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Tech Review: Record podcasts or music with USB mic

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Sadly, most home recording is done with a very bad microphone and sounds horrible.  Often, it’s the microphone built into the front of your laptop.  The good news it doesn’t cost a lot of money to upgrade that sound with a good microphone that connects directly to a USB port.  I took the Audio Technica AT2020 USBi for a test.

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Look & Feel

It's no surprise that the AT2020USBi looks and feels like a professional mic.  It is.  Audio-Technica has been making professional microphones for over 50 years.  This mic is a USB version of their popular AT2020 microphone.  It comes with a simple desk stand and two cables.  One plugs directly into your computer's USB, the other goes from the microphone to an iPhone or iPad lightning port.

There are no buttons on the mic but there is a dial on the front that allows you to easily adjust the gain.

Since it's a cardioid condenser mic, you will need to speak or play your instrument into the front of the microphone.  That's important but it won't sound right until you figure that out.

Hooking it up

As I mentioned there are two cords included with the AT2020USBi.  The USB cable can be used to plug the microphone directly into a PC or Mac.  Your computer will recognize it as a microphone and it's immediately compatible with any audio recording program.  You won't need special drivers or software, it just works.  Audacity is a great open-source free recording tool.

Technically this USB cable can also be used with Android phones that support OTG adapters.  It worked great when I tested it with my Samsung Galaxy S7 but you'll want to triple check your phone's compatibility before buying.

The included Apple lightning cable is designed to plug the microphone directly into an iPhone or iPad.  The iPad recognizes the mic instantly and you can record into Garage band or any other sound recording app.

Plug it in, it just works!  That's always a good feeling.

So, how does it sound?

It sounds good!  I'm no audio expert but it lives up to the price.  None audio experts should know that you can easily spend $1,000+ for a high-end microphone so this is certainly not the best of the best.  The voice and music recordings we performed sounded great, especially for a microphone that is so easy to use and under $250.

But don't take my word for it... listen to a voice recording:

Here is a recording of banjo that we also recorded for our segment:

Things I'd change

I want a headphone jack.  The inherent problem with a USB microphone is that the sheer fact that it is encoding the audio and then your computer is decode it creates a slight delay.  The iPad seemed to have less of a delay but it was still an issue.  Listening to yourself while you record voice or music is off.  Some people may not care, which is perfect.  Others might have a hard time recording without being able to monitor themselves.  I wish the AT2020USBi had a headphone jack.  That's the only thing I'd change.

Overall

For the price, it's easily one of the best, if not the best, USB microphone you can buy for $200 or less.  It sounds great, is built solid and proves to be a great way to record professional audio directly into an iPad or iPhone.

The Audio Technica AT2020USBi is $199 but we found it on Amazon factory refurbished for $140!

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