External USB soundcard versus a USB microphone


I have a question about external USB soundcards versus a USB microphone.

I have been doing voice acting and podcasting for a while now. Last year I replaced my aging desktop with a laptop. In every regard the laptop is better except for sound recording.

If I need soemthing of higher quality I have to get my desktop from the basement and use that.

My laptop is a Packard Bell Easynote TJ62 with Conexant high definition audio. The playback is fine.

No matter what quality mic I use the recorded quality is never very good.

My desktop has a Creative Live sound card and I use a Sony F-V4420 mic, which I know is not fantastic but good enough for me.

I have reached the point where I can’t keep falling back on my desktop.

So, would I be better buying the Audio Technica AT2020 USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone (95 pounds) or would the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! (28 pounds) with my F-V420 be okay?

Of course, I suppose the AT2020 would be better but my budget is very limited and the saving of nearly 70 UK Pounds is important.

I don’t need any other facilities, it’s just for VA and podcasting.

Perhaps I should consider other options? In fact, I am open to all suggestions.


I’ve never used a Sound Blaster X-Fi Go!, but from the description it looks like it is primarily designed for 3D playback (great for games and videos), so I would not expect the recording quality to be great (though probably better than the built-in laptop sound card).

The main disadvantages of USB microphones are:

  1. It’s an all in one solution, so you can’t just upgrade the microphone part and keep the same USB part.
  2. Unless it has a headphone socket built into the microphone, monitoring your recording will be slightly delayed, so listening to yourself through headphones while you record will sound like an echo (this does not affect the recording and many users are happy to record without their voice in the headphones, but if you want your voice in the headphones while you record, the delay will be very off-putting.
  3. You can only use Audacity with one USB microphone at a time - you can’t add a second USB microphone at a later date.

The main advantage of a USB microphone is that you can get very good recording quality at a relatively low price.

Have a look at this topic: https://forum.audacityteam.org/t/need-help-getting-mic-etc-for-voice-recording/19172/1


thank you for your reply.

I’m not worried about monitoring my voice while recording, so that’s cool and I’ll never need to record two mics at the same time.

If you think the recording quality will be better than the built in sound card I may just go for that. As I said I presumed that the USB mic would be the best option but will it be three times as good?

Of course, nobody can say 100% for sure. I didn’t mention that I tried purchasing a very cheap USB sound card and actually threw it away after testing it, as it was useless.

Perhaps I am looking for the wrong type of external soundcard. Are there any produced specifically for recording?

I’ll be sure to read the thread you linked to.

Yes, lots. I think there’s a couple mentioned in that thread.

There’s two more problems with USB microphones. You can never get one than one USB cable away from the computer and you can’t use a hub with multiple USB things like tablets, mice and cameras.

A very common complaint with USB microphones is they’re not loud enough and some of them can’t be changed. The need for a live microphone mixer/fader did not go away with the USB microphone. This is a tiny field mixer used for a voice shoot. I can adjust the volume as the performer changes their volume and set conditions as needed.


USB microphones can’t do that. Overload is instantly fatal to the show, whereas low volume you can correct later in Audacity. So microphone makers usually opt for low volume.


Thanks for the replies.

Here is how I see it.

USB microphones offer ease of purchase and set-up. They are limited in their use.

External sound devices offer more flexibilty and perhaps better sound quality for varying situations.

However, I have no plans to move more than 3 feet from the PC, will never need to have more than one mic, have enouch USB sockets to not worry about using it with hubs, so in efefct, all the drawbacks of USB mics mentioend don’t seem to worry me.

I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, so to speak, if the benefits are worth it. Not being versed in the different products available, what I really need is a package of products that would cost around 100 UK pounds that would provide a better quality than USB mics. I understand there’s no such thing as “better”, but given my limited needs - I’ll be sitting at my desk talking into the mic, no singing, no instruments, no moving and no outdoor recording - would you recoomend something?

I read the other link, but the only external sound device I thought related to me was the Peavey V6, which seems like overkill.

So, just to be clear.

Given my circumstances, would you recommend a USB mic or an external/separate package?

If you say external/separate pacakge, can you please be specific. Is it simply a case of buying the devices and plugging my mic in? I presume I could start with my Sony F-V420 and replace that at a later date for increased quality.

I apologize for being demanding, but I really don’t know what I need, and I am unable to visit a bricks and mortar store.


Given all that, it sounds like a USB microphone may be sufficient for your needs.
The Logitec USB desktop microphone is a very inexpensive option and great value for money.

If you decide to go for a more expensive large diaphragm microphone I would recommend that you look for one that has a recording level control on the microphone. Several of the cheaper large diaphragm microphones don’t have this which can make them a bit noisy (hiss) when recording low level sound such as speech.

I’ve tried the Logitech (sorry I didn’t mentioned it earlier because I mentioned wanting to buy a much more expensive mic) and found it no better than using my Sennheiser PC31 headset via the built-in soundcard.

That said, looks like the USB route is my best bet and I’ll have to find the money somehow.


I’ve been thinking and researching since my last post.

How about I buy this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lexicon-Alpha-Studio-Audio-Interface/dp/B000HVXMNE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311430098&sr=8-1 for 56 pounds?

I should be able to plug my current mic in (is that correct?). It currently uses an XLR to 3.5mm cable. Would this be suitable to plug into the Line In, or would I have to buy a new XLR to XLR cable?

I am hoping this is a good compromise as it would allow me to buy a better mic when funds allow without wasting money now. Is that correct?

Would you recommend other similar products around the same price?


I have no plans to move more than 3 feet from the PC

Which is dead quiet with no ventilation fans? People get used to noisy, echo-filled rooms and don’t hear them until they try to make live recordings. “I can hear the computer power supply fans! Why do I sound like I’m speaking in a bathroom?”

This can happen with any kind of microphone, but USB mics tend to be a good deal less forgiving about moving around.

The lexicon unit seems to be a good solution for single microphone use.

There appear to be no Google hits for Sony F-V4420. If it’s an XLR microphone, then yes, you need an XLR to XLR cable. As a general rule Microphone level is 1000 times quieter than Stereo Line level, so they don’t cross well.

If you have a nice quiet room and a good microphone and “interface”, then the only other thing you might need is a blast filter and you’re good to go.


I’ve never used one but the Lexicon should have decent recording quality, but an important feature that it has missing is that it does not have “phantom power” available, which means that if you wish to upgrade your microphone in the future then you will probably need to get a new preamp. http://www.lexiconpro.com/product.php?id=7#specs

That’s of concern because it should sound a lot better. What was wrong with the Logitech?

There’s also this thread about recording equipment for voice: https://forum.audacityteam.org/t/recording-equipment-for-voice/17203/1

From personal experience I can say that, as one might expect, there are no miracles… and you won’t find top quality gear cheap (on the other hand you can more easily find expensive equipment that’s no good).

Whether something is good enough or not will depend a lot on the person. What can be pretty acceptable quality for someone, might not be for someone else.

Most people seem to achieve acceptable quality for speech recordings using the usb logitech mic.
Here’s a sample of Koz speaking and playing guitar to one of those logitech usb mics: http://www.kozco.com/tech/MicTests/LogitechMicTest/LogitechMicTest.wav

Did the one you tried sound like that? Or worse? Is that quality acceptable for you?

Thanks for your reply.

The quality of the USB logitech I tried was no where near that quality. It was not better than my headset, which I felt wasn’t a big deal, as the price was similar.

After much consideration I finally chose this:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B003DSI62U/ref=oss_product, which is a AKG Perception 120.

I chose the USB option because I still had so many questions about the other route. Questions that take a while to get answered in forums and then lead to other questions etc. If I could have walked into a regular retail store I might have gone with a different set up.

I am very happy with the quality I receive and just need to make a few changes to my recording environment and I will be done. Although I may get a spider mount if I see one at a good price that I know will fit my mic.

Here is a sample: http://soundcloud.com/planetphillip/audacity-thanks