USB Microphone Buyers Guide

“All the World’s a Stage…”

Never before has this old Shakespeare chestnut been more true. Powered by laptops, tablets, and iOS devices, the digital revolution led artists, musicians, producers and content producers out of the recording studio, out of the project and home studio, and into the open. No matter where you go, you can create content. In the field; on the go; at home; in meetings and conferences; it no longer matters. All the world’s a stage. So how will you capture that world? A USB microphone may be your key to making it happen.

USB Essentials

Capturing sound in the digital studio requires three components. The first is a microphone to change sound into an electrical audio signal. Second, an Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) to change this electrical audio signal into digital data. Finally, an interface is required to feed this digital data into the computer. The USB microphone streamlines all of these tasks in a single, integrated unit. The single USB cable provides power to the microphone, and the built-in ADC sends a digital audio signal back to the computer. The end result is that anyplace you can take your laptop, tablet, iPad, or other iOS device, you can capture and create audio content.

1,001 Uses

Maybe less. Maybe more. But think of the all the possibilities. Give your podcasts an expert edge using a professional grade USB microphone. Add clarity to your Skype, Facetime, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) sessions. Increase your gaming advantage. Create compelling voice-overs and narrations for your next multi-media presentation—right in your own office. Conduct captivating interviews and enjoy enthralling on-the-go news gathering. Preserve lectures and conferences, or take digital minutes of the next board meeting. Capture ambient source material for any musical or multi-media project. Add a vocal track to an existing tune or lay down your ideas as they happen. Make a reference recording of your band’s next rehearsal. The convenience of a Samson USB microphone allows you to do all this and more—wherever and whenever you need—using the simplest single-cable connection. No muss, no fuss. Just plug and play.

Back to Basics

No matter what else it does, a USB microphone is still a microphone, and the same audio lessons apply. The same considerations must be weighed when selecting a USB microphone as when selecting any other mic. Dynamic or Condenser? Large or small diaphragm? What type of pickup pattern? Let’s review a few of these key features.

  • Dynamic or Condenser?

In short, dynamic microphones are self-powered, creating their signal by sound pressure moving the cartridge coil between a set of magnets. Condenser models apply an external current to the microphone circuitry. In professional audio application, this current is usually provided from the mixer, and is referred to as phantom power. In the world of USB microphones, a small current is provided from the computer device via the USB cable. Nearly all USB microphones are of the condenser sort; they provide a smoother response over a larger frequency range. Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, can often handle a higher dynamic range—or SPL (Sound Pressure Level)—in exchange for slightly curtailed frequency range. In addition, dynamic microphones often use a more powerful neodymium magnet structure. So a dynamic mic might be well suited for a high-powered vocal performance.

v  The Samson Q1U is an excellent dynamic USB microphone

  • Diaphragm Size?

One of the big talking points in choosing a microphone is diaphragm size. The diaphragms is the delicate membrane that registers sound—like the eardrum in the human ear. This is one of those situations where size does matter; but bigger is not always better. Larger diaphragms have more mass; they do not respond as quickly to changes in dynamics, and can take longer to come to rest. Therefore, a larger diaphragm naturally can sound warmer and fuller on a smooth solo vocal performance. By contrast, a smaller diaphragm can respond faster to dynamic transitions to capture extra detail, and may have a brighter and livelier sound overall.

v  The Samson Meteor USB Studio Condenser mic features a huge 25mm diaphragm.

  • Pickup Pattern

The pickup patter, or polar pattern, indicates the directivity of the microphone. Omni-directional microphones capture sound equally in any directions. This would be the ideal pattern for picking up everyone in a meeting sitting around a table, for example. Other microphones—sometimes referred to as uni directional mics—exhibit more of a cardioid pattern. The Cardioid pattern is heart shaped; this type of microphone picks up the most sound directly in front of the mic, some sound to the sides, and very little sound behind the microphone. Supercardioid mics narrow this pattern to offer more directivity and greater side rejection. This type of mic can be ideal when you want to focus on just one sound source and minimize noise from other sources. Hypercardioid take this change in pickup pattern one step further. One final pattern is the figure-8, or bidirectional pattern. This is an excellent choice for conducting an interview across a table, for example.

v  The Samson CO3U USB Studio Condenser Microphone offers three selectable patterns.

Above and Beyond

Building a USB microphone is relatively easy; designing a USB microphone product that meets the needs and demands of the user is something else entirely. Fortunately, the product team at Samson have put together an impressive array of USB microphones. Each model has unique abilities that allow you to take you creativity to the next level. Take a moment to consider each of these features as you chose your next USB microphone.

 

 

  • Zero-Latency Headphone Jack

Normally, to monitor the signal as you record, it would need to go through your convertor, interface, and into the computer—and doing all that could cause a slight delay. By adding a headphone jack directly to the USB microphone, you can monitor the input signal before it reaches the computer, eliminating any delay.

  • Filter Switch

Having a high-pass filter built into the USB microphone can attenuate lower frequencies to eliminate rumble and other unwanted noise.

  • Pad Switch

Adding a pad to the microphone reduces its gain, lowering the signal strength and preventing the microphone from distorting or overloading the input.

  • Mute Switch

The presence of a mute switch allows you to silence the USB microphone without having to touch any other controls on the computer. In addition to being a real time saver, the mute feature can allow your recordings to be made more discreetly.

  • Audio Input

Select USB microphones include an audio input, allowing an additional sound source (stereo or mono) to be connected to the computer via USB using the microphone as an interface.

  • Level Controls

Level controls (volume knobs) provide an extra level of control for the signal being sent to the computer via USB.

  • Stand? Mount? Cradle?

How and where you will use your USB microphone is an important consideration. Choosing a model with an inconspicuous base that mounts directly to your laptop is great for VoIP, Skype, and Gaming. For live webinars and podcasts, choose a USB mic with a solid base.

  • Dual Use XLR Output

Need one mic to do it all? Look for a USB microphone like the Q2U Recording Pack which offers both USB and XLR connections.

 

The Digital Domain

Once sound reaches your USB microphone, the internal convertors transform the analog signal into a high-fidelity digital audio signal, reaching or exceeding CD quality. The digital audio signal is sent to the computer via USB, where it remains in the digital domain. All Samson USB microphones provide simple “plug and play” operation; there is no need to load any driver software first. Samson USB microphones are compatible with nearly all computer-based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software packages.

  • Bundle Paks

Get down to business and protect your investment. Certain Samson CU Series USB microphones are available bundled with valuable extras in a self-contained “Pak.” This Pak includes the USB microphone, desk stand, mic clip, shock-mount suspension cage, and a USB cable—all neatly contained in a custom-fit aluminum travel case. In addition, all USB Mic Paks include a copy of Cakewalk Sonar LE, the renowned DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software.

  • Samson Sound Deck software

Many Samson USB microphones can benefit from the Samson Sound Deck Noise Cancellation Software, sold separately for Mac or Windows. This software program easily enhances the clarity and audio quality of the recordings made with your Samson USB microphone. Noise cancellation technology minimizes ambient background noise. An advanced EQ section with professional presets improves audio performance. Sound Deck for Windows includes a built-in audio recorder, plus innovative algorithms to eliminate unwanted echoes caused by live monitoring.

Real-World Use

If you’re shopping for a USB microphone, you may already have some ideas about how will use it. Here are a handful of examples where a USB microphone can get the job done.

  • Example 1: Improving the quality of Skype, FaceTime, VoIP connections and online gaming.

The streamlined Go Mic Connect quickly mounts to the top edge of your open laptop. Using dual pickup elements, the unique Focused Pattern Technology™ concentrates the focus of the microphone front and center, while minimizing the sensitivity to sounds outside this zone. A handy Mute switch is located right on top of the mic for easy access.

  • Example 2: Conducting an online interview or creating newsfeeds, webinars and podcasts.

Multiple pickup patterns, dual diaphragms, and selectable filtering combine to add versatility to the C03U. For conducting an interview across a table—host and guest—try the bi-directional pattern. Use the omni mode for capturing a group, or switch to the supercardiod pattern for creating content all on your own.

  • Example 3: Take it to the streets.

Searching for that stylish solution for creating content on the go with your iPad? Meteorite may be your answer. Connecting to your iPad via the Apple Lighting USB Camera Adapter (or 30-pin Camera Connection Kit), this chrome-plated orb is easily passed from person to person, held in the hand, or parked back in its matching chrome base station.

  • Example 4: Capture an inspired musical performance.

Equipped with an additional audio input, the G-Track allows the performer to plug his instrument (guitar, keyboard, etc.) into the USB microphone while singing directly into the mic capsule. Independent volume controls set the mix, while the zero latency headphone jack allows latency-free overdubs.

Connect and Create

Nothing beats the simplicity of a USB microphone. If you are new to creating content on the computer, let your USB microphone open the door. You could be one the swelling ranks of work-from-home contractors that wants to improve your presence at virtual meeting. Maybe you’re operating an established studio but are looking to add some new production tools. Or maybe you’re the equipment officer of an on-line news bureau. Either way, both digital media content and applications are flourishing. And a new USB microphone from Samson Technologies may keep you on the cutting edge.