(Pocket-lint) - When playing with friends, streaming for an audience or creating content for YouTube or any other platform, you need to ensure you're heard loudly and clearly.
Gaming headsets often pack a built-in microphone, but they're not always great and certainly not as good as a dedicated microphone. That's where a USB microphone comes in.
And if you've been thinking about adding such a mic to your setup, but aren't sure what to buy, then we've got you covered.
We've tested the very best microphones available today, most of which are easy-to-use, plug-and-play affairs with incredible audio capabilities. No matter what your budget is, here are the top options to consider.
What are the best microphones?
Best microphone: Our top pick
Shure MV7 podcast microphone
- Rich sound capture
- Choice of XLR or USB connections
- Great accompanying software
- No stand included
- Pricier than other options
The Shure MV7 is the company's answer for those who are looking for a studio-quality microphone that's convenient and easy to set up.
It stands head and shoulders above to competition for its simplicity, user-friendly options and superior sound capture.
This microphone takes the legendary Shure SM7B and makes it more accessible to the masses by adding USB connectivity and the ShurePlus Motive apps that work on desktop or mobile. That app is designed to work as an audio engineer, adjusting sound levels to capture your voice no matter how loudly you're speaking.
The MV7 is both desk stand and boom arm mountable, meaning you can work it into the most convenient place for you. It works best on a boom arm, close to your mouth, but we were impressed with the pick-up capabilities of this mic even when used on the desk.
A unique pick-up pattern also helps eliminate background noise and keeps the focus on your voice.
The MV7 is also interesting because, as well as the USB connection, you also have the option of using XLR. Connect it to the GoXLR Mini or the Rodecaster Pro and you've got a powerful professional microphone that you can tweak until your heart is content.
It might be pricier than other USB microphones out there, but for good reason. This is a fantastic microphone that's well worth the investment.
Microphones we also recommend
There are a number of other microphones worth looking at that we've tested and approve of.
Endgame Gear XSTRM
- Impressive AI noise cancellation
- High sample rate
- Shock mount and pop filter as standard
- Mic monitoring isn't on as standard
- AI causes delay/echo in monitoring
The Endgame Gear XSTRM looks similar to the HyperX Quadcast S straight out of the box. It has similar features too including a built-in shock-mount and pop filter as well as a design that includes RGB lighting.
What makes it interesting though is the 24-bit and 192kHz sampling rate and the fact that it has AI noise cancellation built directly into the microphone. This is a plug-and-play USB microphone, but with the flick of a switch, you can turn on the AI tech that intelligently eliminates background noise.
It doesn't have mic monitoring as standard, you have to turn that on in Windows sound settings first and there is a delay on that if you use the AI setting, but these are minor issues in our experience.
It captures fantastic quality sound and delivers really rich audio too.
- Fantastic software level controls for streamers
- Simple design
- Flexible audio routing
- Needs some tweaking to get sounding perfect
- Picks up quite a lot of noise out of the box
- No shock mount as standard
The Elgato Wave:3 is a USB mic firmly aimed at streamers and content creators. It might not be much to look at, but this microphone is packed full of interesting tech and features to help you really shine online.
It's a compact condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern that's designed to pick up your voice, but not much else. It has an internal pop filter and an intelligent Clipguard technology that's designed to stop your audio from peaking, even if you get a bit over-enthusiastic (or shouty) while capturing audio.
It also delivers impressive audio capture with a 24-bit/96Khz sample rate. As standard, the audio from this microphone is rich and impressive, but it also continues to please in other areas. The simple interface on the mic itself, for example, allows you to not only easily adjust mic gain, but also adjust the monitoring if you have a headset plugged into it. A capacitive mute button means you can silence your mic with just a light touch.
The highlights of this microphone come when you pop it on a boom arm and dive into the Elgato Wave Link software.
This is free software that comes with the microphone and allows you to do some really clever things with your audio. It's essentially an audio routing system. So you can add sources of audio to it - for example, Spotify, the microphone, game audio, Discord chat and more - then adjust each of them individually and also adjust levels not just for yourself, but for what your audience will hear.
We love this microphone for that software alone, as it means you can not only customise the listening experience, but you can also easily monitor what your audience is going to hear (or is hearing) when you go live on Twitch, Mixer or YouTube. It's this functionality that makes the Elgato Wave:3 a killer bit of streaming kit.
As if that wasn't enough, it's also compatible with Elgato's Stream Deck, giving you easy touch controls for your audio and on-the-fly tweaks too.
For the money, you're getting a great bit of kit here and you can also make it even better with a boom arm and shock mount too.
HyperX Quadcast S
- Superb built-in shock mount and pop filter
- Great looking design
- Capable sound
- Not as easy to customise for streaming
- RGB might not be for everyone
The HyperX Quadcast S is an interesting alternative and one that really raises some eyebrows, not just because of the snazzy design, but also due to the number of features it packs into its small frame.
This mic has an anti-vibration shock mount combined with the built-in pop shield to keep most unnecessary noise at bay. RGB lighting helps it stand out for streaming and the capture quality is superb too.
This microphone looks fantastic when mounted on a boom arm and it's really eye-catching, but it's also really easy to get it to sound great.
Blue Yeti Nano
- Superb build quality
- Compact design
- Reasonable sound
- Picks up some background noise
- No shock mount or pop filter
- Needs a boom arm to sound ideal
The Yeti Nano is a tiny premium USB microphone that packs some serious punch. This is a perfect addition to your desk or gaming area if you're looking to upgrade your mic and want fantastic sound quality without taking up too much room.
Despite its size, the Yeti Nano delivers impressive results with support for a high-quality 24-bit/48kHz recording that sounds great whatever you're doing. If you're planning on streaming your gameplay, creating video content for YouTube or just chatting with your friends as you game, then this is the microphone for you.
Other microphones we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you.
We always consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best-of guides, and that includes physically testing the products ourselves, as well as assessing consumer reviews, brand quality and value for money. Some microphones we tested didn't quite make the cut, despite them likely still being the right pick for some users. The following are still worth a look if you're hunting for a bargain.
How to choose a microphone
Buying a microphone involves more considerations than you might realise. It's important not to just buy based on price or quality but to also think about what you're going to be using your mic for, how you'll use it in your space and the end result you're trying to get.
XLR or USB?
USB microphones like the Yeti Nano and Elgato Wave:3 meanwhile are much easier for less tech-savvy people to use. Perfect for beginners or those who want a hassle-free plug-and-play setup. If you want the very best sound though, XLR microphones are superior and worth considering. They're more expensive and require an interface to work but deliver a premium sound.
What are you using it for?
What do you need your microphone for? It's important to think about that before you buy. If you just need to upgrade from your laptop mic for Zoom or Teams calls, then a USB microphone might well be sufficient.
If you're planning on streaming gameplay or other content on Twitch, Facebook Gaming or YouTube then perhaps the Wave:3 might be a better choice as it gives you loads of flexibility with its audio routing systems. While if you want the very best then consider turning to XLR.
How much space do you have?
Many of these microphones require a mic stand or boom arm in order to sound best. If space is limited then a USB microphone might be the best choice for you but to get a clean sound you need to get them off the desk and away from keyboard sounds or bumps and knocks.
How soundproof is your room?
If you're having troubles with background sound, ambient noise or low quality in your microphone capture then you might also like to think about your room. A good microphone won't help if you've got hard floors and an empty room with no soft furnishings that might help dampen noise and reverb.
Something like Elgato's Wave sound panels might be an easy solution to help improve the sound of your room and, in turn, your audio capture. When buying a mic, it's a good idea to consider these things.
More about this story
There are a number of factors we consider when looking at recommending products, and every USB microphone on this list has been tested in real-life situations.
We've used them for Zoom and Teams, we've gamed with them with friends and we've streamed with them, too. They've been used for voice-overs and had their settings tweaked while checking for real-world sounds like keyboard noises.
We've tested these so we can be sure they deliver the best quality. After all, we're only interested in great-sounding microphones that aren't ruined by constant background noise and other problems.
What we aren't interested in is pointless number crunching or extraneous details - we just want to provide an easy-to-understand review that gives you an idea of what it's going to be like to use.
We’ve been covering tech since 2003, and, in many cases, have not only reviewed the product in question, but the previous generations, too - right back to the first model on the market.
There are also plenty of models we've considered that didn't make the cut in each of our buyer's guides.