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The best microphones in 2021

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Best microphones
(Image credit: Blue)

The best microphones represent the finest in sound recording tech in all its varied forms. There are music mics, shotgun mics to attach to your video camera and plenty of easy-to-use USB mics. And we’ve tested them all ourselves, so you can be sure that the models you’ll find listed below can deliver the sound quality you need.

If you just need a plug-and-play microphone for video chats and working from home, we’d recommend a USB microphone — but being simple doesn’t need to mean being basic. Often, they’ll offer extra functionality that makes them ideal for recording podcasts or streaming. To find out which will fit your requirements, keep reading for our picks of the best microphones — and don’t forget to check out the best ring lights and best webcams too.

The best microphones: Black Friday

If you’re thinking of starting a podcast before the holidays, you may want to hold out a bit longer because you might end up finding some of the best microphones as part of this year’s best Black Friday deals. Let’s not forget some other audio hardware essentials, many of which are listed on our best headphones, best laptops, and best webcams gift guides. Get your setup started early, newbie.

What are the best microphones?

The Blue Yeti offers the ideal balance of functionality, recording quality and pricing. It's as effective for podcasts as it is for solo recording, not to mention being one of the best gaming microphones, and it has a range of directional patterns that let you record in certain directions.

Our #2 pick, the JLab Talk, has the same set of recording modes, as well as competitive performance and an even lower price. For similar money you can pick up the Rode PodMic, a brilliant podcaster's mic, though be aware that it uses an XLR connection instead of USB. For a simple, budget-friendly option, consider the Blue Snowball Ice.

Blue’s microphones and the JLab Talk all benefit from plug-and-play simplicity, though if you want to take your solo recording up a notch then the Rode Podcaster makes a wonderful premium option. It records gorgeous, crystal-clear audio from a single speaker, suitable for recording podcasts or jumping into livestreams. It’s not cheap, but it’s possibly the last podcasting mic you’ll ever need.

Another stellar option is the HyperX SoloCast, one of the better entry-level mics on the market with vocals and sounds that are rich and clear. It also comes with an adjustable mic stand, easy setup, and mute button to prevent ambient noises from entering recordings. The Sterling SP150SMK is another high-rated model that is beautifully constructed and produces crisp, rich sound.

The best microphones you can buy today

Blue Yeti (Image credit: Blue)

1. Blue Yeti

The best microphone overall

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 11.6 x 4.9 x 4.7 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Versatile+Reasonably priced+Great sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Not as precise as specialized mics-So-so mount

The Blue Yeti has been on the market for more than a decade, and it hasn’t changed very much since its introduction. To be fair, nothing about one of the best microphones really needed changing. It’s a smart, versatile peripheral that doesn’t cost that much money, and provides everything that amateur and semi-pro audiophiles need to record their own material. The Blue Yeti is a high-quality condenser mic with a built-in stand, a USB connection and — this is the clincher — four different pattern modes.

With a Blue Yeti, you can record audio in cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional or bidirectional modes. Very few microphones offer multiple audio patterns, and even fewer of them do a good job switching among them. But thanks to the Blue Yeti’s variety of audio patterns, you can record anything from a podcast, to an interview, to a musical performance, to a whole roundtable discussion.

Read our full Blue Yeti review.

The JLab Talk posing for its runner-up shotTop Pick

(Image credit: Future)

2. JLab Talk

The best microphone for $100 or less

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 9.9 x 7.6 x 7.6 inches (with tripod extended)
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent value+High sound quality+Four directional patterns+Easy to set up and use
Reasons to avoid
-Can pick up background noise-Bidirectional mode can be ignored

The JLab Talk is jointly the first-ever USB mic from headphones specialists JLab, but you wouldn't guess. The Talk's recording quality, features and ease of use all make it more than a match for the perennially popular Blue Yeti family.

With an MSRP of $99 (and the benefit of numerous price drops since launch) this is just as affordable as the Blue Yeti Nano, yet it matches pricier models like the standard Yeti and the EPOS B20 in providing four distinct recording patterns. The bidirectional mode isn't as consistent as omnidirectional mode, but you can use the latter for the same purpose, and the Talk's cardioid and stereo modes are both seriously impressive.

Read our full JLab Talk review.

The Rode PodMic laid flat on a couch

(Image credit: Future)

3. Rode PodMic

The best microphone for serious podcasting

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 6.8 x 4.3 x 2.4 inches
Connection Type: 3-pin XLR
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic sound+High build quality+Low price+Internal pop filter
Reasons to avoid
-Not ideal for newcomers-Stand not included

The Rode PodMic is one of the best podcasting microphones and prides itself on its studio credentials, right down to using an XLR connector instead of USB. But it’s not overly complicated either — if anything, one of our favorite things about the PodMic is that you don’t need to spend much time tweaking to get great sound.

The internal pop filter helps keep recordings controlled, and the sturdy build helps shrug off unwanted noises should you accidentally knock the table or need to quickly adjust positioning. Again, it’s not an ideal beginner’s mic, partly because it doesn’t include a stand. But here’s another good thing about the PodMic: it’s so cheap that you can easily afford extra accessories. It's no more expensive than the Rode NT-USB Mini, a more generalist USB mic.

Read our full Rode PodMic review.

The HyperX SoloCast in a desktop setup

(Image credit: HyperX)

4. HyperX SoloCast

The best microphone on a budget

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 6.9 x 3.1 x 3.1inches
Connection Type: USB-C to USB
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Good sound+Adjustable stand+Portable friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Limited controls-Cardioid pattern only

The HyperX SoloCast’s recording quality is a whole lot better than it should be for a $59 USB microphone. Its cardioid-pattern recording can compete with the category’s top performers, delivering rich, full vocals. You’ll notice less of an audible reverb effect when recording, as well as minimal background interference; noises like mouse clicks and mechanical keys aren’t as intrusive. We also love its compactness and adjustable stand to position the mic at different angles. There’s even an onboard mute button to prevent any incidental sounds from being picked up.

This mic comes plug-and-play ready and will meet the simplest accommodations such as basic controls and a single recording pattern, which is one of the very few features available. Still, this doesn’t take away from the SoloCast’s overall value.

Read our full HyperX SoloCast review.

The Sterling SP150SMK held for a close-up shot

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Sterling SP150SMK

First-rate performance and protection at a great price

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 7.1 x 1.9 x 1.9 inches
Connection Type: XLR
Reasons to buy
+Great price+Rich sound+Visually appealing+Bundled with shock mount and carrying case
Reasons to avoid
-No attenuation pad or high pass filters-Requires phantom power

At $79, the Sterling SP150SMK is a reputable beginner mic for aspiring podcasters who want quality presentation at a low price. The mic is beautifully constructed, offering a nice look and feel that should have newbies feeling confident before uttering their intro lines. Additional accessories like a shock mount, hard mount option, and carrying case have you fully equipped to take your show on the road. Most importantly, the sound quality is top notch, picking up vocals with such precision that you’ll rarely have to perform any post-production adjustments.

Without high-pass filters, the SP150SMK has a tendency of picking up extraneous noises, such as an elbow rubbing against some fabric.

Read our full Sterling SP150SMK review.

Blue Snowball Ice (Image credit: Blue)

6. Blue Snowball Ice

Excellent sound quality for cheap

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 10.0 x 7.9 x 4.9 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive+Easy to set up+Includes a stand
Reasons to avoid
-Not suited for high-end applications-No extra features

If you want a peripheral that’s better than a built-in laptop mic, but don’t have the patience (or funds) for anything fancier, you want the Blue Snowball Ice microphone. This is about the simplest, cheapest mic you can get from a major manufacturer. The Snowball Ice is a compact, somewhat stylish sphere that’s available in either black or white. You connect it to your computer via USB cable, and then you speak into it. That’s it. There are no options to for you to change, for better or for worse.

The Snowball Ice uses a cardioid pattern, making it perfect for videoconferencing or chatting with friends in games. It’s perhaps not high-end enough to record your own podcast, but if you need to appear on someone else’s on short notice, the Snowball Ice will get the job done.

The Sennheiser MKE 400 ready for use outside

(Image credit: Future)

7. Sennheiser MKE 400

The best microphone for content creation

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Supercardioid
Size: 5 x 2.6 x 1.5 inches
Connection Type: 3.5mm
Reasons to buy
+Compact design+Easy to use, including with phones+Good sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Basic controls-Picks up wind noise

Both beginner and amateur videographers should check out the Sennheiser MKE 400. This shotgun mic uses a highly directional supercardioid recording pattern to pick up clear speech, even when shooting in places with a lot of background noise.

What makes the MKE 400 particularly suitable for DIY content creation is how easy it is to use. While you can simply attach it to your camera's hot shoe and plug it in via 3.5mm cable, the MKE 400 offers this same plug-and-play simplicity for smartphones too. Simply connect via your handset's headphone jack and you can shoot great-sounding clips even without a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Read out full Sennheiser MKE 400 review.

The Blue Yeti Nano propped on a clean desk

(Image credit: Future)

8. Blue Yeti Nano

A great compact Blue Yeti microphone

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional
Size: 8.3 x 3.8 x 4.3 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Study build+Cheaper than the Blue Yeti
Reasons to avoid
-No stereo mode-Basic controls

Yes, it's yet another Blue microphone, but the Yeti Nano is another top-quality USB microphone. It's basically a more compact , slightly stripped-back version of the flagship Blue Yeti, at an even better price.

That means you get very similar recording quality in its cardioid and omnidirectional patterns, plus mature looks and a tough metal build. For $99 the JLab Talk is an even bigger bargain, especially as it has a stereo mode, but the smaller Blue Yeti Nano still deserves a place on this list.

Read our full Blue Yeti Nano review.

The Movo UM700 lounging on a chair

(Image credit: Future)

9. Movo UM700

Not the Blue Yeti, but still one of the best microphones

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 11.6 x 4.4 x 3.8 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Appealing price+Plug-and-play simplicity+Sturdy design
Reasons to avoid
-Sensitive to shocks and bumps-Blue Yeti sounds slightly better

The Movo UM700 is essentially a more affordable take on the Blue Yeti formula, albeit with a taller profile than the Blue Yeti Nano. We’ve chosen it here for its capable sound quality, excellent ease of use and relatively low price — its MSRP is $30 less than that of the Blue Yeti, in fact.

Although the UM700’s more famous rival edges it on general recording prowess — worth remembering if you want to start a professional-sounding podcast — it’s more than up to the task for gaming, meetings and casual chats. Simply connect the USB cable, up the gain a little, and the UM700 is good to go.

Read our full Movo UM700 review.

(Image credit: HyperX)

10. HyperX QuadCast

HyperX's best microphone for gaming

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 9.8 x 5.1 x 4.0 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Built-in stand and shock mount+Multiple audio patterns+Analog gain control
Reasons to avoid
-Garish lighting-Imperfect pop filtering

The HyperX QuadCast is a stylish and robust microphone, perfect for gamers who don’t like headset mics, or who want to get into the streaming space. The QuadCast is a condenser mic with a built-in stand and shock mount, meaning that once you connect it to your computer via USB, you’re pretty much ready to start recording right away. Most users will probably want to start off on its cardioid setting, although it also has bidirectional, omnidirectional and stereo audio patterns, so you can bring other people into your impromptu recording studio, if you want.

The QuadCast is one of the best microphones for gaming because most of its features are analog. This means you won’t have to wrangle with software if you want to change the audio pattern, adjust the gains or even mute the microphone. It also has a rather aggressive black-and-red lighting pattern — whether you dig the “gamer” aesthetic or think it looks a little dated will largely depend on your own preferences.

The Elgato Wave 3 as part of a gorgeous desktop setup

(Image credit: Corsair)

11. Elgato Wave: 3

The best microphone for streaming

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 6.0 x 2.6 x 1.6 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Good for streaming+Intuitive setup+Simple design
Reasons to avoid
-No standout features-Can pick up background noise

On its surface, the Elgato Wave: 3 seems very similar to other microphones on this list. It's a USB mic with a cardioid pattern, specifically tailored to the gaming space. What sets the Wave: 3 apart from similar devices, though, is its connectivity with the ubiquitous Elgato Stream Deck. By using the Stream Deck in conjunction with the mic, you can alter mic pickup and sound mix without ever touching the mic itself, all while you keep an eye on your video size and other important streaming features.

These features help make the Wave: 3 one of the best streaming microphones, though it's also is a high-quality mic in general, featuring dead simple controls, a crystal-clear cardioid pattern and a small profile that will feat easily on most desks. The mic's plain black chassis and tasteful lighting help accentuate gaming setups, and it's easy to adjust and monitor your volume in real time. In terms of audio quality, it's no better than any other mics on this list, but its streaming features alone make it worth a look.

Read our full Elgato Wave: 3 review.

The HyperX Quadcast S being used for the latest Tom's Guide video reviews

(Image credit: Future)

12. HyperX QuadCast S

A gaming microphone with customizable lighting

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 10 x 5 x 5 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+High sound quality+Customizable lighting+Built-in shock mount and pop filter
Reasons to avoid
-Standard QuadCast is cheaper

You can save some money by buying the standard HyperX Quadcast detailed above, but if you've got an RGB-heavy gaming PC and want a microphone to match, the more colourful QuadCast S is worth a look.

Naturally, it's not just the customizable lighting that makes this one of the best microphones. The detail-rich recording quality is safeguarded by a built-in pop filter and shock mount, and it can easily be attached to your own stand if you'd prefer. Like the Blue Yeti and JLab Talk, is also provides four distinct recording modes, so you can tailor the settings for solo or group recording.

Read our full HyperX QuadCast S review.

(Image credit: Future)

13. EPOS B20

A good, higher-end streaming microphone

Specifications
Mic Type: Dynamic
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: : 9.4 x 4.1 x 4.1 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Good design and build quality+Lots of controls+Useful software
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-No gain/volume indicators

Built for streaming, the EPOS B20 has an overall design and core sound quality that makes it a solid pickup for gamers. The EPOS Gaming Suite app lets you fine-tune mic levels, create additional voice profiles, and adjust the noise gate to control excess noise coming from audio signals. You can expect clear and balanced results when recording. We also like the mic test feature that ensures all configurations are in order before going live.

The price point is up there, placing it in the same range as higher-performance models like the Blue Yeti. However, if you’re able to snag the EPOS B20 on sale, you’ll be satisfied with the sound quality and software. 

Read our full EPOS B20 review.

How to choose the best microphone for you

The best microphone depends almost entirely on your setup. This list gives a brief overview of all-purpose mics, podcasting mics, music mics and so forth. Basically, determine what you most need a microphone for, then find the appropriate one for your needs. As with most other gadgets, cheaper microphones tend to be more generalized, whereas more expensive ones tend to be more specialized. This doesn’t mean that cheaper microphones are inherently worse. But if you want semi-professional quality, you’ll have to pay semi-professional prices.

Visit manufacturer websites, and learn for which purpose each mic is optimized. The official website will usually give you a good idea as to whether the mic excels in podcasting, gaming, music or some other application. Failing that, remember that cardioid is generally the most useful audio pattern if you’re going to be recording by yourself in a home environment. Other patterns are good to have, but they’re useful only when you bring in more people or sound sources.

What do the different audio patterns mean?

Some of the mics on this list offer different options for audio patterns: Bidirectional, cardioid, omnidirectional and stereo. Others offer only cardioid. Here's a brief explanation of each pattern, to help you decide which one to use:

Cardioid: This pattern picks up audio coming from one direction. This is ideal for a single source speaking directly into the mic, like in meetings or recording voiceovers.

Bidirectional: The pattern picks up audio coming from two directions only. This is ideal for two speakers sitting directly across from one another.

Omnidirectional: This pattern picks up audio from all around the mic. This is ideal for a whole group of people surrounding the microphone.

Stereo: This pattern picks up audio in front of the mic, as well as off to the sides. This is ideal for a musical group, or a panel of speakers facing the same direction.

James Archer

James joined Tom’s Guide in 2020, bringing years of experience in consumer tech and product testing. As Audio Editor, James covers headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also covers the occasional spot of computing and gaming news, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.