First off, what is a USB microphone? It is a microphone that you can plug in straight to your computer and start recording right away. Quite simple!
That’s because USB microphones include a built-in audio interface. They bypass your computer’s built-in soundcard and set you up for recording in seconds without the need for external devices (like audio interfaces, preamps, mixing consoles, etc).
USB microphones are mostly used for video voice-overs, podcasts, internet radio, chatting, conferences, interviews, gaming, and so on and on. In short, you might want to use one for your voice. But there is a wider variety of uses for them. They might really come in handy to record song ideas on any instrument, without needing to have a complex recording chain at your disposal, at that moment. They also might be useful to record a band practice or an instrumental song for Youtube, among other uses.
This is a large-diaphragm 3-capsule microphone.
Technicalities first, the microphone’s diaphragm is a very thin plastic membrane on which a thin layer of metal is deposited. A large diaphragm mic typically captures lots acoustic energy, has great noise performance, has a mollified proximity effect (this effect boosts the lower frequencies as the sound source gets closer to the mic), is very sensitive to transients, and adds coloration to the sound. Making them a weapon of choice to record vocals (but not only). Even so, a small diaphragm might be the best choice for other uses.
Condenser microphones have two separate conductive plates. The plates are loaded one of them positively, and the other negatively. If the distance between the plates varies, we have a current variation. That variation is how the microphone captures the sound.
M-Audio Uber Mic has 3 capsules due to its ability to work with 4 different polar patterns. That means it has 4 different ways to pick up sound. There is a knob that allows you to exchange between different patterns.
Now, these polar patterns are:
• Cardioid – a directional pattern, perfect for capturing singular sound sources while eliminating unwanted room reflections and background noise;
• Omnidirectional – equal output/sensitivity at all angles captures your sound sources from all directions, perfect for adding some ambience to your recordings or capturing a group of sound sources;
• Figure 8 – equal output/sensitivity on two sides of the microphone, ideal for capturing two independent sound sources simultaneously;
• Stereo – picks up from the left and right side of the microphone, producing a true stereo image.
This is the knob that allows you to control how loud the mic is in the input. You should set this knob to fit your needs. For instance, if you want to whisper, then you might want to turn it up, so you can hear every detail of your voice. If you want to scream, then you might want to turn it down to avoid clipping.
This mic allows you to plug your headphones directly into it and use the volume knob to control how loud you want to hear. Notice that this knob does not interfere with the gain knob, it just controls what you hear, not what the mic is picking up. If, for instance, you’re recording an acoustic guitar, with your gain knob at half, and you turn the volume knob up and down during the performance, the track will be recorded with the constant gain of the knob at half.
It obviously mutes the sound. But only the sound you’re sending to your computer, you can still hear yourself through the headphones. If you are in a video call, and press the mute button, those on the other side won’t be able to listen to what you’re saying, but you will.
USB/Direct Mixing Knob
This one allows you to adjust what you hear, between the sound source the mic is picking up, and the sound that is coming from your computer. If you have a pre-recorded piano track in your computer, and you want to record your voice on top of it, you will probably need to balance between how much you hear from the piano, and from your voice. Pointing this knob to “MIC”, “USB”, or anywhere between, will set the mix to suit your needs. Just like the volume knob, this knob will not affect what is going into the mic, only affects what you hear in your headphones.
There’s a tiny screen! This screen indicates each polar pattern you’re using, through symbols that are also present around the polar pattern knob. There’s also a meter that shows the volume and the gain you’re currently using, on that same screen.
That’s a very nice-looking mic, traditional large diaphragm condenser style. It comes with a built-in rigid stand, a riser and a base, but you can unscrew the rigid stand and operate with the riser and the base only. All these components make the clear statement that this mic is meant to be on the top of a table (although most people use USB microphones on their desks, it can be quite limiting).
The mic’s rigid body can be a problem. Whenever you touch the mic stand, your desk, or write something on your keyboard, you will hear it through the microphone. And that’s due to lack of shock absorption. A shock mount would be a major improvement here.
Pro Tools | First
According to the M-Audio website, the software “Pro Tools | First” comes with the microphone. That’s not a major advantage because you can download this software for free on AVID website any time. Despite that, Pro Tools is the industry standard recording software, and even the free version is equipped with amazing tools. Unfortunately, Pro Tools | First does not support video tracks, and that would be a useful feature for a big part of this mic’s target audience, like Youtubers.
M Audio Uber USB vs Blue Yeti
I chose the Blue Yeti because it is among the world’s most famous USB microphones, and most of its characteristics and price range are around the same.
Just by looking, there are a few points favouring Uber. Not because it’s necessarily better-looking, but because of the USB/Direct Mixing knob and the screen. The knob is an essential feature to increase your awareness of any performance, and you can’t find it on the Yeti. The screen is also important, because you don’t need to rotate the microphone to visually check your gain, volume, or polar pattern.
When it comes to sound, probably the most significant difference is the frequency response, the Yeti’s 20 Hz to 20 kHz, against the Uber’s 30 Hz to 20 kHz. The Uber lacks low-end, when compared to the Yeti, making it sound thinner.
USB Microphone vs XLR Microphone
Despite being built based on the same principles, there are many differences between USB and XLR microphones.
USB microphones strike with an incredible ease of use, appealing prices, and consistent performances across different computers. That consistency happens because all USB microphones have (or should have) a voltage requirement of 5 volts or less, which is what USB one, two and three have been standardized to output.
In order to work, XLR condenser microphones require extra 48v power (known as phantom power) that is provided by an external device, like an audio interface, for example. USB mics have the phantom power built in.
And what about the XLR’s advantages? Well, those guys passed the test of time, their durability and reliability are remarkable. Those mics are the pro audio reference, and there are many reasons for that. They reach places USB mics can’t, you can connect them to to portable recorders, video cameras, analogue tape machines etc. XLR microphones are also better suited for live purposes, like concerts and conferences, for instance.
In the USB world what you buy is what you get, one microphone, one sound, always. In the XLR world, there are audio interfaces, mixing consoles, external preamps, the XLR cables themselves… You might need to step away from your computer, so you use a longer XLR cable, no problems there. You might want to add the distinct flavour of an external preamp to your recording, so you experiment with different ones. You might want to record with multiple microphones, so you get an audio interface that allows you to do so. Possibilities are endless! Unfortunately, it is expensive to have access to this world full of dynamics, and dealing with all those elements can be overwhelming. Keep in mind, that with all this equipment you give up any sense of portability, that you have with a USB setup.
Usually people move to an XLR after they grow out of their USB and want to get something more technical with more adjustability and capability. Yes, you can make great recordings with the Uber mic, and make money out of it. But if you want to evolve, sooner or later an XLR setup might be the best for you. Because, unless you buy a very cheap one, XLR will provide you with much greater detail richness.
M-Audio Uber Mic for professional audio recording?
For sure! Although it is not a state of art microphone, it picks up sound quite clearly. And even if it didn’t, there are no rules for making great music. Once, in an interview, Mike Scheidt, from the band YOB, was discussing experimentations in the studio, and he mentioned a “piece of crap” microphone from the 40’s or 50’s they used to record drums. That microphone, blended with all the expensive microphones surrounding the drum set, was used a lot on their “Our Raw Heart” album, because it actually improved the mix, according to him. That’s because there is no bad sound if you place it right.
In terms of features, the Uber is a very complete device, with a huge variety of options for a single microphone. It sounds clear, and despite the lack of fullness, it can pick a fair representation of most sound sources. It’s very easy to use. The price-quality ratio is amazing, you can pick it for just 119,00$ on Amazon.
The lack of a shock mount, and a few other technical aspects may come as cons. But the price is still pretty good. If you’re a youtuber, a podcaster, a gamer, or so, this microphone may be the right choice for you.
What I wrote earlier about people moving to an XLR after they grow out of their USB, is not a fixed rule. You have no obligation to switch your gear. This clear, complete microphone might be all you’ll ever need to make great content.