When people talk about XLR microphones, they’re referring to the type of connection a microphone has to your audio interface, mixer, or amplifier in order to transmit a signal. Most professional microphones have an XLR output, though USB microphones have also become quite popular with podcasters, streamers, and gamers. While USB microphones are “plug and play,” they come with limitations. In this guide, I’ll demystify the difference so content creators can access a greater range of products to capture top-quality audio while streaming, recording, and performing live. 

As I narrowed down my picks, I spoke to Gary Boss, director of marketing at Audio-Technica, about the advantages of XLR mics as well the differences between dynamic and condenser mics. He also shared some crucial tips on how to maximize a microphone’s performance. Here’s what you need to know to choose the best XLR microphones for your home studio — an important step towards achieving pro-level audio production.

Best Overall: Audio-Technica AT4050
Best for Vocals: Shure SM7B
Best for Podcasting: Electro-Voice RE20
Best Under $200: Shure SM58
Best Budget: Audio-Technica ATR2100x

How We Picked the Best XLR Microphones

Here are the factors I considered when selecting the best XLR microphones on this list: 

Brand: I only included microphones from audio brands that cater to professionals. You can find all of the brands on our list at stores that musicians, producers, and engineers frequent, like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and B&H. 

Longevity: Audio-Technica's Gary Boss explained that “USB microphones are not gonna be known for their legacy — because in 20 years the ones that are out today will be irrelevant.” Boss continued to say that it’s been a while since any major advances for core studio recording mics using analog transducer technology. (Transducers are the part of a microphone that capture sound waves and convert them to an electrical signal.) That speaks to the timelessness of analog technology rather than a lack of innovation, and many creators prefer to keep using the same mic once they find one that feels like it captures the essence of their sound. This timelessness is why you’ll find several classic microphones on my list that persist in being a top choice of many pros.

In contrast, digital technology changes much more quickly. As USB connections continue to evolve (such as from USB-A to USB-C), your USB microphone will likely become obsolete. 

Sensitivity: In order to accommodate the experience level and personal preferences of a wide range of content creators, I selected four dynamic microphones and one condenser microphone with a variety of polar patterns. All of these microphones are sensitive to a wide frequency range from low to high, but they differ in nuance, directionality, and method of addressing the mic (i.e. side address or top address). For example, the dynamic mics on this list with cardioid polar patterns pick up sound mostly from the front of the mic, while our condenser pick has multiple polar patterns you can choose from including omnidirectional and figure eight. 

Hands-on Testing: I tested the AT4050 and SM7B during the course of my research, with both my voice and saxophone. I’ve used the EVRE20 on stage, and the SM57 (a close relative of the SM58) for recording and live performance. Boss notes that “it’s very difficult to demo a microphone and listen to it in headphones because you're hearing your voice in your head as much as you're hearing it through the microphone.” He recommends instead that someone else test your mic while you listen, or recording yourself first and then listening to the playback. I recorded multiple singing, speaking, and playing tracks in Cubase, experimenting with mic placement and gain. Before I wrote my individual reviews, I took time between recording and listening in order to have fresh ears not influenced by my initial perceptions.

Best XLR Microphones: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Audio-Technica AT4050 

Pro Tool. Audio-Technica

Why It Made The Cut: The AT-4050 is an excellent multi-pattern condenser mic to add to your home studio, built from high-quality materials and tested individually in an audio anechoic (free from echo) chamber.

Microphone Type: Large diaphragm condenser
Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional, cardioid, figure-of-eight
— Frequency Response: 20 to 18,000 Hz
— Requires Phantom Power: Yes (48V DC, 4.2 mA typical)
— Weight: 1.13 pounds

— Exceptional build quality
— Three polar patterns to choose from
— Includes a metal shock mount
— Multiple recording applications including ASMR

— Price point
— Not ideal for gamers because of keyboard noise

Audio-Technica is a Japanese company founded in the 1960s, producing outstanding audio equipment from microphones to turntables. The AT4050 is a pro-level, side-address studio condenser mic that I tested in my home studio and consider a smart investment because of its durable components, versatility, and sensitivity.

AT’s Gary Boss shared a succinct analogy with me about condenser mics vs. dynamic mics that outlines why a mic like the AT4050 can capture nuanced sound so effectively. If you take a standard sheet of 8.5-inch by 11-inch paper and you hold it in front of your face and you blow subtly, you may get some movement out of that paper.” (That’s the dynamic mic). “If you take a piece of tissue paper that same size and hold it in front of your face and blow on it, suddenly you'll get wild movement out of that tissue paper. So condenser microphones by their very nature tend to be more sensitive to subtle changes and sound.”

The sensitivity of the AT4050 means that you’ll pick up more room sound than a dynamic mic, even when the mic is switched to a unidirectional cardioid pattern. Therefore it’s best used in a controlled environment like a studio if you are using it for podcasting or recording instruments. However, you can accentuate this quality of the mic to pick up detailed ambient sound using the omnidirectional setting (picks up all around the mic) or figure-8 setting (picks up in the front and back of the mic). In short, you’ll hear actual crickets on the recording if they’re audible in your studio (I can because I don’t have a sound-treated room), but if you’re recording crickets outdoors, you’ll love the detailed sonic picture this mic captures.

I really liked using this microphone to record my saxophone, because my instrument doesn’t have one single place where sound is emitted (both the bell and keyholes emit sound). It captured more of the metallic edge to my sound than Shure’s dynamic SM7B (my next pick) and had a bright character while still retaining the fullness of my tone, which includes a lot of low frequencies. When I used it to speak and sing, I felt it brought out more of the natural lows in my voice (which is also an alto, like my instrument) along with a healthy amount of room sound which can be ideal when a recording has a real sense of place (such as by running water or in a live hall). 

The AT-4050 also has a large diaphragm, which Boss explains gives you “the body of the voice as well as the articulation for enunciation on the top end.” There’s definitely a learning curve with the AT-4050 as you get to know the intricacies of the sound, but this mic will allow you to take advantage of its capabilities to craft your own signature sound in ways a smoother dynamic mic cannot. If you need to add an audio interface to your studio, here’s how to choose the best audio interface for your XLR mic.

Best for Vocals: Shure SM7B

Belt It Out. Shure

Why It Made The Cut: The Shure SM7B is deserving of its reputation as a superb vocal mic and delivers a smooth and focused sound.

Microphone Type: Large-diaphragm dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
 Frequency Response: 50 to 20,000 Hz
— Requires Phantom Power: No
— Weight: 1.68 pounds

— Unidirectional
— Enhances vocals
— Easy to work with
— Comes with a close-talk windscreen

— May require a mic booster (aka inline preamp)

With a mid-range price point and powerful reputation, the Shure SM7B is a wise choice for recording engineers, vocalists, and streamers as well as podcasters who want to stock their studio with a couple of quality mics to record guests. The SM7B is a good example of the longevity and legacy of XLR mics, as it is the latest iteration of the SM7 (1976) which was featured by engineer Bruce Swedien on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” 

This dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern is ideal for minimizing background noise in a podcasting or vocal studio. It’s a top address mic with an internal shock mount that you can secure to a boom arm to easily place the mic at a natural distance and angle from your mouth. 

I’m not professionally trained as a vocalist, so I appreciated the polish and warmth the SM7B gave my recorded voice. It gave me a focused and professional sound without picking up distracting plosives and sibilance (pops and ess sounds). When I used it with my alto saxophone, it delivered a bright and warm tone without brittleness. It picked up enough low frequencies to round out my sound nicely and lends itself to recording a uniform horn section.

I did notice that I had to turn the gain way up on my Onyx Producer 2.2 audio interface in order to get a decent signal when using my voice, which is much quieter than my instrument. You can solve this issue with a mic booster like the Cloudlifter, but it’s something you should be aware of if you’re recording very quiet sounds.

Best for Podcasting: Electro-Voice RE20 

Classic Pick. Electro-Voice

Why It Made The Cut: The EVRE20 is a classic broadcast mic that couples the focused directionality of a dynamic mic with a larger diaphragm that provides both presence and clarity.

Microphone Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
 Frequency Response: 45 to 18,000 Hz
— Requires Phantom Power: No
— Weight: 1.62 pounds

— Nuanced sound without the need for phantom power
— Can be used with instruments, especially those that generate low frequencies
— Bass rolloff switch if needed
— Variable-D technology counters the proximity effect

— Price point

Step into your best “radio voice” with the RE20 from Electro-Voice, a US-based company that has been around for over ninety years. This mic is popular with saxophonists for the same reasons it is favored for radio, podcasting, and voice-over work. The large-diaphragm design is more sensitive to sound compared to a dynamic mic with a more standard diaphragm size, but still retains its unidirectional focus on sound in front of the mic. 

A distinguishing characteristic of the RE20 is Electro-Voice’s proprietary Variable-D technology. Unlike dynamic mics susceptible to the proximity effect wherein low frequency pickup is increased when you get extremely close to the microphone, this feature captures a consistent sound even if you move around while you’re speaking. It also allows engineers to mic low-frequency sound sources close up without changing their character (like a kick drum or amplifier).

If you’re curious about condenser mics because you’re seeking a more nuanced sound but are concerned about picking up too much unwanted detail or requiring phantom power, the RE20 is a standout solution.

Best Under $200: Shure SM58

Stage Presence. Shure

Why It Made The Cut: The Shure SM58 is a classic vocal and instrument mic that can capture pro-level sound cranked up to 11 at an entry-level price.

Microphone Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
— Frequency Response: 50 to 15,000 Hz
— Requires Phantom Power: No
— Weight: .72 pounds

— Affordable
— Delivers focused sound in loud environments
— Very durable
— Light and portable

— Better for live applications
Not a large-diaphragm mic

You’ll find the Shure SM58 on many top-ten lists published today and likely well into the future. That’s because it excels at fulfilling many of the essential duties of converting sound into electric current in a live performance setting, and it can be used with instruments as well as voice both live and in the studio. 

The SM58 is a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern known for its ability to handle loud guitar amps and heavy metal vocals. If you’re in a room with a lot of background noise, this mic has a presence peak which boosts certain frequencies to make your voice more audible and intelligible in the mix. If you drop the mic on stage, the metal grille will dent to absorb the shock of the fall and prevent the crucial mic capsule from damage. This durability is extremely valuable in live performance settings where you can’t control access to the stage or if you’re having guests on your podcast who aren’t used to handling a microphone. 

While this may not be your absolute favorite microphone as you develop a vocal sound (though it could be), it’s commonly found in the mic locker of studios, stages, and event spaces. So if you get comfortable with using it, you’ll have a good shot at having a reliable old friend to create with on the road whether you’re speaking or performing.

Best Budget: Audio-Technica ATR2100x

Start Creating Content. Audio-Technica 

Why It Made The Cut: If you’re ambivalent about choosing XLR mics over USB mics, the ATR2100x gives you plug and play capability with the option to connect to a mixer or audio interface.

Microphone Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
— Frequency Response: 50 to 15,000 Hz
— Requires Phantom Power: No
— Weight: 9.5 ounces

— No need to buy a separate audio interface
— Built-in headphone jack
— Control levels right from the microphone

— Entry-level sound

If you’re looking to purchase a cheap microphone from a private pro-audio company rather than from an audio company owned by a computer-tech company (i.e. Blue mics from Logitech for Creators), the ATR2100x is a smart choice. This dynamic mic contains a 24-bit, up to 192-kHz analog-to-digital converter that allows for a USB connection in addition to XLR and is made by Audio-Technica, which specializes in transducer technology.

This is the budget mic you’ll want to use to sound more professional on Zoom meetings, and it’s designed with content creators in mind. Try it out when you livestream gameplay, do voiceover for a how-to video for your YouTube channel, or simply want your friends and relatives online to experience your mellifluous voice more grandly than your computer’s built-in microphone. (Hat tip to AT’s Gary Boss for reminding streamers to keep their mechanical keyboards away from the front of a dynamic mic to minimize unwanted clicking and tapping sounds.)

With an ATR2100x you can also get your feet wet with XLR connectors without losing the convenience of USB. If you don’t have an audio interface, mixer, or amplifier with an XLR input at home, the conference room or event space at your office might have what you need to experiment with a more sophisticated setup.

Things to Consider Before Buying XLR Microphones

Here are the factors to think about before purchasing an XLR microphone: 

Application: When purchasing an XLR microphone you’ll want to be clear about your expectations for use. Do you want to use your microphone to record voice, instruments, ambient noises, or a little bit of everything? Would you like your microphone to have multiple polar patterns for flexibility, or do you prefer a unidirectional dynamic mic that’s going to be focused on a single sound source in front of the microphone in a room where there’s some undesirable background noise? Just because a microphone is highly rated with excellent build quality doesn’t mean it’s the right microphone for your project. You’ll also want to know how you’ll use the mic to ensure you get the correct high quality cable to connect it to your audio interface, mixer, or amplifier. 

Environment: Knowing where you’ll be recording or performing is key to choosing a microphone. For example, if you’re confident in your “broadcast voice” and want to take advantage of the nuances a condenser mic can pick up versus a dynamic mic, you’ll need to be recording in a sound-treated studio environment. Otherwise those nuances will pick up room sounds you may have never noticed before, like a light humming or the sound of the neighbor downstairs running an improperly installed ceiling fan. On the other hand, if you want a mic that will work for your podcast that you can also use for live events in front of an audience, you’ll probably want a dynamic microphone. 

Phantom Power: This gem of audio terminology has Scooby-Doo villain vibes. Shure defines phantom power as “a term given to the process of delivering DC (Direct Current) to microphones requiring electric power to drive active circuitry” which is less spooky but should definitely be considered when you are purchasing an audio interface, pre-amp, or mixer to use with your gear. Dynamic mics don’t need phantom power, but condenser mics do. Make sure your connecting audio equipment supports phantom power if you want to use condenser mics. And then don’t forget to turn it on (in many cases you’ll press a button labeled “48v”) so you aren’t asking yourself why there isn’t any sound. Trust us, we’ve been there and it hurts.


Q: How much do XLR microphones cost?

XLR microphones can range in price from less than $20 to thousands of dollars. We don’t recommend spending just $20 on a mic unless you find a used (and working) pro model at a yard sale or in your friend’s attic. We suggest a beginning price point of around $75 for an entry-level model with good sound quality. 

Q: Where do I recycle my XLR microphone?

Where you can recycle your XLR microphone depends on the options in your location for electronics recycling. Our electronics recycling guide can point you in the right direction. Since XLR microphones are known for longevity in terms of their technology, consider donating your microphone first if it still works — potential recipients might include local schools, community music programs, or nonprofits that produce live events.

Q: What types of XLR microphones are there?

The term XLR microphones refers to the connector, not the microphone capsule itself. Therefore, there are many types of microphones that can use XLR as part of an audio chain of signal to noise. Some common types are dynamic mics, condenser mics, shotgun mics, and ribbon mics. 

Q: What's so good about the XLR connector?

There are a number of advantages to mics with an XLR connector. There is a much bigger selection of XLR microphones on the market than USB microphones. With a multi-channel audio interface or mixer, you can hook up enough XLR microphones for a panel of special guests for your podcast or a large ensemble in the recording studio. XLR mics also have more longevity than USB mics because their underlying technology does not change as quickly as digital technology, so an investment in a superb XLR mic has less risk of collecting dust on a studio shelf.

Q: How do I eliminate unwanted noise from my XLR microphone?

You can eliminate unwanted noise from your XLR microphone in numerous ways, depending on the cause of the noise. Some ways to improve your sound include lowering the gain on your audio interface or amplifier, using a pop filter or a windscreen, securing your mic in a quality shock mount, and paying extra attention to mic placement. AT’s Gary Boss also recommends that creators refrain from mounting microphones to their desktop, as “the low frequencies that you can't readily hear are easily transmitted into a microphone.” 

Final Thoughts on XLR Microphones

For incredibly nuanced and detailed sound and versatility, Audio-Technica’s AT4050 is my best overall pick. However, the Shure SM7B and Electro-Voice RE20 are also top-shelf microphones with a variety of applications. As you take the time to get to know your new microphone, you’ll soon be able to work with its intricacies to craft a more musical sound whether you’re speaking, singing, or performing on an instrument. 

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