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The best USB microphones in 2021

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Best USB microphones
(Image credit: JLab)

The best USB microphones combine top-quality recording with a simplicity that makes them easy to set up and use, even if you’ve never handled a dedicated mic before. While some can be even better with additional software, usually all you need to do is plug and play — or plug and record, as it were.

In other words, anyone can give themselves a dramatic boost to how they sound in remote meetings and social chats, granting even better clarity than the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls. But which should you buy? Our list of the best USB microphones can answer that, as we’ve tested them all.

What are the best USB microphones?

Our choice as the overall best USB mic is the Blue Yeti. Despite being over a decade old, no other mic in the Yeti’s class has fully bested its combination of affordability, ease of use, build quality and detail-rich recording capability.

Another great option is the JLab Talk, a slightly cheaper USB microphone that nonetheless stands up on sound quality. It’s also got a range of directional recording patterns, which can be useful if you want to record multiple speakers with a single low-cost mic.

We’re also fond of the Blue Snowball Ice as a simple, budget-friendly option; it doesn’t have the recording finesse of its cousin, the Yeti, but its low price and easy setup make it a greater starter microphone.

The best USB microphones you can buy

Top Pick

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Blue Yeti

The best USB 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
+Brilliant sound quality+Reasonably affordable+Range of modes
Reasons to avoid
-Basic stand

The Blue Yeti is one of audio tech’s timeless classics: a USB microphone that’s good at just about everything, and bad at pretty much nothing. Other than a relatively inflexible stand there’s everything a home recorder could want here, from excellent recording quality to a sturdy (but not too bulky) design.

If you like you can just plug in and start using it in cardioid mode, but the Yeti’s versatile mix of recording patterns also makes it viable for recording a group. Bidirectional mode records both in front of and behind the mic, for example, while the omnidirectional mode records in a full 360-degree radius.

Read our full Blue Yeti review.

best USB microphone under $100: JLab TalkTop Pick

(Image credit: Future)

2. JLab Talk

The best USB microphone under $100

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
+Warm, rich sound+Cheap+Adjustable stand
Reasons to avoid
-Picks up background noise-Bidirectional mode not as impressive

Despite JLab’s relative lack of experience with dedicated mics, it’s put out a stellar USB microphone in the Talk. This affordable, tripod-mounted number has the same set of recording patterns as the Blue Yeti, and is roughly a match for it on the clarity and warmth of its recordings.

Some may find the JLab Talk even better, as its tripod base is more adjustable than the Yeti’s fixed stand. We also like how the gain and headphone volume controls use a large light-up ring to indicate current levels, so it’s easy to tell at a glance what your current settings are. Lesser mics don’t always make these details clear.

Read our full JLab Talk review.

best USB microphone on a budget: Blue Snowball Ice

(Image credit: Blue)

3. Blue Snowball Ice

The best USB microphone on a budget

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Cardioid
Size: 10.0 x 7.9 x 4.9 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Very cheap+Simple and straightforward+Cute design
Reasons to avoid
-Better sound quality elsewhere-Cardioid only

Small, round and enticingly cheap, the Snowball Ice is a microphone with bundles of character. More importantly, it sounds very good for the money, so if you want one of the best USB mics for occasional meetings or remote social gatherings, this could be close to perfect.

You will get audibly better sound quality from the Blue Yeti or JLab Talk, though these are twice the price at the least. Anyone simply concerned with coming through clearly on Zoom, as opposed to starting a podcast or streaming career, should count the Blue Snowball Ice high on the list of suitable candidates.

best premium USB microphone: Blue Yeti X

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Blue Yeti X

The best premium USB microphone

Specifications
Mic Type: Condenser
Audio Patterns: Bidirectional, Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Size: 11.4 x 4.3 x 4.8 inches
Connection Type: USB
Reasons to buy
+Blue Yeti sound quality+Enhanced controls+Flexible but not overcomplicated
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive

Blue has yet another top-notch USB microphone in the Yeti X. As the name suggests, it’s basically a souped-up Blue Yeti, with a similar overall design and high standards of recording quality. That goes for a range of supported directional patterns, too.

It does cost more, in exchange for a handful of design improvements: the gain switch is positioned on the front, for easier access, and a ring of LEDs can keep you informed on how loud you are in real time; a handy alternative to using headphones for monitoring. We’d still say the standard Blue Yeti is the better deal, especially for casual users, but the Blue Yeti X is a fine USB mic.

Read our full Blue Yeti X review.

Best USB microphones: Movo UM700

(Image credit: Movo)

5. Movo UM700

One of the best USB microphones that isn't Blue

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
+Well-built+Easy to use+Respectable sound
Reasons to avoid
-Sensitive to shocks and bumps-Blue Yeti and JLab Talk are better

Not unlike the JLab Talk, the Movo UM700 aims to put category-leading sound quality into a somewhat more affordable package, without sacrificing build quality or utility. In fact, it was originally pitched to us as a “Blue Yeti killer.”

The Yeti is clearly still breathing, but the UM700 can put up a decent fight. It’s sturdy and, as per usual with the best USB mics, works easily as soon as you plug it in. Its recording capabilities held up well in testing too, even if some periodic gain adjustments were necessary. Happily, you can do this with the onboard controls, without the need for separate software.

Read our full Movo UM700 review.

best compact USB microphone: Blue Yeti Nano

(Image credit: Blue)

7. Blue Yeti Nano

The best compact USB 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, another one. Whereas the Blue Yeti X is a more refined take on the microphone at the top of this list, the Yeti Nano is an attempt to make it simpler, cheaper and more portable. All without dropping into the outright budget territory already occupied by the Snowball Ice.

The result is a microphone that sounds crisp and takes up less space on your desk, while maintaining the elegant ease of use that Blue mics are loved for. The Yeti Nano does drop bidirectional and stereo recording modes, so it’s not as versatile as the similarly-priced JLab Talk, but since you only need cardioid for directional recording, this remains a good pick for calls or the odd spot of gaming.

Read our full Blue Yeti Nano review.

best USB microphone for streaming: Elgato Wave: 3

(Image credit: Corsair)

7. Elgato Wave: 3

The best USB 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
+Stream Deck integration+Intuitive controls+Simple but appealing design
Reasons to avoid
-Only records in cardioid-Picks up background noise

The Wave: 3 is one of the pricier cardioid-only models we’ve tested, but it’s one of the best USB microphones for a reason. It sounds great, has easy-to-use controls and even looks rather handsome, what with its slim sideways profile and steel grille. It's also cheaper than the EPOS B20, another streaming-focused mic.

Its real strength, though, lies in its bonus features for streaming. It’s designed to closely integrate with Elgato’s Stream Deck, a 16-button keypad that can control all manner of functions while you’re in a middle of a stream. This can include the Wave: 3, so you can adjust your mic input properties with just a few simple button presses. Non-streamers can look elsewhere, but this is one of the best specialized USB mics we’ve seen.

Read our full Elgato Wave: 3 review.

HyperX QuadCast S

(Image credit: HyperX)

8. HyperX QuadCast S

The best USB microphone with RGB 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

We’re fans of the standard HyperX QuadCast, and the QuadCast S model ups its game by adding customizable RGB lighting around the grille. Gamers and streamers in particular might appreciate this extra touch of flashiness — after all, who says a USB device can’t look interesting?

Clean, clear recording quality also ensures that the QuadCast S isn’t just a shiny bauble, and the built-in shock mount and pop filter help out too. If you’re willing to spend a little more for some hardware extras, the QuadCast S has you covered. A full set of cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional and stereo modes are on hand too, though once again this doesn’t overcomplicate things if you just want to pop in the USB cable and go.

Read our full HyperX QuadCast S review.

How to choose the best USB microphone for you

Price

All of the best USB microphones have broadly similar form factors and, of course, connectivity. As such the first thing you may wish to consider is price: do you try to stick with a cheap $50 model, or spend over $100 for a more fully-featured model?

In truth, $100-150 is still relatively low by dedicated microphone standards, and you can get several rich-sounding mics in this price range alone. It’s fine to shop cheaper, though, if you only want a USB microphone for merely occasional use.

Sound quality

None of the mics on this list sound bad, or else they wouldn’t be here. But it’s natural to want want the highest recording quality that your budget allows for, which is probably why the Blue Yeti remains so popular. Integrated pop filters can help silence distracting popping sounds when you’re speaking close to the grille, but these aren’t essential for high sound quality. It’s more important to make sure you have the microphone angled correctly while you’re using it.

Recording patterns

If you’re only going to be recording yourself, any mic that uses a cardioid recording pattern is fine; this just means the mic only records the area in front of it, i.e. a single user.

If you want to dabble in making podcasts or anything else that requires recording multiple speakers at once, bidirectional and omnidirectional capabilities are a must. Some USB microphones also have a stereo mode, which isn’t much better than cardioid for individual speech, but can be good for recording music. Panel discussions also lend themselves well to stereo recording, as you’ll get an idea of where each speaker was positioned when you listen back.

How we test the best USB microphones

To test USB microphones, we’ll record ourselves speaking into them and play back those recordings to hear how they sound with different settings. Fortunately, most models keep these simple, but tweaking the controls that are available and re-recording also lets us judge both how user-friendly these mics are and how easy it is to find the ideal gain, volume and positioning for them.

Naturally we’ll repeat the process if a USB mic supports different recording patterns. We can test bidirectional and omnidirectional modes just by speaking into the microphone from different angles, but sometimes we can put them through the ultimate test with a live podcast recording. Alternatively, we’ll use a mic for voice and video calls, and ask other members of the call how we sound.

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.