Whether you’re a recording artist or sound engineer, you’ll need an XLR mic. XLR mics were invented in 1900 by Kenneth Cannon.
He used them to standardize cables used for speakers, amplifiers, microphones, and other audio equipment. However, the 3-pin model is the most common, and this is the one we’ll discuss today.
XLR mics are the standard for professional audio inputs because they are designed to isolate noise.
Put simply, xl4 stands for External Line Return. It is a better form of a connector, but it’s so robust that the average consumer doesn’t have to think about using it unless it’s for streaming or high-quality audio.
|Best XLR Microphones||Model||Expert Rating||Price|
|Marantz Pro MPM1000|
The majority of professional microphones use an XLR output. When looking at a 3-pin XLR cable, you’ll notice two connection points: a 3-pin female XLR connector on one end and a 3-pin male XLR connector on the other.
Here’s how you connect an XLR mic to an audio interface:
- Connect the male XLR (microphone output) connector cable to the female XLR connector cable.
- Connect the male XLR cable to the audio interface’s input.
XLR mics are designed to pass large electrical currents in two-line audio equipment. Typically, you’re going to connect the microphone to an audio interface. By doing so, you’ll connect the audio interface to a tablet or computer and create high-quality audio results. Without XLR connectors, your recordings won’t sound loud or have the same quality.
There are two different forms of XLR cables – male and female. The male uses three pins while the female uses three pin-holes. This is similar to plugging a three-prong battery plug into an outlet.
Make sure you use a complementary connector for these cables. Just like using the audio outlet, the audio jacks will align with the cable. However, adapters are available if needed.
XLR microphones are tug resistant, making them great for recording audio setups. Most of them require the user to push a lever to remove it from the jack.
This prevents the cable from coming out if it’s tripped on, tugged, or stepped on. Using XLR mics will protect your sound quality from experiencing gaps in audio.
Another reason why people use XLR mics is because of their improved grounding and wire quality. In addition, XLR mics have 3 prong clips with a separate wire to make a grounding signal.
Grounding your signal is important at creating a balanced signal, so having a third wire is a huge advantage.
Before getting an XLR mic, understand that they have a steep learning curve. While they have the most potential, they are the most challenging. For instance, you cannot simply connect an XLR mic to a computer. Instead, you’ll have to plug it through an audio interface.
The initial learning curve will put some beginners off, though you’ll experience greater rewards using an XLR mic.
XLR mics are the most expensive because of the extra equipment needed. You’ll need to buy a phantom power source, pop filter, audio interface, and mic stand in order to use an XLR mic. This makes it difficult to recommend XLR mic(s) for traveling (unless you’re touring) or if you’re new to recording audio.
XLR vs. USB
What is an XLR Microphone?
As stated in our previous section, an XLR microphone is a microphone that has multiple cables attached to it. They are able to connect to condenser mics via phantom power, which is useful for home recording setups.
For added security, XLR microphones have a locking mechanism. This ensures that the cable remains connected, making it more durable than USB mics. Ever since their origins in the 1950s, XLR mics have been compatible with virtually any piece of audio equipment.
What is a USB Microphone?
First, we need to understand the difference between XLR vs. USB microphones and regular microphones. Without too much technical explanation, think of how regular microphones use an analog device. USB microphones have an analog-to-digital converter built-in.
How is this important? Analog microphones are used to create live sound refinement into a video/audio conferencing system or a public address system. Since the USB microphone is built-in, you can simply plug it into your computer and start your DAW or recording software.
Second, you have to determine if your USB works with your computer’s device driver. Device drivers tell your OS system how to connect with the USB mic.
Third, you’ll realize that USB microphones can be used for multiple recording scenarios. Many people use USB mics to improve the audio quality of their Zoom sessions. One benefit of using USB microphones is placing them inside a computer bag and recording anywhere without taking additional bulky equipment with you.
With USB mics, you have to know how many mics can operate at once. In Windows systems, you can only use one mic at a time. However, you can use multiple mics on a Mac, but it takes a special configuration to do so.
What Makes XLR Better than USB?
In the XLR vs. USB debate, XLR mics are better if you want to record professionally. If you’re a musician, you should pick an XLR mic because of its improved audio quality (its XLR cables). You can use XLR mics for live shows, podcasts, and they can be combined to record the same sound source in multiple ways.
Although buying an extra audio interface can be expensive, upgrading the rig is more affordable and easier down the line.
USB mics aren’t good with recording multiple tracks. That makes it difficult if you have multiple artists who want to record simultaneously. For instance, if you want to record multiple vocal tracks, you’ll have to remove the mic and get a mixer or audio interface.
However, once you have an XLR mic, that’s all you need. If you want a new audio interface, you’ll only have to buy an XLR mic and not an additional set of microphones. In the end, the XLR setup is a more versatile and higher-quality microphone for most people.
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Not Limited to a Computer
XLR cables can extend up to 20 meters or more. This gives you more portability in the studio and allows you to move the mic around or position it in another vocal booth. With USB mics, you have to rely on a computer to record.
Some handheld recording devices work with recording podcast interviews. You’ll need to use an XLR connection for these devices, so it’s best to get one if you like to record at a distance.
XLR Microphones Are More Versatile
There are three types of microphones used for home recording. XLR microphones fall into all three of these categories:
- Ribbon Microphones: Vintage microphones, but they are by no means outdated. Ribbon microphones are used by audio engineers that have a delicate sound palette.
- Dynamic Microphones: Dynamic mics are used by artists and musicians. They are good for audio engineers who use high volumes and vocal fluctuations.
- Condenser Microphones: Condenser mics are the most sound-sensitive and versatile out of the three. While they aren’t good for live performances, you can use them for recording.
These categories make the XLR more diverse than its USB counterpart, and you have multiple options to choose from before buying. Unlike the USB mic that’s used, for one thing, the XLR mic can be custom-tailored to your audio preferences.
XLR cables use phantom power. This means the XLR cables can give enhanced power sources to microphones that no other cable is capable of.
USB mics have built-in amps inside the microphone. This means that you are limited to the original sound. With XLR mics, you have the choice of upgrading your preamp or interface to get a better tone.
Better Sound Quality
When recording with a USB mic, you’re recording with unbalanced audio cables. The two main wires will act as conductors, one to the input signal and the other to the output. When the wires are unbalanced, it picks up ambient sounds and frequencies that are not intended to be used in the final recording.
Creating a balanced signal will need more equipment and cables that can get more expensive if you’ve already bought a USB cable. That is why getting ‘cheaper’ mics will cost you in the long run.
XLR microphones have balanced cables. Balanced cables have three wires that act as balance conductors (ground, positive, and negative). This means that the positive and negative signals contain balanced properties. To simplify, there will be canceled-out noise and minimal audio interference.
When Should I Use an XLR vs. USB Microphone?
This is up to your personal preference. USB microphones are used by people that are starting a podcast as a hobby but not as a professional. They are cheaper than XLR microphones and are easier to set up. USB microphones are good for beginners because they are easy to install and require no technical knowledge to use.
XLR microphones are for people who want a step up from USB mics. Usually, people go for XLR microphones when they grow out of USB mics and want more capability, adjustability, and better audio features. These microphones have to connect to a mixer, which tends to be used by those wanting a more professional podcast setup.
Getting an HD XLR microphone can be tough if you don’t know where to look. Fortunately, we’ve created the next section to help beginner, and professional audiophiles find what they need. We’ll review the 5 best XLR microphones and their strengths and weaknesses to give you a better picture of how they work.
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The 5 Best XLR Microphones In 2021
- Cardioid Pattern Microphone
- Midrange Controls and Bass Roll-Off
- Detachable Windscreen
- Pop Filter Included
- Mutable Frequency Response
The Shure SM7B Vocal Microphone is used for live streaming, radio, and other forms of broadcast audio. There is a mutable frequency response on the back of the mic, which gives you more options for sound customization. Two toggles allow you to switch between three settings (e.g., flat, presence boost, roll-off) depending on what the situation calls for.
What do the three settings mean? The flat is great for producing natural sound and is versatile for music and vocals. The only disadvantage is its lack of emphasis within the lower mid ranges. Presence boost is used to boost the treble and mid ranges during a recording. This is great for high pitch instruments such as a guitar or violin.
Bass roll offs are suited for high frequencies, as it cuts off the low frequencies in this setting. When in use, it cuts off the lower noises that might have been caused via the proximity effect. With these sound features, you’ll have enough to get a successful recording every time.
A pop filter is included for extra sound accuracy. When in use, it eliminates fricatives and plosives, allowing you to speak clearly without having to be close to the console. Shure also includes an A7WS detachable windscreen to create a bassier tone and reduce plosives. Refer to the instructional manual guide to help with installing this properly, as it requires an additional attachment piece.
The Shure SM7B is a microphone with a cardioid pickup pattern. In layman’s terms, this means the microphone is less sensitive to noises and is more durable than condenser mics. This makes it great for singers, announcers, and podcasters because it clearly picks up sounds in front of the mic while rejecting off-axis sounds.
Another benefit of its cardioid pattern is it has a large margin for error. Users don’t have to worry about the microphone’s placement, giving you more time to focus on a musician’s performance instead of logistics. Overall, the Shure SM7B is an XLR microphone that you’ll be using for a long time.
- Hand-Held Form Factor
- Frequency Response: 70Hz-15kHz
- Sensitivity: -53.5 dBV/Pa
- Impedance: 600 Ω
- Zipper Pouch Included
The Shure PG ALTA PGA48 is a professional XLR mic that has an industrial design. It features a silver, black grille, and metallic finish, which leads to exceptional performance in difficult environments. A zipper is included, which gives the mic more protection when traveling or storage.
You need a microphone that’s great at capturing sounds. The Shure PG ALTA PGA48 has a 70 to 15,000 Hz frequency response, which captures deeper and higher-pitched voices with minimal distortion. Get this microphone if you have an artist with a dynamic vocal range, as it can easily pick up their sounds.
Weighing in at 300 grams, the Shure PG ALTA PGA48 is easy to carry. The mic has 600 Ω of impedance, giving you the power and resistance needed for higher-level applications. Since it has a -53.5 dBV/Pa (2.10 mV) sensitivity level, it will pick up your vocalist’s words once they perform.
The Shure PG ALTA PGA48 provides 3 different connectivity options. It can be used without a cable, XLR-QTR cables, and XLR-XLR cables. Because of this versatility, it gives you more opportunities to plug in the mic and get started.
For added mic control, there is an ON/OFF switch. That way, users can quickly toggle the microphone on and off, allowing them to configure their sound. Buy this microphone if you want a simple yet effective recording tool to add to your home studio.
Mainly, the Shure PG ALTA PGA48 is a good dynamic XLR microphone for all your recording needs. It has good quality material, a durable design, and added protection. By getting the PGA48, you’re getting a tool that brings your vocals to life.
- Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 15 kHz
- Cardioid Polar Pattern
- Bit Depth: 16 bit
- Sampling Rate: 44.1 / 48 kHz
- Custom Tripod Stand
The Audio-Technica AT2005USB ranks third on our list. You’ll notice the 3.5mm headphone output, XLR input, and a micro USB connection underneath the mic. There is a small wheel, which allows you to control the volume coming out of the headphones.
Based on its sound quality, it has a 50Hz – 15 kHz frequency range. The frequencies are satisfactory on the high levels. However, the lows might not be deep enough, so you might not obtain the low bass frequencies. Still, this is an acceptable frequency level if your main goal is vocal recordings.
The Audio-Technica AT2005USB has a low diaphragm, which has a great frequency response. That being said, this microphone is better suited for interviews and podcasts than other applications. In a studio environment, the mic will work perfectly. But it will struggle in larger environments.
If you’re buying a mic that copes with all environments, then it needs great build quality. This mic has an all-metal casing, giving it shock protection from extended usage. Since it is a dynamic mic, you get the benefit of better input gain without added background noise.
Basically, the Audio-Technica AT2005USB is a jack of all trades microphone. It comes with a microphone clip and a sturdy tripod stand, allowing you to use it as a handheld or stationary recording. Purchase this microphone if you want something that’s affordable and effective.
- Ues 9V-48V Phantom Power
- Vibration Noise Resistant Shock Mount
- For Acoustic Instruments or Voice
- XLR Cable and Tabletop Stand
- Windscreen Reduces Breath Noise
If you’re looking for a useful condenser mic, the Marantz Pro MPM1000 will leave you satisfied. You can use this microphone for gaming, streaming, studio recording, and podcasting. Users can rely on this sound because it offers sonic accuracy at a level better than microphones within its price range.
This microphone comes with a wide yet smooth frequency response (20 Hz – 20kHz), so you can hear everything in clear detail. To install, turn on the microphone after connecting it to a pre-amp. This XLR mic uses phantom power (48V), so it will need an external source to work.
In need of accessories? The Marantz Pro MPM1000 is free from ground and motion noise thanks to its shock mount. For added mobility in the studio, you can set the mic on a taller mic stand or the tripod that comes with the device.
For YouTubers, the tripod works great at adding precision to your voice. There is a custom windscreen included, which reduces wind noise and breathing noise. This addition is valuable because finding a windscreen that’s an ideal fit for your mic can be time-consuming and difficult.
With its cardioid pickup pattern, the Marantz Pro MPM1000 reduces background noises interfering with your vocals. The mic picks up sounds from the front and sides, which ensures that your voice will sound clear when it’s in use.
Despite its modest marketing price, the Marantz Pro MPM1000 allows you to capture every detail. It has a high sensitivity rating and the essentials needed to keep your vocals clean without background interference. This microphone will give you the audio results you need for audiophiles and musicians starting to record with instruments.
- 130dB max SPL
- Impedance: 140 Ω
- Cardioid Polar Pattern
- Weight: 346g
- Frequency Range: 20Hz – 18kHz
Last on our list is the Stellar X2 Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser XLR Microphone. After unboxing, you’ll notice the Steller X2’s protective aluminum case. In addition, you’ll find a spring shock mount that allows you to attach the mic stand to a boom arm, a leather carries case and a foam wind cover. Thus, giving you multiple customization options to enhance your recordings.
The low noise circuit is its highlight feature. It is a custom JFET circuit crafted out of German capacitors and has a tolerance of 1%. With its 13 dBA noise floor, only your vocals will be heard, but background noise will be eliminated as well.
The Stellar X2 is useful for users in need of a robust microphone. The microphone’s body is made of high-end iron and a rugged grill, making it great for extensive recordings. So, you don’t have to worry about this microphone if accidental drops occur during your recording session.
Plus, this microphone has a 20Hz – 18kHz frequency range, which helps with picking up artist vocals and instruments. It has a 130dB max SPL and a 140 Ω impedance, giving you the power needed to create crisp vocals.
Why get the Stellar X2? Get it if you’re in need of an upgrade to your current audio equipment. Weighing in at 346g, it’s light enough to travel with and for mobile studios. Thanks to its hand-tuned capsules, the microphone has the machinery needed to reproduce sounds accurately and deliver professional audio results.
Are you still confused about what microphone to buy? Take a look at our FAQs.
What to Look for in the Best XLR Microphone
SPL and Sensitivity
When looking up microphone specs, the SPL and sensitivity come up often. While the terms sound fancy, they’re actually straightforward. The SPL stands for sound pressure level. This number measures the loudest sound the microphone can reproduce.
On the other hand, sensitivity refers to the quietest sound the microphone can pick up. The lower the number, the higher the sensitivity, and the lower the sound will be in the final recording.
Headroom and Dynamic Range
When buying a high-end microphone, the headphone and dynamic range are the features you’re paying for.
The dynamic range is the distance between the shortest and loudest levels you can record at. Some microphones will sound good throughout their dynamic range, but lower-end mics cannot.
You’ll notice reports on the microphone picking up unwanted frequencies at multiple levels or losing their bass response. If this happens to you, try to adjust the mics settings or purchase a replacement. A good XLR mic will give you ample room to work with and even respond throughout the dynamic range.
One of the biggest drawbacks of buying a cheaper mic is its noise floor. The noise floor is a term that refers to the mic’s ‘self-noise level. For example, when you turn on the microphone and don’t intentionally make a noise, you’ll hear some noise in the background.
This can be a difficult concept because most of the noise will be based on your grounding/electricity in your home studio, the cables you choose, and the preamp. However, the microphone plays a critical role in the noise floor, and if you avoid this, it will show in your final recordings.
The frequency response measures the sound range your microphone is capable of detecting. On average, most microphones have a 20 Hz – 20 kHz range. But knowing the range isn’t enough, though you’ll need to know how responsive your microphone is at multiple frequencies.
Think about what you’re trying to record before buying a microphone. For instance, dynamic microphones are better at recording drums and basses. For higher pitches, a condenser mic is better since it rejects sounds from the sides.
What is Grounding and Phantom Power?
Every mic requires power to operate (i.e., condenser mics). They can receive their power via an onboard battery. Still, power is usually provided by a mixing desk or audio interface made by an XLR cable. This is phantom power, which requires you to plug in the XLR mic into another piece of audio equipment for it to work.
Your XLR’s ground wire is essential because it creates phantom power. The pins on the XLR need to be longer than the 2 and 3 pins. This ensures the XLR connector can plug into the socket. Your XLR mic will be grounded before it flows, protecting the mic from dangerous short circuits. Ground wire works with your cable’s shielding to reduce background noise that will weaken your audio performance.
What Are Polar Patterns?
Each XLR mic uses a polar pattern to determine how it captures sound. Also, the microphone’s directivity can impact the captured sound’s tone. You can use microphones in different sound setups to your advantage.
Omnidirectional mics can pick up sounds from all directions. In addition, they are great for vocals because they have great bass responses and sound open and rich. Since it is omnidirectional, it might pick up unwanted sounds. They aren’t useful for live performances unless you’re aiming to capture background noises.
Cardioids have a 131 degrees pickup angle, making them more directional than Omni mics. They are sensitive to sounds coming from the front and capture fewer sounds from the back. Cardioid mics are a great choice for recording vocals without off-axis noises.
In fact, Cardioid microphones work for on-stage events, where multiple vocalists are singing, or rooms with extreme background noise. Cardioid microphones have the proximity effect, where there is a bass boost after the microphone is placed near the original recording source. On the other hand, they have great feedback rejection.
This can be either a good or bad thing, based on what you’re trying to achieve. Cardioid microphones are the most common XLR microphones on stages and studios because of their great isolation properties and versatility.
Figure-8 microphones are sensitive to front and rear sounds but reject side sounds. These patterns can be used for two vocalists singing together and alternative recording techniques. Most ribbon microphones have figure-8 designs.
Super cardioids and Hyper-cardioids have narrower pickup patterns and are more directional. However, they can capture more rear voices from the mic. These are great for vocal isolation, as long as the vocalist doesn’t move too much. Remaining stationary while recording with these mics helps reduce feedback.
What Are Balanced Cables?
XLR cables that are over 15 feet can capture electromagnetic interference and act as antennas. XLR cables are balanced, meaning that they have multiple cores. They can have up to seven, depending on the artist’s use. It uses a hot signal and ground wire to carry audio signals. There is a third (cold) wire, but it uses an inverted audio signal.
This may seem odd at first as the cold wire mutes out the hot wire. Out of phase occurs when two audio signals are inverted, which leads to inaudible sound. Both signals cancel each other out and are susceptible to noise like unbalanced wires.
This is a straightforward process. Balanced microphone cable runs don’t have the same noise issues as unbalanced cables. There are many balanced cables available, but the XLR has extra features (i.e., Phantom Power) that make it stand out from the rest.
What is Output Impedance?
Output impedance measures the AC resistance being sent to the microphone. Usually, microphone impedance is divided into high (20,000+Ω), medium (5,000 – 15,000 Ω), and low (50 – 1,000 Ω).
Microphones have a limit of how much cable can be used for a microphone and its input. If it goes beyond 20 feet, the microphone will have a reduced high and output level. But with low-impedance mics, you can use your mic at virtually any length without any loss in sound quality.