USB Mic Vs. Audio Mic
By Aaron Parson
For the home user looking to record audio on a computer, there are two microphone formats to choose from: USB and analog. USB mics connect to any open USB port, and include their own processing hardware and drivers, while analog audio mics input through a 3.5mm jack and rely on the computer system for processing. This makes the choice between mic types largely dependent on the quality of existing sound hardware in the computer.
All microphones capture sound the same way, so the "digital" connection of USB microphones does not actually improve the sound quality. Microphones of equal quality come in both USB and analog formats. The main difference between the two is in the way the mic sends its signal to the computer. Analog mics output sound directly, depending on the computer to process it, whereas USB microphones have built-in processing hardware that digitizes the signal.
Because USB mics process sound internally, they act as their own sound card when attached to a computer. This means that a USB mic will produce the same quality output regardless of the computer's hardware specs, so they'll work better than analog mics on computers with a cheap sound card or none at all. Since computers recognize USB mics as separate audio devices, these mics provide an easy way to mix multiple recording sources without a sound card that supports multiple inputs.
Analog mics connect to a computer's sound card input jack and rely on the sound card for audio processing. On computers with high-end sound cards, letting the sound card process the audio will produce better quality than the on-board processing in USB microphones. An analog mic can also take advantage of any included features in the sound card, such as ASIO or special effects like reverb, while USB mics cannot utilize these sound card features.
While both USB and analog audio mics can connect to computers, other devices may not support both formats. Many older technologies such as tape recorders will only accept analog microphones. Conversely, some newer hardware, such as video game consoles, can use USB microphones but have no input for an analog mic. Keep in mind, however, that even if a system has USB inputs, it does not necessarily work with all USB microphones, since USB devices require a compatible driver on the system.
Aaron Parson has been writing about electronics, software and games since 2006, contributing to several technology websites and working with NewsHour Productions. Parson holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.