What's the difference anyway?
Often when comparing a USB mic to an XLR mic running through an interface, the immediate difference brought up is price. USB mics can be cheaper, but the functionality of the ways of recording are very different. The best way to find out which is the right option for you is to learn a little bit about how they work so you can make an educated decision for yourself!
How Recording Works
To make a long story short, there are a few important steps that need to happen to get your voice recorded. Your voice needs to be translated from acoustic or analog energy into something digital that can be recorded into your DAW, and then back to analog energy for playback to occur.
For those interested, there are long winded explanations to how that really works, and it is fascinating...but unnecessary for now. All you need to know is that there is a series of digital & analog conversions that happen every time you record your voice or play back sound.
Our computers and phones can do this, but not at a professional level, which is why musicians, content creators, and voice actors are starting to invest in external microphones for higher quality recording.
ADC: Analog to Digital Conversion (happens when recording a sound)
DAC: Digital to Analog Conversion (happens when playing back a digital recording)
XLR: 3-pin balanced cable used to connect many microphones to audio recording equipment
DAW: Digital Audio Workstation (ex: Twisted Wave, Adobe Audition, Logic, ProTools)
Are you starting out in voice over? Not entirely sure if you are ready to make it a part time job? Are you thinking of getting into podcasting and want to get your ideas recorded on something better than your phone's mic? Are you looking to sing some demos before heading into the studio? Are you interested in the art of recording but not the technical side? Are you on a tight budget? These are some of the many scenarios in which a USB mic would be perfect for you...
How it Works
USB microphone is plugged directly into the computer. All of the conversion happens within the one piece of gear - the mic. All gain (volume) controls are on the microphone.
A more affordable option
Less gear to learn, get comfortable with, and troubleshoot
Compact & easy to travel with
Little to no room for adjustments
Impossible to upgrade one part of this studio set up
Lower quality preamp & A/D conversion
Is this not your first time talking or singing into a microphone? Are you looking for a more affordable way to record your 2-person podcast without heading into the studio? Are you starting to make demos at home that require multi-track recording? Are you looking to record more than just voice but live or DI instruments? Are you looking for a way to eventually upgrade your recording equipment but continue to use your favorite mic? Or swap out your starter mic for a better one when you get into a better financial situation? It sounds like your recoding situation is a bit too involved for just a one USB microphone...
How it Works
Any microphone can be connected a the audio interface using an XLR cable. The audio interface is connected to the computer. Gain (volume) controls are on the interface.
Much more versatility in sound
Higher quality preamp & A/D conversion
Ability to multi-track record (depending on your interface)
Higher initial investment
More gear to understand & troubleshoot
Higher possibilities for user error
So, which should you get?
The difficult yet liberating answer is that there is no way to pick a "best" option. In understanding the uses, pros, and cons for both combined with your personal scenario & relationship to recording, I hope this helps you make an educated decision on what would work best for you at this time in your audio journey.
Want to improve your home studio sound?
Gill with the G
Gillian Pelkonen is a musician & audio engineer based in New York. She makes her own music and is always looking to collaborate. As an Audio Engineer, she helps people elevate their sound, and specializes in techniques that enhance natural vocal texture & dynamics (aka the best parts of your unique voice).