Way back in 2017, HyperX unveiled their original Cloud Alpha. At the time, we were extremely impressed. With its dual-chamber drivers, excellent tuning, lush memory foam cushioning, and affordable $99 price, we were in love. Last month, HyperX released its successor, the HyperX Cloud Alpha S. It brings back everything we liked about the original and adds in surround sound and a mixer for game streaming. Is it enough for a headset in 2019? Let’s find out!
- Current Price: $129.99
- USB Audio Control Mixer
- Weight: 57g
- Cable length: 2m
- Driver: Custom dynamic, 50mm with neodymium magnets
- Type: Circumaural, Closed back
- Frequency response: 13Hz – 27kHz
- Impedance: 65 Ohm
- Sound pressure level: 99dBSPL/mW at 1kHz
- T.H.D.: ≤ 1%
- Weight: 310g
- Weight with mic: 321g
- Cable length: 1m
- Connection type: 3.5mm plug (4 pole)
- Element: Electret condenser microphone
- Polar pattern: Bi-directional, Noise-cancelling
- Frequency response: 50Hz – 18kHz
- Sensitivity: -38dBV (0dB=1V/Pa at 1kHz)
On first blush, the Cloud Alpha S’ seem almost identical to the Cloud Alphas with a new colorway. While they have a few new tricks up their sleeve, that’s hardly a bad thing. The original Cloud Alphas have long been my high-water mark for gaming headsets under $100. Since those headphones can easily be had for under $90 these days, the S has something to prove to earn its $129 asking price. Thankfully, I think it does and I honestly couldn’t be happier to see this model make its return.
If you missed the original Cloud Alpha, it made its name on HyperX’s dual-chamber design. Unlike most gaming headsets, each earcup features internal “rooms” made to isolate the bass from the mids and highs. It’s a smart area to innovate in; gaming headsets are renowned for pushing bass above all else, stepping on those important mid and treble frequencies to deliver a more “cinematic” effect. By simply not bouncing around the bass in the same areas as the mids and highs, the Alphas are much better at keeping each band crystal clear. The Alpha S, like the Cloud Alpha before it, does a fantastic job at having a full low-end while still keeping those fine high-frequency details, like tinkling bullet casings and breaking glass, intact.
If you prefer more bass, the headphones also include sliders to open and close bass ports on the rear of each driver housing. The effect is subtle but noticeable, giving beats just a touch more thump. It doesn’t go so far as to replace just bumping the bass in EQ but does save the extra coloration an equalizer adds, so is a welcome feature for that touch of extra “oomph.”
The Cloud Alpha S maintains the same overall design. It brings back the oval-shaped metal housings, the flexible steel band, and the leatherette memory foam ear cushions. It’s just as durable, thanks to all that metal, and where the yokes connect to the housings in reinforced for some added peace of mind in the event of a drop.
Visually, the HyperX has made a couple of changes. The original red and black has been traded for a powder blue, which looks very nice. The headband brings back the stitching along the edges but now features a leather-print texture which also looks very nice.
Another upgrade comes with the ear cushions. The original Cloud Alpha featured a single set of memory foam pads trimmed in leatherette - very similar to what’s pre-installed here, though the pads on the Alpha S on first glance. A closer look shows these pads to be much nicer. They’re softer, more breathable, and have a more consistent finish. Leather trim has a tendency to hold heat, however, so I was very pleased to see a second set of fabric pads included in the box. They tend to bleed sound, however, and the fabric finish cuts down on the overall bass of the headphones, so I stuck with the leather.
The detachable cable and mic also makes its return. I love seeing this because it allows gamers to simply replace a cable in the event it breaks or gets lost rather than replace the entire pair of cans. The microphone is also a nice touch, though the Alpha S’ aren’t subtle enough for me to wear out of the house anyway, so I left that attached and the headset at my PC.
Onto the big upgrade with this headset: the surround sound dongle. The Cloud Alpha S is the first in the Alpha line to offer full virtual surround sound and it’s a solid improvement all around. The dongle connects to the PC with its own USB cable and tethers to the headset with a 3.5mm jack, allowing you to unplug from USB and use the headphones on your console or smartphone (sans 7.1). There’s no additional software download to use it. Since the dongle acts as its own sound card, you simply press the 7.1 button and enjoy the much wider soundscape.
HyperX’s surround sound is modest and that’s exactly how it should be. It’s no dripping with reverb. Instead, the focus is on making your soundscape feel larger than any normal stereo headset can provide and maintaining positionality for competitive shooters. Too many gaming headsets rely on reverb to fake surround sound and decimate their players’ ability to pick out enemy locations. That’s not the case here. Enabling surround sound is a competitive blessing, especially in games like Fortnite or PUBG.
The dongle also adds the ability to adjust your game-chat balance, which is excellent if you’re planning on streaming with the microphone. It’s a mini mixer, in essence, and it’s a near feature to see included in-line near the volume control.
When it comes to sound quality, the HyperX Cloud Alpha S remains a value king. The headphones have punch with a solid bass presence to make action-filled moments intense, but because of the dual chamber design, it’s also capable of detailed highs that reveal elements to songs or games you may not have heard before. The elevated mids and highs are also excellent for hearing footsteps, team callouts, and far-off gunshots.
I honestly enjoy them for music just as much as games. There’s excellent stereo imaging, so you can very clearly hear which side instruments (and sound effects in games) are coming from. The U-shaped EQ curve allows music to feel full and fun while still providing the kind of high-end detail that’s usually reserved for “Hi-Res” headsets or headphones designed around music.
Put simply, these headphones are excellent all-arounders.
The one piece that’s a step back is the microphone - at least for streaming and podcasting. Having used standalone microphones for some time, I look for low-end body in my microphones. I want them to sound natural, not compressed and digital due to software noise-isolation. The original Cloud Alpha was excellent for this. The Alpha S applies more noise removal - and it’s quite good, actually - but it wound up making my voice sound more nasally and compressed. That said, it did strip out the background noise exceptionally well, so if you game in a noisy environment, it might be a great fit. This is definitely a case where it depends on your personal situation. Have a listen:
The HyperX Cloud Alpha S brings back everything I loved about the original Cloud Alpha and enhances it with 7.1 surround sound, improved pads, and a game-chat balance right in-line on the dongle. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the new noise isolating mic, but the key feature there, noise isolation, is one of the better takes you’ll find in a gaming headset. If you don’t need surround sound or the game-chat balancer, I’d recommend picking up the cheaper Alpha, but for $129 the Cloud Alpha S is a solid gaming headset that’s great for music too.
- Very comfortable
- Solid build, plentiful use of metal
- Great sound profile for music or games
- Surround sound is well implemented, maintains positionality
- In-line Game-Chat balance is a cool upgrade
- Swappable fabric pads
- Substantially more expensive than the original Alpha (with current pricing)
- Mic sound compressed and nasally
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.