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PodSchool Podcast | What’s the difference between USB & XLR podcast microphones?

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What’s the difference between USB & XLR microphones?

How to know which one is right for you…

The letters 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 audio software, or a device like a Zoom recorder.

Getting the right microphone is important because you don’t want to buy something that won’t plug into any of the tech you have.

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So, what’s the difference?

USB Microphones

Rode USB MicrophoneA USB mic is a digital mic and works exactly like any other USB device 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 or Audacity or a remote recording platform like Squadcast or Riverside.fm straight away (providing you’ve plugged the thing in of course).

It’s important to note that even if you’ve got two USB ports on your computer, using two USB microphones isn’t as easy as just plugging them in and pressing record.

If you do this your recording will likely pick up the sound from one microphone but not the other and you’ll be pulling your hair out trying to figure out why.

This happens because the soundcard in your computer isn’t set up to read multiple microphones.  So you’ll need to download software to help your computer recognise more than one mic (PC) or configure things in the audio set up of your computer (Mac).

This is not a process for the faint-hearted and if you’re just getting your head around recording audio I’d leave this for the pros and use one of the tech setups below if you want to record multiple mics.

How to record with multiple USB mics

Read

XLR Microphones

XLR microphoneAn XLR mic is an analogue microphone and is connected to a recording device or mixer via an XLR cable (pictured).

These cables don’t plug directly into a computer so if you want to use your XLR mic to record into software or a remote recording platform, you’ll need a piece of hardware in between called an audio interface. 

What are the best podcast microphones?

Read

What the hell is an audio interface?

It’s just a fancy way of describing a box that has inputs where you can plug in multiple microphones and an output that plugs directly into the USB port of your computer.

Audio interface

These devices help turn your analogue (XLR) mics into digital mics so your computer can register what you’re recording.

You can purchase an audio interface like the one above or use a recording device, like a Zoom recorder as an audio interface.  The benefit of this option is you can also use it as a portable recorder so it gives you a lot more flexibility.

How to record a podcast

Read

How do you work out which microphone is right for you?

When you’re starting out you’ll want to keep your equipment as simple as possible so here are some questions that will help you make the right decision…

Are you going to be recording your show by yourself or with a guest via Skype i.e. each person will be recording in their location by themselves?

If yes, a USB mic will do you just fine.

Do you want your show to be mobile i.e. will you be recording interviews with people at different locations?

If yes, a Zoom recorder or a similar device will be best.

These devices take XLR microphones but since you can also use them as an audio interface it means you can use them to record into your computer.

Do you want to record more than one person in the same location and use a computer?

You’ll either need to configure your computer (which I don’t recommend when you’re starting out) or get an audio interface.

As mentioned above, my advice is to get a Zoom recorder or something similar and a bunch of XLR mics.  This is because these devices give you more flexibility so you don’t have to buy multiple pieces of equipment.

The good news

As podcasting has grown in popularity the tech is getting better and much simpler to use.

Now a lot of microphone companies have released microphones with both USB and XLR cables so you can plug them into whatever device you’ve got without needing to buy additional hardware.

If you’re looking for simplicity in your podcast setup, getting a mic that can record either way is a good option.

Got a burning podcasting question you’d like answered? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for my online podcasting course, PodSchool.

Got some time on your hands? Read the full episode transcript

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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