HyperX Cloud Orbit S Gaming Headset Review
Unmatched audio quality and the best virtual surround
NOTE: HyperX kindly sent me an evaluation unit to review alongside marketing assets and information, but no money changed hands and I had full editorial control over this article.
As per my reviews policy, this article will never be monetized, but other additional content about this headset, such as showdown articles I write in the future, may be.
With that out of the way, let’s do this.
I’m not going to lie.
I’ve been excited about this headset since it was first announced in January.
Now that I’ve had the privilege of spending a few weeks with it, I’m relieved.
I get asked all the time: “Alex, what’s your favorite-sounding gaming headset?”
I can now easily answer that question.
It’s this one.
Whether we’re talking about games, movies, or music listening, the Cloud Orbit S totally nails it. A few others at the high end come close, but no one else has a better-sounding gaming product out right now.
And I doubt that will change for a very long time.
HyperX changed the headset game when they launched the original Cloud, and I’ve been a fan of their lineup and approach ever since.
Instead of designing their own garish angular plastic thing with bloated bass, they licensed an existing and generally-liked headphone and gave it their own gaming spin.
The result was one of the best-sounding, most-comfortable gaming headsets ever made, with a price tag that didn’t break the bank.
Now, HyperX is doubling down on the same gambit, and taking their first big step into the high-end gaming headset and audio market.
Do you remember last year’s Audeze Mobius?
That feature-packed headset was Audeze’s first real try at a gaming product. They started out with their famous planar magnetic headphone drivers, and crammed in numerous third party technologies, including Waves Nx 3D surround audio, Bluetooth support, and a battery-powered hi-res DAC/amp combo right inside the ear cup.
The headset started out as a hyper-successful Indiegogo campaign, where it carried an incredibly cheap $249 price for the earliest buyers…but by the time it hit retail the regular price climbed all the way to $400.
That makes the Mobius the most expensive gaming headset currently on sale.
Although many reviewers loved it, I think a lot of users were skeptical of a high-priced gaming product from a company that didn’t normally produce stuff in that space.
I couldn’t pull the trigger at that high price point.
Well, if you waited like me, you’re in luck.
HyperX licensed Audeze’s headset, and has once again applied their gaming experience and design muscle to it. The result is largely exceptional, and I expect it’ll really shake up the high-end gaming headset market, particularly for PC players.
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S is a closed-back wired gaming headset, with a choice of USB or 3.5mm analog connections.
It retails for $329, and supports its full audio feature set on the PC platform over a USB cable. When connected to a PC via USB, the Cloud Orbit S can operate as an 8-channel device, a standard stereo device, or in stereo hi-res mode.
You can use a direct USB connection to a docked Nintendo Switch or a PS4, but you’ll be limited to a standard stereo input signal, as you will be with 3.5mm.
It contains 100mm Audeze planar magnetic drivers, Waves Nx 3D 7.1 audio support with real-time head tracking for accurate virtual speaker positioning, a 96khz/24-bit hi res mode, and a built-in DAC/amplifier combo with several EQ presets and a 10 hour battery life.
If you want most of the features but don’t want the head tracking, the standard Cloud Orbit version omits that feature and goes for $299. It’s otherwise identical.
You can control nearly every feature of the headset using just its buttons and dials, without ever installing the new HyperX Orbit software. A nice plus!
The software lets you adjust the same options without touching the buttons, and also lets you adjust the virtual speaker field based on your head measurements.
Compared to the original Audeze Mobius, HyperX has removed the Bluetooth support, tweaked the industrial design and color scheme, and added a new microphone with a richer sound and less-aggressive noise gate.
And of course, they also removed a big chunk of the price.
So yes, this is a wired headset that costs $329. But it sounds incredible. And the head tracking feature and virtual surround work astoundingly well.
The Cloud Orbit S includes a variety of EQ profiles for you to select from. One of these will be active at all times, as the power must be on in order for the headset to emit audio.
The “Default” profile sounds reminiscent of other current popular HyperX headsets, but with a layer of additional quality and bass response perfection.
It’s a slightly warm, slightly relaxed sound that’s perfect for hours of gaming.
I listened to it for the first few minutes I used the headset with a mixture of enthusiasm and mild disappointment. It sounded a lot like what I was used to from other good headsets, but with a little extra detail.
Then I flipped into the “Flat” EQ mode and my brain exploded. I was rewarded with additional midrange and treble detail, and when combined with the hyper-accurate bass, it was suddenly a phenomenal critical-listening experience.
I learned in one press of a button that the DSP inside these headphones is a beast, and the drivers are more than capable of going along for the ride. UPDATE: In the months since this review first published, I’ve continued to listen to these, and I’ve grown to love the “Default” setting almost as much as “Flat.” It has a very pleasant and accurate sound to it, and I think I was just initially expecting more punch.
Planar magnetic drivers work differently from the more-common “dynamic” drivers you’re probably familiar with. Dynamic drivers use a single magnet and a wire coil to oscillate a speaker diaphragm that often looks like a cone.
In a planar magnetic system, the diaphragm is a large thin square of material filled with tiny wires that’s suspended between two arrays of magnets, and the entire diaphragm then flutters back and forth between the magnets.
It can push a lot of air, and it can move very quickly, offering astounding levels of speed and detail.
It also has a magical bass response, often referred to in hushed tones on audiophile forums as breathtaking. It has a punch and quality unlike anything using a standard speaker driver.
I haven’t had much experience with “that planar bass” outside brief demos in the past.
But boy, the HyperX Cloud Orbit really delivers low end with startling authority. It’s not overblown at all, such that the bass is louder or dominating the mix (at least on the Default and Flat modes), but more that it’s of a higher quality and detail.
The sound of this headset is essentially all I could ever ask for.
The bass is punchy, creamy, and wonderful. It’s like a physical manifestation of bass energy.
Not to be outdone by the famous planar bass, the midrange and treble are perfectly textured and detailed on the Flat setting, without any hint of muffling, sibilance, or inaccuracy.
This headset hits the same point of diminishing returns that many popular audiophile headphones at this price point reach, rendering music and games with “I’ve never heard these details before” levels of clarity.
Once you get to this level of sonic reproduction it’s hard to want to do much better.
Soundstage and imaging are impressive for a closed-back pair, even with the 3D mode turned off. If you’re a die-hard stereo fan, you’ll be pleased.
I had fun with the different EQ modes, though I’m rather disappointed that there’s no visual representation of what exactly their curves are even in the software, and there’s no way to set up a custom EQ curve.
Maybe in a future update?
I tested the headset out with over 15 different games, several days worth of music listening, and I watched a couple of movies, and it’s a true performer regardless of which EQ mode you choose.
It’ll bring your material to life in a way that defies the traditional “logic” of gaming headsets being less than other headphones.
“Ballistics” enhances the sounds of gunfire and explosions, and has some of the boomy character of older gaming headsets but rendered at a much higher quality. “Warm” is the setting for bassheads, and I thought it muffled things a little too much for my tastes. “Music” is fine for music listening, but I preferred “Flat” for that.
I could never figure out exactly what “RPG” did to the sound, but I used it for RPGs anyway. I didn’t find the “Footsteps” or “Racing” modes all that useful compared to “Flat,” but your mileage may vary.
Again, since HyperX doesn’t actually show you what the different EQ modes are doing to the sound, you’ll just have to experiment and find your favorites. Regardless of which you end up choosing, you’re getting best-in-class audio performance as far as gaming products are concerned.
Audeze pushed firmware updates over time that added some additional EQ modes, and you get that whole complement here as well.
HyperX’s software retains the firmware update capability, so they could push out additional options in the future.
Waves Nx 3D Virtual Surround
The Cloud Orbit S includes a full hardware implementation of the Waves Nx surround sound system, which I’ve covered in the past on my personal site over here.
Whereas I was limited before to using my webcam for the head tracking feature, the Cloud Orbit S has a head tracking unit built in that updates 1000 times every second.
WavesNx is a great-sounding virtual surround system, and when combined with the head tracking on the Cloud Orbit S, it’s the best-sounding virtual surround I’ve ever used.
Why does head tracking help with virtual surround?
When humans listen to sound, we tend to slightly turn our heads to help with source localization, often subconsciously. In a movie theater environment, this doesn’t cause an issue, because the speakers are always in the same place.
However, when we move our heads with headphones on, the sound placement doesn’t change at all relative to our ears since the headphones move with our head.
That causes our brains to notice the surround effect is “fake,” and it’s part of the reason that not everyone likes the way virtual surround sounds over headphones.
Waves Nx with head tracking fixes this.
It places virtual surround speakers all around your “environment,” then tracks your head movements and updates the relative speaker positions in real-time.
So, the sounds stay in the same virtual places, just like they would with real speakers, or real sounds.
The result is a lifelike, convincing virtual surround soundstage that’s unlike anything else on the market. It’s exceptional, and it’s even more impressive if you fine-tune the head measurement settings in the software.
Game audio is immense, and you can locate enemies or other players by turning your head a little instead of flicking your mouse. And movies sound just as they do in a mixing room or theater.
In the software you can also adjust the amount of “room simulation noise” added to the signal, which is essentially a simulated reverb that makes it seem like you have walls around you.
If you’ve been put off by the reverb used in other virtual surround systems, the ability to turn it off is great.
Not only does the head tracking make the surround effects more convincing, it allows you to do goofy things just to play with it.
If you pivot to the left all the front channel sounds will stay to your right just like they would with real speakers. If you turn your head down, they’ll sound slightly above you.
It’s fun, and I spent the first day with the headset just doing this before I settled down and used it more normally.
Using the 3D button on the side of the headset, you can activate “3D Manual” or “3D Auto” modes for the head tracking system. In manual mode, you can tap the button once to calibrate the system to your desired center-point. I found it held this calibration well, with no noticeable drift or major tracking issues even over a long session.
In Auto mode, the headset will attempt to update your center calibration automatically by paying attention to the direction you’re looking and the speed of your relative head movements.
There’s also a “Standard” 3D mode, which is also included on the non-head-tracking non- “S” model of the Orbit.
It still uses the Waves Nx software to place virtual speakers around your head, but otherwise works like any of the other popular software systems for virtual surround.
Once I tried the head tracking mode out, it was easy to see why it was so cool, and I’d personally recommend paying the additional $30 for the S model if you’re at all a fan of virtual surround. It’s a dramatic step up from other headphone surround systems.
It’s a standout feature no one else has built-in (save the more expensive Mobius), and it’s executed well.
A special note: if you want to put full 7.1 game audio into the headset, you’ll have to be on a PC, using a USB connection.
On its default setting, the Cloud Orbit S shows up in Windows 10 as a proper 8-channel audio device. So you shouldn’t have any issues with games sending the correct audio data to your headset.
The Cloud Orbit S will also connect via USB to Switch and PS4, and via 3.5mm analog to anything with a headphone jack…but you’ll be limited to 2 channels of input.
Having said that, the Waves Nx system still does a good job of working with stereo audio, and you’ll feel like you have a nice large monitor speaker system in your room.
But it doesn’t have quite the same wow factor as when you feed it true surround audio.
I’m sorry to say, the Cloud Orbit S isn’t as comfy as the rest of the HyperX headset lineup. But they came as close as they could within the limits of physics.
It’s not entirely HyperX’s fault.
Planar magnetic drivers are heavy. It’s thanks to all those magnets in their design.
The Cloud Orbit S weighs 368 grams, compared to the 298 grams of the Cloud Alpha. That may not seem like a huge leap, but your head is sensitive!
It’s light for a planar magnetic headset, but heavy compared to most other gaming models.
And it’s also got some serious clamping force, especially for the first few sessions.
As a result, you’ll definitely feel the weight of this headset on your head, in spite of the lush, massive padding on both the headband and the ear pads.
On the plus side, the headset has ample adjustment range to fit on my large head. I only have to wear it about half-extended.
Still, you’ll need to get the balance of the weight just right if you want comfort over a long session, otherwise you might start to feel some ear or jaw pain from the clamp and the weight of the drivers.
I had a few sessions where I messed this up, and both my right ear and the jaw just underneath were rather upset with me for about a half hour after I took the headset off.
It’s not an uncomfortable or unwearable headset at all, as long as you get it balanced nicely on your head. It just doesn’t have the same immediately light and plush feel that every other headset in the Cloud series has.
Again, that’s not for lack of trying.
The padding lives up to the Cloud’s gold standard. The ear pads and headband pad are both made of a soft, thick memory foam.
The pads are incredibly deep and shouldn’t bump your ears in the slightest. They’re also sculpted for a more encompassing seal. The leatherette is soft and didn’t cause me to sweat too much. The headband pad doesn’t cause any hotspots even after a couple of hours.
Plus, the headset sounded more or less the same whether I wore my glasses or not, so that’s great. The pads do a good job of folding right around them.
Put in the work to find the right fit for you, and you’ll be rewarded with a comfy but heavy fit.
The newly refreshed visual design of the Cloud Orbit is great.
It has a nice basic matte black color with subtle gray accents and HyperX logos, and it’s svelte enough that no one will think you’re wearing a gaming headset if you take these to your favorite coffee shop.
They’re a far cry from the bright colors of the older Mobius model, and I like their look.
The materials used are nice… though perhaps not what you’re expecting from this premium price point.
Most of the headset is made out of a heavily rubberized plastic, with little of the metal reinforcement many have come to expect at and above the $100 price point.
I’m guessing this was done to help combat the weight issues I mentioned in the comfort section above.
To HyperX’s credit, it’s not a cheap-feeling product. None of it feels hollow or like it’ll shatter or anything.
The rotation points for the ear cups use a weird ratcheted joint that makes a lot of clicking noises as you turn them, and the right side of my headband developed a very small amount of plastic chatter over the last three weeks, but this is otherwise a solid-feeling product.
I still can’t help but be a little disappointed by the lack of metal, even if I don’t actually dislike the build they went with.
It’s not quite “Sennheiser materials lab” plastic, but it’s very close, and the rubberized finish didn’t pick up as many fingerprints or as much dust as I thought it might.
The headband itself is nicely flexible for those of you that like to inexplicably twist your headsets around a la all those YouTube stress tests.
As a final design note, I love that the headset uses a standard 3.5mm analog jack and a standard USB-C jack. You’ll be able to buy third-party cables to your heart’s content, and that’s something more companies should embrace in their product designs.
Featuring a rich, clean, broadcast-quality sound, I have no major complaints about the microphone here. And that’s good, considering the price. It has a keyed plug so you can’t insert it the wrong way into the chassis, plenty of flexibility, and a nice big pop filter.
I’d like it if the default gain was a bit higher, but that’s the one little gripe I have.
The mic dial on the back of the headset controls both the output volume of the microphone, and the volume level of the headset’s built-in sidetone feature.
ADDITIONAL FEATURES AND EXTRAS
The stunning 3D audio is the main bonus feature here, but there’s a few other little things also.
HyperX included an unremarkable carrying bag in the box, similar in quality to the cloth bag included with the HyperX Cloud Alpha. The bag is totally fine, and will help protect the headset’s finish…but I would recommend investing in either a third party hard case or carrying this inside a backpack if you’re going to travel with it.
You get a full set of nice cables in the box, starting with a long 3M braided USB-C to USB-A cable that’s designed as the main connector for your PC.
There’s also a 1.5m USB-C to C cable. I tried that out with my MacBook and it worked just fine.
Finally, there’s a 1.2m long 3.5mm analog audio cable with 4 poles on each end that you can plug into anything with a standard headphone jack.
The DAC/amp built into the headset is good, and its inclusion means you’ll never have to worry about buying an additional one or having enough power to run the drivers. No nightmare rabbit hole of amp buying is necessary here!
And it’s got more than enough juice to handle the troublesome low volume output of the PS4 controller, for those who are curious.
However, as mentioned way back at the top, you do need to power the headset on to get any audio out of it, and that means if you’re using a 3.5mm connection, the battery must have some juice.
I don’t personally see this as a drawback.
The amp sounds great and the optional hi-res mode totally works the way you’d expect. But there’s no passive operation of any kind here.
The battery is rated for 10 hours and that number seems right in my testing. If it dies you’ll have to listen via USB for a while to let it charge.
The HyperX Cloud Orbit S is a truly incredible-sounding headset with an unmatched 3D audio feature. Not everyone will love its comfort or its build, but if you want the best sound and the best virtual surround system, here it is.
It’s a bummer that the feature set is slightly limited for console users, but I still think that the core audio quality is good enough to at least consider this even if you plan to use it in stereo mode.
The only other gaming headset that comes close to this level of audio quality is the SteelSeries Arctis Pro lineup.
That headset is easier to wear comfortably, and even though it also sounds great, it doesn’t have the same texture, character, or amazing bass that the HyperX Cloud Orbit has…and its 3D audio feature isn’t as good.
But the Arctis Pro is still within the same overall sound quality range. It’s just not quite as impressive.
At first blush, $330 for a wired headset seems like a lot.
But when you consider that it includes awesome-sounding planar magnetic drivers, a powerful built-in DAC/amp with plenty of EQ modes and hi-res support, and a unique and unmatched virtual surround mode, suddenly the value proposition falls into place.
I’d love to someday see a second iteration that improved the battery life, added some metal to the build, thickened up the headband pad to help with the weight, and expanded console support with an optical connection.
Maybe next year’s new consoles will have better USB audio output support above standard stereo?
Heck, I’d also love to see this type of driver and these technologies inserted into the classic Cloud design, although HyperX has gone to great lengths to make the Mobius-inspired look not stick out among their lineup.
My complaints are small, and my love for this headset as a die-hard fan of virtual surround is large.
This is my new benchmark for comparing headphone-based 3D audio systems, and my new benchmark for gaming headset audio quality.
It’s like strapping a perfectly-calibrated movie theater to your head. It’ll impact you a little more than standard dynamic drivers can, and it’s a tremendous first entry into the high-end headset space for HyperX.
HyperX has recaptured the same magic they performed with the original Cloud. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it’s my favorite-sounding gaming headset by a fair margin, and likely will remain so until it gets a second version.