Let’s compare an XLR to USB cable to an audio interface and find the difference between these two devices. We used three different microphones, a condenser microphone, a handheld dynamic microphone, and a studio dynamic microphone, to make the comparisons.   

Quick Answer: An XLR to USB cable is a simple plug-and-play cable that works pretty well with a handheld dynamic microphone. If you’re using a condenser microphone or a studio dynamic microphone with a higher gain requirement, an audio interface is the right option.

Related Article: USB Microphone vs Audio Interface

XLR to USB Cable

An XLR to USB cable plugs into any USB port on your computer, and the other end goes straight to XLR. When you connect the cable, the drives install automatically, but you have to select the USB sound device in the audio settings on your computer. 

An XLR to USB is just a single input, and it doesn’t open up your computer for headphone jacks or monitoring, etc. Moreover, this cable doesn’t work for every microphone.  That being said, this cable is pretty inexpensive and works well for many people who have simple requirements.

Audio Interface

In this video, we’re using the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface, which is a basic audio interface that can handle all the audio in and out for your computer. It offers you a lot more options regarding the number of inputs and types of microphones. 

This audio interface has two different inputs that accept both XLR and ¼ inch, a gain knob/volume control, phantom power, and better monitoring options. Moreover, the audio interface also comes with a headphone jack and allows you to control the volume of your headphones. You can also multitrack record with it. On the back of the device, you can plug in studio monitors or desk monitors.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that such devices are a bit expensive.

XLR to USB Cable vs Audio Interface Comparison

We tested both the XLR to USB cable and the audio  interface with three different microphones, and here are the results:

XLR to USB CableAudio Interface
Condenser MicrophoneDoesn’t work at all (condenser microphone needs 48v of phantom power)Microphone gets activated ( using the 48v of phantom power) with 9/10 input level
Handheld Dynamic MicrophoneWorks pretty well (see the demo at 3:14-3:40)Works pretty well (performance is similar to an XLR to USB cable but with more headroom and less noise)
Studio Dynamic MicrophoneNot viable (only 40-50% output)Works well (a lot more volume compared to an XLR to USB cable)

If you want to get more volume with a studio dynamic microphone like Shure SM7B, you can use a Cloudlifter, which takes the phantom power from the audio interface and boosts the microphone. 

XLR To USB Cable VS Audio Interface Pricing

To help you find the best price of the equipment used in this video, we’ve linked the most up-to-date price from a variety of online retailers below

XLR To USB Cable VS Audio Interface Topics

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 0:44 – XLR to USB Cable
  • 1:15 – Audio Interface
  • 2:00 – Pricing & Specs
  • 2:15 – XLR to USB Demo
  • 4:15 – Audio Interface Demo
  • 6:30 – Summary
  • 7:40 – Final Thoughts