The conventional method for connecting a dynamic microphone to a computer or laptop is with an XLR cable going into an audio interface. However, this isn’t always possible, so you may be considering alternative options.
Can you convert a dynamic XLR Microphone to USB?
It is possible to convert an XLR microphone to USB provided you use an XLR to USB cable adapter. Unlike condenser microphones, dynamic microphones don’t require any DC voltage to function. Therefore, you can successfully connect dynamic microphones directly to your computer by converting the XLR signal to USB.
Although many good quality microphones use USB connection these days, XLR is still the most common cable type.
If you don’t have access to an audio interface, it’s still possible to use a dynamic microphone provided you take the necessary steps. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll provide you with all of the information you need to convert a dynamic XLR mic to USB so that you can start recording right away.
How to Convert Dynamic XLR Mics to USB
Unfortunately, connecting an XLR dynamic mic directly to your computer isn’t something you can do without acquiring some vital equipment. The good news is, this equipment is relatively easy to find, and won’t cost anywhere near as much as a good quality audio interface would.
The simplest way that you can convert a dynamic XLR mic signal to USB, is by using a specialized cable that is designed for this purpose. These cables, or adapters, connect to the microphone via standard 3-pin XLR, and at the other end, they connect to your computer or laptop’s USB port. It’s that simple!
As with all recording methods and techniques, there’s plenty more to consider before you decide on purchasing an XLR to USB adapter. Although this method undoubtedly offers benefits in terms of convenience and cost, there are some downsides in comparison to using other recording techniques.
USB And XLR Are Two Very Different Connections.
They are used for varying purposes, and their capabilities differ dramatically. That’s why the majority of dynamic and condenser mics tend to use XLR connections, while low-power devices, such as your computer mouse and keyboard, favor USB.
Here are the steps you need to take to convert a dynamic XLR mic to USB:
- Purchase an XLR to USB adapter cable
- Connect the XLR side to your dynamic mic
- Connect the USB side to the port on your computer/laptop
- Load up your recording software
- Select the correct input and set the microphone’s levels
This method is the most reliable way to perform the conversion. In scenarios when you need to record something using your condenser mic and you perhaps don’t have access to an audio interface; you can still record using only the basic equipment.
Now that we’ve established that you can convert a dynamic mic to USB pretty easily, we must explore the various benefits and drawbacks that this presents.
Although it is certainly more convenient to avoid using an audio interface and instead use a cable adapter, there are some significant compromises that you’ll have to put up with.
The Benefits of Converting XLR to USB
Good quality audio interfaces aren’t the cheapest of devices.
They’re also not ideal if you’re trying to save space, or take your recording equipment on your travels. Converting XLR to USB is a useful alternative that allows you to still use a dynamic microphone without the need for an interface.
Things have progressed significantly since the early days of recording audio when you’d need a reel to reel tape machine and access to an analog mixing desk. In the digital age, anyone can purchase basic recording equipment and start capturing sounds right away.
Audio interfaces have emerged as the most popular devices for facilitating audio recording. Not everyone wants to or has the means to use one, though. Perhaps you prefer simplicity rather than having to memorize the functions of the various onboard controls and parameters on an interface.
Thankfully, by using an XLR to USB converter, you still use your dynamic microphone without dealing with the added complexity that using an audio interface sometimes presents. This will allow you to simply plug the microphone directly into your USB port, and instantly start recording in your chosen DAW.
Another thing that is arguably beneficial about using a converter cable, is that you won’t need to download various drivers and folders to use your dynamic mic. Audio interfaces often require you to go to the manufacturers’ website and download the necessary files before they can function.
When you connect your dynamic mic straight into the USB port of your laptop or computer, the signal is sent straight through the converter cable, and directly to your recording software. No additional drivers or downloaded files are requiring when you use this method.
With that being said, you must have a balanced perspective on this subject. As with all recording methods, there are various downsides to converting a dynamic XLR mic to USB.
Potential Drawbacks Of XLR To USB Cables
Although it’s easy and convenient to convert a dynamic microphone to USB using a specialized adapter cable, in many ways this approach is not ideal. Compared to the conventional method of using an audio interface and a standard XLR cable, it limits the options you have available when recording.
Firstly, the main issue is that there is likely to be a slight, or in some cases, significant loss of audio quality. This largely depends on the quality of the XLR to USB cable that you use. Expensive, good quality offerings will produce a cleaner signal, while cheaper options will produce lesser quality recordings.
Another issue that is commonly faced when connecting a dynamic mic to USB is latency.
- Latency is a term used to describe a delay that occurs between the input signal of the microphone, and the audio being received by the recording software.
It results in the recording being slightly late in timing and has to be fixed by dragging them back in time.
Latency is certainly annoying, but it won’t ruin your recordings. Once you get good at visually matching up the waveforms, you can quickly solve this minor inconvenience by using the multi-track display in your DAW.
It becomes more complex when you record multiple takes, as each one will need dragging back in sync with the tempo of your track.
In addition to latency, converting a dynamic XLR to USB also poses the issue of potentially having weak input gain. XLR is the preferred connection for dynamic mics because it is well equipped to process the signal quickly and effectively. USB was not designed for this purpose, so it may suffer a weaker input signal.
Take a look at this video that shows how to boost the volume of a USB microphone by 33%
Also, you lose access to the monitoring benefits that using an audio interface presents.
Monitoring allows you to listen in real-time when you are recording audio so that you can check the levels and correct any issues that may occur. This video explains this point in detail.
However, when you convert an XLR mic to USB, you lose the benefits of monitoring. This means that you will have to record the audio into your DAW using the level controls on your computer or laptop, which lengthens the process.
XLR vs. USB – The Final Verdict
As you’re probably aware, XLR cables have three prongs that form their connector. These cables are designed to carry balanced audio signals, making them the ideal choice for using dynamic and condenser microphones.
USB microphones like this Rode -NT-USB-Mini have experienced a surge in popularity over recent years, as more people use them for their convenience and easy operation. Nevertheless, they are renowned for producing lesser quality recordings and being more limited when it comes to monitoring.
Converting your dynamic microphone from XLR to USB using a specially designed cable is a useful way to avoid having to acquire an audio interface. If you’re only interested in recording one audio track at a time and don’t mind putting up with latency and a lack of monitoring possibilities, this is a good option to consider.
I regularly use my Sub Zero SZC-600 Microphone for recording voice-overs on my Youtube videos. This clever USB microphone has a built-in sound card and allows you to monitor via the microphone itself! It also has a mute button.
The table below shows different types of microphones, their preferred connectivity, and their compatibility with USB.
|Microphone Type||Preferred Connector||USB Compatibility|
|Dynamic||XLR||Yes (with a converter cable)|
Can you connect a USB microphone to an audio interface?
No, unfortunately, it is not possible to connect a USB microphone to an audio interface. These mics are designed to be plugged directly into the USB port on a computer or laptop, and their connection is not supported by interfaces.
Does a USB connection produce phantom power?
USB connection does not facilitate phantom power. This is why standard condenser microphones cannot be used with XLR to USB adapter cables. USB condenser microphones don’t require +48v and receive an adequate boost from USB.
Do XLR to USB adapters include a preamp?
Basic XLR to USB cables don’t include a preamp, but there are more extensive devices that do. These adapters have integrated preamps with gain controls, which allow you to monitor signal strength and combat common issues such as latency.