We all want that pristine audio quality that audio interfaces produce, right?
If you have a mic at home but need an audio quality upgrade, you might be thinking, “Can I use an audio interface with a USB mic?”
I’m here to walk you through it. Keep reading!
Do You Need an Audio Interface With a USB Mic?
The short answer is no.
You don’t need an audio interface with a USB microphone. In fact, you CAN’T use a USB mic with audio interfaces at all.
Let me explain.
A USB microphone already has an analog-to-digital converter, which can be likened to its own built-in AI.
Moreover, these mics are almost always used in standalone work, like recording directly to a computer.
This type of mic can be plugged directly into a computer, instantly converting the analog audio signals to a digital signal that a computer can understand.
If you ask me, I’d say an audio interface works best with XLR mics since it has multiple ports that can be used simultaneously.
In short, a USB microphone DOES NOT NEED an audio interface to work, nor does an audio interface benefit a USB microphone.
How Do You Use an USB Audio Interface and a USB Mic at the Same Time?
The general answer is that you CAN’T use an audio interface and a USB mic at the same time.
The thing is, audio interfaces accept inputs from analog and digital audio sources. This includes the following:
- XLR microphones
- Electric instruments with TRS jacks (6.3mm)
- MIDI devices
- Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) optical audio cables
Notice that I didn’t include USB microphones.
That’s because the connectors of XLR microphones are different from USB mics, which makes the former more suitable.
Another reason why a USB mic won’t work well with an audio interface is that a normal computer can typically accept and process only one interface at a time.
As I mentioned earlier, this type of mic functions as its own interface, so plugging in both might confuse your system.
However, there is a recent development wherein you can use USB microphones and an audio interface.
I’ll break that down for you.
Aggregate Audio Device
Of course, there are always exceptions to the general rule.
This recent development from Apple combines multiple inputs and outputs from multiple devices and transforms them into a single device in an application.
However, your laptop or computer has to run on macOS, or this Aggregate Device won’t work.
You’ll need to use applications like Logic Pro, GarageBand, MainStage, and other Core Audio-compliant applications.
If you’re using macOS and need an audio interface to improve the quality of your USB mic, check Apple’s guide here.
USB Microphone Vs. Audio Interface: Which Is Better?
There are so many different factors that make one better than the other. But, the main driving force between the two is the needs of the user.
Here, I’ll discuss which is better. Let’s dive right in!
There’s no doubt that an audio interface produces clearer and more accurate audio than a standalone USB microphone.
An audio interface has a higher sound quality than USB microphones.
Let me explain how this works.
An audio interface is designed to take analog audio input from a microphone – whether you’re using a condenser, an XLR mic, or other types of mic.
After the audio input is received by the audio interface, it converts what it receives into a signal that a computer recognizes.
This signal is your DIGITAL AUDIO.
When it comes to USB mics, the microphone tries hard to convert the input to form the same output, but its capacity and audio quality fall short.
However, an audio interface has the ability to mirror the analog audio from a microphone and turn it into a professional-quality digital sound.
Obviously, an audio interface can accommodate MORE inputs and output.
This means that if you’re receiving more than one analog signal, your audio interface can record that directly.
An audio interface also has the capability to directly record multiple tracks in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as from a guitar, speakers, or other gear.
On the other hand, I’d say a USB microphone is more of a “one step at a time” scenario.
If you’re only using it for work or for recording some voiceovers or podcasts, it’ll do the job fine.
However, when you have MULTIPLE audio sources, like say, when you’re using your home studio – such as guitars and other instruments, an audio interface makes the job so much easier.
In short, an audio interface is more versatile because you can plug in as many instruments as you want without losing the sound quality of your recordings.
Now I’ll discuss learning curves and complexity. If you’re a beginner, I suggest using a USB microphone.
It’s beginner-friendly and doesn’t require much technical knowledge.
You simply have to plug your mic cable into your USB port, and you’re ready to record.
On the other hand, an audio interface will require a little bit more studying before one can comfortably use it for home recording, especially if you’re a novice.
An audio interface weighs more than most types of microphones.
Even a small interface can take up a lot of space and weight if you’re going from one place to another.
However, you can easily pack a USB microphone and plug the cable into your computer or laptop on the go.
If you want to use your computer while traveling or record outside a home studio, then I’d recommend picking up a USB cable mic.
Of course, an audio interface is a much more expensive option than a USB microphone.
However, if you really want to record and convert to better quality, it’s really the best option out there.
But if you’re okay with the power and sound range of a USB microphone, then feel free to use it!
Should I Use an Audio Interface Instead of a USB Mic?
My answer is: It depends on your needs as a user.
Ask yourself, “Why do I need a USB microphone, and what are my future uses for it?”
- If you’re going to be recording multiple instruments, excluding the vocals, then an audio interface is your best bet for getting studio-like quality.
- On the other hand, if you’re going to use the mic for personal use – think things like work meetings, Zoom meetups, and recording podcasts – you’ll be fine with a USB microphone.
As I mentioned earlier, a USB microphone has its own “internal” audio interface, meaning it’s equipped with an analog-to-digital converter like what you’ll find in an audio interface.
Moreover, aside from the USB cable, the mic may also have a headphone jack that allows a user to listen to the mic’s output.
I’ve found that some high-end USB mics have the ability to act like an external sound card, which will allow you to hear the mix of the output from the mic itself and the audio from the computer.
All in all, it really depends on your setup, and if better quality is crucial for you. If you want a plug-and-go type of connection, USB mics are perfect for you.
XLR vs. USB Microphones
An XLR microphone is an analog mic that has an XLR connector for its base, hence the name. The base can be connected to an audio interface, preamps, amplifier, and other equipment.
The three metal pins on the base of an XLR microphone connect it to a female XLR connector at the end of a cable.
There are three common types of XLR microphones, which are:
- Condenser microphones
- Dynamic microphones
- Ribbon microphones
When it comes to quality, an XLR microphone wins against USB microphones!
XLR cables are usually thick because they contain wires, a metal screen, and insulators.
This XLR cable enables the XLR microphone to output great audio quality because it prevents interference and noise.
However, you need an audio interface to connect the mic.
When it comes to convenience and portability, I wouldn’t recommend an XLR microphone over a USB mic, which means carrying other heavy equipment.
Plus there’s the price to worry about. An XLR microphone is more expensive than a USB microphone.
If you don’t want to use an external audio interface but want to record directly onto your computer, this microphone is what you need!
A USB cable – whether it’s USB Type-A or USB-C – can effectively convert the analog signal from the recording and translate it into a digital signal for post-processing.
XLR mics trump USB microphones in terms of audio quality for a good reason, and that’s because XLR microphones have a form of noise control mechanism in their XLR cable.
On the other hand, the USB cable doesn’t have the same capacity, which is why you might need an audio interface for better audio.
Remember, the appeal of a USB microphone is that it’s much easier to connect to a computer than an XLR cable.
Some high-end microphones even have a headphone output or can be directly connected to the speakers while you’re processing the digital audio in software.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do USB Interfaces Work?
To better understand how an audio interface works, I’ll have to define two important terms: analog and digital signal.
The ANALOG is the signal produced by the instrument, or the vocals during recordings, while the DIGITAL audio is the one recognized by the computer or software.
An audio interface is an analog-to-digital converter of sounds or signals that they receive from XLR microphones.
The audio received from an XLR microphone is then also routed to studio monitors and headphones.
You can think of an audio interface as an adapter to and from I/O.
A USB interface is commonly connected to a computer through a USB cable. This enables the user to directly control and convert the produced sound.
Aside from offering multiple connectives, another benefit is its headphones’ sound provides more detail than a USB mic.
Can You Use a USB Mic With a DAW?
This is under the Aggregate Audio development of MacOS, meaning that Apple users have the option to combine different audio sources into a single driver.
This includes non-PC models such as an iPad and an iPhone.
However, this needs a bit more work since you’ll need an adapter and an extra jack just in case.
Under Utilities, this is called the Audio MIDI. Just open your DAW and select the microphone that you want to record tracks with.
From your DAW, the controls are set and you can process the dynamic of your music as the USB cable mic translates the signals from analog to digital.
How Do I Get My Computer to Recognize My Microphone?
Common microphone problems such as this can be solved through the Settings/Controls of your computer.
But, if you’ve checked the Settings and there is something else that you need to control/adjust, then the following tips might be helpful for you.
Here are some ways in which you can ensure that your gear is recognized by your PC:
- Check that your XLR microphone/XLR cable/other mics are put into the right plug.
- Return to your BIOS settings and re-enable the microphone again.
- Check if your microphone has enough power (for battery-powered ones).
- Look over if the XLR cable is connected properly to the AI that is connected to your PC or your iPad.
- Control the amount of power in the outlet where you plug in your microphone. The wrong voltage might be causing connectivity issues with the cable.
I hope this article has shed light on your question!
Although possible, with USB audio interfaces or a USB mic, I strongly recommend choosing one or the other, since they’re not the best when paired together.
There are other options available, such as pairing an XLR microphone.
January 15, 2023 – minor formatting updates