XLR or USB – What Is Right For My Podcast?

 Deciding where to begin when starting a podcast is always tough. There are so many different decisions to make about what mic to buy, whether the mic will be XLR or USB, condenser or dynamic, and so on.


The most confusing aspect to audio recording is that there are so many options, and not just that, but many people swear by certain paths:

“You should only use condenser microphones”, “there is no reason to use anything but USB mics”, “you should use a boom mic so that you can record multiple people with one microphone”.


This article is written to help answer the question of whether you should go for a USB microphone or an XLR microphone. Don’t know what that means? Don’t worry, this article will help explain it all!


The most important part of this article will be put up front and it is that:

Everything can work, there is no magic setup, but some setups are easier.


Answering the one question below can help you determine what path is right for you.


How Many People Do You Plan To Record With On A Regular Basis?


This question can be difficult to answer because many shows intend on having extra guests on at some point, but when getting started it is important to not over-anticipate.


The first part of the question to answer is how many people you intend to have on the podcast on a regular basis. Is it one? Two? Three? Twenty?


More importantly, how are you planning on having them on? In person, phone call, VOIP (like Skype)?


If the podcast is only you and you don’t plan to expand too much beyond it then the best solution is a USB microphone. USB microphones are generally very easy to setup as you just need to plug them in and they don’t require a lot of extra space. They work well with most programs, have a good price point, and they can produce great sound.


A USB Microphone works by using the existing USB ports on your computer. Most computers have USB ports and using a USB mic it is a pretty simple process of plugging the mic in, waiting for the device drivers to install, and then simply selecting it as a recording input.


If there are two people intended to be there in person then the USB can still work, but it is trickier. If you have a high aptitude for technology and dealing with technological problems and you are really set on it, feel free, but otherwise I would avoid it.


Again, it isn’t that it isn’t possible, many people use multiple USB microphones without much hassle at all, but there are also those who have tried it and only had headaches.


Caution: There are certain products such as the Yeti microphone which boasts the features of a mic mode which can record from multiple sources. Though this is true and may work for the short term for recording multiple guests, the audio quality will be greatly diminished unless everyone is very close to the mic. This is because the further you are from the mic the more room noise the microphone picks up, and in general it is not good to sound like you are in a cathedral. It can work alright in a decent room, but the audio quality will always be better with each person having a microphone close to them.


If you intend on having more than two people, I would suggest buying an XLR based microphone and audio interface. “XLR” is the primary connector used by the audio industry and the “interface” is what interfaces with your computer.


An audio interface can be useful for many different reasons, but the main two are low latency and the ability to record many inputs separately.


One complexity to buying an interface is price point. One should also consider how many inputs will be necessary. In my opinion, you should at least get an interface with two inputs, but you should default to four. The price difference isn’t significant, and there is great longevity in using an interface with four inputs. This is a judgement call to make.


As a side note, there can be certain benefits to using multiple audio interfaces for more complex setups. As I will detail in a further article, a second interface can make online calls far easier than they should be.


When recording with three or more people in the same room there starts to be an issue with breathing, room noise, and other random sounds. You may not hear a lot of room noise with one microphone, but with three microphones it is triple the noise. Not just that, but you get the reverberated sound being picked up by the other mics and so it will often sound like you are in the shower.


Some people suggest buying a mixer, and a mixer can work, but there are also some  drawbacks as you aren’t able to separate individual tracks when they are mixed. 


To repeat the primary statement:

Everything can work, there is no magic setup, but some setups are easier.




With this all said, my recommendations are:

  

*If you have one person and/or your guest/cohost(s) will be recording online: USB microphone


*Two or more people: XLR Microphone with interface.




Now, you might be asking, well how do I know whether to get condenser or dynamic microphone, what kind of microphone stand, what price, what brand, pop-filter or no, and so on!


The list of questions can stretch beyond the imagination and it can be very confusing, but the first question to answer is “how many people do I intend to have recording at one time” and that should help answer whether you should get a USB or an XLR based microphone to start.


Like with most things, it is a cost/benefit analysis. If you are trying out podcasting and aren’t certain that it is right for you and you want to invest just a little money to start and then upgrade as you need, that is fine so long as you are aware you are making that calculation. If it doesn’t work out you save some money, if it does work out you lose some money and end up with some extra equipment.


In the next article we will discuss the age old question of condenser vs. dynamic microphones. Beyond that, we’ll talk about what may matter more than the mic, microphone technique!



-Article Written by Nathan Pepin

Podcaster / Audio Engineer







Here are some product recommendations from PodcastUSA


And a nifty solution: This microphone does both USB and XLR!

image4