Condenser Microphone vs USB [Differences Explained + Top Brands]

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  December 13, 2020

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Condenser microphones and USBs are two types of mic that can be used for indoor recording.

Each offers excellent sound quality and comes with its own perks.

Let’s look at the differences, and even more the similarities of the two.

USB vs Condenser microphone

What’s the difference between a condenser microphone and a USB mic?

A USB microphone gets plugged directly into your computer via a USB port. Although most USB microphones are in fact condenser microphones, most people mean the phantom-powered studio mics that need to plug into a mixing console external audio interface with an XLR plug when they refer to a condenser microphone.

Condenser microphones need what is called phantom power to activate the internal diaphragm and generate sound.

They plug into an audio interface unit. It is this unit that then gets plugged into your computer, often via USB.

However, interestingly, most USB microphones are actually condenser mics and have a lot of the same features, such as the diaphragm element.

Therefore, when someone is comparing the two, they are more likely to weigh up the differences between USB mics and phantom-powered mics in general.

Read on for a simple guide into these awesome pieces of equipment, as we look at their main differences and uses, as well as the top brands for each type of mic.

What is a Condenser Microphone?

Condenser microphones are perfect for picking up delicate sounds. They are constructed with a lightweight diaphragm that moves against the pressure of sound waves.

The diaphragm is suspended between charged metal plates, and its low mass is the reason why it can follow the sound waves so accurately and pick up fine sounds so well.

In order to work, condenser microphones need to have an electrical current to charge those metal plates.

Sometimes you get this electrical current from a battery or, most often, from the microphone cable (which could also be a USB cable!). This current is known as phantom power.

Most condenser mics need a phantom power voltage of 11 to 52 Volts to operate.

Be sure to check out my review of the best condenser microphones under $200.

What is a USB Microphone?

Most USB microphones will either be a condenser mic or a dynamic mic.

In contrast to condenser mics, dynamic microphones use a voice-coil and magnet to pick up and convert sound and therefore do not need to be powered externally.

Simply plug the dynamic mic into an active speaker and it should work.

Dynamic mics are better at capturing loud, strong sounds, while condenser mics are great for softer sounds.

Since microphones are used to convert sound waves into AC (alternating current) electrical audio signals, they are considered analog devices.

USB microphones have a built-in analog-to-digital converter.

This means they don’t need any additional equipment to convert the analog audio signal into a digital format.

All you need to do is plug the USB mic into your computer. They use a device driver software that works directly with the operating system of your computer.

Windows devices only allow for one USB mic to be used at a time. However, it is possible to hook up more than one USB microphone at once when using a Mac, with the right configuration.

Condenser Microphone vs USB: Differences

USB microphones are often mistaken for having inferior sound quality compared to their analog (XLR) counterparts.

However, many USB mics feature the same elements as a condenser mic and provide the same high-quality sound signature.

One of the main differences between the two is the interface unit condenser mics need to connect to digital devices like a computer.

USB mics have analog-to-digital converters so can be plugged into a computer directly using the USB port, and have software that allows for easy home recording.

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are more typically found in recording studios as they are used to capture finer sounds and higher frequencies like vocals and instruments.

They also typically need an external power source (phantom power) to work.

Condenser Microphone vs USB: Uses

USB microphones provide a simple way of making high-quality recordings at home, directly on your computer or laptop.

They are highly portable and easy to work with.

Most USB mics come with a headphone output, meaning you can use your headphones to listen as you record.

A USB microphone is therefore perfect for those who publish podcasts and video blogs, and ultimately makes home recording more accessible and affordable.

It can even improve the audio quality of your Zoom meetings and Skype sessions.

The application of noise reduction or removal effects is the perfect solution for any background noise in your recordings.

Condenser microphones are more commonly used in recording studios, as they can capture a large frequency range as well as more delicate sounds.

This accuracy and detail make it the superior microphone for studio vocals.

They also have a good transient response, which refers to the ability to reproduce the ‘speed’ of a voice or instrument.

Many condenser mics are now also being used in live sound environments.

Condenser Microphone vs USB: Best Brands

Now that we’ve gone through the differences and uses of these great devices, let’s take a look at the best brands available on the market.

Best Condenser Microphone Brands

Here are our condenser mic recommendations:

Best USB Microphone Brands

And now for our USB microphone top picks.

Which one will be better for you, the condenser microphone or the USB microphone?

I’ve also reviewed the Best Microphones for Acoustic Guitar Live Performance here.

          Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of his passion, and together with his team, He's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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