Recording is the one thing that all humans have in common. We’re constantly documenting our lives in words, pictures, video and sound. While all our devices have the ability to record, their small built-in microphones are not designed to capture the every audible frequency. Enter USB microphones, the easiest way to upgrade your audio quality from amateur to professional.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…
More than a microphone, it’s a full-fledged audio interface. To the unfamiliar, an audio interface is how you record with a computer or smart device. Add recording software (DAW) and you’ve got a recording studio in a box, or your palm. Yes, its this easy and we are that spoiled. What I’m saying is if you’re looking to record but have nothing, you’re in the right place. USB microphones are the easiest and most affordable way to turn your device into a studio.
The USB microphone requires only one USB cable, from the mic to the computer, tablet or phone. Depending on the device, the connector on the cable will change. Some USB microphones only work with Mac or Windows whereas newer models also work with tablets and smart phones. Most of the USB microphones I’ve used come with the proper cables. You might want to double check when you buy in case you need one.
Since they’re audio interfaces, there needs to be a way to monitor what you’re recording. For this, USB microphones have built-in headphone jacks. Usually 1/8” (3.55mm). Depending on what you’re doing, please use the proper audio-headwear. What I mean is if you’re just messing around, your free earbuds will work just fine. But if you’re recording a podcast, do yourself a favor and get a nice pair of closed-back studio headphones. Or if you’re using the mic to record your band’s practice, just leave it on the table, set it and forget it. Proceed to rock and or roll.
How do they work?
Unlike traditional condenser microphones, USB mics contain built-in preamplifiers. The USB cable transfers phantom power to the microphone, similarly the way a mixing console transfers up to 48 volts through an XLR cable. So in owning a USB microphone, you don’t necessarily need an audio interface or a dedicated microphone preamp. You may also want one, but that’s a different topic for another day.
If you’re a musician on the go, the USB microphone is a no-brainer. All you need is a phone and a USB mic and you can record vocals, acoustic guitars, percussion, street noises, conversations, animals, sound effects, on location foley, your life memories…Yeah okay, so maybe you don’t need to be a musician to record on the go. The Blue Raspberry includes software but regardless of your mic choice, they’ll work with any DAW (digital audio workstation).
All of the USB microphones I’ve used are large diaphragm condensers. This makes them ideal for everything from singing to podcasting. One of the big differences I’ve seen is in the available sample rates and bit depths. All of them are at least 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD quality). I’ve also seen 24-bit, 48kHz and a few other variations. Look around and make your choice based on how important fidelity is to you.
Some microphones have their own bells and whistles such as with the Shure MV51. It may be classic-looking (think Elvis mic meets 21st century) but the 5 DSP (digital signal processing) settings make it more functional than before. Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instrument, and Loud are all names of onboard presets. They have been automatically optimized with EQ, compression and limiting for each sound source/environment.
So without saying too much more, I can really see why USB microphones are one of technology’s easiest ways to capture ideas in high fidelity. I think most people would find them a welcome addition in their home or studio. They’re especially useful for everyday families. Think about making YouTube videos sound better and talking on FaceTime or Skype with family and having them hear you crystal clear. Good times.