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What's the Difference Between a $50 and a $200 Desk Microphone?

Bigger doesn't always mean better.

black snowball mic and tula mic
Tucker Bowe

Whether you're spending a lot of time on video conference calls, starting a podcast or recording your own music, it's a good idea to invest in a USB microphone. Why? Because the microphone that's built-in your laptop, desktop or headphones (unless you have a gaming headset with a boom microphone) isn't very good — and a USB microphone is plug-and-play ready (literally) and will greatly improve the clarity of your recordings.

The good news is there's a wide selection a lot of these USB microphones out there and most don't cost a fortune. If you're in the market for a USB microphone and you're an average person — meaning you're not a professional musician, gamer or streamer — you probably don't need to spend more than $200. In fact, you can even get a high-quality USB microphone from reputable brand, such as Blue, Rode, Shure or Sennheiser, for as little as $50.

So what exactly is the difference between a USB microphone that costs $50 and one that costs $200? I've been testing the Blue Snowball Ice ($50) and the Tula Mic ($199) for the last month and, while both are big upgrades over what you likely have, the Tula Mic definitely has a warmer, brighter and more personal sound. But it's also a lot more than that.

Here's what you need to know.

snowball and tula mic

The clarify of your voice is the biggest thing.

The whole reason for getting an external microphone is to improve the sound quality of your voice and, naturally, the more expensive external microphones are going to have higher quality components (transducers, specifically) that are going to do a better job of just that. It can all get a little complicated when comparing microphones, but the two specs that will have the biggest impact on how your voice sounds are frequency response and resolution (or sample/bit rate).

Frequency response indicates the range of sound frequencies that the external microphone is able to pick up. Typically, the wider the frequency response, the better the sound quality the microphone will pick up. When it comes to podcasting or video conferencing, it's more important to capture the higher frequencies because those are the sounds of your voice. (If you're playing instruments, you may be more concerned with the lower frequencies.)

The resolution of the audio that the microphone is able to capture, which is indicated by its sample/bit rate, is the other important spec. All these USB microphones have to convert analog sounds (your voice) into digital files (so they sent or stored over the internet), and the better ones are able to capture higher-resolution audio. A lot of USB mics are limited to capturing 16-bit/44.1kHz audio (roughly CD-quality), while the best ones can capture 24-bit/48kHz audio.

As these specs relate to the two microphones we're comparing, the Blue Snowball Ice actually has slightly wider frequency response (40Hz to 18 kHz), but the Tula Mic (50Hz to 20kHz) is able to capture the more high-frequencies which is the sound of your voice. The main reason that the Tula Mic sounds noticeably better is that it's able to record higher-resolution audio (24-bit/48kHz vs the Snowball Ice's 16-bit/44.1kHz). The result is that, when comparing recordings side by side, the Tula simply sounds more personal, like you're actually sitting right next to the person you're listening to.

Blue Snowball Mic
Blue Microphones amazon.com

It's about the features (and customization), too.

It's actually a little unfair when comparing the various features of the Blue Snowball Ice and the Tula Mic because, well, the former doesn't really have any features. The Blue Snow Ice is a simple plug-and-play microphone that uses a USB-A connection. There's no software or ways to customize its sound. You just plug it into your desktop or laptop, adjust its sound input and — boom! — it works.

The Tula Mic is also a plug-and-play USB microphone, but it's a way more customizable and versatile. There are side buttons that allow you to adjust gain and even adjust the directions that it records audio; you can toggle between cardioid (front and sides, but not opposite) recording or omnidirectional (360-degree) recording. There's even a noise-cancellation feature that you can turn on, which is ideal if you're recording or taking a video call in a noisy environment.

The other thing that drives up the price of the Tula Mic is the fact that it also functions as a portable digital recorder. That's right, it has a 14-hour battery and 8GB of built-in memory, so you can take it anywhere are record interviews or music or whatever, without a computer nearby. It also has a built-in headphone jack so you can listen back to what you just recorded to make sure it sounds fine. Admittedly, you might never use the Tula Mic as a standalone digital recorder, and that should be fine so long as you love the its look.

Tula Mic
Tula Mics amazon.com

The design is the cherry on top.

Design is important. Most people are going to have their USB microphone living on their, out in the open, so they want it to look good. And you make the argument that both the Blue Snowball Ice and the Tula Mic are statement pieces. Although they definitely look very different.

Both designs are distinctly vintage, albeit. The Blue Snowball Ice is a huge orb-shaped microphone with a metallic grille and the company's signature logo dead center; it looks like a classic piece of recording equipment. The Tula Mic is a much smaller USB microphone (roughly half the size) as it's designed to be way more portable. That said, it still exudes a strong vintage flair.

I can't really declare a winner in the looks department — both look cool in their own ways. Maybe I'd edge the Tula Mic because, in addition to black or white like the Snowball Ice, it also comes in red.

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