Last Updated on March 29, 2021.
The first time I ever recorded anything to my computer, was close to 20 years ago and I used an old shotgun mic that had a 3.5mm cable and connected it directly into my PC’s mic input.
While it definitely worked and I was extremely excited that I was finally able to record music, it did come with its fair share of problems.
I have recently bought plenty of USB microphones, as well as Audio Interfaces and XLR microphones, and I think I have the experience to tell you what kind of setup you should go with.
Of course, this will depend on your budget, what microphones you have available to you, etc., but I will do my best to cater to all needs!
USB Microphone vs 3.5mm Cable Microphone
USB Microphones have their own built-in audio interface, which means that they do the analog to digital conversion of the audio without having to rely on your computer’s soundcard, and this generally introduces less noise as well as latency. However, USB microphones can’t be connected to any other equipment, such as Audio Interfaces or PA systems, making them less versatile.
If this information is enough for you, absolutely fantastic! However, I explain in further detail down below why you might one type of mic or the other, and what the actual best solution is.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started!
Is there any difference in Audio Quality?
When you connect a microphone that uses a 3.5mm cable to the Mic input on your PC’s soundcard, you’re relying on that soundcard to do the Analog to Digital conversion, which nowadays is actually quite good, but these components aren’t designed to do that as efficiently as one would think.
Not only may you notice a lack of audio quality, but a lot of noise may be introduced as well, and this is what happened to me the first time I even tried to record something:
I connected a shotgun mic I had borrowed from a friend to the Mic jack on the back of my computer using a 3.5mm cable, and even though I was able to record, there was a constant hissing noise in the background.
Now, some onboard soundcards may not suffer from this issue, but mine did.
However, USB microphones do the Digital to Analog conversion on their own since they have a built-in Audio Interface, and it’s more than likely that the sound quality will end up being a bit better.
Not only that, but you won’t have to deal with any static or hissing noises (if the USB microphone isn’t complete garbage, which it might be).
In short, a USB microphone will probably yield better results, especially if you’re connecting the 3.5mm cable directly into your PC’s soundcard. However, you could replace the 3.5mm cable with a regular XLR one and connect the microphone to an Audio Interface/Mixer, and in that case, the results will be much better.
Can you connect a 3.5mm Cable Microphone to an XLR device?
I just mentioned this, and the answer is yes!
In most cases, microphones that come with a 3.5mm cable on one end, have an XLR connection on the other end (the one that connects to the mic), so simply replace the cable with an XLR/XLR one and that’s it!
That way it will allow you to connect the microphone to any regular recording equipment, such as an Audio Interface, Mixer, preamp, etc.
If you bought a really cheap microphone, then chances are that the cable it comes with is permanently attached to it, meaning that you can’t simply disconnect it and connect an XLR cable.
In this case, you could buy a 3.5mm to XLR adapter, and this should allow you to connect the microphone directly to regular recording equipment, a PA for live use, etc.
Which one should you Choose?
In this particular case, since both types of technology are designed to be plug n’ play and don’t require any additional gear for you to connect them to your PC and record, I’d have to say that a mic with a 3.5mm cable wins.
The reason for this is simple; even though you might have to rely on your computers’ built-in soundcard to process the audio, you can also connect this kind of microphone to a PA system, Audio Interface, etc. by either replacing the cable or by buying an adapter.
USB microphones, on the other hand, can only be used to record directly to your PC via a USB port, which means that they are far less versatile.
So, go with a microphone that has XLR or 3.5mm connectivity.
What is a better solution?
I already compared plenty of USB and XLR microphones, and the truth of the matter is that they serve two completely different purposes.
On the one hand, USB microphone are simple and easy to use, while XLR microphones require additional equipment, such as an Audio Interface, since the Analog signal needs to be converted into a Digital one, plus an Audio Interface is capable of feeding Phantom Power to a condenser microphone.
However, if you buy a USB microphone and then decide that you want to upgrade, you have to ditch that microphone and buy an Audio Interface plus some XLR Microphones, whereas if you just start off by getting an Audio Interface and one XLR microphone, if you ever want to upgrade or get more microphones, you already have the Audio Interface, and this means that you won’t lose money in the long run.
So, what is the best solution for most people?
It may cost more upfront, but over time your total cost of ownership will end up being lower since you can easily add more microphones to your collection without needing to replace anything.
If you went with a USB microphone, you would have to ditch that one and spend your money on an Audio Interface and XLR microphones, which you could’ve just done in the beginning.
If I had to choose between a cheap USB- and 3.5mm cable microphone, then I would certainly go with the 3.5mm one for the simple reason that it would end up being more versatile.
In terms of audio quality, I don’t think you will notice much of a difference, and in general, the quality you will get out of both is probably not the best (I’m talking about extremely cheap setups here).
I know that any USB microphone that costs around $100 will sound great, as will any other microphone at that price point, but I think that whoever is looking for an answer to this question doesn’t have a microphone in that price range, but rather a more affordable one.
So, go with a 3.5mm cable mic!
I hope this information was useful!