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HyperX Cloud Alpha S Review: Blackout Edition

Blacked Out, Surround Sound

By Christopher Coke on March 25, 2020 | Hardware Reviews | 0

It’s not often that I look at products more than once, especially when it wasn’t all that long ago that I reviewed the original. The HyperX Cloud Alpha S is a great gaming headset, one that we awarded our Golden Hardware award and – spoiler alert – will be maintaining today. Instead of re-writing what you already know, however, we’ll be doing something we rarely get the opportunity to do: sharing how a product holds up over time. The Blackout version we’re looking at today is identical in everything but the new Blackout colorway. Let’s take a close look and find out exactly how my opinions have changed over the last six months and how well the Cloud Alpha S holds up over time.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $129.99
  • USB Audio Control Mixer
  • Weight: 57g
  • Cable length: 2m
  • Headphone
  • 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)
  • Microphone
  • Element: Electret condenser microphone
  • Polar pattern: Bi-directional, Noise-cancelling
  • Frequency response: 50Hz – 18kHz
  • Sensitivity: -38dBV (0dB=1V/Pa at 1kHz)

HyperX Cloud Alpha S Blackout

The Blackout is my third go-round with the HyperX Cloud Alpha series.  The first time was way back in 2017 with the very first red-and-black model. At the time, it was one of the best sounding gaming headsets I’d ever heard. It has remained my go-to recommendation for gamers on a budget ever since. As a reviewer, it’s rare that I use a product for long after the review is finished, but that was a headset I came back to again and again until I replaced it with the Cloud Alpha S back in October.

Today, I’m shifting that out for the Cloud Alpha S Blackout. As you might guess from the name, it’s still the Alpha S but with a completely blacked out colorway. It’s sleek and fits in with any gaming setup. For a gamer like me that likes to change things up often, that’s a very good thing. Otherwise, it features the same dual-chamber design that separates out the bass from the mids and highs. It has the same comfortable and swappable ear cushions, the same great microphone, and the same built in 7.1 surround sound that impressed me on the original Alpha S. 

What I’d like to do now is go through some of those features and see how my opinions have changed, point by point. If you didn’t read my original review, this will tell you what you need to know and, just as importantly, whether those conclusions still hold up today.

HyperX Cloud Alpha S Dual Chamber Drivers

Sound Quality and Dual-Chamber Design

Then:

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.

[…]

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.

Now:

HyperX’s dual-chamber design remains as impressive today as it was in October and all the way back in 2017. Since then, I’ve heard audiophiles criticize the dual-chamber design as somehow “shoehorning” a driver into a mismatched design. I disagree with this. While I’m not an audiophile, I am an enthusiast and hardcore gamer. The dual chamber design allows bass to be forward without overwhelming the other frequencies and is one of my favorite features of any gaming headphone ever.

The bass ports are another nice feature that I’ve come to appreciate. When I’m gaming, the ports are always engaged to give some extra thumb. If I’m listening to podcasts or detailed music, I’ll leave them closed. That said, without being engaged, the headset can sound a little too airy, especially with surround sound enabled.

That said, I really enjoy the sound signature of these. The extended frequency response allows them to resolve tons of fine detail. My only wish is that mids were more forward to bring vocals to the forefront. They’re present and clear but can sound a bit crowded on tracks like PVRIS’s White Noise. It’s a good fit for games that accentuate footsteps and call-outs, however, which is ultimately what they should excel at.

HyperX Cloud Alpha S Ear Cushions

Comfort and Build Quality

Then:

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 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.

Now:

After many months using of using the Cloud Alpha and Alpha S, they have held up remarkably well. Like any set of leather trimmed ear cushions, they show some shine over time, but neither pair has ever cracked or peeled. Having used them in the summer months, they sometimes become a bit warm and need to be vented. In cases like these, the fabric pads are a great option, though I rarely used them after the review was done. They remove some of the bass, for one, and frankly, venting was easier than swapping out pads.

There is one thing I don’t like, however: the finish HyperX used on the earcups shows finger oils terribly. This is true of all models. One touch and there are shiny spots that just don’t look good.           

HyperX Cloud Alpha S Dongle

Surround Sound

Then:

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.

Now:

This remains exactly true. The one thing I will add is that if you’re listening to vocals that use light reverb, like some podcasts or YouTube videos, the surround sound algorithm has a tendency to exaggerate that effect. If you’re a musician, it can sometimes be like turning from a “room” reverb to a “hall.” In games, it remains exactly the same and

Microphone

Then:

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.

Now:

Again, another point that remains exactly true and in fact slightly worse with how the market has evolved. While the mic here sounds identical to the original Cloud Alpha S, and is still better than the vast majority of headset microphones available today, the competition has really stepped up the quality of their microphones. Headsets like the Logitech G Pro X, Sennheiser PC37X, or even the wireless Audio-Technica G1WL have really turned the heat up on what headset microphones are capable of. It isn’t bad, by any means, but compared to how impressive the mic on the original HyperX Cloud Alpha was, this is definitely an area HyperX could take a step forward in.  

Here is a sound sample from the original Cloud Alpha S, which sounds identical to the Blackout version released today.

Final Thoughts

The HyperX Cloud Alpha S is great no matter which colorway you choose. In my original review, I praised it for being great for both gaming and music. That’s truer than ever thanks to the all-new black finish. Detach the boom mic and you can wear it out of the house with no one being the wiser (unless they’re gamers themselves). At $129.99, the Cloud Alpha S remains a solid buy that stands the test of time.

9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Sleek new look
  • Subtle but effective surround sound
  • Comfortable
  • Holds up well over time
Cons
  • Microphone doesn't hold up well
  • Matte finish shows oils from the merest touch


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight