When it comes to making sure you’re heard on the battlefield nothing quite beats having a dedicated standalone USB microphone. As much as headset mics have improved over the years, they still can’t hold a candle to the wind when it comes to a plugin full-sized microphone. Better yet, you can now pick-up some fairly serious kit for well below the $100/£100 price point, making them affordable even to the most stringent of people.
So, with Black Friday right around the corner, whether you want to venture into the world of podcasting, music recording, or streaming, or if you’re just a gamer making sure your team mates here each and every command you bark 100% of the time, we’ll find you the best model to tick all of your particular boxes below.
Quick Shopping Tips
Which polar pattern?
A microphone’s polar pattern is the area around it in which noise is picked up. A hypercardioid pattern creates an extremely narrow cone around one side of the mic, so it’s ‘listening’ to a really selective area and blocking out the rest. At the other end of the spectrum, omnidirectional mics are listening out in - you guessed it - all directions. Some gaming mics offer a selection of polar patterns, whereas others might only offer one.
- Cardioid: This is the most commonly found polar pattern, because it’s the best suited to recording one vocal. Variations like hypercardioid or supercardioid narrow the polar pattern down to pick up audio from a narrow area, allowing you to point it at a particular source and pick up only that sound.
- Bidirectional or figure-8: Is so-called because it creates two fields of polarity, one on each side of the mic. Think of it like taping two hypercardioid mics together and having them face opposite ways. ideal for recording two vocals at once, one either side of the mic. It’s always better to use separate mics to do this if possible, though.
- Omnidirectional: In this configuration, the mic picks up audio from every angle around it, front and back. It’s most useful for capturing room noise, and ambient sounds like crowd chatter or reverb from a loud instrument or drumkit. It’s less useful in a gaming environment, but in a pinch you can use it to record more than one vocal in close proximity.
USB gaming mic or studio mic?
As great as USB-based gaming mics are, they are but one of two options for the streamer, competitive gamer, or home recording enthusiast who happens to play a bit of PUBG on the side. The other is XLR-based studio mics, which require an audio interface which, when used correctly, can offer higher quality and more versatile recordings.
- USB gaming mics: interface with your PC via a USB input and thus feature an inbuilt ADC which changes the analog mic signal to digital data. They’re very easy to setup, usually don’t even require specific drivers, and often feature automatic noise suppression.
- Studio mics: interface via XLR, which means you’ll need some form of soundcard with XLR input jacks connected to your PC. Studio mics vary from affordable $100 models to prestigious high-end mics worth tens of thousands that are only really feasible for recording studios. Since they don’t feature an ADC or DAC, they don’t have noise suppression ‘baked in’ like gaming mics.
Hearing the direct input signal while you’re recording can be really handy. A number of gaming mics offer this option via a headphone jack on the mic itself, so when you plug in you’ll hear the raw audio lag-free and minus any compression or effects applied to the track.
Frequency response range
This is an important point on the spec sheet of any mic. It tells you the lowest and highest pitched sounds the mic membrane is capable of picking up, and the baseline range is 20Hz-20KHz. That’s because those extremes are also the limits of human hearing, although in the real world of hearing damage it’s usually more like 15Hz-15kHz. Some mics go beyond that gamut though, and although that might seem unnecessary since you can’t hear the extra detail they pick up per se, you can ‘feel’ subharmonics within the low-end frequencies. Same goes for the other end of the frequency response range: you can’t hear 22KHz unless you’re a Dalmation, but you can feel the extra harmonic detail it adds to the high-end tones your ear does pick up. In short, then: the wider, the better.
Best Gaming Microphones 2020
Sample rate: 48KHz | Bit rate: 16-bit | Frequency response: 20Hz-20Hz | Condenser type: Electret | Polar patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Bidirectional, Stereo | Cable length: 3m | Connectivity: USB
Of all the current crop of USB microphones we’ve tested lately, HyperX’s Quadcast has impressed us the most in a gaming environment. The name ‘Quadcast’ refers, oddly enough, to an unusual three-diaphragm design which allows for four polar patterns including an unconventional stereo arrangement. In reality, this is best made use of outside of gaming for a wide sound source or two different sources as you might find in a home or live recording environment, but it sounds nice and warm - with a welcome touch of roominess - when used in this way. Despite the virtues of that three-diaphragm design, it’s not why we love the Quadcast.
This is a mic that delivers great vocal warmth and clarity and does it with the most pronounced gaming aesthetic on the market. Behind the cradle, a striking red light illuminates when the mic’s operational, which is very dramatic. Tapping the top of the mic mutes it instantly, and turns the light off. Easy. It’s also supplied with a very sturdy shock mount as standard, so you can relax and get your game face on without having to worry too much about knocking the stand and deafening your Discord mates.
Read Review: HyperX Quadcast
Best Budget Microphone
Razer Seiren X
Best Budget Microphone
Sample rate: 48KHz | Bit rate: 16-bit | Frequency response: 20Hz-20Hz | Condenser type: Electret | Polar patterns: Supercardioid | Cable length: 1m | Connectivity: USB
If you’re looking to keep costs down, Razer’s the little mic that could, is your best option. Featuring much of the bigger Seiren Elite’s looks and functionality, it’s available well under $100/£100 and looks great on any desktop thanks to Razer’s patented ‘all black except these retina-shattering bright green bits’ colour scheme.
There’s just one polar pattern on offer here, and it’s supercardioid. That’s an unusual pattern, even more directional than hypercardioid and intended to cut out all external noise in order to emphasize the one voice or sound source in front of it. We’ve found it an effective approach, since the Seiren X is decent at cutting out mechanical keyboard clatter, particularly when you get right up in its grille.
It’s also a fantastic option for mobile setups. We’re not suggesting you’d pull the Seiren X out in the middle of a bus ride and start streaming, but if you travel a lot and play/stream/podcast/record from events and hotel rooms, the reduced size and weight of Razer’s mini-mic in your bag and on your desk pays dividends.
Read Review: Razer Seiren X
Best for Music Recording
Best for Music Recording
Sample rate: 96KHz | Bit rate: 24-bit | Frequency response: 20Hz-20Hz | Condenser type: Beck electret | Polar patterns: Cardioid | Cable length: 1m | Connectivity: USB
Whether you like to croon some tunes after you're done playing or during yoru Twitch stream, this music-centric microphone is a great choice. Beyerdynamic is a respected name in pro audio, and the company’s expertise in the studio carries over beautifully in this compact, no-fuss USB mic.
Unlike the vast majority of its USB interface peers, the FOX offers hi-res 96KHz/24-bit recording quality, which is an impressive feat for a mic you can simply plug in via USB and hit the record button. You might not make use of that extra quality on platforms that compress audio and video like YouTube or Twitch, but if you’re into podcasting or music production you’ll be glad for the option to go beyond CD-quality 44KHz/16-bit.
On the mic itself are controls for mix and volume, and a headphone minijack input for inline monitoring. The preamp that outputs this monitoring signal runs a little hot in our experience, distorting well before the mic itself does - however it’s still a useful feature when the gain’s rolled off.
There’s also a mute button at the top, and a high-low gain toggle (essentially a pad) at the rear of the mic. Beyerdynamic throws in a sturdy metallic pop shield which clips on without the need to unscrew anything, and the mic can be angled on its stand.
It’s loaded with features, then, but ultimately it’s the sheer recording quality and useability that wins out and makes the FOX our pick for home studios.
Read Review: Beyerdynamic FOX
Best for Streaming
Blue Yeti USB
Best for Streaming
Sample rate: 44KHz | Bit rate: 16-bit | Frequency response: 20Hz-20Hz | Condenser type: Beck electret | Polar patterns: Cardioid, Bidirectional, Omnidirectional, Stereo | Cable length: 1m | Connectivity: USB
The venerable Blue Yeti was there at the birth of the streaming boom, and it’s still a ubiquitous desktop feature on Twitch. With good reason - it’s just about the easiest mic to use on the market, and it really excels when picking up a single vocal signal at a time.
Priced right in the mix with our other picks at $120, Logitech’s Blue Yeti is built to a very high standard and will stay where you angle it on its weighty stand. The design of that stand, along with the understated, retro aesthetic of the mic capsule itself, makes this the most stylish USB microphone available in our eyes, and that’s important when you’re streaming yourself for an audience of judging eyes. If you really love RGB though and want to sync all your peripherals up to the beat of the same lightshow, consider Razer’s Seiren series instead.
The controls couldn’t be easier to use while you’re streaming. A single volume control and a mute button on the front of the mic are all you get, and for the intended purpose that’s all you really need. You’re never going to accidentally hit the wrong thing mid-stream.
The Blue Yeti’s four polar patterns also give it great versatility, so if you venture out into music recording or podcasting, you’re not limited by a single cardioid pickup pattern.
Best for Podcasting
Best for Podcasting
Sample rate: 44KHz | Bit rate: 16-bit | Frequency response: 20Hz-20Hz | Condenser type: Fixed-charge plate, permanently polarized | Polar patterns: Cardioid | Cable length: 3.1m | Connectivity: USB
Like Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica is a hugely respected name in the pro audio industry, and it brings decades of expertise to the table with the AT2020USB+. This is a medium-diaphragm condenser with just a cardioid polar pattern available, which makes it somewhat specialised to lone vocal recording, but luckily it’s brilliant at that very thing.
In a straight shootout with the Beyerdynamic FOX, we think the AT2020UBS+ comes incredibly close to matching the warmth and detail of our overall favourite mic. It’s close enough that we wouldn’t feel confident separating the two in a blind test, and the particular characteristics of the Audio-Technica - a breathiness, a really pleasant high end - make it perfect for spoken vocals.
We recommend a couple of additional purchases, though: a pop shield and a boom arm. We’re surprised not to see the former included, but they’re inexpensive to pick up on their own. As for that boom arm, the tripod design feels a little bit wobbly so we’d prefer to mount it up above us on a nice sturdy boom before hitting the record button so we can relax and not spend our session worrying about knocking into the desk and picking up bumps and scratches on the waveform.
Read Review: Audio-Technica AT2020USB+
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