Elgato has been around for years—its affordable capture cards have made it one of the most important brands in live streaming. However, up until now, the company’s products have largely been confined to interfaces like stream decks and game capture devices. With the Elgato Wave:3 microphone, that’s about to change. Aimed at the same needs as something like a Blue Yeti X, this is a mic for the podcaster, Twitch streamer, and online caller.
A lot of compact microphones target the same group, for similar prices to boot—how’s this one stack up?
Editor’s note: This review was updated on August 20, 2020 to include a poll on microphone quality.
Who is the Elgato Wave:3 for?
- Streamers looking for something to easily link up with their streaming setup.
- Podcasters who need something that plugs in via USB, is relatively hassle free, and has its own stand.
- Conference callers ready to dish out for better audio than a gaming headset can afford.
What is it like using the Elgato Wave:3?
Like a lot of detached USB microphones, the Elgato Wave:3 is geared toward making your audio setup simpler. Setting it up is easy: just plug it into your computer and you’re ready to record. The cord that comes with the mic uses USB-A to connect to your PC, but the mic itself actually uses USB-C, so connecting it to those ports is straightforward too.
This is a condenser microphone, which is more sensitive than a dynamic microphone, and great at picking up the intricacies of vocal recordings in quieter settings. It has a cardioid polar pattern, so it records in a heart shape around the microphone—that is, it picks up sound mainly around the front and sides, and less in the back. While it only has one recording pattern, it’s still capable of getting very high quality recording, with 24-bit/96kHz recording, something most of its competitors can’t match. The benefit to this high bit rate is that it affords plenty of leeway in post-production: you can make relatively drastic edits to your audio with a 24-bit file before distortion becomes apparent.
The interface for the Wave:3 is pretty straightforward. There’s a dial on the front that clicks in to cycle through its different volume options. The back of the mic features its USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring. There’s also a touch sensitive sensor at the top of the microphone for muting—tap it and the LED ring around the dial will turn red to indicate it’s muted; it similar to what we’ve seen from the HyperX Quadcast mic. The controls all feel intuitive, and take virtually no time to get used to.
How is the build quality?
There’s a lot to like about the build of the Elgato Wave:3. The mic itself is made of black metal and hard plastic with a brushed matte texture. It’s compact and feels sturdy—there’s nothing rattling around, and the dial feels satisfyingly firm. Even the mute sensor at the top feels nice to tap.
The mic comes with a plastic mount which screws into a weighted metal stand. The stand is actually quite nice, with a rubberized bottom, and some real heft to it. However, unlike everything else in this package, the plastic mount feels a little flimsy—it’s definitely something that would concern me with regards to long-term durability. Two bolts position the mic between the mount, and you can unscrew them relatively easily (which makes sense, given that Elgato sells a suspended shock mount separately).
All told, this feels like a really well built device: the Elgato Wave:3 classic aesthetic means it blends in well with most home office, streaming, and gaming setups. It’s compact design seems great for travel too, but is a bit more obtrusive than the Blue Ember XLR microphone.
Using the Elgato WaveLink software
The Elgato Wave:3 is great for a variety of home recording needs, but it’s really aimed at streamers, like everything else the company makes. A big part of that appeal also comes from the mic’s software complement, WaveLink. The app is lean and slickly designed and clearly designed for audio source organization.
If you’ve ever used a program like VoiceMeeter or any of its varieties, WaveLink serves basically the same function—it’s a virtual audio mixer that gathers up all the different programs and browser windows generating sound, and rolls them into a single audio output source. For a Twitch streamer, this can be a godsend, because you only need one audio source for everything on your computer, but you can still manage all the different output levels in WaveLink—all without needing to buy a physical mixer. It’s less useful for people who don’t need that kind of organization, but like VoiceMeeter, it can be great for rolling different types of audio into online calls, as well.
Gamers who just have a game, Discord, and maybe Spotify running the background will probably have little use for WaveLink, especially if they’re running single-monitor setups. However, if you’ve got a complicated audio situation, WaveLink could be an invaluable resource.
How does the Elgato Wave:3 sound?
The Elgato Wave:3 has a sound profile tailored to the needs of podcasters and live streamers. Basically it’s great for spoken word content, but might not be the best option in a professional studio environment.
While the mids and highs are accurate, there’s a pronounced de-emphasis in the sub-bass range. This isn’t such a bad thing for voice recordings, as it combats the proximity effect, where someone spikes the mic as they get too close—a common occurrence when you’re recording a podcast or YouTube video in a less formal recording environment. Those with very deep voices don’t need to worry much about distortion, as most of this under-emphasis actually occurs at a lower frequency than what most would consider the vocal range.
Elgato Wave:3 microphone demo:
Further emphasizing this microphone’s usefulness for spoken word content is its built in Clipguard feature, which automatically condenses the audio you record to avoid accidentally spiking the mic. When the headset first launched, you couldn’t turn it off, but subsequent updates to the WaveLink app have added the feature. Nevertheless, Clipguard works very well, so you’re not missing out by just leaving it on. Essentially, this is a set-it and forget it kind of mic—once you’ve gotten your levels dialed in, you’d have to work pretty hard to get blown out audio (trust me, I did).
Should you buy the Elgato Wave:3?
If you’re a Twitch streamer looking for something to make your life easier or you’re hesitant about shelling out for an audio interface, yes, you should get the Elgato Wave:3.
The Elgato Wave:3 is a compelling microphone. Its Clipguard feature and frequency response makes it as close to an idiot-proof recording device as possible, given how much they mitigate the problems of getting too close to a microphone. The WaveLink software is very easy to use and has clear benefits for people like Twitch streamers. However, the Wave:3 isn’t perfect, and while for non-streamers, it’s far less of a slam dunk. There are other options to consider.
Here are some alternative mics to consider
If you’re more of a podcaster or YouTuber than a Twitch streamer, having access to more than one polar pattern can be pretty useful. The Blue Yeti range of microphones offers some of the most versatile options on the market. They all offer multiple recording patterns, like cardioid, omnidirectional, bi-directional, and stereo. They’re all around the same price as the Elgato Wave:3 (or cheaper) too.
If you’re looking for something a little more self-contained, the HyperX Quadcast comes with a built in pop filter. Like the Yeti, it also offers multiple polar patterns, though it still relies on a micro USB port.
However, just because there are other options, doesn’t mean this isn’t a good option. If you’re someone struggling to keep a lot of audio source organized, it’s arguably one of your best options.