To USB Or Not To USB… is there a question? Microphone reviews

First off… my apologies for the post title…. I just couldn’t be bothered with a more creative one.

As a voice over artist I’ve been behind the mic since 1996… before that I was a singer in a rock band (yes… its true since ’92) and about 95% of the time someone else was behind the mixing board recording (this is pre digital pre minidisc era so it was all on those big ass reels) when i left the band I went solo  and when I went solo I discovered an application called Cool Edit Pro which gave you multi-track capabilities. Now you can imagine that I had the time of my life… writing and mixing my own songs… It was a learning curve… understanding sound dynamics and what the techies used to add to my voice to give it this or to my guitars to give it that.

Anyway times have changed and Cool Edit Pro was bought out by Adobe Systems of photoshop fame.  And now technology and global online trends (namely podcasting) has helped provide the regular joe shmoe with the ability to produce a high quaity digital recording from the confines of his garage / room / home.

This brings me to the first of a series of posts about home recording. For this post I will try to present 4 (or so… I’m winging this) USB microphones by different manufacturers.

MARSHALL MXL STUDIO 1 USB MIC

The first is the MXL Studio 1 USB microphone. I bought this guy last year. This Microphone does not require any drivers… Its completely Plug and Play and you only have to adjust a setting in Adobe Audition for it to be recognized as the recording mic. The Mic takes its phantom power from the USB port. Doesnt need a pre Amplifier. I have a PC and it works great on it but the specs also indicate that it works on a Mac.

The Studio 1 has an integrated headphone jack which provides zero latency monitoring and clear audio playback.

The Studio 1 features a large two-micron diaphragm condenser capsule with a 40 Hz-20 kHz frequency response. The digital section features a 16-bit Delta Sigma A/D converter with available sampling rates of 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. A red LED light behind the protective grill indicates that the microphone is active and correctly oriented toward the user.

The MXL Studio 1 includes a hard black plastic carrying case, desktop microphone stand / adapter, 10-foot USB cable, user’s manual, and application guide to get the most from your recordings. The 10 foot USB cable is nice but I’ll probably be going out to buy myself a longer cable soon. The Microphone is heavy… pretty solid build and thankfully MXL was able to forgo the need to use a 9 volt battery in its innards ( as it used to need for early USB microphones from them). The microphone is relatively low noise… most of that comes from my laptop (I never record with it charging). Also this thing is bloody sensative so I keep the gain at like 0.5 out of 10.

I picked this mic up for $99 last year and I think it might be going for less now… I highly recommend it. To hear samples of its recordings go listen to any of my demos… you wont understand the language but you can hear the quality.

AUDIO TECHNICA USB AT2020

I dont own this microphone yet but would like to mainly because it is much like the MXL except that it isnt as sensative to surrounding sounds so I dont have to sound insulate my recording room so much…

Here are the technical specs :

The AT2020 USB is designed for some home studio recording applications as well as field recording, podcasting, and voiceover work. It features a low mass diaphragm that extends frequency response [20-16,000 Hz] and improves transient response.

Just like the AT2020, the USB version is a cardioid microphone. It comes with a pivoting mount stand for 5/8″-27 threaded stands, 5/8″-27 to 3/8″-16 threaded adapter, a soft protective pouch, tripod desk stand, and a ten foot USB cable. Other specs include:

  • Element: Fixed-charge back plate permanently polarized condenser
  • 16-bit Bit Depth
  • 44.1 kHz Sample Rate
  • Weighs 13.2 oz
  • 6.38″ long; 2.05″ maximum body diameter

And here is a review by someone who owns one:

This definitely offers the best bang for the buck as for build quality, versatility, professional performance and initial cost. It’s built every bit as well as AT’s top of the line mics like the 4050 and 4047 (which I’ve used), and is better built than any other mic in it’s price range – period (and I’ve tried all of the cheapos like this).

Here are the correct facts about this mic’s frequency response:
– it has superior low frequency response compared to the 2021 due to the open grill design, large resonant internal body, and other design choices. It is intentionally designed to sound different from the 2021 and every 2020 I’ve used has this same response. The low frequencies are NOT hyped at all, and in fact roll off slightly below 200 hz, but acoustic guitar creates a different interaction with a mic’s proximity effect and the 2020 happens to capture a lot of lows on acoustic guitar unless you keep it at least 12″ away from the instrument. This is by design and it is not a flaw at all, just learn to use the mic properly.
– this mic is not built in china, it’s built in audio technica’s own manufacturing plant elsewhere in the orient. It has no parts made in the same chinese factories as mics by apex, mxl, behringer, studio projects, etc etc the list goes on. This mic is built in the same factory as the 4047, the 4050, and the 4060, and is tested by the same people as those mics are QAd by. Any engineer that tells you differently is wrong, and any engineer that tells you they don’t use high end AT mics hasn’t got much experience.
– this mic has an incredibly flat frequency response, it isn’t scooped at all, the only thing that is slightly non-linear in it’s response (besides the very standard low frequency response) is the slight (3db) rise above around 7 or 8 khz (that frequency might be a speck off, I’m running from memory here). And it’s more subtle than most mics in the sub-$500 price range. This mic does not have any problems with it’s response in the c, d, and e range of an guitar, however many guitars have uneven responses, and many more guitarists have even more uneven playing techniques, and most importantly, many rooms have terrible responses, so it’s most likely the room, followed by the player, followed by the guitar. Also, not every mic works with every guitar/guitarist. You have to experiment.

To summarize, this is an incredibly mic value and even despite it’s price it’s used in pro studios for recording acoustic guitar, just buy one and learn how to use it. Great mic. Wonderful value.

SAMSON C01U & C03U USB MICs

I was contemplating buying the C03U last year but eventually decided to purachse the MXL… The reason being that this microphone has alot of self noise… Samson apprently used to have the Monopoly on USB condenser microphones not so long ago… The difference between the C01U and the C03U is that the 01 is the directionality… the C03U has a switch to change its pickup patterns: omni, cardioid, figure-8.

here is the C01U’s Specs:

Features

* Industry’s first USB Studio Condenser mic
* Plugs in directly to any computer with a USB input
* Cardioid Pickup Pattern
* Large 19mm Diaphragm
* Heavy Gauge Mesh Grill
* Smooth, Flat Frequency Response
* USB connection cable included
* Perfect microphone for Podcasters as well as Musicians

Specifications

* 16-bit sample resolution
* Supports 8 kHz, 11.025 kHz, 22.05 kHz, 44.1 kHz, and 48 kHz sampling rates
* USB low-power device – draws 26 mA => 130 mW. In suspend mode 0.3 mA => 1.5 mW.
* Frequency response: 40 Hz to 18 kHz

I have not tried this microphone but I’ve found this looooooooong review of the C01U

BLUE SNOWBALL

This is definitly the weirdest looking one… often compared to the Death Star from Star Wars many podcasters seem to be happy with this one wired magazine gave it the lowest ratings in its USB microphone reviews… lets look at the spec sheet:

Technical Specs
Transducer Type:     Condenser, Pressure Gradient w/USB Digital Output
Polar Pattern:     Omnidirectional or Cardioid
Frequency Response:     Position 1-3: 40-18kHz
Sample/Word Rate:     44.1 kHz/16 bit
Weight:     460g
Dimensions:     325mm (circumference)

Much like the Samson C03U this microphone has a toggle that changes the micrphone’s setting from Cardioid to Omni. Wired magazine thought that the Omni was better than the cardioid. For VO artists thats actually not good at all so this might  definitly not be the mic for someone who isnt a mic collecter.

If you read one of my earlier posts I had presented Harlen Hogan’s Porta Booth and the cheaper DIY (do it yourself) version… If you watched the do it yourself youtube video you would see the size of the Snowball and the volume of space it occupies.. quite a huge foot print and definitly not a mic you can slip in your laptop’s side pocket.

ok Thats it for the USB microphone reviews for today… I know there are more but through my research the 4 I have mentioned are the top contenders going for $100 or less.

I hope this was beneficial …


2 Comments


  1. Hey Taji,

    Great article, just a little help for your next post through our new amazon link(clapping hands to Taji’s idea), there is a place called BSW Storefront, mainly sells our sort of products, mics, compressors, amps, pre-amps, firewire, mixers, stands, and tons of software. You may find a few more items, prices and reviews for these products you are touting.
    Just a heads up and for everyone who reads Taji’s post like the daily news wire.

    Brian
    Voiceover-casting.com – Admin

  2. Taj….

    ‘preciate the review. I’d been wondering about the relative sound reproduction quality of a USB vs. standard mic.

    Any more information you can offer will be welcomed here!

    Thank you for sharing your research!!