In this article, we will get into the details and technicalities of connecting a USB microphone to a mixer. One would ask themselves, why would someone consider this? And with good reason. However, there are a few reasons why some would want to connect their USB mic to a mixer, and we will explore more about this.
There are several different microphones, including the condenser, dynamic, and ribbon mics. And all serve different functions and are used for various purposes. And with technology evolving, we have USB microphones today that can be super convenient for many people.
Today we will dig into how you can connect a USB microphone to a mixer, all the necessary steps, and the benefits and shortcomings. All that is explained will help you better understand how to go about this process and possibly also help you know your mic better.
How do I connect a USB microphone to a mixer?
Firstly, your mic would need to be powered up via USB by connecting it to your computer. Then you would connect a ⅛” TRS to dual ¼” TS Jacks cable from the headphone input on your USB mic into the line input on the mixer, which would be a mono signal as the left ¼” TS Jack is connected to the XLR/line input.
Also note that the right ¼” TS Jack is red, so the other one would be left (which you would connect into the line input on the mixer), which is one of the easiest ways to connect. That is, if your mic does indeed have a headphone port/input, then you can do this option. There are several other ways to connect your mic to a mixer.
One of the other ways is to connect the same cable, ⅛” TRS, to dual ¼” TS Jacks from the headphone input on the mic to the stereo input (left and right line inputs) on the mixer. This stereo input usually has two numbers on the mixer (e.g., 5 and 6) and has one volume knob to control the stereo signal. Remember, red is always right, and the other is left.
A third option is to connect the same cable from the microphone to a DI box (direct injection / direct input box). And connect an XLR cable which will run from the DI box to the mixer into the XLR input channel. This method is helpful if your USB mic is quite some distance (over 10 – 20 feet far) from the mixer. In this case, the DI box will convert the unbalanced line to a balanced line, minimizing noise and interference from the cables for that distance.
What if my USB mic does not have a headphone jack?
If there’s no headphone input on your USB mic, you need to connect the microphone to your computer and open a DAW or an application that allows you to get an audio signal (e.g., Quicktime). Then, you would connect the ⅛” TRS to dual ¼” TS Jack cable from your computer’s headphone jack to the mixer.
Any of the three previously mentioned methods will apply here: running the cable to line input, stereo input, or through a DI box to the mixer. The only difference here is that it comes from the computer instead of the microphone.
Essentially, if you need to use your USB mic and there is no headphone jack, this is one way to go about it. Of course, it adds a greater complexity in that you have to carry a computer with you just to connect your mic to the mixer, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
What do I need to check when connecting a USB mic to a mixer?
The first thing to make sure of when connecting a USB mic to a mixer is that the cable is connected correctly, i.e., the left side of ¼” TS Jack is in line/XLR input, and for the stereo that the red is in the right channel and the other is in the left. Same for the DI box if you’re connecting into it that way. Make sure your channels on the mixer are muted when plugging in.
Next, you need to check that the gain/volume level on the mic itself is set to around 50%. It is generally better not to go higher than 50% because the headphone preamps in most USB microphones are not very good, and when you go higher, you could get some noise or hiss from the signal, even though the sound will get louder.
Look on the mixer and adjust the stereo output to zero or unity, showing as a U, an infinity symbol, a zero, or a triangle. Depending on the make and model of the mixer. This point is a neutral and good starting point to gauge. Then adjust the channel level you’re plugged into to your preference.
How does connecting a USB mic to the mixer work, technically?
If we look into the components of a USB mic, we will see that it’s not just a microphone but a mic, a pre-amp, and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter. This process means that the mic converts the sound (mechanical wave energy) into audio (electrical energy) and then changes this analog signal to a digital signal through its built-in components.
All this is made to fit into the microphone casing, so a lot goes into it. Generally, this is very convenient because you can just plug into your computer and start recording. However, when you want to connect it to the mixer, it makes this process a bit more complicated.
As we recall, the USB mic does an analog-to-digital (A-D) conversion. Then we connect the cable from the mic to the mixer, which takes it now from a digital-to-analog (D-A) conversion. If the mixer is connected to a computer, another A-D conversion is happening. Remember that every time the conversion happens, there is a slight decrease in audio quality.
What are the benefits of connecting a USB mic to a mixer?
- Live Sets
One of the main reasons and benefits of connecting a USB mic to a mixer is that it allows you to use your USB microphone in a live setting. So whether for speaking on a stage or for a live performance in a venue, you can mix it with the house monitors live as a typical XLR mic would be.
- Use Of Effects
Another advantage would be having the option of using compression, EQ, and a high pass filter to your audio, primarily when used in a live setting. It is always good to add some enhancements to your dry audio signal, which allows you to do that with the controls on the mixer.
- Multiple Microphones
Also, if you are in a situation where you have multiple USB microphones that need to be connected, using a mixer will benefit you because mixers generally have multiple inputs for different audio signals, as this is one of their primary functions.
What are some disadvantages of connecting a USB mic to a mixer?
- Reduced Quality
One of the disadvantages of connecting a USB mic to a mixer is that it reduces the audio quality slightly because multiple conversions are happening. First, the USB mic converts the analog signal to digital, then the cable to the mixer converts digital to analog, somewhat degrading the quality.
- Greater Work Required
It requires a greater degree of labor, in the sense that it needs far more equipment, needs to all be connected, and also the mixer needs to be operated by someone (if it’s not you) to be able to get the levels right, including the EQ, compression, etc. Connecting the USB mic directly to a computer eliminates all the extra work and equipment required.
Are USB mics worth it?
USB microphones are fantastic and worth buying, especially if you prefer a smaller setup where you can just sit in front of your computer, plug in, and record. This setup is beneficial for those who record podcasts, essential vocal recordings, and also if you want an instrument recorded.
These microphones are like this because they have a built-in audio interface that allows the audio to go through USB directly to your computer, eliminating any extra sound card and cables. So ultimately, it ends up being more cost-effective. Also great for traveling and needing to do recordings while on the road, meaning less to carry.
There are also some excellent and high-quality USB mics out there that, once recorded into, you wouldn’t even guess it was a USB mic that captured the quality and professional sound. They range in price according to quality, and many people often use these mics for gaming walkthroughs, podcasts, interviews, voiceovers, etc.
Are USB mics noisy?
USB microphones generally have a good pick-up, so they don’t necessarily have horrible quality sound; however, they are prone to pick up buzzing or humming sounds from your computer or other electrical devices nearby. This humming happens because they need to be close to your computer because of the shorter cable length.
It depends on your reasons for using a microphone, specifically a USB mic, and whether you have no issue with a light buzz in the audio. However there are audio editing techniques to remove background humming or buzzing, but it is ultimately better if you can avoid these from the beginning.
Using a USB microphone can be practical and convenient, mainly using one you have grown accustomed to and learned to use effectively. And that could also be another reason you want to connect to a mixer.
It is exciting to know that such a thing is possible. Although it takes more effort and thinking out of the box than simply connecting the USB mic directly to the computer, it also solves a significant issue when wanting to do a live performance and there is no mic available. Or if needing to use multiple microphones or if someone just wants to use their USB mic for their performance.
Whatever the reason, there is usually always a way around things if you are willing to go the extra mile to achieve your audio/musical goal. With that being said, if you’re in a situation where you cannot decide if you should get an XLR or USB microphone, know that whatever choice you make, you don’t have to feel limited. Because now you know that if it is necessary to connect your USB mic to a mixer, you can do it.
Chris Maiken is a producer, DJ, and sound engineer based in South Africa. He has experience in producing various electronic genres and specializes in house music.