Tested and recommended by Digital Foundry.
If you want to stream, podcast or record gaming videos for YouTube, then one of the first steps is picking up a good USB or XLR microphone. These mics can provide that extra bit of audio quality, noise reduction and control you need to be a successful content creator, things you won’t often find from your standard gaming headset microphone. There are plenty of options on the market, so we tested the most popular USB and XLR mics to find out which we could recommend for gaming, streaming and recording.
We’ve split our picks into a few different categories: the best mics for streaming, the best for recording voiceovers or podcasts and the best cheap option. There’s a separate category for XLR mics, as these are a different kettle of fish. We’ve also selected a handy attachable mic that trounces those built into most gaming headsets but remains just as convenient to use. All of our choices retail for less than $150/£150, as we’re focusing on affordable options for those new to content creation rather than truly professional-grade solutions which can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Finally, we also picked runner-up options for a few categories to recognise good alternatives that may be preferred by some people. With that out of the way, let’s get into the selections!
Best USB mic for streaming: HyperX QuadCast
- Unique gamer-friendly look with red backlighting
- Good audio quality with four recording patterns and internal pop filter
- Default stand includes shock mount but is a little short
The QuadCast is the best USB microphone we’ve found for streaming thanks to its excellent audio quality and its long list of well-implemented features. There are four recording modes on offer and a physical gain dial, allowing the mic to be adapted for one audio source or multiple voices with ease. Being able to mute your audio quickly can be indispensable, and the tap-to-mute system – accompanied by the entire microphone dimming – is the best implementation we’ve seen. Other handy features include an internal pop filter that ensures p and b sounds don’t result in an annoying pop, a shock mount in the provided desk stand and lag-free audio monitoring. The only real drawbacks are that the LED lighting isn’t optional and the default stand is a little short, so using a proper boom arm or another mount is recommended.
Runner-up: Blue Yeti Nano
The Blue Yeti Nano fulfills a similar niche to the QuadCast: a relatively portable USB mic with a short stand but good audio quality and a modern appearance. The Nano offers two recording patterns, a cardioid mode that suits a single voice and an omnidirectional mode ideal for capturing a group discussion with only a single mic. The mute functionality here is less obvious than on the QuadCast but better than that of the full-size Yeti, with a green or red ring around the mute button to signify when the mic’s on or off. The Nano is cheaper than the Quadcast and has a more restrained appearance, which might make it a nice choice.
Best USB mic for recording and podcasting: Blue Yeti
- Choice of four recording patterns to suit a wide range of scenarios
- Standout audio quality that requires little cleanup
- Will pick up background noise like mech keyboards if the gain is too high
When it comes to streaming and podcasting, the Blue Yeti is perhaps the most popular microphone in the world. Whether plunked down on a desk to be held aloft by its chunky stand or held in place on a strong boom arm, the Yeti provides strong audio quality for a range of use cases thanks to its four different recording patterns: cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional and bidirectional. The inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack makes real-time monitoring easy, while gain controls on the rear mean no software is required to perfect the mic’s sensitivity. Remember that putting the mic closer and reducing the gain will result in less background noise – like your noisy mechanical keyboard – from being picked up.
Best XLR mic: Audio-Technica AT2020
- Warm, precise sound
- Professional, almost anonymous appearance
- Allows entry to the complex but powerful XLR ecosystem
The AT2020 is a popular entry-level XLR mic, offering the possibility of extremely clear audio if you’re willing to put together the necessary equipment to get it running. All that comes in the box is the mic, a bag and a stand adapter, so you’ll need to provide at least an XLR cable, a stand and an audio interface or mixer that provides at least 48V of phantom power. Once all of these components are in place, your reward is warm, crystal-clear audio that’s ideal for recording podcasts or video voiceovers. It’s worth noting that the AT2020 is fairly hefty and skews towards ‘professional’ rather than ‘gamer’ in the looks department, but that’s no bad thing.
Runner-up: Blue Ember
The Blue Ember is a strong alternative pick, bringing the traditional audio quality of the Blue Yeti into a slimmer form factor that takes up less space. It’s also half the price of the next-cheapest Blue XLR mic, the Spark, making a better option for content creators at the beginning of their journey. Like the AT2020, you’ll need an audio interface that provides at least 48V of phantom power and a stand to get started.
Best headset mic: Antlion Audio ModMic 5
- Industry-leading audio quality, available in wired or wireless versions
- Can be added to almost any gaming headset or headphones
- Requires a small amount of initial setup
The Antlion ModMic has long been recommended by tech insiders, and after testing out the latest ModMic 5 for the past few weeks it’s easy to see why – this mic sounds better than pretty much every headset microphone on the market. It can be installed on pretty much any set of headphones with a small piece of adhesive. The bulk of the mic can be removed as needed, leaving just the small magnetic base you stuck on behind, and there are a couple of replacement bits of adhesive in the box if you want to move the mic to a new headset in the future. Note that the ModMic actually includes two mics as well – a unidirectional mic with excellent sound quality and warmer tones, plus a directional mic which better cuts out on background noise.
Another option is the ModMic Wireless, which trades the standard version’s 3.5mm cable for a Bluetooth AptX Low Latency connection which sounds nearly as good. You’ll need to recharge the battery after 12 hours of use, but it does offer a more elegant solution. We recommend the ModMic 5 for wired headsets, as adding one extra cable (which can be clipped to your existing cable or combined into a braided sleeve) isn’t a hassle after the initial setup, and the ModMic Wireless for wireless headsets, as you can recharge both together.
Best cheap USB mic: Blue Snowball Ice
- Excellent audio quality for the money
- Plug and play USB operation
- No physical controls or added features
If you’ve only got $50/£50 to put toward upgrading your recording setup, you’ll get the most bang for your buck from the Blue Snowball Ice. This older desk mic provides surprisingly good audio quality, more than enough for recording voiceover for a video or starting your streaming career. It’s also easy to use – just plug it in and hit record, with no software or additional equipment to install. However, you do lose out when it comes to features compared to the more expensive recommendations on this list, with only one recording pattern on the less expensive Ice model.
Frequently asked questions
What accessories are useful?
Rather than relying on the short stands included with many USB and XLR microphones, a proper adjustable arm makes it easier to position your microphone so that it picks up your voice without taking up too much of your screen (if you’re playing a game) or your camera’s point of view (if you’re streaming). When adjusting your arm, take your microphone’s style of address into account. Side-address microphones, like the Blue Yeti, work best when you’re speaking into one side, while top address microphones should be pointed directly at your mouth. We used a Blue Compass arm and Radius 3 shock mount for testing these microphones, but there are many other options available at a range of price points.
Pop filters and wind shields are the next accessory you should consider, as they reduce the impact of plosives – sounds like p and b that are harsh on the ears if they are recorded by a bare microphone. Pop filters and wind shields are normally mounted onto your mic or boom arm, and need to be positioned between you and your mic to be effective.
For XLR mics, you’ll also need an audio interface and an XLR male to female cable to hook up your microphone.
Is it better to use USB or XLR?
If you’re just going to use your single mic at your PC, then a USB microphone is ideal – it’s plug and play, with no extra equipment needed. XLR mics need to be connected via an audio interface, but these allow you to include other audio equipment like multiple microphones or mixers. If you’re just starting out, USB is the way to go, while XLR may be a better choice for dedicated content creators that want room to grow into more advanced setups. You can also split the difference – pick up an XLR mic, but use a simple XLR to USB adapter until you bring in a proper audio interface.
Which platforms can I use these mics on?
The USB mics mentioned above will work pretty much out of the box on Windows, macOS and PS4, while XLR mics will need to be connected to an adapter or interface with a USB output to achieve the same goal. The Xbox One doesn’t support USB mics, unfortunately.