HyperX Cloud Alpha S 7.1 Gaming Headset Review
NOTE: HyperX graciously sent me an evaluation unit of this headset to review, alongside marketing assets and information. No money changed hands, and I had full editorial control over this review article.
As per my reviews policy, this article will never be monetized, but other content I write in the future about this product, such as direct comparisons or additional analysis, may be.
Launching today, the HyperX Cloud Alpha S is more than just an iteration on one of the best-sounding gaming headsets ever made.
Indeed, it firmly takes its place as the “flagship” of HyperX’s mainstream wired headset offerings.
It combines the stellar audio performance, design, and comfort of the Cloud Alpha with a features package that outdoes the venerable Cloud II.
If you’re looking for the best headset that HyperX offers below $150, this is it.
The HyperX Cloud Alpha S is a closed-back, wired gaming headset with a robust features package. It sells for $129.99, and it’s available in a nice new blue color.
That’s right, it’s a break from the standard red-and-black color scheme that has long been the company’s trademark.
At a first glance, this looks just like the Cloud Alpha. But a number of smart build and feature changes have been made in exchange for your extra $30.
The ear pads are thicker and more comfortable. If you’re not a fan of leatherette, you can switch to the newly-included sports fabric ear pads. The headband materials have been tweaked for a softer fit. The headset now features adjustable bass levels thanks to bass port sliders.
And as the cherry on top, the Cloud Alpha S includes a new 7.1 USB audio card. Unlike some previous “7.1” offerings from HyperX, this is a true 7.1 audio device which registers as such in Windows 10.
Not only that, but HyperX offers multiple firmware updates for users to choose from with different EQ profiles and virtual speaker positions.
In many ways, this feels like the Alpha’s final form.
It’s a powerful competitor for the recently-released Logitech G Pro X, and seems perfectly-designed for folks like me who were frustrated that Cooler Master omitted the Takstar Pro 82’s bass sliders from the MH752 when they licensed it as a gaming product.
If you’re a PC gamer, this is one of the most robust options at this price point.
And if you’re on consoles, the improved comfort and bass sliders may still be worth the $30 premium to you.
Since the Cloud Alpha S shares its ear cup design with the original Cloud Alpha, it has a small row of bass ports along the top of the cups in addition to the bass sliders near the bottom.
Thus, I was expecting that with the sliders fully closed, the Cloud Alpha S would sound just like the original Cloud Alpha, and that it would add more and more bass in the two open positions.
I was wrong.
HyperX shipped my evaluation pair with the sliders in the middle of three positions, and in that position these sound just like the original Cloud Alpha.
The bass is warm and accurate, and the much-hyped Dual Chamber Design really works to keep it separate from the mids and highs, which are as reasonably clean and accurate as they’ve ever been.
I’ve long-recommended the Cloud Alpha as a great just-warm-of-neutral headset at this price, and that’s not changed with the S model.
You can hear the Dual Chambers in action if you play around with the sliders while they’re on your head. Opening them all the way boosts the bass region by several dB, providing a fun slam to the low end.
I’ve used this headset for the last four days, and spent most of my time with the sliders fully open. It’s easily my favorite of the three positions.
It gives the headset a bassy thick sound, but without screwing up the rest of the range or thickening up the mids. It’s impressive, and while it’s not in the same league of bass response as HyperX’s exceptional Cloud Orbit, or as refined as the Arctis Pro Wireless, it’s darn close…which is all you can ask at this lower price.
Closing the sliders cuts almost all of the low end out, sort of like the closed position on the old Custom One Pro.
The bass ports on the tops of the cups that I mentioned earlier have been blocked off with some type of foam sound damping material, which is why you have to use the middle position to mimic the original Alpha.
With the ports closed, the sound takes on a slightly anemic, slightly thin quality that I don’t love. You’ll hear bass energy trying to happen and then it’ll immediately cut itself off.
On the plus side, closing the ports increases the isolation slightly and allows you to focus on the mids and highs. If you’re a footsteps fiend, or want to do some listening for hiss in a recording, or just need the most isolation possible, then it’s a good option.
But I’d wager most people will want to use the middle or the fully open positions. Even with the ports open, you’ll still get enough isolation to use these in a loud coffee shop without blasting your audio.
During my testing, I played several hours of Borderlands 3, GreedFall, and Resident Evil 5…a classic that I know the sound of very well.
I personally like a little extra bass energy when I’m gaming, and the open position is great for that while still maintaining all the detail and clarity the Cloud Alpha is famous for.
These are technically the most bass-heavy headset HyperX produces outside the Warm EQ mode on the Orbit, so if you’re a bass fan, this is the HyperX product for you.
It’s also an exceptional headset for most genres of music, and a little kinder to badly-compressed pop music than a more critical “audiophile” headphone will be.
The Logitech G Pro X offers a slightly more bright, more neutral sound…but it’s not as “fun” out of the box.
Fortunately for HyperX, their virutal surround implementation totally destroys Logitech’s.
VIRTUAL SURROUND DONGLE
I was delighted when I plugged in the dongle and it showed up as a 7.1 device on my PC. This joins the Cloud Revolver S’s Dolby Headphone dongle as the second HyperX device to properly support 7.1 game and movie audio for PC users.
Unlike the Revolver’s sound card, HyperX has taken a stab at crafting their own custom virtual surround system here. The results are quite interesting!
On the firmware update page for the dongle, HyperX offers two choices of EQ profile. The “FPS” profile offers a slightly larger emphasis on bass for gunshots and explosions, and the “Sound Widening” profile is more neutral, with sharper highs.
Unlike the abysmal Logitech G Pro X surround sound, neither of these profiles ruins the audio with too much bass.
The EQ is a little tweaked over the standard stereo listening mode, but feels tuned to bring out the best the headset’s default sound signature has to offer.
Neither available profile has too much fake room echo, and both offer a bit of a volume boost for those of you who want things louder.
The “Sound Widening” profile offers a standard virtual 7.1 speaker setup with the channels emanating from the directions you’d expect.
The “FPS” profile shakes this up, and sees HyperX going for it with their own custom virtual speaker placements that are unlike any other virtual surround system I’ve ever heard.
The front left and right channels get pushed out to the sides, and the standard surround channels are closer in and seem to have a bit of a height component.
It’s…interesting and different, and while I personally prefer the sound of the “Widening” profile, I think it’s awesome that HyperX tried something new with a truly custom virtual surround tuning that’s not just marketing hype.
Installing a different firmware is a painless one-click process, and while it may not be as adjustable as the Cloud Orbit, it’s still nice to have this option. I look forward to seeing if they release any additional profiles in the future.
Instead of the standard mic volume buttons other HyperX dongles offer, here there’s a game/chat balance feature. That’s probably a more practical inclusion, since I’d wager most users will set their mic volume once then never touch it again.
The original Cloud Alpha remains one of the most comfortable headsets on the market. I liked it even before its recent revision that deepened the pads a little.
The Cloud Alpha S edges it out and is even more comfortable.
The ear pads have been redesigned, and they’re slightly more ergonomic than the non-S pads. The foam is nicer and the ear holes are slightly more rounded. The seams at the outer edges are a bit more subtle.
Overall the pads have more of a “pro audio” vibe to them, and they feel nicer on my head. The insides of the pads have plenty of room for my ears, and there’s a layer of cushy foam inside in case your ears do touch the driver area.
The included cloth pads are more breathable, but I personally prefer leatherette for its bass response and isolation, and I don’t mind the sweat.
Although it’s not as obvious at a first glance, the headband design is also modified. The foam is of a similar thickness to the original, but slightly less dense. The material running across the headband is more textured on top and much softer on the bottom.
At first I thought the softer foam would make these less comfy, but they’re still perfectly balanced, and the slightly more robust ear pad foam helps make up the difference.
Adjustment room is ample. On my big head, I have three extra clicks on each side, and there’s enough swivel to the cups horizontally to get a good seal even around my glasses.
This is a phenomenally comfy headset, and while it may not have the initial lightness/wow-factor of the MH752, once the memory foam does its thing you won’t notice them on your head at all.
The small tweaks to the ear pads in particular make it a noticeably smoother wear than the already-exceptional Alphas.
The visual design hasn’t really changed from the old Alphas outside of the bass sliders on the back.
Build quality benefits from the slightly higher price of this S model, though. As I mentioned above, the leatherette materials used on the headband and ear pads are improved. And there’s a few other tweaks.
My personal favorite? Well, the clicking adjustment mechanisms on the Cloud Alpha S are the sturdiest I’ve ever felt on a headset that used this aluminum forks design. It’s wonderful. They click into place with authority.
That alone is worth the upgraded price for me, but I’m weird. Just wanted to put it out there.
The headset is free of creaks, squeaks, or obvious stress points. It uses the same slightly-recessed 3.5mm jack that the original Alpha uses, so finding a non-HyperX replacement cable might prove difficult.
I’ve adjusted the bass sliders a bunch of times over the last few days, and they feel strong and clicky in spite of being made of plastic.
The recent G Pro X is a little bit thicker in the hands, but let me down when I realized that the “G” logos on the sides were cheap decals.
The Cloud Alpha S has no such obvious build foibles.
This headset features the same solid microphone that HyperX has included with the Alpha for a couple of years now.
It doesn’t have the software adjustment options of the G Pro X, but it does sound good right out of the box without needing any work from the user.
The Cloud Alpha S mic prioritizes background noise cancellation, and provides solid voice audio even in louder environments. It competes in this regard with the Arctis lineup.
If you hold in the mic mute button on the side of the dongle, you can activate an excellent-sounding real-time sidetone function.
This is the first Alpha headset to include a full-bore HyperX features package.
HyperX popularized the “cram everything you need in the box” extras approach, and the Cloud Alpha S is one of their best takes on this since the Cloud/Cloud II.
You get the 7.1 surround sound dongle with a 2m braided cable. You get extra ear pads. You get a decent cloth carrying bag. You get a removable mic. And you get a removable cable…that’s sadly only 1m long.
This short cable is the only thing about the headset I can reasonably complain about.
I get how this happened. HyperX assumes you’ll use these with the USB dongle, or with a console controller, or with a laptop.
However, the industry has more or less standardized a 1.4m cable length for portable use.
The original Cloud Alpha comes with a 1.4m cable, as does nearly every other headset or headphone I’ve ever tested. Many also include longer cables or an extension.
Is this a dealbreaker? Not at all. It’s only going to be an issue if you had plans to use this with a different sound card, or like to sit really far from things your headset is plugged in to.
The cable itself is nice, and doesn’t kink or tangle. Once I found a good placement for the dongle in my desk setup, it was a fine length. I just found myself wishing it was a little longer for some added slack.
The Cloud Alpha S is an exceptional update of an exceptional headset.
It adds better padding, better materials, bass sliders, extra pads, and a true 7.1 surround PC audio card to an already-beloved headset for a reasonable $30 premium.
Console gamers can’t use that audio card, but if you’re a fan of a clean bass response and comfort, the upgrades here may still be worth the extra money over the base model.
This is one of the best headsets you could choose at this price. Its virtual surround is dramatically better than the G Pro X’s. It’s a little more expensive than the MH752, but has a much better dongle and the bass sliders that model chose to cut.
It also has a more-robust build than Cooler Master’s pair.
If you bought the Cloud Alpha at launch two years ago and loved it, and were waiting for the next step, HyperX has delivered.
It’s a refinement rather than a revolution, sure, but it offers a compelling features package in line with the best values the company has ever offered.