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Sep 25, 2020

Elgato Wave:1 Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $129.99
We Recommend: $129.99
  • Developer: Elgato
  • Publisher: Elgato
  • Genre: Hardware, Microphone
  • Released: Jun 18, 2020
  • Platform: Windows, Mac
  • Reviewed: Windows

When it comes to choosing a microphone for recording or broadcasting, there is a literal sea of options to swim through, and a great many considerations to be made. Sound quality is obviously of utmost importance, but so is budget, which can have a cascading impact on quality, interface, and nearly every other aspect of the device you choose. Options range across the spectrum of quality to ease of use, and ultimately you may find yourself in a position where you purchase something that’s “good enough” but leaves you compromising on features or needing to spend more money on additional software or equipment to make up for shortcomings. Things get more complicated when you want to broadcast yourself on the internet instead of just recording yourself or doing video conferencing.

Streamers in particular have had to rely on complicated (or subpar) setups for years to achieve proper audio mixing at home, often spending money on professional-grade setups when what they really need is a quality microphone and some good mixing software to achieve comparable results. I’ve been down this path myself a number of times over the years, searching for a microphone that will help me sound great without having to spend over three hundred dollars on a studio quality device. While I’ve found some utility in some mid-tier or even budget picks, I’ve never been totally satisfied with the options available at what I would consider to be a truly accessible price point, which is to say nothing of the headache of managing virtual audio interfaces on my computer to try to cobble together some kind of half-decent mixing solution. I had made peace with the fact that to get the results I wanted, I was going to need to spend big, which meant that my setup was going to have to remain squarely “okay” for now. But as it turns out, I’m far from the only person with this predicament.

Elgato is looking to deliver something of a silver bullet solution with its new line of Wave:1 and Wave:3 microphones, and honestly I can’t overstate how totally impressed I’ve been in my time with the Wave:1. I’ve used a variety of USB microphones in the past with mixed results, but the Wave:1 is unlike anything I’ve worked with before. Yes, there are plenty of microphones out there that sound really good, but somehow Elgato has delivered an incredibly high quality mic and bundled in software that’s a dream to work with that honestly makes this an easy recommendation for literally anybody looking to upgrade their streaming or recording setup. The thing that makes the Wave truly a killer proposition is that you’re getting such a great hardware AND software solution bundled together at a price that knocks everything else in the same tier out of the water (as evidenced by the fact that they’ve been so hard to find since release).

elgato wave1 01 1

If Looks Could Kill

The first thing you’ll notice about the Elgato Wave:1 is its striking profile; a beautiful, minimal design with expertly calculated curvature and a smooth, sturdy finish that spotlights the material selection. The steel grille is perfectly machined so that the visual texture is rich and pleasing to the eye, with just the right proportions between the size of the holes and the solid spaces between them. The Elgato emblem that sits neatly centered toward the topmost edge of the grille integrates nicely with its surroundings, standing proudly as a badge of excellence rather than a blemish on a fine canvas. There’s a clear eye for detail in the smart use proportions and spacing throughout the microphone’s profile; the placement of the control dial from the bottom edge rhymes perfectly with the emblem up top, and the diffused white LED glow around it adds to the overall sense of sophistication. It comes with a perfectly matched desk stand that screws almost seamlessly into the base of the U-mount, with enough heft to ensure your mic isn’t falling over under any circumstances shy of being hit with a baseball bat.

The finish on every surface of the device is a beautiful matte black that is smooth to the touch and looks professional as hell. It may seem hyperbolic to spend this much time gushing over the way a microphone looks, but honestly this is a gorgeous looking product that is simultaneously understated and eye catching. It’s something you want to have at your desk not just because it’s a great sounding mic (which we’ll get to soon), but because it’s a great looking piece of kit. Microphones are so often designed with function in mind over form, it’s refreshing to see something this attractive and meticulously designed at this price point. Every single aspect of the Wave:1 is sturdy, durable, and refined, resulting in a gorgeous looking device that’s built to last.

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Hardware & Features

Elgato partnered with the renowned microphone specialists at Lewitt Audio to collaborate on making a microphone tailored for streamers and content creators, and the results are impressive. The internals of the Wave:1 are intentionally designed with a clear purpose in mind, using a high quality condenser capsule and a cardioid polar pattern that make it specifically built for capturing speech. The Wave:1 is therefore ideal for streaming, recording podcasts, or any other application where the focus is on studio vocals. Behind the steel grille is a multi layered noise shield, which helps provide some amount of internal protection against plosive noise, though if you intend to use the microphone fairly near to your face, a pop filter of some kind is still recommended. Elgato sells both Wave Pop Filter and Wave Shock Mount accessories specifically tailored to the Wave’s profile and materials standards, and while you could use any shock mount or pop filter you choose, the official accessories integrate really nicely with the look of the Wave and are clearly designed to compliment it rather than obscure it.

The Wave:1 connects to your computer via an included USB 3 Type-C to Type-A cable, ensuring there’s plenty of bandwidth for the audio coming down the line. There’s a 2.5mm stereo headphone jack on the back as well to allow for clear, instantaneous monitoring of your voice (and/or your mixed output) if that’s how you prefer to monitor your audio. The control dial on the front of the microphone adjusts the volume output to the headphones you have plugged into it, and pressing the dial in mutes the microphone completely at the hardware level. Muting the microphone shifts the LED ring indicator from white to red so you’ve got a clear visual that your input is shut off.

elgato wave1 03 1

What’s missing from the Wave:3?

There are a few extra features you get with the Wave:3 which may or may not justify the upgrade cost for you. The first is that its audio dial is multifunctional, letting you switch between adjusting your input gain, headphone volume, and crossfading your mix. Being able to do this with simple hardware controls might be a huge advantage depending on your setup, but aren’t deal breakers in my opinion. This does also give it a nice LED volume indicator, so if you’re in a setup where you can’t easily monitor your mix on a screen, these features could be extra valuable to you. The Wave:3 also sports a capacitive mute control integrated into the top edge of the microphone’s frame, allowing you to cut your audio with a light tap. This is both a sensible choice given the way the audio dial is repurposed, and it also allows for a completely silent hardware mute option as opposed to the potentially noisy click that might get picked up by the Wave:1 when depressing its dial to invoke hardware mute. So, there are some nice quality of life features added to the hardware, but the recording quality and technology are identical between the two models.

Stiff Competition

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of microphones for recording podcasts, video content, conferencing, and streaming my gameplay online. I wouldn’t quite label myself as an audiophile, but I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing my audio gear purchases for quality and cost, and I am fairly sensitive to noise, distortion, and just about any artifacts or issues with audio that can compromise the experience. I’ve recorded on internal laptop microphones (the horror), I’ve spent my time with the venerable Blue Yeti, I’ve been sorely disappointed by the microphone quality in basically every gaming headset I’ve ever owned, I’ve used plenty of professional grade microphones in performance settings, and most recently I’ve made do with the Turtle Beach Stream Mic, (an entry level product that hits the sweet spot for folks just getting started with content creation).

I’ve been aiming to upgrade my microphone but was on the fence about how far I was willing to push my budget in service of a quality upgrade. I also wasn’t totally happy with most of the options available in the $100-$200 price range and felt that I was going to need to compromise on aesthetics or budget and probably not be fully satisfied with whatever I ended up with. The Elgato Wave:1 has come along at literally the perfect time for me (and really for a lot of folks), in that it somehow delivers sound so incredible that I swear this mic should be more expensive.

elgato wave1 04 scaled

The Wave:1 captures an amazing depth and richness in vocals, presenting the full range of my voice with no compromise or compression of the frequency range whatsoever. Entry-level microphones may focus more on the mid tones and average out the rest, or move just enough into the lows and highs to marginally improve their range, resulting in a sound that’s adequate but lacks dimension. The condenser and the chips in the Wave:1 capture the entire spectrum of frequencies and give you the same richness you experience when hearing somebody’s voice in person. I’m honestly floored with just how good the Wave:1 sounds, and I think this is a total game changer for streamers and content creators everywhere. The sound you can get from the Wave:1 approaches the fullness I’ve heard from much more expensive XLR condenser microphones, and in some cases is even on par with that class of equipment.

One of the Wave:1’s truly killer features though is Clipguard, a built-in solution that keeps your audio levels normalized even when things get heated and you just have to get loud. While professional studio setups rely on compressors to prevent clipping, the options for doing this at home aren’t great. You either have to invest in an expensive setup at home (not ideal if you haven’t hit the big time yet), or rely on software solutions that can produce unpredictable results. The Wave:1 bundles a proper anti-clipping solution into its hardware, and in conjunction with the Wave Link software, it automatically protects against spiking audio levels when you let loose with the whooping and the hollering after a huge play in Rocket League or a massive betrayal in Among Us.

Elgato pulls this off by detecting when your levels are getting too high and uses a secondary signal path in the hardware running at a lower volume to capture your voice without any clipping whatsoever. It’s a nearly magical experience in action and it works incredibly well; I can attest to this firsthand given that I have a tendency to get pretty loud on streams. Anecdotal comparisons between my broadcasts using the Wave:1 and my previous microphone demonstrate this pretty readily; here’s a clip of me using my old microphone celebrating a win in Fall Guys (language warning); notice how my audio clips extremely hard when I get excited and start yelling. Now here’s a clip of me using the Wave:1 getting extra celebratory (language warning again) after a successful round as an Imposter in Among Us. You can hear the difference pretty clearly in the audio quality, but also in the way that the Wave:1 perfectly handles my audio levels spiking and there’s no clipping to be heard at all.

Here’s a longer recording sample of just my voice from the microphone in my office:


Wave Link: A Major Game Changer

Perhaps the surprise treasure here isn’t even the microphone itself, but the software that comes bundled with it. I know, I realize that bundled software is typically not a strong suit for most peripherals, but Wave Link is truly unparalleled in its capabilities. One of the main things I’ve struggled with recently is trying to figure out a decent software solution for audio mixing, because streaming with a single PC setup is actually kind of tricky if you want to start doing anything complicated with controlling and monitoring your audio. I’d had to come up with a number of workarounds and half-measures to give the impression that I had something halfway legitimate set up, and frankly the experience of juggling hot keys and trying to reliably track audio states across programs isn’t really something you want to be worrying about in the middle of a broadcast.

wave link screenshot

Wave Link is exactly the software I have been pining over since I started experimenting with streaming two years ago. It allows you to set up as many as nine discrete audio channels thanks to installing a host of virtual inputs on your system (all of which are cleanly labeled for ease of use), and a few virtual outputs to facilitate splitting your mixes between your monitor and your stream output. Each channel has independent volume controls for monitor and stream output, which can be linked together or kept separate. You can choose whether to listen to your monitor or your stream output, making it easy to check the audio going to your stream on the fly without having to hear every single audio source at once. For example, I prefer not to monitor my mic audio most of the time as I find it distracting, but I can flip over to my stream audio output to see what the audience is hearing and make adjustments as I need to.

This also gives me the control to do things like mute my microphone and Discord’s audio output on stream while keeping both of them turned on otherwise so I can continue to chat with folks during pre-roll, an ending sequence, or literally any other time I would normally have to just opt out of voice chat on the stream. I could also send the same audio sources at different output levels to the stream and to my monitors if it’s important to have something quieter in one place or the other. The interface is simple and intuitive to work with, and it all does exactly what you would expect and does so extremely well. I’ve tried configuring similar setups in programs like Voicemeeter before, but this dramatically simplifies the process and takes all of the guesswork out. It took me all of ten minutes to set up my audio channels in Wave Link and re-work my audio settings across my system and in my streaming software and I was off to the races. My first broadcast using the Wave:1 and Wave Link just worked seamlessly and it was amazing how much the combination of these two together has improved my setup.

Please, Cross the Streams

Better still, if you use a Stream Deck, Elgato provides an entire Wave Link module you can install with a really useful set of pre-defined profiles to take advantage of for managing your audio channels and their levels in Wave Link. I was originally expecting to have to fiddle with configuring my own actions and macros in the Stream Deck software for use with Wave Link, but I was really pleasantly surprised to see just how much thought had been put into solving this problem for me. Just a few clicks gave me everything I needed to fully control Wave Link from my Stream Deck, and that is a powerful setup that isn’t too far removed from having a hardware mixer at your disposal. Being able to quickly flip through channel settings, independently adjust volumes or toggle muting to either output, and zip right back to my primary profile is an awesome addition. I cannot stress enough just how much value this adds to the Wave:1, and how much it improves quality of life from a content creation perspective. If you are already a Stream Deck user, you’ve got some really top notch integration to look forward to, and if you aren’t using it yet this may be reason enough to push you in that direction. (There’s a 30 day free trial of the software version on your smartphone, just saying.)

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Wrap Up

I’m going to come right out and say it. Elgato has delivered something truly remarkable with the Wave:1 microphone. It’s an absolutely gorgeous device that looks and feels professional grade, and it ticks literally every box on my wishlist that I’ve had for several years now and then some. Crystal clear, rich sound? Check. Beautiful industrial design? Check. Ease of setup and configuration? Check again. Bundled software mixing with loads of easy to manage virtual inputs? That one wasn’t actually on my list for a microphone but wow, yes, major check. And, most impressively, this is both a premium hardware and software offering at a price point that feels almost silly not to take advantage of. The Wave:1 is fantastic and Elgato has absolutely knocked it out of the park. Elgato has been positioning itself as a leader in streaming and content creation gear already, but if this is an indication of where their ambitions lie, I can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

An Elgato Wave:1 unit was provided by CORSAIR for review purposes