When selecting microphones to use both live and in your home studio, you'll commonly come across two different types of microphones, dynamic and condenser. Let's look at both of these microphone types, and what their advantages and disadvantages are.
Condenser microphones are the most common types of microphones you'll find in studios. They have a much greater frequency response and transient response - which is the ability to reproduce the "speed" of an instrument or voice. They also generally have a louder output, but are much more sensitive to loud sounds.
Condenser microphones are generally much more expensive than dynamic microphones, but keep in mind, many cheap condensers exist. The problem is that most of these mics are coming from a couple factories in China, and all sound the same - very brittle and with little low end.
They require the use of a power supply, generally 48 volt "phantom power", and that's supplied very easily by most mixing boards or external power supplies (look for a switch that says "P 48" or "48V" on the channel strip or on the back of the mixer.)
Condenser microphones are generally used only in studios because of their sensitivity to loud sounds and the fact that they're quite a bit more fragile than their dynamic counterparts. That being said, you'll find them onstage at live music venues for use as drum overheads or for use in orchestral or choral sound reinforcement.
With condenser microphones, you'll find two different types: small diaphragm, and large diaphragm.
Large Diaphragm Microphones - Large diaphragm microphones (LDMs) are generally the choice for studio vocals, and any instrument recording where a more "deep" sound is desired. A large diaphragm microphone generally warms up the sound of what it's recording, which also leads to the myth that most LDMs reproduce low frequencies better than small diaphragm mics; this isn't true, in fact, small diaphragm mics are much better at reproducing everything evenly, including bass. You'll want a pop screen if using a condenser microphone for vocals; they're so sensitive to transient noises that the "P" and "SH" sounds you make will cause distortion.
Small Diaphragm Microphones - Small diaphragm microphones (SDMs) are generally the best choice where you want a solid, wide frequency response and the best transient response, which as we mentioned before, is the ability for your microphone to reproduce fast sounds, such as stringed instruments. SDMs are also the preferred choice for concert taping.
Good suggestions for condenser microphones include the Oktava MC012 ($99), RODE NT1 ($199), and AKG C414B ($700)
Compared to condenser microphones, dynamic microphones are much more rugged. They're also especially resistant to moisture and other forms of abuse, which makes them the perfect choice onstage. Dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 and Shure SM58 are legendary for not only their good sound quality, but the amount of abuse they can withstand. Any good rock club probably has at least 5 of each of these microphones in various states of aesthetic ruin; however, they still turn on and more than likely sound just as they did the day they came out of the package.
Dynamic microphones don't require their own power supply like condenser microphones. Their sound quality is generally not as accurate, however. Most dynamic microphones have a limited frequency response, which makes them well-suited, along with their ability to withstand high sound pressure levels, for loud guitar amps, live vocals, and drums.
That being said, there's a few companies right now producing "boutique" dynamic microphones - some with characteristics similar to that of a condenser with the sustainability of a dynamic. Good dynamic microphones include the Shure SM57 ($99), Sennheiser E602 ($100), and the Shure SM58 ($109).
Selecting Between The Two
Let's take a look at what you might be doing, and then we'll suggest a microphone for your use.
Musical production question: recording vocals
I have a phantom powered condenser microphone and I want to know how to get it to work and connect to a computer sound card. I have a notebook computer and think I need to get some type of external sound card- basically something better than the factory card I have now. If I won't be able connect it to a sound card, what do I need to get it to record directly to my editing software, Adobe Audition 3.0, with very high quality? Trying to get a truly professional sound for a song I've written.
Here is the mic:
Also I've got a AudioTechnica battery powered condenser thats pretty good for overhead mic or acoustic.
Battery powered mics are electret condensers. Phantom powered mics are usually regular diaphram condenser. Its a slightly different mic.
Some electret condensers are very good, but these usually also run on phantom power too and I find they sound better with actual phantom power. The AKG C1000 is sort of an industry standard for certain applications and its battery powered.