To USB or Not to USB? That IS the Question

USB microphones seem to be everywhere.  For the beginning podcaster, they offer a cheaper, many times simpler, and fairly user friendly experience.  In some cases they can come off as sounding just as good as some of the professional microphones.

Should You Use USB Mics?When I first began podcasting in 2008, I owned a Blue Snowball Microphone, but it picked up way too much ambient sound. As a recording artist first, I hated the thought of extraneous noise filtering into my podcast recordings. Because of this, I abandoned USB mics early on in my podcasting career, shifting toward XLR dynamic microphones, the ones you plug into a mixing board, which tend to pick up less ambient noise and provide a better quality sound.

However, this year, I discovered, much to my dismay, that one of my co-hosts from another state was using a USB microphone, the Yeti  by Blue Microphones. How could she?

I was initially appalled; then amazed.  Except for a slight hum that I could eliminate in post-production and maybe could have blamed on Skype, it sounded just as amazing as my Heil PR-40.  It left me wondering whether or not using a USB mic matters in podcasting any more?  In my opinion, it still does, though not necessarily for the reasons I shifted away from USB microphones five years ago.

The real issue is not whether you should use a USB microphone or not.  Its whether your should use a condenser or dynamic USB microphone.  As a rule of thumb, condensers tend to be more sensitive to your surrounding conditions.  They tend to deliver a full, more robust sound.

Here are a few things to consider.

Recording Location

Many, if not most, entry level USB condenser microphones such as the AT2020 or the CAD GXL2200 produce a more authentic, sound.  This is great for live settings where ambient noise is important. For example, I attend a couple of conventions each year and record conversations, interviews, and panels.  The amount of ambient noise my Tascam DR-7, which uses a condenser mic, picks up gives the experience an authenticity and helps my listeners experience the convention.

At a home recording studio, a USB with a condenser mic may not be optimal.  Unless you have a studio with complete quietness, many USB mics will pick up children a few rooms away, the neighbor’s distant barking dog, the birds chirping on the spring summer day, or the thrum of the washer. And if the fan kicks in on your computer, it picks that up as well.  These mics will also pick up every lip smack, click, and saliva drip your mouth makes.

The home podcasting studio is where in most cases you want a USB Dynamic microphones.  The Audio-Technica ATR2100 is an example of one that is amazing, and will give you the best sound while eliminating those pesky noises.  It sounds darn good too.

Core Questions:

Where will you be recording? At a public place or a home studio away from all noise? Is ambient noise an important part of your podcast?

2. Co-hosting

This is perhaps the biggest issue for me.  I co-host two of the podcasts I produce with another body sitting in the room with me. If using USB condenser microphones, vocal bleeding becomes an issue. My vocals and my co-hosts vocals will be captured each others vocal tracks. This can result in messy editing in post production.  There are ways around this, but again, do you need this complication?

You can avoid the above issue by using USB dynamic microphones. You would still have to find away to get both mics into your computer.  Or you could have your co-host bring their own computer and record both mics separately, combining the tracks later.

Core Questions:

Are you running a solo podcast? Or do you have co-hosts with you in the room?

Food for thought:

Without a doubt, the piece of equipment that impacts the sound and presentation of a podcast is the microphone. There are great USB microphones out there that will give you phenomenal sound.   Consider the core questions carefully as they will impact the type of mic you acquire.


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