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Are USB Mics Right For You?

August 16, 2012
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The latest USB mics are certainly not toys for amateur podcasters, but whether they are cool tools for your home-studio projects depends upon your technical temperament, your budget, and your sonic expectations.

The Up side

Cost and convenience are the big draws. A USB mic and a DAW-loaded laptop offer an inexpensive and portable recording system without having to pay extra bucks for an interface and XLR cables. USB mics are also plug-and-play, so there’s no fretting about soundcards or drivers. This can mean higher latency, but some USB mics offer a headphone output for zero-latency monitoring.

The Downside

It’s mostly about flexibility. For one thing, you’re typically tied to a fixed sample rate, so if a project requires 24-bit/96kHz resolution, and your USB mic delivers 16-bit/44.1kHz, you’re out of luck, baby. Also consider that an analog mic will likely work with any recording system until the sun goes cold and dark. Technological advances in the digital realm, however, may one day banish your USB mic to the Island of Misfit Studio Toys.

Quality

Opinions vary over whether inexpensive USB mics with onboard A/D converters can truly capture great sounds, but they’ve improved tremendously since their inception. Checking peer and pro reviews is one failsafe, but as many retailers offer reasonable return policies, definitely audition the mic in your studio to ensure you will be happy with its sound quality, features, and value. I’ve provided a short list of current USB mics at various price points to kick off your search.

Specifications

AKG Perception 120 USB

AKG Perception 120 USBPrice $149 street
Type Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 24-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1kHz/48kHz
Frequency Range 20Hz-20kHz
Maximum SPL n/a
Low Latency Monitoring No
Onboard Level Control No
CONTACT akg.com

 

Apogee MiC

Apogee MiCPrice $199 street
Type Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 24-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1kHz/48kHz 24-bit
Frequency Range n/a
Maximum SPL n/a
Low Latency Monitoring No
Onboard Level Control Yes
CONTACT apogee.com

 

Audio-Technica AT2020 USB

Audio-Technica AT2020 USBPrice $149 street
Type Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 16-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1kHz
Frequency Range 20Hz-16kHz
Maximum SPL n/a
Low Latency Monitoring No
Onboard Level Control No
CONTACT audio-technica.com

 

Blue Yeti

Blue YetiPrice $149 street
Type Condenser
Polar Patterns Cardioid, omni, bidirectional
Resolution 16-bit
Sampling Rate 48kHz
Frequency Range 15Hz-22kHz
Maximum SPL 120dB
Low Latency Monitoring Yes
Onboard Level Control Yes
CONTACT bluemic.com

 

Shure PG42-USB

Shure PG42-USBPrice $249 street
Type Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 16-bit
Sampling Rate 48kHz
Frequency Range 20Hz-20kHz
Maximum SPL 135dB
Low Latency Monitoring Yes
Onboard Level Control Yes
CONTACT shure.com

 

Audix USB12

Audix USB12Price $149 street
Type Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 16-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1kHz/48kHz
Frequency Range 50Hz-16kHz
Maximum spl 115dB
Low Latency Monitoring Yes
Onboard Level Control No
CONTACT audixusa.com

 

RØDE Podcaster

RODE PodcasterPrice $229 street
Type Dynamic
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Resolution 18-bit
Sampling Rate 8-48kHz
Frequency Range 40Hz-14kHz
Maximum SPL 115dB
Low Latency Monitoring Yes
Level Adjust No
CONTACT rodemic.com

 

Samson C03U

Samson CO3UPrice $99 street
Type Condenser
Polar Patterns Cardioid, omni, figure-8
Resolution 16-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1kHz/48kHz
Frequency Range 20Hz-18kHz
Maximum SPL 136dB
Low Latency Monitoring No
Onboard Level Control No
CONTACT samsontech.com

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