Gaming Headset Legends: HyperX Cloud II
The gaming peripheral market moves at hyper-speed. All of the major players in the space release new products every 6 to 12 months, and constantly retire old and outdated designs as well. That goes hand-in-hand with the “what’s the next hit?” mentality on the software side, where games have just a few weeks to make a big sales impact before the mainstream discourse has moved on to the next release.
It’s unusual for anything to stick around for long in this endless churn of newest-and-greatest. But the HyperX Cloud II gaming headset has managed exactly that. It just crossed an incredible five years on the market, and it’s available in a wide variety of colors and styles.
I never expected it to last this long, especially once HyperX launched an exceptional follow-up with the HyperX Cloud Alpha. Two years ago, I was already incredulous at how long this little gaming headset has managed to stick around and continue selling, and two years after that I have no choice but to respect it. The Cloud II is one of the only headsets to have such a dramatic shelf-life, and in fact I think it’s the oldest third- party gaming audio peripheral currently on the market.
Picking up a Cloud II, it’s easy to get some hints about why it’s still around. The build quality is undeniably impressive, with a solid aluminum frame and thick rubberized plastic ear cups with metal backings. The styling, complete with deluxe stitching along the top of the headband and subdued color schemes, screams premium in spite of the relatively low price. The memory foam headband and noise-canceling microphone were two big improvements touted over the Cloud I, and they’re still nice to have. And the little microphone hole plug stopper is a weird bonus extra that none of HyperX’s other models include.
The design has plenty of drawbacks, however. The permanently-attached cable is the most prominent one. It wasn’t as big of a deal when this headset first launched, but now it stings to see any headphone or headset not offer a replaceable and removable cable, and the similarly-priced Alpha rectified this. The adjustment range of the Cloud II is quite small compared to later models, meaning it won’t fit large heads as well. The space inside the ear cups is rather cramped, and will almost certainly touch your ears in spite of being well-padded. And the included sound card in the default model is great for stereo, but terrible at surround sound in spite of claims on the box.
In terms of general sound quality, the Cloud II is still top-notch. It’s based on the Takstar Pro 80, itself a copy of the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. The bass is rich and detailed. The midrange is pleasant and reasonably accurate. And the treble is…a little all over the place, with some wild inconsistencies that sometimes sound like extra detail and other times sound harsh. The sound signature is well-suited to game soundtracks, however, and the soundstage and image are both wider and more accurate than the average even today.
I really thought when the Cloud Alpha launched that all previous Cloud models would be wiped from the market. It’s a refinement of the Cloud II in every way. Instead, HyperX has tried to keep the Cloud II relevant with some modest price discounts and some new models that are easier to drive with console controllers. The one version I still have around my house is the “Cloud for PS4.” When it first launched, I was surprised that HyperX hadn’t offered up the Alpha as a licensed product instead, but perhaps the lower price point is more appealing to the target they’re going for.
Back when there wasn’t a worldwide pandemic and I could easily hang out in electronics stores, I saw countless examples of market confusion as potential customers would pick up the identically-priced Cloud II and the Cloud Alpha and stare at them for several minutes. The Cloud Alpha’s box does correctly call out its better sound signature, but the Cloud II’s “surround sound” dongle is like a siren call to a lot of folks. The “Alpha” branding, similar to “Xbox One,” might also sound to some like the predecessor to the Cloud II rather than its follow-up. It’s a rare marketing and branding misstep from a company that I think has otherwise done a good job in that department.
The recently-released Cloud Alpha S, with its true surround sound dongle, ticks most of the boxes for what I personally would have wanted out of a Cloud III…except perhaps a 2.4Ghz wireless connection.
If you’re looking for a good example of a compact solidly-built gaming headset with competent sound and a sub-par dongle, the Cloud II and its spin-offs are still good choices in the $80-$100 dollar range. It’s a testament to how much they got right that it’s still on the market an unprecedented five years later. Many other models have learned from, and arguably improved on, its example. However, sometimes going back and seeing the original legend is worth the time and investment. Two years ago I was wishing for the Cloud II to die…now I’m eager to see just how long it can last.