Does a USB Mic Sound As Good As An XLR For Podcasting: Two USB Mics Vs a $3400 Recording Chain

Hey everybody. I've noticed many podcasters stress about their microphone choices. It's a misconception that USB is always lower quality than XLR. However, it's not the connector type that determines the quality but rather the quality of the preamps. It would be challenging to find a podcast listener who could discern the difference between a USB mic and the same mic plugged in via an XLR connector through a standard audio interface. The preamps in most modern USB mics are sufficiently good for podcast recording. I often advise hosts I work with to opt for a straightforward USB mic. They are user-friendly, have fewer complications, and are generally reliable.

Now, let's compare a couple of USB XLR microphones:

1. Audio Technica ATR2100X - This usually sells for $79 but has recently been available for $59. The ATR2100X USB is designed for podcasting, streaming, and voiceovers. This handheld dynamic mic comes with a USB-C digital output for easy digital recording on both Windows and Mac computers, plus an XLR analog output for conventional microphone input. At Podfly, this is the mic we send to our guests and recommend as a valuable starter microphone for podcasters.

2. Samson Q9U - Its price has fluctuated over the past year, ranging from $99 to $199. Samson describes the Q9U as capable of producing professional high-quality audio suitable for broadcasts, podcasts, streams, and live recordings. It provides both XLR and USB-C outputs, offering 24-bit, 96 kHz high-definition digital audio. The Q9U ensures the performer's voice stands out to the listener.

Returning to my typical setup, I use an Electro-Voice RE20 connected to a Universal Audio Apollo x8 interface. This interface runs the UAD Avalon VT737 tube channel strip plug-in as a preamp. Though there's some compression and EQ from the channel strip, let's break down the cost:

That totals almost $3,500 for this recording chain. The Apollo X8 provides professional analog tones suitable for bigger projects and bedroom studios. The ElectroVoice RE20 is an industry-standard dynamic cardioid microphone, loved globally for broadcasting, podcasting, and sound engineering. And to complete the chain, the Avalon VT737 channel strip has made its mark in pop, hip-hop, R&B productions, and more.

I'd love your feedback. Can you hear significant differences among these mics? Is there a $3,000 discrepancy in sound quality? Which one resonates with you the most? If there's any you're not fond of, let me know in the comments. And if you're a podcaster keen on elevating your audio quality, check out the linked playlists.

Thank you for watching. See you next time.

*some of the links in this article are affiliate links