If you’ve made the decision to record your own audiobook or start a podcast, microphones are one of the first things your mind turns to. Even for someone unfamiliar with recording, several images may come to mind: cylindrical mics, round mics, mics you see performers using onstage, old radio-broadcasters’ mics—the point is, there are a lot of options out there.
But which USB microphone is best for recording an audiobook, starting a podcast, or narrating blog posts or other marketing materials?
Despite the diverse glut of microphones of types, brands, and price points, there are a few that stick out as consumer favorites for their affordability, flexibility, and relative quality.
The following is a list, from lowest to highest price, of some of the best options on the market as of 2021.
Before jumping into the list, here are some common terms used when discussing microphones:
Condenser mics: Condenser-style microphones are most often found in a studio setting. These mics are more sensitive and thus great at picking up softer sounds. With one exception, all mics on this list are condenser-style microphones.
Dynamic mics: Dynamic-style microphones, in contrast to condenser mics, are most often found in a live setting, like the standard microphone you see performers using onstage. Dynamic mics are better at picking up louder sounds. They are also more adept at rejecting background noise.
For this reason, dynamic mics may be better suited for the home recordist whose recording environment isn’t properly outfitted to record (i.e., a space that isn’t quiet and dampened with absorbent materials. See our post on setting up a home recording environment for more information about this).
Monitoring: The act of listening to your voice during recording using headphones is referred to as monitoring. This can be achieved in one of two ways: plugged into your mic, called “direct” monitoring, or plugged into the computer. Plugging your headphones into the computer runs the risk of experiencing “latency,” a delay between speaking and hearing your voice.
Monitoring is up to the preference of the recordist, and it isn’t necessary in order to record. Not all mics feature a headphone jack for direct monitoring, but those that do are specified below.
Input gain: The volume at which your voice is recorded is called input gain. This can be set either with your recording software, or through a gain (volume) knob on the microphone itself, or both.
While not necessarily required, a gain knob on your mic will allow for more control over your recording conditions. Mics on this list that feature gain knobs are specified below.
USB vs XLR: The terms USB and XLR refer to the connections used to plug in your mic. USB mics connect to your computer via USB; most computers have USB ports. USB mics tend to be more budget-friendly and consumer-level.
Pictured below: XLR connectors (left) and USB connector (right).
XLR microphones require the addition of either an audio interface or a mixer into which you plug your mic. All pro-level microphones use XLR connections and render a better sound quality.
All mics discussed below are USB microphones. You need not worry about XLR microphones unless you have a higher budget and desire a more professional setup.
Note: The microphone prices listed below are estimates. Actual prices may vary.
1. Fifine USB Microphone
In the under-$50 market, the Fifine USB microphone is one of the most popular among home recordists. Priced at around $40, this condenser mic is small and portable and is one of the best options for simple desktop recording.
The microphone comes with a stand, making it easy to set on a desk. It also features a gain knob on the microphone itself, allowing you to adjust the volume of your voice as it feeds into your computer, adding to its flexibility. The mic will work with an iPad and iPhone with the proper adapter.
If the most affordable option is what interests you, the Fifine USB microphone is a great way to go.
$35.99. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Desk stand
Best for: Budget
2. Blue Snowflake
Blue is a company well-known for its affordable, high-quality consumer-level microphones. The Snowflake is Blue’s travel-friendly model, small enough to fit in your pocket.
The greatest advantage of the Snowflake is its flexibility: its adjustable stand attached to the mic allows for multiple configurations, including the ability to set it on a desk or clip it onto the screen of a laptop. When not in use, the microphone folds smoothly into the stand for easy portability.
$99.99. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Dual stand and clip mount
Best for: Portability
3. Blue Snowball
The Snowball is the widely-celebrated affordable microphone offering from Blue, due as much to its relatively good sound quality as to its distinctive spherical shape. It’s as popular with podcasters as it is with video game streamers, YouTubers, and amateur musicians.
While at roughly the same price point as its portable sibling the Snowflake, the Snowball boasts several features not found in its portable counterpart. Included are pickup pattern modes for omnidirectional, meaning it will pick up sound from a full 360 degrees around the mic, and for cardioid, designed to pick up sound from in front of the mic.
This makes it suitable for standard single-voice recording, as well as allowing for the ability to record multiple people through its omnidirectional mode, which may be best for a podcaster who features in-person guests.
The cardioid-pattern mode further features a -10 dB attenuation (lowering of input volume) for recording in louder environments.
If you like the idea of the Blue Snowflake but want something with a bit more in features and heft, you can’t go wrong with the Snowball.
$69.99. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Desk stand
Best for: Podcasters with in-person guests
4. Blue Yeti
The Blue Yeti is the next step up from the Blue Snowball. This microphone, equally as popular as the Snowball, is extremely well-regarded by home recordists of all types for its great sound quality and features.
In comparison with the Snowball, the Yeti offers a wider frequency response (20 Hz–20 kHz as opposed to the Snowball’s 40 Hz–18 kHz) as well as the higher bit depth of 24 bit, compared to the Snowball’s 16 bit. These are numbers the average podcaster may not need to worry about; the point is that the Yeti boasts a better sound quality than the Snowball.
The Yeti also features a number of pickup patterns, including omnidirectional, cardioid, stereo, and bidirectional. Stereo, though probably not necessary for podcasters or audiobook narrators, is great for capturing a wide sound for instruments. Bidirectional is similar to cardioid but will also pick up sound from directly behind the mic.
Other features include direct monitoring with volume control for plugging in headphones directly to the mic, as well as microphone gain control to adjust the volume going from the mic into the computer.
With its wide array of features, high quality, and relatively affordable price point, it’s no wonder the Blue Yeti is consistently rated one of the best USB microphones on the market.
$129.99. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Desk stand
Best for: Relatively affordable, high-quality recording
5. Samson Q2U
The Samson Q2U is also a favorite among podcasters and narrators. In contrast to the condenser-style microphones that make up the rest of this list, the Q2U is a dynamic mic. As defined above, dynamic mics are better at handling sounds in a louder environment.
A dynamic mic is more adept at picking up sounds directly in front of it while rejecting more background noise than a condenser mic. So, if you are recording in an environment that is less well-suited to a quiet recording, such as one with a lot of outside traffic noise or a room with little in the way of sound dampening measures, a dynamic mic such as the Samson Q2U would be an ideal solution.
Featuring a headphone jack for monitoring, the Q2U is also unique in that it comes with both a USB output and an XLR output, meaning you would be able to upgrade to an audio interface or mixer down the line using the XLR output without having to buy a brand-new XLR microphone.
$59.99. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Desk stand, wind shield
Best for: Noisy environments and connection flexibility
6. Audio-Technica AT2020+
The Audio-Technica AT2020 series of microphones are a mainstay of home recordists. The “Plus” version of the AT2020 is recommended, as it includes a headphone jack for input monitoring, so you can hear yourself as you record with zero latency.
The AT2020+ features a mix control to manage the mic feed relative to sound from the computer.
The AT2020+ is a microphone that will deliver a good quality sound for any podcast or audiobook.
$149. Click for current price on Amazon.
Accessories: Desk stand
Best for: Name brand recognition and quality
This is but a small sampling of some of the best and more common USB microphones for audiobook recording or use for podcasts. There are many (many) more, but depending on your needs, at least one of these should cover all your bases.
Available microphone accessories include pop filters to remove unwanted plosives (those pesky, popping sounds from Ps and Bs), and various types of floor stands.
Floor stands are helpful, as setting up a mic directly on a desk using the included desk stand poses the risk of unwanted noise from bumping or touching the desk, and the likelihood that bass-y frequencies will be picked up.
However, if you are just starting out, it might not be a priority to jump on any peripheral equipment just yet; what matters most is finding a microphone that works for you and a space quiet enough to record in.
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