You might have heard some things about XLR and USB microphones.
For example, "XLR microphones sound more professional" or that "USB microphones are less of a hassle".
Let me tell you something, I am an audio engineer and I use both, but for very different reasons.
Check out the video about XLR vs USB microphones, if you're not in the mood to read.
What is XLR?
So, what is XLR? Obviously, it can’t be connected directly to your computer.
The 3-pin XLR cable is the most common one, and almost every device in a studio, home studio, and even on stage connects via XLR.
Since XLR is an analog connector, you’ll need an audio interface to enter the digital world and want to make recordings using your computer or smartphone.
XLR is THE studio standard connector for professional audio equipment.
Why you need an audio interface for XLR microphones
Here we have an entry-level audio interface that connects to your computer via its USB port.
It features many different connectors that you won’t find on a USB microphone including XLR connectors.
To me, one of the main advantages of an audio interface is the possibility to connect and record more than one microphone at the same time. This one here features two mic inputs for example. Or you could connect a mic and a guitar.
In a professional recording environment, audio interfaces will most likely feature many microphone inputs.
Advantages of using XLR
If you want to get into recording, it’s much more reasonable to go for XLR right from the start.
You can upgrade easier meaning that you can gradually invest in more gear as you go, you can use different microphones and so on, until at one point your home’s crammed with equipment.
Trust me, there is no turning back once you have entered the wonderful world of gear.
But the most important thing is, every professional audio gear that you’ll get will be compatible with each other.
Advantages of USB microphones
USB mics are actually condenser or dynamic microphones with an integrated analog to digital converter. You won’t need an audio interface.
USB microphones are a great plug and play solution, especially for online communication. And of course, when you’re tired of using the shitty built-in mic from your computer.
Ease of use is the biggest advantage of a USB microphone.
The downside is the lack of hardware outputs, and that you can’t upgrade single components.
Can a USB microphone match the audio quality of a studio condenser microphone? Yes, of course. Both are using similar capsule and circuit design, and both signals need to be converted from analog to digital. How well that is done mostly depends on the efforts put into product development.
USB vs XLR microphones and their differences
I use both microphone types but in different scenarios.
For online meetings, gaming or streaming, I prefer my USB microphone, because it is convenient. It comes with routing software, and the whole thing is designed for these purposes, it even has a dedicated mute button.
When it comes to recording professionally, be it voiceover, vocals, instruments, and so on, I prefer my XLR microphones. I can use the analog/digital converters that I prefer, I can change the microphone for different applications.
Freedom and flexibility are really what I want when recording professionally.