What Is An XLR Microphone?
XLR microphones get their name from their plug design. The XLR cable and plug were designed as a standardized connector that could pass large electrical currents cleanly between different types of audio recording equipment. You use the plug to connect the XLR microphone to audio equipment, like a sound mixer or another type of audio interface. Podcasters and music professionals choose XLR microphones for their quality recording capabilities.
Why Are XLR Mics So Accurate?
- Thanks to its cable design, an XLR microphone produces a clean, accurate recording with professional quality. You’ll find many types of XLR connectors, but the three-pin, or XLR3, variant is used the most when it comes to recording audio.
- You connect an XLR mic to an audio interface using an XLR cable, a type of balanced cable. This means that inside of the plastic casing of the cable, three wires handle sound transmission: two signal wires and a ground wire.
- Thanks to this cable design, XLR mics produce clear, accurate recordings. Sound transmits through the two signal wires, and the ground wire acts as a shield to protect against outside electronic interference.
Different Kinds Of XLR Microphones: Dynamic vs Condenser
XLR microphones come in two types: the XLR dynamic microphone and the XLR condenser microphone. The best XLR microphone type will depend on what you're recording and where you're recording it. Still, either type of microphone can produce studio-quality recordings. Read more about each type of mic to see which would best suit your XLR microphone setup.
What are Dynamic Microphones?
Dynamic microphones are known for their high durability and low price tag. That makes them a great choice for podcasters of any level, especially for beginners.
Dynamic microphones aren’t particularly sensitive, which makes them a great option for recording instruments like drums or guitars, as well as singing or capturing live performances inside or outside of a studio.
Not as sensitive as condenser mics, dynamic microphones are more versatile. You can easily use them in a home recording studio. These mics are typically better in blocking out background noise coming from other directions. For example, an XLR shotgun mic dynamic microphone really cuts down on unwanted background noise because of its tubular design.
What are Condenser Microphones?
An XLR condenser microphone produces a crisp recording with more clarity. They are much more sensitive than dynamic mics and more complicated to use.
You can look at the sensitivity of this mic as both a pro and a con. They produce clearer recordings and pick up more frequencies, especially when you're recording vocals. However, an XLR condenser microphone will pick up much more background noise than an XLR dynamic microphone.
Consider the acoustics of your recording studio when choosing a microphone. Condenser microphones make more sense for intermediate or professional podcasters. They're also generally much more fragile and more expensive than dynamic mics. If you just started podcasting and have a limited budget, you may want to opt for different hardware.
XLR Vs. USB Microphones
When deciding between a USB vs XLR mic, keep in mind these mic types use two different types of inputs. XLR mics usually use a three-prong connection. A USB mic uses a standard USB input. This affects the types of equipment that you can use as well as their affordability and ease of use.
A USB mic offers more flexibility than an XLR mic. USB mics can easily connect to a computer or laptop and don't require any additional equipment in order to record. They're very easy to set up, especially in a home studio, and work seamlessly with both Macs and PCs. This makes them a great choice for podcasters of any level, especially beginners.
That said, with USB mics, you can only connect to as many ports as you have on your computer or laptop. This can get tricky when you need to add multiple hosts and guests.
Add to that: USB mics usually cost less than XLR mics. Because you don't need an additional audio interface, you don't have to invest more money in your equipment setup (another thumbs up for podcast beginners).
XLR mics cost a little more than USB mics. But you get more options when it comes to adjusting sound quality and the number of people you can record at once. These mics also require more technical know-how, so they make sense if you already have some recording experience under your belt.
USB mics are considered "plug and go" because of their compatibility with other devices. XLR microphones, on the other hand, need to connect to an audio device like a mixer, which then connects to a PC, laptop, or other pieces of equipment. Although you need to invest in other expensive equipment (like an XLR cable and an XLR microphone mixer), you’ll have better control over recording quality.
Getting all the necessary equipment for an XLR microphone can get pricey. However, it's worth the investment if you want to upgrade your established podcast and plan on going pro.
How Do You Use an XLR Microphone?
Once you've decided that you want to use an XLR microphone, you'll need to get additional equipment to actually use your mic. That includes an XLR cable to connect your microphone to an audio interface (if you don't have a USB adaptor).
How Do I Connect an XLR Microphone to my PC or Laptop?
When you want to connect your XLR microphone to your desktop or PC, you have two different options for doing so:
Use a USB Adapter: You can plug your XLR mic into a USB adapter and then plug the adapter directly into your PC or laptop. The main drawback: you can only use a couple of mics for your podcast because of the limited number of USB ports on laptops and PCs.
Connect Through an Audio Interface: The better option for connecting your XLR microphone to your laptop or computer is to use an XLR cable and an audio interface:
- Connect your XLR mic to an audio interface using an XLR cable.
- Connect the mic’s male end into the female end of the XLR cable.
- Then connect the male end of the cable into the receiver on the audio interface.
- Following that, use a USB cord to connect the audio interface to your laptop or PC.
Using a condenser mic? Make sure your audio interface has at least 48V of phantom power to provide power to your mic. No matter if you’re using a USB adapter or an audio interface, you’ll have to adjust your laptop or PC’s audio settings. Select your USB adapter or audio interface as your input and output device.
Who Uses XLR Mics?
People from a range of industries and skill levels use XLR microphones, thanks to their style variety. Plus, you can find a quality XLR mic at any price point.
XLR dynamic mics can pick up loud vocals and sounds created by instruments. Therefore, recording artists and music professionals often go for this type of mic for studio recordings and live performances.
Podcasters, journalists, and radio hosts use XLR mics as well. XLR condenser microphones can capture a huge frequency range and enhance the sound of voices, which makes them an outstanding option for conducting interviews or relaying the news.
An Overview of the Best XLR Microphones
From beginners to professionals, XLR microphones provide quality sound that anyone can appreciate. Always consider your budget and recording needs before making a decision about which mic is right for you. Read on to see some of our XLR recommendations for podcast beginners, intermediate podcasters, and professionals.
Best XLR Microphones for Beginners
Totally new to podcasting? We recommend that beginners start with a relatively cheap XLR dynamic microphone. They are easy to use, and you can get the hang of the basics.
For beginners, take a look at the Shure SM58S Vocal Microphone, the Samson Technologies Q2U, and the Audio-Technica ATR2100x. All three of these XLR dynamic microphones have every feature you need to get started with your podcast. They cost less than other comparable models on the market.
Both the Samson Technologies Q2U and the Audio-Technica ATR2100x can function as a USB mic as well, a bonus if you're unsure about investing in additional equipment for your XLR microphone setup.
Best XLR Microphones for Intermediate Podcasters
Intermediate podcasters who have the basics down should look for an XLR microphone upgrade to improve sound quality and give more control over recording. Consider an XLR condenser mic to take your show's sound quality to the next level.
If you don’t feel ready for a condenser mic, try the Rode PodMic. This dynamic mic will give you better quality than the beginner models without the hefty price tag.
For condenser mics, we recommend the Blue Yeti Pro Multi-Pattern USB and XLR Microphone and the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone. While the Blue Yeti mic is more versatile, the Audio-Technica mic exceeds at recording small vocal details.
Best XLR Microphones for Professionals
When looking at different XLR mics for professionals, we took into account price, features, and whether or not you'll need to upgrade the mic in the future.
For pros, we recommend the Sennheiser MD 441-U, the Shure SM7B, and the Sony C-100. All three mics have amazing frequency responses and built-in features. But, our favorite is definitely the Shure SM7B when it comes to podcasting. All three are also rather pricey but are worthwhile investments for podcasting professionals at the top of their game.
You'll need some additional equipment to get the most out of your XLR microphone. Consider investing in these pieces if you plan to purchase an XLR mic.
The XLR cable connects your mic to other audio equipment. Consider spending a bit extra on your XLR cable as it can greatly improve your recording quality. Even if you have the best mic on the market, if you pair it with a cheap cable, you aren’t going to get great quality. For all experience levels, we recommend the Rapco Horizon N1M1 and the Mogami Gold STUDIO-15 based on the quality you get for the price that you pay.
The audio interface connects to your mic so that the analog audio signals produced by your mic translates into digital signals on your computer. These interfaces range in how many XLR mic inputs they have. They work with both Windows and Mac operating systems.
We recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Solo if you record by yourself. To accommodate multiple hosts or guests, we recommend the PreSonus STUDIO 68 or the Steinberg UR242.
A mixer is like an audio interface, but with a lot more features. The best XLR mixer will depend largely on how many people you need to record. You should also consider how much experience you have with audio equipment. We recommend the Allen & Heath ZED-6 for beginners. It isn’t too pricey, and you can learn how to use it pretty quickly.
Pop Filter Needed?
Whether or not you need a pop filter for your mic will depend on the microphone that you use for your XLR microphone setup. Check the product specifications when considering XLR mics to see whether or not a mic has an internal pop filter.
XLR mics are designed to produce quality. You can’t really go wrong when choosing one for your podcast. However, some microphones are better suited for certain recordings, like singing or live streaming, based on their features.
Best Overall XLR Microphone
To choose our best overall XLR microphone we considered who could use it, the bang that you get for your buck, and the audio quality you can capture.
The winner is the Rode PodMic. You got a high-quality mic for under $99. This dynamic mic suits all skill levels. It also comes with an internal pop filter and an internal shock mount.
Best XLR Microphone For Podcasting
Used by many podcasting professionals, the Shure SM7B has great built-in features: an internal shock mount, an internal pop filter, and a frequency range of 50Hz – 20kHz.
Though a little on the pricey side, it's a good investment. Once you have it, you'll never need to upgrade. Given everything you get, this is our pick for the best XLR microphone for podcasting.
Best XLR Microphone For Live Streaming
Blue Yeti Pro Multi-Pattern USB and XLR Microphone
A well-known name in audio recording, Blue Yeti manufactures quality products at fair prices. They make our pick for the best XLR microphone for streaming. This mic can be used as an XLR or USB microphone, as it combines 24-bit/192 kHz USB I/O with stereo analog XLR outputs. The Blue Yeti Pro Multi-Pattern mic has a frequency response range of 20Hz - 20kHz and a sample rate of 192 kHz.
Best XLR Microphone For Singing
Shure SM58S Vocal Microphone
Shure is a trusted brand that has been around since the 1930s. This specific XLR microphone is popular among music producers because of its recording range and its ability to produce smooth vocals. This mic has a cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 50Hz to 15KHz.
Best Budget XLR Microphone
Samson Technologies Q2U
This little mic provides great quality for a very low cost. Versatile, it functions as either an XLR or USB microphone, which adds value! In addition to the XLR and USB outputs, this mic also has a headphone output. It has a 16-bit, 48kHz sampling rate and 50Hz–15kHz frequency response.
Best Condenser XLR Microphone
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone
This mic has wide-ranging applications, great for capturing small vocal details as well as louder sounds like those created by instruments. The Audio-Technica AT2020 has a low-mass diaphragm and a frequency range of 20Hz-20,000 Hz. This mic is relatively durable when compared to other condenser mics but requires phantom power to operate.
Best Dynamic XLR Microphone
Sennheiser MD 441-U
Because of the hefty price tag, this mic best suits professionals with a bigger budget. Podcasters love it and radio professionals use it because of its excellent sound quality and feedback rejection. This mic has a frequency response range of 30 Hz - 20000 Hz, an integrated pop filter, and a five-position bass roll-off switch. It can reproduce precise and distortion-free sound, even at the highest pressure levels.
Is XLR analog or digital?
Most microphones used by recording professionals, including XLR microphones, are analog. With the use of a device like an XLR microphone interface, or even just with your computer, analog can be converted to digital and used online easily. Many podcasters use analog mics and convert the recordings to digital using another piece of equipment.
Is XLR a mono or stereo?
An XLR microphone can record in both mono and stereo. The most common three-pin type of XLR microphone cable can expertly record balanced sound in mono.
However, a three-pin XLR mic cable is not ideal for recording in stereo. This type of XLR cable is designed for two of the three wires inside to carry the sound signal while the third wire protects against audio interference to create a balanced signal. Technically, you can record in stereo using a three-pin XLR cable, but your recording will be unbalanced.
If you would like to record in stereo, we recommend a 5-pin XLR cable. You can create a balanced recording in stereo due to the increase of wires in the cable that carries sound.
Are XLR balanced?
Yes, XLR mics are specifically designed to produce balanced recordings.
What is An XLR Lead?
"XLR lead" is another term for an XLR cable. Consider the type of equipment you have and the type of recording you want to produce when choosing the best XLR microphone cable for you.
When it comes down to it, the best XLR microphone depends on your needs and budget. Newer to podcasting? Start with less overhead with minimal investment. You can always upgrade to more expensive, quality hardware as your podcast grows.