It’s time to upgrade my microphone and recording set up. I’ve been rocking a Blue Yeti for nearly 8 years. Now that I’m back in the podcast game with a personal focus (i.e. obsession) on quality, I wanted to finally bite the bullet and upgrade to a “real” microphone. Torn between two options, I hemmed and hawed over which microphone to buy. At the beginning, I was lured in by the sleek hardware over there at Elgato.
Elgato want to be the one stop shop for live streaming, recording, studio design, etc. They have practically everything one may need, including the Wave 1 and Wave 3 microphones. I’m a big fan and user of Elgato’s capture cards and I own a Cam Link 4K. When they announced their Wave line of microphones last summer, I kept them in the back of my mind, curious how they worked.
I’ve seen the mics everywhere. All of Kinda Funny seems to be using them. Sponsored streamers pop up in my Twitter feed on the daily. The Wave 3 in particular has some nifty sounding features. “Clipguard” to keep you from distorting audio when you get hype. A cardioid pattern mic, which just means it focuses on the sound in front of the mic more than to the sides or behind. It also has USB-C, auxiliary out for real time monitoring, and a capacitive mute switch for silent muting. Pretty solid on paper and all for $160. After asking some friends that have a Wave 3 and hearing their positive experience, I went ahead and snagged a Wave 3 with its proprietary pop filter and shock mount, bringing the total to roughly $220~.
Before talking more about my experience with the Wave 3, I need to share one more tidbit about the Wave 3. The other major focus on the product page is a software program called Wave Link. This is essentially Elgato’s crack a digital mixer. It reminds me of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack or Loopback. This software is what completely ruined the Wave 3 for me.
No where on the page (as far as I could tell) does Elgato share the most important fact about the Wave 3 and Wave Link: The microphone will not work without the software. Not even under System Requirements (Settings for you Windows 10 users)!
“Why is this a problem,” you may be asking me through the screen, “Aren’t you just using your own computer?”
Well, no I’m not just using one computer. That’s not the main issue, but it is a significant one. This automatically means travel with the mic is contingent on the computer wherever I go. It means it won’t work on an iPhone or iPad, despite the USB-C connection, since it can’t run the software.
The bigger issue is the dependency on the software. I plugged the mic in before installing software, simply because I assumed Wave Link was optional. I chose the mic as my input and output and got bupkis. It simply requires this Wave Link to work on macOS or Windows 10.
This means the mic’s entire future is dependent on software support from Elgato. I’ve rocked my Blue Yeti for 8 years, zero software. I’ve had an Elgato Game Capture HD since 2013, it still works. But my new Elgato 4K60S+ doesn’t have compatibility with the Mac (I knew this when I bought it). Looking at Elgato’s position in the streaming market, under Corsair ownership, I’m not entirely confident in rock solid or equal macOS support for the next decade.
Bringing it back to the present, the software they have delivered today in 2021 is just not good for standard recording projects. To hear yourself and the audio through your computer, you have to balance a mix between PC audio and mic input. The two sources are intertwined: No independent slider for the mic or the computer. This mixed slider is also a dial on the mic, but it stifles the computer audio if you go below 100% PC output on the mix. The dedicated volume controls on my computer are separate making the computer sound muffled and restrained in my headphones. I just want to hear myself and my computer simultaneously, no software fuss. Maybe 8 years of the Yeti just doing this with its volume knob and my laptop volume has trained my brain. There’s an allure of simplicity and function in the physical knob on the Yeti (really just physical knobs and switches in general) that makes this process easy.
I did record one show with the Wave 3. It was delivered roughly 90 minutes before I had to record. There is no rush quite like setting up a brand new mic that you have zero familiarity with before having to record. With my minimal (self-inflicted) time to fiddle, the recording sounded great! Definitely a step up from my Yeti. It did seem catch different sounds of the echo in my office, no foam in here. No complaints as far as the actual quality.
I did have the gain low—real low. My co-hosts that evening said I was coming in softly, which isn’t ideal for them. Possibly further tweaking on my end could have corrected that.It definitely helped emphasis some of my poor mic etiquette—mouth noises, little pops, breathing—all the sounds folks love to hear in their ears. This is good to be more aware of, as the speaker, so I can focus on getting better at not making those sounds.
Despite the nice sounding quality, my gut said that a software reliant microphone was the wrong call for me, especially considering the financial investment and how long I would want to get out of whatever microphone I bought.
So what did I buy? After Amazon refunded me, I turned around and bought the Shure Beta 87A microphone to use with my H6 Zoom. I have had my eye on this microphone for years, thanks to the Mega-Review from Marco Arment. This is probably what most people picture in their mind when they hear the word “microphone.” It uses an XLR cable, which is why I have to run it through the H6 Zoom to my computer. The H6 can act as a USB interface for the microphone. I do want to get a dedicated interface (I already have my eyes on one), but I already own the H6 so it will tide me over until I can buy dedicated hardware.
My initial tests of the Shure Beta 87A sound great. I’m actually recording the next episode of The Max Frequency Podcast soon and can’t wait to give it a real test run. I did have some issues setting it up. I made the mistake of running the XLR cable right by at least three power supplies tucked under my desk. This lead to hisses, pops, and cracks in the audio. I rerouted all the audio cables to the side and made sure they were far away from power cables.
In the end, the Wave 3 just was not for me. That’s not to say it is a bad mic or won’t work for you. If I had known up front that the Wave 3 required software, I never would have bought it. Software dependency is not something I’m down with for a microphone. It did help that I did not care for the implementation of the software either. The Wave 3 seems like a great fit for streamers and people looking for a decent mic to set up quickly. Call me old fashioned, but I just want my mic to work without dependency on software.