While most of the credit for sounding great should go to a performer's talent and experience, choosing the right stage microphone can also make a significant difference. Learning the differences between types of microphones, and what to look for in choosing a microphone, can help you bring your sound to a whole new level while on stage.
All microphones perform the same task of taking sound energy and converting it to electrical energy, but some do their jobs slightly differently than others. The two most common types of microphones used for live performing and recording music are called dynamic microphones and capacitor microphones.
Dynamic microphones are what most people think of when they hear the word microphone. This category encompasses pretty much every stage microphone that looks like a mesh ball on a stick. Dynamic mics are almost always used for live performances and also to record certain instruments in a recording studio.
The pros of dynamic microphones are that they are generally inexpensive, last a long time and do not require a power supply or batteries. The microphone is simply made of a plastic diaphragm, which is attached to a tiny metal wire coil, suspended in the field of a magnet. The vibration of sound turns the whole thing into a small electric generator.
The downside of dynamic microphones is that they fail to reproduce very high frequencies in an accurate manner, because vibration in certain ranges is restricted. They also require a lot of amplification, making them not as effective for capturing quieter sounds. These are not major issues for most stage performers, however, as long as you are using the microphone close to the source of relatively loud sounds, minus any extremely high frequencies.
The other most commonly used type of stage microphone is a capacitor microphone, which may outwardly resemble a dynamic microphone, but functions by the use of two conducting plates, one fixed, and one moving. When the plates vibrate from sound, the spacing between them changes, and, if there is a steady electric charge applied to the mic, it creates an electric signal mimicking the original vibration.
Capacitor microphones are ligher in general than dynamic mics, much more sensitive, and capable of replicating sounds at almost any frequency. Large diameter models tend to give vocal work a warm, flattering tone, while smaller ones are prized for their extremely accurate replication of sounds.
Capacitor microphones produce such a small electrical signal that they need a built-in amplifier, and they usually require a power source or batteries in order to work. They also tend to be significantly more expensive than dynamic microphones because they require more parts to build.
The microphone might not make the performer, but choosing the right microphone is ideal for giving the best performance possible. Take note of the differences between types of stage microphones, and figure out which one is best for you before the next time you take the stage.