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What’s the difference between USB & XLR microphones?

 

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WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN USB & XLR MICROPHONES?

This week’s question is inspired by an email I received from Tom.  If you’ve got a question that needs answering, get in touch!

Which one should you choose?

USB and XLR refer to the way a microphone connects to the device that’s recording your words.  That device could be a computer if you’re recording straight into Adobe Audition or a device like a Zoom.

However you intend to capture your dulcet tones, it’s important to know what you’re buying so you avoid spending a bucket load of money on a microphone you can’t stick into anything.

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So, which one is which?

Rode USB MicrophoneA USB mic works exactly like any other USB device e.g a hard drive by plugging directly into the USB port of your computer.  With a USB mic you can take it out of the box and start recording into software like Audition straight away (providing you’ve plugged the thing in of course).

XLR microphoneAn XLR mic is connected via XLR cable so if you want to plug it into your computer you’ll need an “audio interface.”  This could be a Zoom recorder which works both as a recording device and an audio interface, or you can buy an audio interface that does nothing other than let your mics speak to your computer (how many times can I say audio interface in one paragraph)?

An audio interface (oooh, one more for good luck) is just a fancy way of describing a box that has inputs where you plug your XLR mic(s) so they can then be plugged into your computer to record your audio.

Audio interface

When you’re just starting out you want to keep your equipment as simple as possible so here are some things to consider…

  • Do you plan on recording from home/office via your desktop computer and only speaking to guests via Skype?  If yes, a USB mic should do you just fine.
  • Are you starting out and you’re not sure if you’ll be at this podcasting game long but you want to give it try? If yes, start with a USB mic because they’re usually cheaper and there’s less steps in the process.
  • Do you think one day you might end up recording out and about e.g. going to meet guests personally to conduct interviews one on one?  If yes, a Zoom recorder and a couple of XLR mics would be the way to go because you can record everything straight onto the SD card in the Zoom, or plug your XLR mics into your computer via the Zoom when you’re home.

For flexibility and the option to expand i.e. add more mics, you really can’t go past the Zoom H6.  This is what I use to record my shows and it works a treat.

So remember…

If you want to plug your mic straight into your computer you need to buy a USB mic OR if you are buying an XLR mic (they’re usually the higher quality ones) you’ll need some kind of audio interface so it will connect to your computer.

If you want to find out more about what equipment you need to set up your home studio, check out my podcasting guide.

Got a burning question you’d like answered in the podcast? Send me an email.

Read full show rundown

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the show. Today's episode is inspired by Tom who sent me an email about the microphone he needed for his Zoom recorder and I realised a lot of people are unsure about the difference between a USB mic and a mic that connects via XLR cable. If you buy the wrong one you won't be able to stick your microphone into the thing you want to get into. So I thought I'd give a little bit of an explainer on the differences between the two. The only difference is how the microphone connects to your computer. If you have a USB mic that will come with a USB cable that connects right into your computer so you can record straight into your audio software like audition. That is probably the easiest way to do things when you are starting out but only if you intend to always be near your computer. The mics that are attached via XLR cable can still be attached to your computer but they need what's called an "audio interface."

[00:01:28] Essentially it's just a little box that has inputs that you can plug an XLR cable into and then a USB cable will run out the back so you can plug it into your computer. This is an extra bit of equipment you probably don't want to worry about when you're just starting out but if you have been thinking about buying a Zoom recorder then that can be used as your audio interface.

[00:01:57] When I go out on location to record guests for my show, You've Gotta Start Somewhere I take just my Zoom with me, a couple of microphones, a couple of XLR cables and that's my kit for the day. It's a simple way to record as opposed to having the computer with me. The other reason I don't record on my computer is because I have a laptop that runs like an old mule. If you have a desktop computer that is just running like a dream then you will probably not have any problems.

[00:02:46] But I only had to have my computer crash once and lose a 45 minute episode that I was recording at the time to realize I was never going to record like that again. So I will always take that zoom out with me on the road and then I will bring the audio back, plug it into my computer and edit that way. But if I use my computer at home and I want a decent microphone I just use the Zoom as an audio interface so I plug the mics into my Zoom via an ZLR cable and then I plug that into my computer.

[00:03:19] If you're starting out just by the USB mic. If you're not going to be out on the road, if you're going to be recording at your computer that should do you just fine but if you think in the future that you're going to need to go out on the road, a Zoom might be useful. Or alternatively if you want to drop some coin on a more decent mic then you might need to look at something that attaches via XLR cable and that means you will need a little audio interface in between. Just Google audio interface it will pop up.

[00:04:16] I would highly recommend having a Zoom because it's not just a box with inputs and outputs. It's actually an interface that you can take on the road with you and use as a recording device so it's multi-purpose which is really useful. So when you are buying your mics online please make sure you look at the specifications to see whether it attaches via a USB cable or XLR cable. If you buy a high quality mic and it has an XLR cable and you are hoping to plug it into your computer you will need to buy that extra bit of equipment in between to make sure that the microphone that you've spent your hard earned on can actually get the audio from your mouth into the computer.

[00:04:56] I hope that's helped you work out the difference between an XLR and a USB mic. Head to PodSchoolPodcast.com to get the show notes. I'll put photos to everything I've referred to and you can get my tech guide there which takes you through all the options for all of the things you need to set up a home studio, no matter what your budget. There's also a link to my online podcasting course PodSchool.com.au which you can head on to the wait list for. Thanks so much for listening. I'll see you next week and until then I'm podcasting.

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