USB microphones contain all the components found in their traditional ancestors: capsules, diaphragms, magnets, leads, etc. As such, the basic working mechanism of the microphone (the conversion of sound waves to audio signal) remains the same. The fundamental difference is the inclusion of an on-board analog to digital converter, which effectively means you can connect directly to your computer and record – without the need for an extra audio interface. 

Is a USB microphone better than analog?

Since the innovation of the microphone in the early 20th century, there have been only incremental changes to the underlying technology and this, to a large extent, explains how even lower-price options are able to offer comparable quality. Access to and incorporation of high-quality components (at lower costs) in modern microphones means there is an unprecedented plethora of options for well-designed mics able to deliver good results in different scenarios. 

USB mics have much to offer in the area of plug-and-play convenience, but the trend has not yet extended to the high-end market. For the time being, USB mics are primarily intended for musicians with a limited budget, YouTubers, podcasters, frequent travelers and generally any professional (or amateur) looking to minimize their reliance on external gear. Their greatest advantages are portability and ease-of-use. 

Where many USB mics fall short is sheer sound quality and technical limitations, at least for those seeking world-class results. While there are many notable exceptions (mentioned later on) that deliver excellent value for money and are able to compete with their analog counterparts, classic XLR mics in the higher price brackets are still on a different level. In other words, USB microphones are perfectly capable of handling projects such as podcasts, YouTube videos or home demos. However, they can be noticeably below the standard you’d expect from professional, studio recordings.  

Other areas in which USB microphones lag behind analog are construction quality, compatibility, interface options and latency. While the first two issues can be avoided with a reasonable degree of research prior to purchase, the latter two require a greater deal of consideration. 

As USB microphones act as their own audio interface, the single channel limitation means that the computer’s input (and output in certain situations) will only communicate with the microphone and no other source. This is a severe limitation if we want to use two or more microphones at once. Secondly, as all digital audio signal paths create some latency, you can expect (particularly in lower-end models) a significant delay in monitoring that can affect the performance of the microphone user.

As you begin to deal with sound recordings on a frequent basis, you will likely become aware of numerous issues that can come along with making them sound good. Regardless of microphone quality, sometimes there are anomalies and noise problems that you simply can’t avoid, despite following all the rules to getting great sound. In these cases, noise reduction and repair software are invaluable tools.