How to record with multiple USB microphones

Two USB microphones with their cords tangled together

So much of the early stages of podcasting is just getting gear together: picking out mics and headphones, and setting up sound-dampened closet spaces or cozy bedroom nooks to record in. There’s tons of advice out there about what to buy when (and look, we’re not immune — you can click those links above for our strongly held opinions on all of that).

But something these guides often leave out is that you don’t just have to think about these things individually — you’ll want to consider how all of that gear is going to interact, too. Specifically, if you’re going to be recording two or more people in the same room, having multiple USB microphones can give you trouble down the road. 

The issue is that a laptop’s sound card can’t register more than one USB mic at a time, so it will just end up picking up sound from one device, not both. And we need to hear both sides of the conversation! 

But if you absolutely must, you can record with two USB microphones. Here are some ways around the problem.

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XLR versus USB

First, we’re just going to say it: the best way to record with multiple microphones is to skip the USB mics altogether and buy XLR mics instead. Many beginning podcasters buy USB microphones, which makes sense: they only require USB cables to plug directly into your computer, a simple, all-digital setup that likely requires things you already have on hand. (Maybe you’ll need a USB to USB-C adapter if you use a newer Mac, but that’s about it.) 

An XLR mic, on the other hand, is analog. It won’t plug into or interface directly with your computer. You’ll have to buy a separate audio interface that acts as a digital translator between the microphone and your laptop. (You can also buy an interface that serves as a recorder, which is nice if you’re out in the field and don’t want to be dragging your computer around with you!) 

Yes, the interface is an added expense — and it might seem like an unnecessary hassle. But the upside is that audio interfaces are designed to deal with several microphone inputs. Once you have everything you need gear-wise, it’s plug-and-play time, no software setup needed.

The audio interface is also more versatile, since most were designed to deal with music as well as podcasting. You can plug electric instruments and record a short jingle; you also have a bit more control over pre-amplification, which is just a built-in setting on USB mics. Some can even connect to your phone if you want to record voicemails or do a call-in show.

If you want the ultimate in flexibility, many companies now make microphones that come with both XLR and USB cables so you don’t have to choose!

What to do if you’ve already invested in two USB microphones

Don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to make recording with two USB microphones possible. The first is just to plug each one into a separate laptop, so you and your co-host or guest can each record your own track onto your own machine. 

If you don’t have multiple computers, well, you can still make it work. But it will take some futzing, so don’t say we didn’t warn you. 

One last note: Everything below will work best if your microphones are from two different brands. Your computer isn’t that different than your brain in this way. Figuring out which Blue Yeti is which is much harder than telling a Blue from a Sony. Usually the advice is to get two matching mics so their sound quality is similar, but in this case, you’ll want to try to get microphones from different manufacturers so that they will be easier for you and your machine to differentiate. 

How to record with two USB microphones on a Mac

Macs have the option to create what’s called an Aggregate Device for recording sound. To do this, first plug both microphones into your computer. Then search for “Audio Midi Setup” and click on the + icon in the lower left-hand corner to create an aggregate device. 

It should offer you a list of all available audio inputs; just click the two (or more) you want to use. You’ll have to click each one twice — once to grab its input, and once for its output. Make sure that the input and output channels for each mic are matched up — so if microphone number #1 is input channels 1 and 2, it should also be output channels 1 and 2. Then make sure to turn on Drift Correction, which keeps the two mics in sync with one another! 

Next. go into your DAW (that is, the app you’ll be using to record) and set your audio input and output to the Aggregate Device. You can usually do this through the Preferences menu in the top toolbar.

Finally, create a new multi-track session and assign each microphone to a different track. You’ll also want to arm them to record, since they aren’t automatically turned on to go. Do a test run to make sure everything’s showing up the way it should be, and then you’re good to go! 

How to record two USB microphones on a PC

If you’ve got a PC, you can record using two USB mics through a free program called Voicemeeter. (It will also work for a Mac if you don’t want to use the aggregate device setup described above.) 

Voicemeeter is an online mixer that allows you to record inputs from both of your microphones — though be forewarned that it records both onto a single track, instead of separate ones. Only having one vocal track gives you less flexibility in the editing stages, but it’s not a dealbreaker. 

Pro tip: Make sure you set your levels correctly before you start recording! You’ll want to make sure that both voices are at about the same loudness level. Otherwise you’ll have to go in and turn each person’s audio up and down throughout the recording to make them match up nicely for the listener. 

Once you have Voicemeeter open, go to Hardware Inputs and select each microphone as an individual input. Once again, having two different brands of microphone will make your life much easier here. You can also add a virtual input if you want to add music from, say, a YouTube video to your recording. (Don’t forget to check whether you have the rights to use it, though!)

Then go into your DAW and set your audio input and output to Voicemeeter. (You can usually do this through the Preferences menu in the top toolbar). Now go ahead and record yourself, your co-host(s), and all of your brilliant guests!

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