Let’s say you’ve swallowed a giant gulp of hesitation and decided to spend $330 dollars on a gaming headset.
It’s a big ask. That’s more money than either Nintendo Switch model costs, and more than the base Xbox One or PS4.
A few years ago, spending this much on a gaming headset wasn’t really possible without buying extra gear or going boutique/custom.
But now, in 2019, the $300+ market is no longer solely reserved for stylish wireless consumer headphones. Several major audio players have taken a stab at this price point, crowding a “premium mainstream gaming headset” realm once maintained solely by Astro.
My two favorite high-cost gaming headset models are the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless and the HyperX Cloud Orbit S.
I think Sennheiser’s $350 GSP 670 is relatively lacking in connectivity features for its high price. The $300 Beyerdynamic MMX 300 is nice, but I’d hesitate to recommend it outright if you’re willing to combine a separate headphone and mic, as you can beat that price within Beyerdynamic’s own lineup. And Astro’s newest A50, while as competent as ever, isn’t a dramatic update over previous iterations.
So that leaves the Arctis Pro and the Cloud Orbit S as my two personal picks at this price. But which one is “better” after being subjected to a long list of arbitrary evaluations?
Let’s find out!
Cloud Orbit S — Original Review Here
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S is a $329 closed-back powered wired gaming headset. If you’re not plugged into a computer or PS4 over USB, it’ll power itself via its internal rechargeable battery.
This headset is essentially last year’s $400 Audeze Mobius with a few tweaks, and with the Bluetooth module removed.
It offers fully immersive head-tracked 3D surround sound through WavesNX, Audeze’s legendary Planar Magnetic drivers, hi-res support, and a whole swathe of preset EQ modes and customization options.
If you don’t want the head tracking feature you can save a few bucks and get the $300 Cloud Orbit. But that feature is absolutely worth $30, especially once you’ve decided to spend this much already.
Arctis Pro Wireless — Original Review Here
The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless is a $329 closed back wireless and wired gaming headset. It has perhaps the most connection options of any gaming headset on the market.
Through its included DTS Headphone-enabled receiver dock, you can connect wirelessly over a 2.4ghz connection to a PC or console with optical audio output, or USB. You can also drive speakers with the line out port, though only from a USB PC connection.
Bluetooth SBC support is also included, and the implementation is good without any obvious compression artifacts and an acceptable amount of latency.
If wired listening is more your thing, the Arctis Pro Wireless includes the same USB-derived analog input port on the bottom of the headset that other Arctis models use, so you will need the special included cable to use it.
When connected over the 3.5mm connection, the Arctis Pro Wireless’s speaker drivers are certified for hi-res audio.
Both of these headsets are so close to both the accepted standards and my personal preferences for “neutral” that I could happily use them as a benchmark to judge other audio products against.
There are a few key differences
The bass on the Cloud Orbit S is more sublime.
There’s no other word for it. Planar Magnetic drivers produce a thump to their bass response that’s quite unlike any other speaker technology on the market. Although the bass response on the Arctis Pro is quite accurate and rich, it can’t quite compete.
The midrange and treble are a tiny bit more present on the Arctis Pro, lending them a tiny bit more “presence” and perceived clarity. The overall tonal quality of these regions is slightly better on the Cloud Orbit, though. Lower quality recordings sound more crinkly and grainy on the Arctis Pro, but only by a few percentage points.
I think the Cloud Orbit S is better suited to long single player gaming sessions, and the slightly different emphasis on the Arctis Pro might be preferred by footstep hounds.
Of course, both models feature EQ options. The Arctis Pro has a fully customizable EQ system and on the Cloud Orbit you’re stuck with a selection of presets.
WavesNX surround is much nicer than the DTS Headphone implementation on the Arctis Pro.
Both support today’s modern 3D audio, but HyperX’s system has more options thanks to their software package. You can turn off the room simulation echo and change the sound field to match your exact head measurements, whereas the options on the SteelSeries software are more limited, and the resulting surround sound isn’t nearly as cool.
This is ultimately a toss-up depending on whether you prefer sumptuous bass or a little treble sparkle as the most obvious feature of the sound signature.
I personally prefer the sound of the Orbit. It’s inviting, accurate, and its surround simulation is truly impressive. And its bass response is better-sounding than on any other gaming product.
WINNER: Cloud Orbit S for its incredible bass response
The Arctis Pro Wireless uses SteelSeries now-standard suspension headband system. The head strap is made of a washable ski goggle fabric, and the ear pads are covered in athletic fabric as well.
Padding on the Arctis Pro is rather dense, and rebounds quickly. It doesn’t have the same slow memory foam squish of the pads on the Cloud Orbit.
However, if you don’t mind the strap system and you dial in the clamping force with the adjustable velcro, you can still make the heavy metal frame of the Arctis Pro disappear on your head.
The Cloud Orbit S weighs only a few grams more (368 vs 357), but you’ll notice it because much of that weight is centered in the cups. Planar Magnetic drivers are quite heavy compared to their dynamic counterparts thanks to their magnet structure.
HyperX compensates in the only way they know how: massive amounts of memory foam.
The headband pad is very slow-rebound foam, and holds the bulk of the headset’s weight well.
The ear pads were first designed by Audeze in co-operation with a push-up bra manufacturer, of all things, and have a dramatically sculpted shape to them that helps balance them perfectly on the head.
You can read their fun blog about this here:
Contoured Earpads - One Step Beyond
Hey you! Don't Watch That, Watch This! As we discussed in our article about earpads, weight and clamping force, to get…
Like the Arctis Pro Wireless, once you get the fit adjusted right, the Cloud Orbit is surprisingly comfy in spite of weighing a lot.
I’ve worn both headsets for full day sessions just fine. But the Arctis Pro Wireless is a little more comfy. Its head strap better-distributes its weight across your whole head, and it’s not quite as noticeable on the head.
I’d wager that both of these models will see a revision two someday, and both will be looking into new lighter materials to help them cut weight.
WINNER: Arctis Pro Wireless, by a smidge of weight
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S feels better-built, and its more traditional design is slightly less silly-looking in public.
I’d give higher marks to the SteelSeries Arctis Pro were it not for the creaking that happens right where the metal meets the plastic of the ear cups.
The headband on the Arctis model is a tremendously robust piece of metal, and the forks that hold the cups are metal also. Then you touch the plastic of the cup itself and it feels incredibly cheap and thin by comparison.
Both my original wired Arctis Pro and this wireless model developed a creaking sound at that point of contact within a day or two of use. I can make them creak now just by picking them up by the ear cups and gently touching there with my thumbs, which is a totally normal thing to do with headphones.
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S emits a little part chatter as well, but it’s mostly from the ratcheted rotation hinge above the cups. The headband looks like it’d be flimsy, but it’s made of a crazy hybrid rubberized plastic material and is comically bendable and flexible. You can bend it way out of shape and it’ll pop back into place. It’s weird and neat.
Here’s a video of a man doing this:
Design is in the eye of the beholder, and the Arctis design seems to either really work for people, or really put them off. If you’re in the latter camp, the Cloud Orbit S just looks like a “normal” pair of headphones.
WINNER: Cloud Orbit S
The Arctis Pro Wireless wins the connectivity contest hands-down.
It has 2.4ghz wireless. It has Bluetooth. It has a wired option. Its base station has a battery charger in it and they include a second battery, so you can switch instantly whenever you need to, or put in a fresh battery before going out and about.
You might need to because the batteries only last around 9–10 hours.
The Cloud Orbit S’s main connection is a USB-C port that charges the internal battery, which also lasts about 10 hours. When connected to a computer, you can choose 7.1, stereo, and hi-res modes. Outside the PC space, and with the 3.5mm connection, you’re limited to stereo.
The wireless connections of the Arctis Pro are undeniably convenient and they work very well, with only minimal self-noise/hiss apparent.
The Cloud Orbit S’s suite of wired connections feels a little weird in an era of “wireless everything,” but those connections are also the way its superior WavesNX surround system gains access to its full functions. You can still use the head tracking with stereo, though it’s not as convincing as with a full 7.1 USB input from a PC.
The Arctis Pro Wireless’s featureset is designed more for today’s multi-purpose listener, and the Cloud Orbit S is better for those that want to go all-in on high end sound reproduction and virtual surround sound.
WINNER: Arctis Pro Wireless
I like the mic on the Cloud Orbit S a little bit more than the classic “ClearCast” mic on the Arctis Pro.
The Cloud Orbit S mic has a deeper, richer sound to it, and the automatic sidetone attached to the built-in mic volume control is nice.
The Arctis also offers sidetone, but it’s a separate feature you have to turn on inside the base station and it’s buried under a few layers of options.
I think both microphones are perfect for a wide range of recording tasks, though the Arctis Pro is just a little more metallic and compressed-sounding, whereas the Orbit offers a warm rich sound comparable to a desktop mic.
You can find mic tests in my original reviews linked at the top of the page.
WINNER: Cloud Orbit S
OVERALL WINNER: Cloud Orbit S
It’s worth restating that I love both of these, and as always with these articles, I feel like I’m splitting the tiniest of hairs. If you like the features of one of these more, you’re not making a bad choice to go for it.
The Cloud Orbit S is a wonderful choice if you’re looking for premium audio quality with luscious bass response, and you’re a PC gamer wanting to try one of the most convincing surround sound systems ever released.
But that doesn’t mean the Arctis Pro Wireless is trash, or anything remotely close. It has a wonderfully accurate sound, plenty of connection options, and is only really let down by its older microphone, lackluster materials in the ear cups, and menus that bury important features a few layers too deep.
Both of these models are fortunately worthy of their high price points, and they’re both different enough to find their own audiences.
The Arctis Pro Wireless is a great “kitchen-sink” product that offers everything you’d want right now in a gaming headset, whereas the Cloud Orbit feels a bit like a peek into the future of gaming audio. It’s so awesome to see a gaming product use Planar drivers, and it backs that up with some of the best audio quality on the market.
I’m not sure if wireless tech will ever advance enough to offer the full lag-free 3D Waves NX experience without a cable, but until it does, this is a truly unique and amazing experience.
Perhaps HyperX has future plans to develop a base station of their own?
And will the inevitable Arctis Pro 2 license WavesNX as well?
Only time will tell. But right now, if you need “the best,” that’s the HyperX Cloud Orbit. They took last year’s Audeze Mobius and made it cheaper, and while I admit the loss of Bluetooth is frustrating, it still feels like the headset of the future.
It says something that the two future headsets I’m the most eager about are the successors to these models. They’re both so packed with features though that it might be a little longer than a normal product cycle before we see any new developments. Both HyperX and SteelSeries aren’t afraid to keep a good product on sale for a while.