When looking for a new microphone for your streaming setup, one choice you’ll have to make early on before you consider the brand and other attributes is whether to go for USB or XLR. Almost everybody knows what USB stands for, but XLR sounds like some kind of alien technology.

So, needless to say, it becomes hard to make a decision. In this article, I’ll define what USB and XLR microphones are, and which one you should go for as a gamer and live streamer…

USB vs XLR Microphones: Which is Best for Streamers?

Before we dive any deeper, it’s important to go over some basic info about microphones. Each microphone more or less consists of three components:

  • Microphone (duh!)
  • Pre-amplifier
  • Audio interface

As it goes, the mic captures your voice, the pre-amp then amplifies the sound, and, lastly, the audio interface converts the analog feed into a digital feed that your PC can understand and that can be streamed on Twitch.

I went over this because it’s a perfect segway towards describing the primary difference between USB and XLR microphones. You see, although both USB and XLR microphones go through these three steps to capture audio, they do it in radically different ways.

USB microphones have all three of these components built into them whereas XLR microphones require an external audio interface. However, with that being said, there are some other points to go over too…

USB Microphones

When you search “Microphone” on Amazon, almost 90% of the results you see are for USB mics. Because of their ease of use and low price most users prefer them over anything else. But they do have certain limitations too.

First of all, consider the lack of customizability. Some mics, like the HyperX Quadcast S, offer some custom recording options but they’re only added extras and lack the quality and nuance of XLR mics.

Another point to note about USB mics is that they’re not easily fixable. If one component stops working, it’s difficult to take it out and replace it with another. This goes back to the primary difference between both mics.

All in all, USB mics are perfect for streamers and gamers looking for a budget-friendly option on the go. Although they have a few limitations, overall they’re still reliable and useful.

On the other side of the coin, if high-end professional audio is the name of the game for you, and you’re looking to install pro gear like mixers in your streaming setup, you should look into an XLR mic.

Pros

  • Affordable and budget-friendly
  • Easy to set up; plug-and-play functionality
  • Wide variety of options available

Cons

  • Less customizability options

XLR Microphones

If you have the necessary budget and desk space to install premium audio gear into your streaming setup, like an audio interface or a mixer, then an XLR mic is a great choice. It has three prongs in its connection and is usually connected to an audio interface before being connected to the computer.

Right off the bat, the biggest advantage of XLR microphones is their customizability. You can switch between dynamic and condenser mics while having the same audio interface whenever you want.

Dynamic mics succeed at recording loud noise, so they’re perfect for a horror game playthrough where you’re liable to scream often. It will minimize distortion. On the other hand, when you’re streaming a more calm, story-driven game then you can use a condenser mic, which excels at capturing smooth and detailed audio. 

I can keep going on and on about all the cool features that XLR mics offer; however, they do cost a lot and require some technical know-how to set up. There’s no getting away from that. So, if you decide to buy one, keep that in mind.

Pros

  • Plenty of customizability
  • Crisp and dynamic audio recording quality
  • Suitable for professional studio

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Complex set-up process

So, Which One Should You Go For?

After going through the above descriptions, if you’re still on the fence about which microphone to go for, this section will clear it up for you. According to me, these are the three questions you should ask yourself:

  • What will you use the mic for, just gaming and live streaming or also podcasting?
  • Do you need a custom mic or is just a default plug-and-play option sufficient?
  • What’s your budget level?

Let’s discuss these questions in-depth:

  • Use Case: If audio quality plays a big role in the type of content you’re producing, like podcasts and interviews, an XLR mic is a must-have. If, on the contrary, detail in audio is not that important to you, a USB mic will do the job just fine.
  • Customizability: All three components that make up an XLR microphone are interchangeable, so that right there offers plenty of room for tweaking the setup. Because USB mics consist of all three components, there’s not much you can do to change the audio.
  • Budget Level: Since USB mics are standalone devices, they tend to cost less and don’t require any extra hardware to run either. So, they’re perfect for budget-savvy users. But XLR mics cost a lot more, not only for getting the mic itself but also for the hardware required to run it.

If you’ve decided to go for a USB mic, check out this post for some great recommendations! Or, if you’re going for an XLR mic instead, feel free to read this post.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you Have Both XLR and USB Mic in your Setup?

Yes, as long as you have the necessary ports in your PC along with the wall power sockets. Although this might sound overkill, it’s a good idea for streamers who have multiple guests on their show. Instead of having an expensive XLR mic for every single guest, only the host and co-host can have one while the others could use a USB mic.

Does Microphone Cable Quality Affect Sound?

Only up to a certain point. If the cable has good build quality and is properly shielded, there won’t be any problems. But, beyond that, no matter how expensive the cable is, it won’t actually improve the quality of the sound.

Which One Do Most Streamers Use: USB or XLR?

As is indicative of the pricing of these two types of microphones, the large majority of Twitch streamers use USB mics. They’re reasonably priced, portable, and have plug-and-play functionality. However, the more high-end streamers often use XLR mics, like Castro_1021, Alexelcapo, Lvndmark, and Diegosaurs.

Wrap Up

So, that just about covers the topic. In summary, USB microphones are perfect for solo streamers looking for a plug-and-play option. On the other hand, XLR microphones are ideal for professional-level streamers that need more customization options and have the space and budget necessary for it.

I hope this article cleared up your doubts, increased your technical know-how, and helped you to choose between these two types of microphones for your setup.

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Author

Devansh is a writer and blogger who is just as passionate about PC hardware as he is about literature. He often spends his free time wading through the latest releases, industry news, and hardware benchmarks just for fun. His goal is to help fellow hardware enthusiasts and gamers make better and more informed choices regarding their PCs and battlestations.