Home → USB Microphone vs XLR: Detailed Comparison
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JG McQuarrie

Nov 02nd, 2022

USB Microphone vs XLR: Detailed Comparison

USB Mic vs XLR

When looking to capture audio for a podcast, broadcast, or other recordings, there are two types of microphones available. These are USB and XLR microphones. Both have their own set of characteristics, and depending on what it is you want to record, you may prefer to choose one over the other.

But what are the differences between a USB microphone and an XLR microphone? And what are the pros and cons of each of them? Come with us as we guide you through USB vs XLR microphones and give you all you need to make an informed decision as to which to choose.

USB Mic vs XLR Mic: What’s The Difference Between these two?

The main difference between a USB microphone and an XLR microphone is the type of connector they use.

A USB microphone uses a USB cable to connect directly to your computers. They are generally plug-and-play, though some will come with their own software or drivers. However, normally you can plug a USB microphone straight into your computer and begin recording immediately.

XLR microphones are the most common type of microphone available and use an XLR cable. When you see a singer with a microphone in their hand, with a long cable snaking away from it, that’s an XLR microphone. Or any time you see a microphone in a recording studio, that’s what it will be — an XLR microphone.

XLR microphones normally have a three-pronged male-to-female connector. This will connect to a device, usually some kind of audio interface, which will then connect to your computer. You cannot connect an XLR microphone directly to a computer.

USB Microphones

USB (which stands for Universal Serial Bus) Microphones have several different features, pros, and cons when used for audio recording.

Main Features

The main feature of a USB microphone is simplicity. USB microphones are incredibly easy to use, and even the most inexperienced podcaster or content creator can get comfortable with one in seconds.

Compatibility is another important feature. Because all computers support USB you don’t have to worry about whether it will work with your particular hardware or operating system. You can just plug in and go.

USB microphones mostly connect using the USB-A connector. Some will now ship with USB-C adapters as the USB-C connector becomes more common, but almost all still come with USB-A as standard.

They are also normally cheaper than XLR microphones. While there are expensive USB microphones, just as there are cheap XLR microphones, USB does tend to come with a lower price tag.


  • Easy Setup: If you are just beginning your podcasting or broadcasting career, all you need to do is plug in and go. No hassle, no technical knowledge, just simple straightforward recording.
  • Functions: Many USB mics can come with built-in muting switches, LED’s to indicate levels and clipping, or 3.5mm headphones jacks. These are all made possible by the USB connection, which can carry data as well as sound.This means that live streamers, podcasters, or other recorders find these mics a great choice because you can see and control what happens without having to resort to software solutions.
  • Wide Range: There is a huge range of USB microphones on the market these days, which cater to every budget and every recording scenario. If you decide to choose a USB microphone for your recording, there will be an option out there for you.
  • Portability: With a USB microphone, you can just grab it and go. You don’t need anything other than a computer to plug into, and USB microphones are light and durable enough to take anywhere. And even if they do get damaged, they are cheaper to replace!


  • Balance: USB microphones can be hard to balance. This is because USB mics come with a built-in preamp so you cannot adjust or change it. You also can’t replace it with an alternative, so you are stuck with whatever preamp the manufacturer installed.
  • Non-Upgradable: There’s no easy way to upgrade the quality of a USB microphone without replacing the entire device. As mentioned, the preamp is built in, and normally the other components aren’t swappable. That means when the time does come to upgrade, you are looking at a whole new unit.
  • Recording More Than One At Once: One of the major drawbacks of USB microphones is that it’s difficult to record more than one of them at a time. If you need to record a single voice this isn’t an issue. However, if you need to record multiple voices on the same computer, then USB microphones aren’t going to be a good solution.
  • Stuck To Your Computer: USB microphones only work when attached to your computer. That means that you always need to have your computer with you to have them recorded.While for podcasters or live-streamers this isn’t too much of an issue — since you will probably be recording at home with your computer in front of you — it is something to keep in mind.
  • Latency: While most modern USB microphones operate with zero or near-zero latency, older USB microphones used to be plagued with this.Audio delay is the last thing you want when recording, so ensure that the USB microphone you choose has zero latency or low latency.

XLR Microphones

XLR (eXternal Line Return) microphones are the most common type of microphone there is. Here are some of their features, pros, and cons.


XLR mics are an industry standard. They have been around for decades, and are used on stage, in recording studios, and for podcasting, streaming, and broadcasting.

If you are looking for quality sound, then XLR microphones are traditionally where you would go. While USB microphones are improving in quality all the time, XLR mics still rule the roost.

There are three types of XLR microphones. These are:

  • Dynamic: A standard microphone, not as sensitive as a Condenser microphone, but less fragile than a Ribbon. A dynamic microphone does not require power to operate.
  • Condenser: A condenser microphone is the most sensitive of XLR mics, and requires phantom power to operate.
  • Ribbon: Uses a metal strip to capture and transfer the sound. Less rugged than either condenser microphones or dynamic microphones.


  • Industry Standard: Whichever type of XLR microphone you use, you can be confident that you are using a mic that is recognized the world over as an industry standard.
  • Professional Sound: There’s a reason that every recording studio in the world has an XLR microphone — they are the gold standard when it comes to recording high-quality audio. Whether you are recording singing, speech, or anything else, XLR microphones will be there to capture the sound in the best-quality way possible.
  • More Freedom: Because XLR is an industry standard, you aren’t tied to a computer. You can record analog with XLR (that is, to tape) which you can’t do with a USB microphone, but you can also record digitally. So you have freedom and flexibility.
  • Easier to Balance: It’s much easier to balance multiple XLR mics than it is USB microphones. If you are using an audio interface to connect the microphones to your computer you will be able to easily control this. And different audio interfaces will have different preamps, so you can upgrade your setup as you become more professional.


  • Cost: XLR microphones are more expensive than USB microphones. If you have limited financial resources, you might want to consider USB microphones as an alternative.
  • Complexity: For a beginner, there’s a lot to take in. Different cables, learning how to use (and choose!) audio interfaces, connecting, phantom power requirements, different software… there can be a lot to take on board and XLR microphones require a degree of technical knowledge that their USB counterparts do not.
  • Can’t Be Used By Themselves: With a USB microphone, all you need is a laptop and you’re good to go. With an XLR microphone, you need an interface, and an XLR cable to connect the microphone to an audio interface, or an audio interface or analog recording device. There’s a lot to sort out before you even begin recording.
  • Lack of Portability: With all that equipment comes the difficulty of transporting your gear if you need to go out on the road.While XLR is an industry standard if you are heading on stage or into the studio if you are going to any other location that means dragging a lot of gear with you just to begin your recording.

Things to Consider Before Buying or Using a USB or XLR Microphone

Number of People

One of the most important things to consider when buying a microphone is how many people you are going to be recording. If you are just recording yourself, for example as part of a podcast, then a USB mic will likely be more than sufficient for your needs.

If you need to record multiple people simultaneously, then an XLR microphone is going to be a better option.


It’s also worth considering whether you are likely to want to upgrade. If you are recording a podcast, a single microphone is likely to be sufficient and you probably don’t need to worry about upgrade paths.

However, if you are recording vocals for music, or if you think your set-up is going to need to develop over time then opting for an XLR microphone solution might be a better approach.


Experience is also worth keeping in mind. USB microphones require next to no technical knowledge and can be deployed pretty much instantly as long as you have a computer in hand. XLR microphones require additional hardware, setup, and preparation before you can even begin to record.

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Why is XLR Better for Singing?

XLR microphones are considered better for singing. This is because they are balanced — the positive and negative cables are balanced against each other. This means that they screen out background sounds so the only thing captured is the voice.

USB cables, by contrast, are unbalanced and so background sounds or interference are more likely to be picked up. For a single voice on a podcast, this doesn’t matter too much, but when recording vocals it can make all the difference.


XLR microphones also offer additional versatility with the different types of microphones on offer — ribbon, condenser, and dynamic.

Each can be selected and easily swapped out depending on the type of singing required. For example, condenser mics can capture quiet, low-volume sounds whereas a dynamic mic might be a better choice for louder rock vocals.

Being able to simply swap one mic out for another via an XLR cable means that XLR microphones can be adapted to any circumstance, whereas with a USB mic you are stuck with what you have.


Whether you choose a USB or XLR microphone depends on a number of different factors.

Cost is obviously a critical one, and USB mics are usually cheaper. However, an XLR mic can offer higher quality and a more flexible setup.

The number of people you want to record is also a significant factor to bear in mind, with XLR offering the chance to record more people simultaneously, while a USB mic offers a more cost-effective method of recording just one individual.

However, whether you are building your first home studio, recording a podcast, or going fully professional, you now know enough to make an informed opinion. So get out there, make a choice, and start recording!


Do XLR Microphones Sound Better than USB Mics?

As a general rule, the answer to this question is “yes”. But it is not quite as simple as that.

USB microphones have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. A good-quality USB microphone can deliver amazing performance, especially when paired with good audio software.

If you need to record speech or dialogue then choosing a USB mic is likely more than sufficient.

However, XLR is still an industry standard for good reasons. The sound quality really is unbeatable, and that’s why you find XLR microphones in every professional set-up in the world.

The flexibility and adaptability also give XLR microphones a real edge that USB cannot compete with. And the ability to update and upgrade components on an ongoing basis means that sound quality improvements can be ongoing.

How Does an XLR Cable Work?

An XLR microphone takes sound and converts it into an analog signal. The “line” part of eXternal Line Return is the cable.

The analog signal is then sent through the cable. The cable is more accurately called an XLR3 cable because it has three pins in it. Two of the pins are positive and negative, which are balanced against each other to screen out interference and any transmission noise that might occur.

The third is grounded, to prevent electrocution.

The signal carried by the cable is delivered to either an analog recording device or an audio interface so that it can be captured or converted for digital recording.

XLR3 cables can only carry audio data and phantom power for driving compressor microphones. They do not carry data.

How Does a USB Cable Work?

A USB microphone takes sound and converts it into a digital signal. This digital signal can then be transmitted and recorded by your computer without any intermediate stage.

In addition to audio data, a USB cable can also transmit and receive data.

This means that you can have functionality built into a USB mic that you cannot have with an XLR mic.