Elgato Wave:3 review: Go live and get loud
A USB microphone made for livestreaming and gaming, the Elgato Wave:3 helps content creators make all the noise they want.
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It seems like the USB microphone market swells larger and larger every day, so it’s tougher and tougher for anyone mic to stand out from the enormous crowd. High-quality audio at a competitive price is the baseline requirement for a good microphone, but that’s not enough to differentiate a product so manufacturers are zeroing in on the specific needs of niches like the best microphones for podcasting, gaming, etc. Elgato, a division of the gaming-gear company Corsair, squarely targets high-energy content creators with its Wave line of audio products. With an intuitive, yet powerful software mixer and technology for preventing audio clipping, the Elgato Wave:3 USB-C microphone is built to handle the celebratory screams, boisterous laughter, and shouted insults of a livestream. So let’s take a closer look at the features that make us want to shout this mic’s praises for Twitch, YouTube, etc., and make us feel comfortable doing so loudly into it.
The Elgato Wave:3 mic’s design
Elgato packs some very well-optimized technology into the Wave:3’s lightweight design. Mounted in its very solid metal, padded-bottom desktop stand (included in the box), the rectangular Wave:3’s svelte good looks carry a tinge of vintage radio microphone vibes, yet its basic shape and all-black finish seem better suited to creators who don’t want a wild-styled microphone (such as the HyperX QuadCast S, which we reviewed) to steal any of their shine.
While the Elgato Wave:3 has comparable specs and features to many larger USB microphones, such as the best-selling Blue Yeti (read our take on it here), the Wave:3 accomplishes what these do in a much more compact package. For example, standing in their desktop base mounts, the Blue Yeti is nearly 12-inches tall and weighs a total of 3.4 pounds, while the Wave:3 is 8.4-inches tall and weighs a total of 1.3 pounds. The Wave:3 also easily unscrews from its stand, making it a very portable microphone.
Elgato conceals the Wave:3’s condenser mic capsule (the part that captures your sound waves) within a multilayered noise shield that acts as an internal pop filter against excessive plosive noises—such as “P’s,” “T’s,” and “K’s”—and the protective, perforated steel grille. All of the internal circuitry and the control system reside in the small, lower portion of the mic. A single push-button encoder with an LED ring controls the mic input level, headphone output level for no-latency monitoring of the mic’s and the computer’s audio, and the mix balance between the mic input and the computer audio going out to the headphones. The back of the mic has the USB-C port and the minijack headphone output and there’s a capacitive Mute button on the top of the mic for silencing the microphone input. For the type of mic sensitivity and detailed audio capture that the Wave:3 provides, the mic fits a lot into a small frame.
Getting started with the Wave:3
The Wave:3 is plug-and-play compatible with Windows 10 machines and MacOS 10.15 or higher. It includes a USB-C to USB-A cable for connecting to a computer but, at this point, if we’re really embracing USB-C as the current standard, I’d like the cable to do the same and be USB-C at both ends. Once connected, I only had to select Elgato Wave:3 as the Input and Output in the Sound panel of my 2017 MacBook Pro’s System Preferences to be up and running for recording or streaming audio, as well as monitoring the mic’s sound and computer audio in headphones.
The Wave:3’s bottom-heavy, generously bottom-padded desktop base quickly screws into the Wave:3’s U-mount brackets and you can tilt the mic within the U-mount. The desktop stand is not height-adjustable, so if you need more flexibility with height, the Wave:3 comes with a boom arm adapter bit for mounting it into any mainstream microphone boom arm or mic stand (3/8-inch and 5/8-inch thread sizes).
A call to arms
However, no adapter is needed to fit the Wave:3 onto either of Elgato’s Wave Mic Arm or Wave Mic Arm LP (low-profile) microphone boom arms, both of which are very solid and well-constructed pieces (which can’t always be said for boom arms that sell for less). These mics arms have very flexible swivel ends that let you experiment with many different angles for the mic quickly. The Wave Mic Arm LP gives you very versatile mic placement options while staying low to the desktop, so it’s especially good for spaces where you don’t want a long, obtrusive thing standing up 2 feet or more above your tabletop.
The Wave:3’s features
With a frequency response of 70Hz-20kHz and analog-to-digital audio conversion up to 24-bit/96kHz, the Elgato Wave:3 captures higher-res audio than many other popular USB microphones for recording, gaming, and streaming, such as the HyperX QuadCast S and the Blue Yeti or Yeti X (which we compare here). On the other hand, those microphones all offer four pickup patterns—internal settings that focus the mic’s audio capture to specific areas—that set the mics to record in some configuration of in front, behind, or all around them. (If polar patterns, etc., seem mysterious, check out our types of microphones explainer.)
The Wave:3 only has a single cardioid pickup pattern—the most common pickup pattern for a mic optimized for recording a single person positioned in front of it. Elgato also professes to optimize the Wave:3 for recording close vocals. So while the Wave:3’s cardioid pickup pattern is wide enough to capture, say, two people sitting and talking side-by-side while facing the mic, it’s not at its best in this situation. While it can easily record other sources, such as instruments and ambient sounds, the Wave:3 is primarily a microphone for human hosts.
For crying out loud
If your vocals tend to get loud, whether shouting at your “Rainbow Six Siege” squad or laughing with your podcast co-hosts or belting out the song you hope makes you a TikTok sensation, the Wave:3’s internal, proprietary always-on Clipguard technology protects you against distortion. If your audio input levels peak to the point of potential clipping, Clipguard automatically reroutes the sound to a second signal path at a lower volume.
Despite Clipguard, it’s still a good idea to adjust your input levels to an appropriate point using the Elgato Wave:3’s push-button encoder. Turning the encoder adjust the levels, visualized from a row of white LEDs across the mic, and the button cycles the active control—also indicated from white LEDs—from the mic input level to the headphone output level to the headphone mix balance between the mic input and the computer audio. Tap the mic’s top to mute the input and the LED ring around the encoder control turns from white to red, so it’s easy to tell when mute is on (and you can still adjust all the levels while on mute). Elgato says that the capacitive Mute button is to mute yourself silently. However, for it to be really silent, you need to touch the Mute very softly; even a light tap may make an audible noise.
Waves of emotion
Elgato also makes the Wave XLR USB-C computer interface for XLR microphones, which has a similar control scheme to the Wave:3 but allows users who prefer to use potentially high-end XLR microphones to have an easy and portable audio interface for their computer. Equipped with a 75 dB preamp, phantom power, direct monitor, and mute button, the Wave XLR also includes Clipguard anti-clipping and works with Elgato’s clever Wave Link audio mixing software—designed for giving live streamers detailed control over their audio sources.
Wave Link software
You don’t need to use the Wave Link software to use the Wave:3 (or Wave XLR) with your computer as a podcast mic, YouTube microphone, etc. However, this free-to-download audio mixer offers some amazing functionality for blending up to nine total channels of audio—coming from any open software application on your computer, any audio routing utilities on your computer, and multiple microphones connected to your computer (although multiple Elgato Wave mics were not yet supported at the time of this writing).
Each of those audio channels has a level meter and two-volume sliders: one for the Monitor Mix going to the Wave:3 headphone output and one for the Stream Mix, which you can select as the source for any streaming software you use, such as Streamlabs OBS Studio broadcasting platform. Each Wave Link channel lets you mute the audio source from both the Monitor Mix and/or the Stream Mix. Two master output channels for both the Monitor Mix and the Stream Mix also have the volume sliders, level meters, and mute buttons. You can also change the output destination for the Monitor Mix at any time.
So, for example, if you want to listen to music while you’re streaming gameplay, but don’t want that music to go to the public because of copyright restrictions, you could play the music in the Monitor Mix but mute it from the Stream Mix. Another great option with Wave Link is to send your computer’s system sound to different places, while still listening to the Monitor Mix of the Wave Link software through the Wave:3. It does all this work without taxing your CPU too much. Elgato claims that Wave Link uses less than 1-percent of the CPU on a Windows 10 PC, which is a somewhat vague claim without saying more about the PC specs. On a 3.1GHz quad-core Intel i7 MacBook Pro running OS 10.15.7, the Activity Monitor showed Wave Link using 3- to 4-percent of the CPU at any one time.
Most USB mics I have come across don’t include such a powerful software mixer as Wave Link, which is very useful just for daily listening, whether or not you use it for a streaming broadcast. You do need to have an Elgato Wave device connected to use Wave Link, however.
The Wave:3’s sound quality and performance
Given Elgato’s emphasis on capturing vocals with its Wave series of devices, I primarily tested the Wave:3 with spoken and sung vocals at a variety of volumes and compared it with several popular USB mics, including the aforementioned HyperX QuadCast S, Blue Yeti, and Blue Yeti X.
First of all, the Wave:3 microphone is very sensitive on its input and has a very loud headphone output. Its sensitivity is comparable to the Blue Yeti line. If you’re positioned within 6 inches of the Wave:3, even with the input level at less than half its maximum, it captures the slightest breath and mouth noises. The sensitivity of the Wave:3’s cardioid pickup pattern drops off significantly when you’re 2 feet or more away. You can make up for that by turning up the input level but after going past the halfway point there is some audible noise that enters the signal, so that’s something to keep in mind.
The Elgato Wave:3 captures the subtlest of vocal details and reproduces very transparent recordings of one’s voice. Coupled with its high-resolution 24-bit/96 kHz quality, it became probably my favorite USB microphone for hearing my own voice the way other people hear it (an experience that generally makes me cringe). I usually prefer my higher-end Avantone Pro CV-12 XLR vacuum tube condenser microphone that colors my voice in a flattering way but, for transparent realism, the Wave:3 does an excellent job in the realm of USB microphones. Every vocal nuance—such as guttural sounds, rich resonance, vibrato, quick dips into falsetto, and every breath and consonant sound—received its due from the Wave:3. And while it does include an internal pop filter, those never seem to do as good of a job against plosive sounds as an external piece, which is why Elgato also sells the Wave Pop filter separately.
Because the Wave:3’s audio sensitivity is so strong, it’s good news that its Clipguard technology actually works really well. With a very sensitive mic like the Wave:3, it’s fairly easy to push the input level too high if you’re not controlling your volume. But regardless of how loud I sang or shouted into the mic while recording, the recorded audio never suffered from clipping distortion. It’s still not a good idea to rely too heavily on the Clipguard, though, because with the Wave:3’s excellent capturing of nuanced details, the loud input level tended to accentuate sibilant sounds like “S’s” and “T’s,” a situation best solved by finding a sweet spot between your distance from the mic and the audio input level.
So, who should buy the Elgato Wave:3?
If your idea of the best microphone for vocals includes the convenience of direct USB connectivity, lightweight portability, and ease of use, the Elgato Wave:3 makes a lot of sense. The company caters to live streaming content creators in the gaming and podcasting worlds with features like the mind-easing Clipguard technology for protecting broadcasts and recordings from overly loud bursts of audio. In addition, the Wave Link software creates balanced livestream mixes from up to nine software and microphone audio sources.
The Wave:3 is competitively priced for its feature set but, if you’d prefer to spend less, the Elgato Wave:1 is similar with a few exceptions: its control dial doesn’t control the audio input level or the mic/computer balance lever; it eliminates the capacitive Mute button, and it lowers the maximum audio quality to 24-bit/48 kHz. However, the Elgato Wave:3 is the way to go for my money. It has a big, precise sound in a petite package. It looks good on the outside and conceals some valuable technology on the inside. And, in a very crowded marketplace where some manufacturers shout marketing claims to grab attention, this high-quality microphone makes its case by helping content creators be the ones getting hyped up.