Do I Need an Audio Interface for a USB Mic?

So you’ve just purchased or are looking to purchase a USB microphone. But you start hearing from recording enthusiasts that they plug their microphones into an audio interface before it goes to the computer. So you start to wonder…

Do I need an audio interface for a USB microphone?

The answer is no, a USB Microphone plugs directly into your computer via a USB cable. There is actually no way to plug the USB cable from your mic into an audio interface.

What an audio interface does is convert the analog signal that is coming from an XLR microphone into a digital signal that it can deliver to your computer.

A USB microphone does the analog to digital signal conversion in the microphone. So this eliminates the need for an audio interface.

Generally, when using an audio interface we use microphones that have an XLR cable which is a cable with a 3-pin connector which you can see in the attached photo below.

The only way to get sound out of a USB Microphone is using a USB cable into the computer and you cannot go from USB cable into an audio interface because they are designed to receive analog audio signals and then convert them into digital audio signals.

But basically, you do not need an audio interface if you have a USB microphone. You can just plug the USB cable directly into your computer.

But is a USB microphone the best solution for your recordings?

Or is an audio interface with a separate microphone a better solution?

Let’s take a look at this in a bit more detail.

USB vs XLR Microphones

So USB microphones have a capsule and an audio interface built into them. You can just plug in a USB cable into the bottom of the mic and the other end of the USB cable into your computer and you are good to start recording.

An XLR microphone has a capsule it could be a very similar capsule to the USB mic or it could be a much higher-quality capsule. XLR microphones don’t have an interface built into them instead it uses a balanced XLR cable. The XLR cable plugs into the bottom of the microphone and then you plug the other end into the audio interface.

Price comparison

Looking around online you will notice that the average USB microphone is really quite cheap. Whereas, an entry or mid-level XLR microphone tends to be more expensive, however, this doesn’t take into account the quality.

If you’re just looking at the price of both options you have a USB microphone which you only need a USB cable for, which you can get very cheap. Whereas, if you get an XLR microphone you need to buy the microphone, you need to get a good quality XLR cable for it and you also need to get an audio interface.

A cheap USB microphone and cable can be got from anywhere from about $30 up to about $200 whereas the price of getting an entry-level XLR microphone and a cheap audio interface could already set you back a few hundred dollars.

Quality and Functions Comparisons

Although some of the USB Microphones do use the same capsule as their XLR counterpart microphones. The way the information is processed after it goes into the microphone is incredibly different. XLR microphones tend to have more expensive materials used in them. Not only that but also the process by which the sound waves are converted into digital information is handled in a very different way.

Having a dedicated microphone and a dedicated separate audio interface or preamp is going to give you a higher sound quality. This is due to better components in an XLR Microphone and better digital audio converters in an audio interface. This is just one of those times when spending a bit more money on something does give you much better quality results.

It does depend a bit on the application you use it for though. If you’re just using the mic for podcasting or recording audio for youtube then you probably won’t notice that much quality difference. If however, you want to record lots of different instruments and different vocalists with all sorts of dynamic ranges it is generally advised that you should get an XLR microphone and audio interface.

From an engineer’s perspective having an XLR microphone is much easier to work with. You can just plug it into the audio interface and you have all the controls and dials you need at your fingertips. You can control the gain you can control the volume you’re hearing through the speakers or headphones and you have a lot more control. Whereas with the USB microphone, it can be a little bit harder to control from your DAW software.  Sometimes you will even have to open up your sound settings panel to change the gain staging and things like that and it just makes workflow a little bit more difficult.

So with that in mind lets take a look at some of the different equipment options and my recommendations:

Equipment Recommendations

USB Microphones

In the lower price bracket, the USB Microphones I would recommend are:

For USB Microphones with higher quality and slightly higher price, I would recommend either:

Related Article: Best USB Microphones for Home Recording

Audio Interfaces

audio interface

When it comes to audio interfaces there are so many choices out there. For now though I will stick with the best quality options that won’t break the bank. If you’re just looking to record your voice and maybe a guitar then I would recommend the:

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

But if you’re looking for an interface that is slightly more advanced and enables you to record a digital keyboard (via MIDI). Then I would recommend:

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

For a more in-depth guide to choosing an audio interface then I would recommend taking a look at these other two articles:

XLR Microphones

Again, when it comes to XLR microphones there are so many to choose from and it depends what you want to record. But if you want an XLR microphone that is good for vocals and maybe acoustic guitars then I would recommend either:

Related article: 8 Best Vocal Microphones for Home Recording


So I hope that answers your question. Do you need an audio interface to use a USB microphone? No, you don’t.

But you may find that buying an audio interface expands your recording options and enables you to record other instruments and use different microphones. If you find, however, all the added extras of an audio interface a bit unnecessary. Then you might do better to stick with the USB microphone.

If you want to find out more about what equipment you’ll need to set up a home recording studio then have a look at this other article we’ve written: Home Recording Studio Equipment List – The 8 Essentials.

Tim Strat

Tim Strat

Tim Strat is a sound engineer and the founder of the Home Studio Recordings website. He has been working in the music industry for over 20 years and has extensive experience in recording, mixing, and sound design. He started as a way to share his knowledge and expertise with others who are interested in learning about home recording.

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