As some of you know, I don’t just do wildlife photography but I also make videos for YouTube. And today I’d like to answer the question: should you use an XLR or USB microphone for voiceovers? When I was starting out, I searched around but I do not believe that any website really gave the right answer to this question. Thus, I am going to answer it.
Why you might want a USB microphone
A USB microphone is a complete package. It plugs into your computer and you can just start recording. Unlike an XLR microphone, you don’t need a separate audio interface. Thus, a USB microphone is the ultimate in convenience.
USB microphones often have other features that are very nice, like a headphone port and a direct monitoring knob.
Why you might want an XLR microphone
An XLR microphone is a microphone that has an XLR plug and thus needs a separate audio interface to function. A USB microphone has this “audio interface” already built into it.
Why should you go through the extra step of getting an XLR microphone and and audio interface when a USB microphone is such a compact package?
The first thing is that audio interfaces typically have more features and better preamps that most USB microphones. If you get a good XLR microphone and a decent audio interface, the self-noise of the entire setup will be lower than a USB microphone.
There is also a greater range of XLR microphones so it’s more likely you’ll find one that fits your voice. XLR microphones can also plug into field recorders (e.g. Zoom H5), which are audio interfaces that don’t need a computer to function.
Also, if you want to expand your recording to using two microphones, then you can do that with an audio interface and an XLR microphone by getting a second microphone (assuming your audio interface has at least two XLR ports).
Basically, an audio interface and XLR microphone is much more flexible than a USB microphone, at the cost of some convenience.
Which should you use for voiceovers
Both a USB microphone and an XLR microphone are good for voiceovers, as long as you get one of reasonable quality. In most cases, I recommend going with a good audio interface like a Scarlett 2i2 and an XLR microphone. Such a setup will give you less noise than most USB microphones.
But there are a few cases where a USB microphone is better:
- If you need to travel and need something very compact
- If you need something compact and don’t want an audio interface on your desk
- If you are sure you will never need more than one microphone and don’t want to fiddle with too many knobs
Getting a USB microphone is a bit cheaper also, because there are some good budget models like the Rode USB Mini, whereas even the cheapest decent audio interface is about $80.
I recommend XLR microphones and audio interfaces, but USB microphones are good too and have their place. In either case, you will likely have to use Audacity to clean up your audio so don’t think one is more or less work to postprocess.
With either, you should be able to achieve great voiceovers. However, I still think XLR microphones are a bit better, if only because there are more to choose from and thus you’re more likely to find one you like the sound of.