Should you get a USB or XLR microphone for streaming?

Last Updated on 05/17/2021 by Dean

Finding the best microphone for your stream is a headache. Are you experiencing choice paralysis? I get it… It’s hard. THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS. But the biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether you buy a cheaper USB microphone or a more expensive XLR microphone.

Now obviously, if you’re serious about streaming and you have the budget, an XLR microphone is the way to go. (you probably knew that already)

BUT what if you’re a newer streamer or you’re on a budget, do you need to get an XLR microphone or will you be fine with a USB microphone instead…?

This article will uncover EVERYTHING you need to know about the difference between USB and XLR microphones and teach you EXACTLY which pick will be best fit for your needs.

Are you ready to finally figure out which is the best option for your Twitch stream? Relax, sit down, make yourself a cup of coffee and let’s get into it.

How does a microphone work?

I promise to try to make this explanation as brief as possible to avoid you falling asleep (hope you made that coffee).

Every microphone setup consists out of 3 different devices:

  1. The microphone itself
  2. Preamplifier
  3. Audio interface

Your microphone (1) captures the sound, the preamp (2) boosts the sound and the audio interface(3) changes the analog signal into a digital signal so it can communicate with your pc.

What is the difference between a USB and XLR microphone?

Both USB and XLR microphones go through these 3 steps. The difference is that a USB microphone has the microphone (1), preamp (2), and audio interface (3) built into one body.

While an XLR microphone uses an EXTERNAL preamplifier and audio interface (though they are often inside mixer/audio interface).

USB Microphones

A USB microphone is an all-in-one solution that you’ll find for $50 – $200. You take it out of the box and plug it into your PC and you’re good to go.

The pros

  • USB microphones are extremely affordable, you pay for a finished product
  • USB microphones are easy to use

The cons

  • You have very little control over how your microphone sounds
  • There is no way to ‘upgrade’ the microphone because everything is internal

XLR Microphones

An XLR microphone is nothing without an audio interface, you cannot just plug it into your PC and be done with it. Instead, you will have to purchase an audio interface and in some cases, an additional preamplifer.

So even if you find a $100 XLR microphone, you’ll still need to drop another $100+ on a decent audio interface (and sometimes a preamplifier as well…).

This audio interface will come with knobs and switches that (when done right) will make your microphone sound amazing.

An XLR microphone comes with an added advantage where you can gradually upgrade your sound equipment. For example, at any point, you can upgrade the microphone or mixer without having to purchase everything brand new.

The pros

  • You are fully in control over how your voice sounds.
  • You can gradually upgrade your equipment. If you purchase a new microphone, you can still use the audio interface you already have and vice versa

The cons

  • XLR microphones are expensive. Even if you purchase a cheaper XLR microphone, you’ll still have to pay extra for a mixer and preamplifier. The cost of your microphone is far from the final cost.
  • XLR microphones aren’t easy to control. You will have to learn a thing or two and watch a bunch of Youtube videos to properly get an XLR microphone set up and make it sound good.

XLR vs USB: Which is the best choice for you?

Whether a USB or XLR microphone is the best option for your stream, is really up to your budget. Just imagine what your TRUE budget for a microphone is. What is the EXACT number you can drop on a microphone right now? And keep in mind you’ll have to buy external accessories such as a boom stand as well!

If your budget allows you to easily drop $500 on a microphone set up right now (assuming you’re taking streaming seriously) do it. You won’t regret buying a decent microphone setup if streaming is really something you see yourself doing for years to come. It’s an investment.

However, if your budget is $200 or less you should buy a USB microphone. Don’t go out of your way to drop money on a microphone just yet. Don’t borrow money from friends or family, just go with an all-in-one USB microphone.

You are not missing out. Seriously, an XLR microphone over a USB microphone isn’t going to boost you to the top of Twitch or even change your viewer numbers. Getting a USB microphone vs an XLR microphone will change absolutely nothing about your current audience.

You have to be a serious audiophile to really hear the difference between a good USB microphone and a good XLR microphone and I can tell you right now that the majority of your audience will not realize you aren’t using an XLR microphone.

There are many top-tier Twitch streamers who still use a USB microphone. Do you know Ryan Higa? Ryan Higa is an OG Youtuber-turned streamer (he has 21M subscribers!), he uses a USB microphone.

This man is RICH and he knows what he’s doing, his podcast ‘OffThePill’ uses super-fancy Electro-Voice RE-20 XLR microphones. He has XLR microphones, and he has the money, yet he chose to go for a USB microphone for his Twitch streams.

Why? Probably because its less of a hassle and the audio difference isn’t all that big anyway.

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