You have penned what you are sure will be your ticket to the big stage.
And you are confident you will blow those hard-to-please record label execs away.
But putting it all down on tape, your rap bars just don’t sound right on this home studio setup you have right now.
You are stumped…
Yet you have this feeling it’s the cheap mic you are using.
But you are no gear or techno head.
You just want a simple mic with decent sound to hook up to your computer.
Sounds like a USB microphone is what you need.
Read on as I give you a quick primer and review of the 5 best USB mic options, with a top recommendation at the end.
Why is a USB Microphone Right for You?
I have previously tackled the 5 things you need to make your own beats. For you rappers, adding a good USB mic will give you a highly capable input device for adding your rap bars to those beats.
And if your budget is really tight, you can even do without an audio interface.
Modern USB mics now come with a built-in preamp and a headphone jack that takes care of that sound delay irritation that made it difficult to record without an audio interface.
Ideally, the best USB microphone is one that makes it less difficult to spit your bars and express your full repertoire of rapping skills.
It should help you get your voice to sound as good as it can can be.
But before we get too deep:
What is a USB Microphone?
Put simply, this is a microphone for which you use a USB cable to hook it up to your computer so you can record your vocals.
USB microphones have a built-in preamp and analog-to-digital sound converter. They get their power directly from the computer.
These mics thus do not need a secondary power source as you would with condenser XLR microphones that need a phantom power-enabled audio interface.
XLR mics are preferred in the more professional studio setups, principally because of their richer ecosystem and adaptability to different audio recording equipment.
But USB microphones have emerged as a greater convenience, especially for beginner rappers with a limited budget. Their plug-and-play functionality takes away many of the barriers for the rapper who is really eager to get started.
Best of all, USB mics are cheaper than XLR microphones, more so when you factor in the higher cost XLR cables.
With just the USB microphone, your computer (or even an iPad), and DAW software for laying your beats, you pretty much have all you need to practice your rap and to record your demos.
What Should Rappers Look for in a USB Microphone?
In many ways you could say that rappers should look for a little more out of a microphone than, say, rock vocalists.
The thing is, rapping is a lot like storytelling.
To really affect and captivate your listeners with your music, every verse must sound as rounded and as clearly as possible.
Because if you spoil a couple of verses, the whole essence of the story can easily get lost.
For this reason, a rapper will be more concerned with the clarity of their vocals coming out of the mic.
The microphone should pick every little nuance of your voice so those listening don’t have to fill in the gaps in your vocals.
That of course is also an object of how you intend to use your microphone, and in what environments. That is always a more logical guide for what type of microphone you should buy.
Speaking of types of USB microphones:
Condenser or Dynamic USB Microphone?
Of the main differences between condenser and dynamic microphones, one is of particular significance.
A condenser microphone uses a capacitor to convert sound waves into digital sound registers for onward transmission to output or recording devices.
Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, employ a magnet and an induction coil to do the same task.
Condenser mics would normally require phantom power. But because of the built-in preamp and direct USB connection to the computer, a USB microphone would not need a secondary power source, which is what makes them so convenient.
Dynamic microphones do very well in live settings because of their more resilient technology and rugged construction. But they produce a poorer sound quality and aren’t a good choice for recording vocals in a studio environment.
Due to all the electronics involved, condenser microphones are a more delicate technology and, as such, are suited to controlled and more sheltered conditions.
However, they are highly sensitive and, because of it, have good response even at high frequencies.
When you add USB connectivity to this bundle of benefits a USB condenser microphone becomes the best fit for recording rap vocals from your bedroom studio.
Important USB Microphone Specs to Consider
There are more USB mic choices than you will ever have time to properly review.
Your task grows harder when you factor in all the specs you will need to measure all these options against.
We singled out the most important specs, as determined by their effect on the overall quality of the sound output the USB mic achieves.
This is the overall shape of a mic’s field of sensitivity.
Polar pattern tells what direction a mic will receive sounds from - the front (unidirectional or cardioid), the front and back only (bidirectional), or from all around the microphone (omni-directional).
Cardioid USB mics will only pick sounds from the direction you are rapping into the mic. This microphone produces a clear, crisp sound with little interference from your environment and works best for recording your rap vocals.
If your recording environment lacks proper acoustic treatment, you can even look for the supercardioid and hypercardioid versions which are a bit more sensitive to surrounding sounds but have even greater sound isolation qualities.
This measures the range of sound frequencies the USB mic will pick up.
For your rap vocals, anything between 80 hertz and 15 kilohertz will be adequate. If lower than 80 hz, the microphone may struggle to synthesize the finer nuances of your voice. Higher than 15 kilohertz and the original sonic quality of your vocals becomes difficult to preserve.
Directly related to frequency response is a microphone’s Response Curve.
A microphone’s frequency responsiveness is at its lowest on the lowest and highest ends of the frequency counts and highest somewhere in between, hence the name response curve.
Your USB mic’s response curve thus determines its overall performance. For you rappers a mic’s performance will usually peak in the upper mid range of response curve.
Sensitivity and Sound Pressure Level (SPL) Handling Ability
Sensitivity measures how low a sound the microphone can pick up, while SPL is the reverse - the maximum volume a microphone can process while still producing a sonically accurate sound.
As a rapper, these two specs are perhaps not as important as the others we have discussed as the human voice should be able to fit comfortably within the sensitivity and SPL capabilities of most modern USB microphones.
We have just about covered all the bases and qualified the more important USB mic specs.
Time for the big reveal:
The 5 Best USB Mics For Rappers
|Blue Yeti USB Microphone
|Apogee MiC 96k
|Shure PG42-USB Vocal Microphone
There are many good USB microphones out there.
But not all are suitable for rappers.
Some will suit podcasters, others are too small but just about perfect for your Skype calls, while others are a better fit for YouTubers.
These 5, spread across different price points, will work best for rappers like you.
Blue Yeti USB Microphone
The microphone has consistently topped the list for the top review sites, including The Wirecutter and others. And for good reason.
As well as an omnidirectional polar pattern, this mic has gorgeous looks and boasts a solid construction.
Not only is the Blue Yeti cheaper than others in its class, but it also delivers a significantly better quality sound than most in its class.
Hands down one of its most popular features is the mic’s headphone jack that allows you to plug your headphones directly into the mic.
Without the headphone jack you will experience a lag between your live voice and the sound coming out of your computer.
Other Features and Benefits:
- Comes with a nice and sturdy custom-designed desk metal stand
- There is a good selection of colors to choose from
- Adjustable controls for volume, gain, instant mute, and polar pattern selection
- Has fantastic sensitivity and will pick your voice in all its tones
- Four different pattern modes for greater versatility
- Headphone jack doesn’t seem to work when you playback the recording
- It does pick up quite a bit of background noise if it's too far away
Another popular USB mic with a loyal fan base, this Audio-Technica looks remarkably similar to its XLR cousin. Many reckon it also performs just as well, but with the added convenience of USB connectivity.
This mic is perhaps more suited to rappers than the Blue Yeti above because you can use it with a traditional stand and shock mount which work better in a recording studio setup.
It however comes with a smaller tripod stand that still works well off your desktop.
Being a condenser with a cardioid polar pattern, the mic has good sound isolation qualities and produces a crisp, clear sound.
A headphone jack takes away that pesky sound latency problem, while the volume control gives you greater freedom when recording your vocals
Other Features and Benefits:
- An above average 44.1 hz - 48 khz frequency range
- A mix control function that allows you to mix your rap bars with beats
- Smooth frequency responses, which are ideal for home rap recording
- Volume and mix control for blending your rap vocals and beats
- Comes with a protective pouch, tripod desk stand, and USB cable
- The mini tripod is poor quality, which causes the mic to tip easily
Rode NT-USB Condenser Microphone
Good quality and a low price have a mutual aversion for each other.
But if you really wanted a USB mic that brings these two attributes together, the Rode NT-USB Condenser Microphone wouldn’t be a bad choice.
This is another USB mic staple that you can use straight out of the box.
With a 16 bit resolution and cardioid side polar pattern, this Rode is plug-and-play and is compatible with most devices and operating systems.
Boasting a Sound Pressure Level limit of 110 dB, the mic can also handle very loud noises, much louder than you can rap and still sound musical.
Other Features and Benefits:
- Includes a tripod desk stand, pop screen, storage pouch, and USB cable
- Has a headphone jack so you can sample your rap bars in real time
- Mix controls for mixing your vocals with with your beats
- The included pop filter is a good extra that will improve the sound quality
- You get an extended warranty if you register your purchase
- Mic does feel a little heavy for the provided tripod stand
- Picks up quite a bit of background noises and may need to be positioned closer
Apogee MiC 96k
As you will tell from the price, we have now moved out of budget territory.
From the looks of this Apogee alone, the price is not hard to justify. The mic is made for plug-and-play convenience and is a breeze to set up.
The design is unpretentious, with just the single control knob for the internal preamp. A LED light doubles as the power and OS compatibility signal. It also serves as the audio signal.
The mic’s polar pattern is a reasonably wide cardioid, but the lack of a headphone jack is a serious drag.
You will love this USB mic if you are a fan of Apple gadgets. Otherwise, its lack of compatibility with Windows can’t be a good point.
Other Features and Benefits:
- Great audio resolution with amazing portability for on-the-go
- Comes with 3 ft cable, tabletop stand and adapter
- With up to 24 bit resolution, the mic offers pristine fidelity
- Cardioid polar pattern, which helps to filter unimportant, secondary sounds
- You have to fiddle around with the gain control sometimes
- Not compatible with the latest version of iOS
Shure PG42-USB Vocal Microphone
When it comes to microphones, it is safe to say that Shure is the standard.
Maybe not the gold standard, as microphone prices can get as high as $8,000. But for those yet to hit the big time, the brand is probably as good as it gets.
At around $400, the microphone is isn’t cheap, but it gets you nearer to that studio quality studio without spending a fortune.
All of the brand’s 80 years of experience in studio recording equipment shows in the larger diaphragm and excellent frequency response that ensure a nice pickup for all voice types.
Other Features and Benefits:
- A headphone jack that eliminates sound latency
- A monitor mix control so you can lay your vocals over your pre made beats
- Well built and, with good care, will last you a long time
- Comes with a shock mount, USB cable and a chic carry case
- The price is probably a bit too expensive for beginners
And Our Pick Is..
The Audio-Technica AT2020USB+
The Shure PG42-USB is a great microphone.
But, at that price, it doesn’t give the best value.
And if you are a fan of Apple hardware the Apogee MiC 96k, though still expensive, should be right up your street.
The Blue Yeti, however, is full value - a fine microphone that works for most voice work. But we weren't looking for an all-rounder.
We were on a quest for the best USB mic for rapping.
The Rode NT-USB is a serious contender though.
But, offering the most bang for your buck, and fit for purpose, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ won me over. The mic gives a rounded, clear sound straight out of the box.
Now, time to bring that masterpiece you just penned to life!