Elgato Wave 3 Review – IGNDecember 11, 2020
Design and Features
The Elgato Wave 3 is an unassuming microphone. It’s fairly small, coming in just over eight inches when mounted on its stand (six, if we’re looking at the microphone by itself) and trimmed almost entirely in black. It’s dwarfed by the other stream favorite mics, like the Blue Yeti or HyperX Quadcast, but a touch larger than the Audio-Technica AT2020. It’s also quite light at only 590g, so you won’t need a bulky boom arm to hold its weight. It inherits the rectangular look of Lewitt’s microphone line but thinner, which lends it an uncommon look in the streaming world. The overall design is sleek and seems made to blend right into the background on your face cam.
Despite its small size, it feels sturdy enough. The grill surrounding the capsule is a rigid metal with very little flex even when squeezed. The stand is also metal and accounts for more than half the weight of the whole package to stay in place on your desk. The mic body and control dial are plastic, though, which feels cheaper in the hand than many of its competitors. These aren’t dealbreakers, but for the price, I would have loved to see metal throughout like the Yeti or AT2020.
The Wave comes in two variants, the Wave 1 and Wave 3. The main visible difference between the two comes with the functions built into the clickable control dial. On the Wave 1, which retails for $139, it controls the headphone volume and mute function. The Wave 3, on the other hand, adds a capacitive mute button to the top of the microphone and additional controls to the central dial. Instead of muting it, clicking the dial can alternately control your volume, your input gain, or adjust the balance between your system level and sidetone. Underneath is a tiny line of LEDs that give a quick visual indicator of your levels and balance across these modes.
Under the hood, the Wave 3 uses a condenser capsule that’s been tuned for vocal capture. Condenser microphones are popular among streamers due to their wide frequency response and natural sound. They’re often used in professional recording studios for exactly this reason, but that natural sound comes at the expense of heightened sensitivity. Like all condenser mics, the Wave 3 easily picks up background noise, so that clacky mechanical keyboard will be the guest star on your stream if you’re not careful. The mic uses a tight cardioid polar pattern, which targets sounds in front of the capsule and deadens most sound from the back and sides. Off-axis rejection is about on par with the Yeti and Yeti X, if a touch better, but you’ll still want to use a noise gate to completely cut out background sounds.
The technical specs on the microphone are top-notch. The Wave 3 captures audio up to 24-bit, 96kHz, while much of the competition is stuck at half that, 48kHz. These figures indicate the resolution the microphone is able to record at, similar to how a monitor might be rated for 1080p or 4K. For most spoken word recordings, this isn’t a difference you’ll be able to hear (I wasn’t), but it demonstrates that Elgato is using high quality components.
What you won’t find here are multiple polar patterns. The Yeti and Quadcast are well known for having additional modes suited to interviews or hosting a two-person podcast. The Wave 3, on the other hand, records in exactly one direction. This may be a dealbreaker for some, but even as someone who does record different types of content, my mics stay in cardioid mode most of the time anyway. It’s also the mode single-person streamers should be using to sound their best, so it removes the potential for new streamers to get set up improperly. Given that most streamers will never use those other modes, it doesn’t feel like a meaningful omission, especially when compared to the additional features it does offer.
Elgato has taken a lot of the guesswork out of mastering the audio on your stream – and that’s before getting to the Wave’s mixing capabilities. Around the back is a headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring to keep track of your levels in real-time. There’s a built-in compressor Elgato calls ClipGuard, so if you get loud on your stream, it will automatically stop you from peaking and distorting your audio. It has a built-in pop filter that actually works and is enhanced by ClipGuard preventing distortions from your plosives. It even has a hardware-based low cut filter (turned on with the software) to cut down on any boominess in your voice. This can make you sound a bit thinner, so you’ll need to try it to see what sounds best for you.
One thing is for sure: you’ll never have to worry about your audience not hearing you. Even though the mic sounds best within six inches of your mouth, there’s enough gain to be heard clearly from multiple feet away if you need to get up and move during your stream. Turning up the gain results in more ambient noise making its way into the mic, but there’s a remarkable amount of headroom if you need to walk away and want to continue talking. Just as importantly, the mic doesn’t begin to sound very thin until you’re a good two feet away. Positioned a bit over a foot away on my desk, I was impressed at how full my voice still sounded.
Still, unless you’re sound treating your room, you’ll get much better, much cleaner results with the mic close to your mouth and the included stand just isn’t tall enough for that. It only lends the mic an additional few inches of height and Elgato failed to include any kind of extension in the box. To use the mic to its fullest potential, you’re stuck buying an additional stand and that’s a shame.
Typical desk stand aside, there’s no question: on hardware alone, the Wave 3 is already a leading choice for streamers. When you pair it with the Wave Link software, it goes to a whole other level.
Wave Link Software
It’s clear that Elgato has paid close attention to the streaming market and how well-received T.C. Helicon’s GoXLR has been. If you’re not familiar, the GoXLR combines an audio interface, mixer, and effects processor all into one, making it easy to route and control different audio sources all from a single box. The GoXLR is great, but it’s not without its limitations. Price is a big one with the full-size model going for $499 and the scaled back Mini still going for $249 – and that’s without factoring in the cost of a microphone.
For all that, the audio routing and mixing functionality is incredible, and that’s exactly what the Wave Link software delivers. During the install process, the software creates multiple virtual audio devices that you can direct sound to from Windows. Then, inside Wave Link, those levels can be independently adjusted before being routed to a Stream Mix to output to your streaming app of choice.
This is game-changing for the quality of your stream. Instead of having to swap between windows or click around in your System Tray to adjust volume, everything is controlled from within the app. It allows you to add up to eight sound sources in addition to your voice and each can be run independently or as part of a channel group. If you have a Stream Deck, you can even add volume adjustment buttons to have physical control without ever leaving your game.
Wave Link also lets you keep a Local Mix just for your headphones, so what you hear in your headset can be different from what your audience hears. This is great if you filter out elements, like your teammates’ chat. In addition, every input has a volume slider for both mixes. Balancing out your needs as a creator with your needs as a gamer is fast and easy once you’ve arranged all of your sources into channels.
The app was reliable throughout my couple of weeks of testing, but I did run into one odd error. Even with my GoXLR completely disabled, it refused to identify my headphone mix as outputting from the Wave Link, even when it was. You can see this in the screenshot above where the label still reads TC-Helicon. A reinstall of the program cleared it up. Otherwise, Wave Link was rock solid.
Getting up and running with all of this does take some time and it can be confusing. Wave Link will create its different channels automatically, but actually routing sources to them isn’t exactly intuitive and the software doesn’t have any tutorial to teach you. Clicking the settings icon will open Windows’ own audio routing settings, and from there, you need to choose the Wave Link channel you’d like to use. The program pre-configures the most common choices (music, game, voice chat, browser), but what I was greeted with was a drop-down menu with ten different options to choose from, including all of the audio devices from my motherboard. Once they’re set, you can begin adjusting levels, and directing your streaming app toward your Stream Mix.
For all that setup, what you’re greeted with is an audio system, not just a microphone. Gone are the days of running extra programs like Voicemeeter Banana. Everything can now be handled between Wave Link and, in my case, OBS. The only thing Wave Link lacks that I would like to see added in is an equalizer to dial in its vocal capture.
I always test my microphones with sample recordings in Audacity to hear the raw, uncompressed audio before being sent out to a stream. The clarity was just fantastic. The Wave 3 has a crisp, natural sound and seemed to give my voice a bit more “bite” than my Yeti. Elgato didn’t share a frequency response graph, but the middle frequencies sound slightly elevated, which lent my vocals a bit more edge. It made the microphone sound slightly less warm while still being full-bodied, and enhanced my voice’s ability to cut through game audio because of this tuning.
Like most streaming mics, however, the desktop stand just doesn’t cut it. Thanks to the generous amount of gain, it’s usable if you have no other choice, but doing so requires you to let in extra noise from your surroundings. Elgato recommends keeping the mic “two fists” from your mouth (6-8 inches), but doing so with the included stand required me to hunch over and lean in. I didn’t waste time using the included adapter to mount it on a boom arm so I could sit comfortably and enjoy the crisp, thick sound the Wave 3 has to offer.
Needless to say, whether I was gaming live or chatting with friends over Discord, I came through crystal clear. A co-worker even remarked at how much better my microphone was than everyone else on a conference call. I even used it to record voiceover for a tech review on my personal YouTube channel and it worked perfectly. Even without the audio mixing, the Wave 3 would stand on its own as a great sounding vocal mic.
But it’s really when you add Wave Link into the equation that the value here comes into perspective. Between my computer gear, Stream Deck, lights, headphone setup, and decorations, I really don’t need another box on my desk. I’ve been a GoXLR user for about a year, but pairing the Wave 3 with my Stream Deck gives me almost all of that functionality without the added hardware. Even without, however, spending a few extra minutes making sure my levels are set with the software allows me to get close without even needing the Stream Deck.