clean-sounding podcasts, music recording, field recording, and voice recognition software.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20 headphones feature a circumaural design that provides considerable noise isolation and 40mm drivers for smooth frequency response. The ATH-M20s also offer comfortable, well padded cushioning on the headband and ear pads.
USB microphones bring the power of a broadcast studio to your home desktop. Record the deep timbre of a baritone voice, or a silent whisper, with plug-and-play ease. Ideal for podcasting, online radio shows, online instant message voice chats, or recording on the go—one simple jack offers simplicity without an audio interface or pre-amplifier. Reasonably priced and easy to use, USB mics enable novices to produce professional quality audio. And for discriminating professionals, custom USB microphone features provide a simple interface that equally rivals their studio microphone counterparts.