Talking (or Singing) to Your Computer? USB Microphone vs. USB Audio Interface

photo of a microphone

To record directly onto your computer the obvious solution is a USB microphone.

Or is it?

Recording and sound editing software like the free Audacity multi-track audio editor/recorder have made recording and editing on your computer simple and powerful.



(Did I mention that Audacity is open-source and FREE?! )

Get the free Audacity recording software and read reviewsthree-arrowsdownsmtrans
Audacity icon

But to use Audacity (or other audio software) you first need to get a sound signal into your computer.

Yes, there are a few USB microphones that plug directly into your computer.

Here’s one from MXL, a leader in quality microphones.

And of course for day-to-day recordings of adequate quality, you can use a USB mic with headset earphones, perfect for applications such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I have this USB headset.  It is comfortable and does a fine job.

But for higher quality recording of voice for podcasting and song, guitar and other instruments, you may want to consider a different solution.

To record or broadcast better sound quality, you want a condenser microphone.  Condenser mics require “phantom power.”

Problem:  The USB port isn’t set up to provide the “phantom power” needed to to run a condenser mic.

Why do I want a condenser microphone?  Is it that much better than a USB microphone?

Condenser mics are the standard for studio recording and performance.

Condenser mics come in many shapes, sizes, sensitivities, dynamic ranges and prices.  Using condenser mics offers you (and your budget) options.

Dynamic condenser microphones such as the Shure PG48-XLR Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone with XLR-to-XLR Cableare the recognized workhorses of vocalists (and rugged enough to pound nails).

Condenser mics offer excellent signal to noise ratio (low hum) and gain (amplification).

Condenser mics use the standard three-prong XLR connector.  That means buying condenser mics is an investment in equipment that interfaces with standard amps, mixers — basically everything.   Whereas, USB mics have one purpose – to connect to your computer.

It’s the Sound

I’ve used both types of mics.  Even a medium-priced condenser mic has a rich, powerful sound.  You can really hear the difference.

OK let’s assume you now are convinced that condenser microphones are the way to go.

How the heck do you hook up a condenser mic to your computer?

Enter the TASCAM US-366 4-In/6-Out or 6-In/4-Out USB Audio Interface


The TASCAM opens a USB doorway to your computer for signals coming from high quality condenser microphones AND jacked in guitars/basses.

Select Product Specs

  • 6-in/4-out or 4-in/6-out USB interface depending on the setting of line 3 and line 4.
  • Up to 24bit/192kHz recording
  • 2 – XLR microphone inputs with HDDA mic pres and +48V phantom power
  • On-board digital mixer – “Multi-track mode” or “Stereo mix mode” selectable
  • 2 balanced XLR microphone/TRS line inputs. L channel can be switched to Guitar Input for high-impedance support.
  • 1/4” TRS headphone output
  • USB 2.0 bus-powered

Can I get that in English?

The US-336 has a pair of combination jacks on the front panel that accept 1/4″ (so called “phone jacks” used by guitars) and XLR jacks (standard 3-prong mic jacks). This gives you the flexibility to attach microphones, line level sources, and directly plug a guitar or bass.

The microphone inputs provide phantom power for condenser microphones and plenty of gain (amplification) for recording any source.

A direct monitor path is available during recording to prevent the delays (echos) that can occur when recording to computer. This allows the speaker/musician to hear the input directly without any delay.

USB 2.0 Audio/MIDI Interface works for both Mac and Windows computers

Works perfectly with Audacity.

NOW with your TASCAM US-336 USB Audio Interface in place you can get a really nice condenser mic!

Like these:

Make sure to get a good cheap mic cord and a stand.

If you get a nice gold capsule mic, consider getting a shock mount, a foam cover (the gold wafer performance deteriorates when wetted by voice vapor) and a pop screen.

Using a tough Shure dynamic condenser mic?

You don’t need no stinking shock mount or pop screen!  Just don’t drop it from more than a few feet. 🙂