The entire design meeting for MPOW’s new blandly-named 2.4Ghz Wireless Gaming Headset probably went something like this:
“Let’s steal the Cloud Alpha design, and make it wireless!”
In 2017, that would have been a tremendously exciting concept to me, and in 2020, it’s still not too bad. I’ve wanted HyperX to make a wireless version of their iconic Cloud II for years. When they first teased the Cloud Alpha, I thought the cutouts in the frame meant they were lowering the weight for a wireless version. Instead, they made a slightly better Cloud II, and then kept the old model on the market.
When HyperX finally did enter the wireless space with the Cloud Flight, Cloud Mix, and Cloud Stinger Wireless, all of them used fresh industrial designs instead of the classic frame . The diminutive Cloud Mix comes the closest to the spirit of my dream headset, though its wireless functionality is Bluetooth-based, requiring a wire for peak gaming performance.
In spite of HyperX’s decent wireless lineup, I still find myself wondering “What would a wireless Cloud III look like?” Apparently, the folks at MPOW felt the same way, and took a crack at it.
They used a cheaper overall build, and packed a huge feature set into a budget headset. Unfortunately, it’s marred by substandard sound quality, a quiet microphone, and some lame marketing techniques.
OVERVIEW AND MARKETING PROBLEMS
The MPOW 2.4Ghz Wireless Gaming Headset sells for $59. I bought my pair personally with my own cash on Amazon, where it was discounted to $54. It features a closed back design, a removable microphone, and an optional 3.5mm connection. The wireless dongle is certified to work with PC, Mac, and PS4. It doesn’t require special drivers.
Normally, I’d have a link to an official product page here, but I’ve scoured MPOW’s web site and can’t find it there. It’s a pretty new product, so maybe it just hasn’t shown up on their site yet? Here’s an Amazon link that I promise isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.
I have a personal distaste for affiliate links, and the way they’ve permeated the modern gadget reviews space. OneZero graciously worked with me to produce a piece about this troubling practice which you can find right here, if you’re curious.
Speaking of distasteful marketing techniques, MPOW included a little card inside my box saying I’d been selected to receive a ten dollar Amazon gift card if I’ll just give their headset a five star review first. Yikes.
Now to be fair, I have seen similar pushes from PR departments at other tech companies encouraging me to leave them positive Amazon reviews, but never one this aggressive. Sometimes it’s mentioned during an optional product registration, or in a followup automated email, or they’ll offer a promo with a discount code on a future purchase if you leave a review.
This is the first time I’ve seen a direct offer of an Amazon gift card right inside a headset box like this. Have you seen this yourself? Leave a reply and let me know! Maybe it’s even more rampant than I realize.
At first glance, the MPOW Wireless Gaming Headset looks like it might have been built by Takstar, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) that HyperX works with for several of their products. But on close examination, the MPOW headset has numerous design tweaks and material differences that make me realize that it was merely “heavily inspired by/stolen from” the Takstar/HyperX models instead of sharing any direct connection.
Also, Takstar’s packaging and leatherette both have a distinct smell to them (yes really) that’s nowhere to be found on this headset.
The MPOW Wireless Gaming Headset doesn’t sound as good as the HyperX Cloud II or Cloud Alpha, but it’s also not terrible when taken on its own. The overall sound signature slants towards the bass, with a dark and booming presentation that’s best for fans of low end energy. The treble is somewhat distant and rolled off, which is great for reducing long-session fatigue but doesn’t always bring out the details in what you’re listening to.
The headset sounds more punchy with more obvious overall impact when used wired, a quality which reminds me of the early days of Bluetooth headphones.
In wireless mode, some minor EQ changes and compression issues are noticeable. The overall signature is softened out, reducing both the slam of the low bass and dampening the treble a bit further. The character of the bass is also muddier when used with the wireless dongle, thickening up the lower midrange.
I noticed some minor warble-style sound compression artifacts when listening wirelessly that were further exacerbated if I moved more than ten feet away from the dongle. If you’re not used to obvious digital compression sounds you might not notice them, and they don’t always show themselves in the thick of a game, a song, or a movie.
I think part of this issue comes from the headset devoting a little more wireless bandwidth than I expected to its microphone, which sounds better than I though it would. More on that below!
Wired, the headset’s sound profile livens up. The bass is tighter, the highs are slightly more refined, and the midrange sounds better overall, but it still has a dark tone that some listeners might find a bit too muffled. The sound quality change between the two styles of operation isn’t dramatic, but it’s easily noticeable in direct listening comparisons.
The soundstage is smaller than I was expecting, but still floats just outside my head. They don’t have any kind of virtual surround mode or surround software included, but they sound just fine with both Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos for Headphones.
I personally prefer the way they sound in wired mode, and in either usage mode they sound okay for their low price even with their issues. They come within 30 percent of the models that inspired them, though they don’t have any of the rendering detail that the HyperX products are known for.
The Cloud Alpha, with its “dual chamber” drivers, is my personal reference for how a mainstream gaming headset should sound. It has impressive sonic reproduction for a $100 audio product, with just a hint of the sculpting that gaming headsets used to relish in.
In another iffy marketing moment, MPOW has copied the language used by the HyperX pair, claiming that their new wireless model has “double chamber” drivers, but again the sound isn’t in the same quality tier. They copied the term without copying the performance. I tested every part of the 2.4Ghz wireless headset directly against HyperX’s headset family and found the sound was its most lacking aspect.
When listening to the Cloud Alpha and the MPOW headset back to back, the difference in midrange and high end detail on the Alpha is immediate and startling. Voices come to life with a more natural tone. Treble is more prominent, lively, and crisp. And the bass, while not quite as intense in volume, has a precision and oomph to it that the MPOW headset can’t match.
Still, if you’re good with some thumpy bass emphasis and don’t need the most detail in your gaming experience, these may be right up your alley. I got used to them quickly, and it’s hard to fault them too much given their cheap price…but they’re not a sonic match for the HyperX lineup.
The headband and ear pads here both use memory foam, which is a nice touch. It will conform around your personal head in the first few minutes of use, and they sealed just fine around my thin-armed glasses.
If you’re a fan of headsets that don’t touch your ears at all, the space inside the cups might be a touch small for your liking. The inside walls aren’t angled, and the pad openings are a tad less spacious than those on the HyperX Cloud Alpha. The leatherette material also isn’t up to the HyperX standard, but it’s just fine in a vacuum.
The padding is thick enough to keep all but the very back of my ear from touching the inside wall, and there they only just make contact.
Although this sounds like it’ll add up to less comfort than the HyperX gold standard, in reality the MPOW headset is delightfully comfy even over a long session. The leatherette gets a bit warm and sweaty after an hour or so, but that’s my only minor comfort gripe. The headband pad doesn’t create any hotspots. And the cups have a small bit of lateral wiggle so you should be able to find a good fit. On my larger head, I still have three extra adjustment notches vertically.
Isolation is about average for a pair of headphones with leatherette ear pads. In keeping with the running theme, they don’t isolate quite as much as my Cloud Alphas, but they still made the loud coffee I shop I frequent a tolerable listening environment.
Just like a Cloud Alpha….but thicker, rougher, and without the nice “premium” touches.
The ear cups have a tiny bit more girth than their inspiration, which I’d imagine helps make room for the wireless hardware. The Cloud Alphas have soft-touch material around the edges of the cups and aluminum back plates, but on the MPOW headset every piece of the ear cup is a basic matte plastic.
All of this makes sense given the lower price.
At first glance it looks like the ear cup plates have large vents in them, but these are just cosmetic from what I can tell. The real bass ports are along the tops of the cups, just like on HyperX’s models.
Unlike the ear cups, the headband is made of metal, and it expands and flexes without a hint of creaking or cheapness. Sadly, the adjustment sliders feel mushy, without the nice click of the Cloud Alpha. They stay in place with friction instead of firmly slotting into each notch. That mechanism might loosen up and wear out over time.
The volume wheel on the back of the left ear cup has a nice smooth action to it, with impressive resistance, and it works in both wired and wireless modes. The on/off button and mic mute button are both clicky and easy to find. When you have the mic turned on in wireless mode, a bright blue LED turns on next to the mute button to tell you that the mic is on. I don’t know how you’re supposed to see this light when it’s on your head.
The mushy sliders and the goofy mic light are the main build aspects I don’t like. Everything else is a reasonable mimic of the HyperX designs that have dominated the market for years, but made just a little cheaper to keep the price down. The two exposed cables that run through the headband and connect the cups are rubber-coated instead of braided cloth, but I actually think that’s an improvement. The rubber material is less likely to fray or snag.
The bigger cups mean that these do stick out a tiny bit farther on the head when you’re wearing them, and they don’t have the same svelte profile of the Alpha or the tiny Cloud Mix. But I still think they look great, and with the mic detached, the small red accents are the only thing that makes these look like a gaming product.
I expected this microphone to be awful and tinny, but fortunately it’s not. It has a warm, dark tone just like the headset, with a focus on the lower voice frequencies and a small bit of acoustic noise cancelling.
The biggest problem with the mic is its low sensitivity. In wired mode, the mic is quieter than most of the gaming headsets I’ve used. When plugged into my PC’s motherboard jacks, I had to enable a +20dB boost and max out the volume to get a standard usable volume.
When plugged into a console controller, the volume might be lower than you’d like. It worked okay on my Xbox One if I positioned it very close, but the Xbox has no way to increase mic volume manually. The PS4 has mic volume controls, but the headset will also work wirelessly with that console.
In wireless mode, the mic is louder, though I still preferred its sound when set to 100 percent volume.
I’m guessing that this is a side effect of the way the mic input is designed. Something about the wireless innards creates higher resistance on the wired mode of mic operation. That happens with older Bluetooth headphones sometimes, too. Perhaps this is even why the Cloud Flight didn’t allow the mic to work in wired mode.
Aside from the low volume, the mic sounds about as good to my ears as you can hope for at this price. It’s still outshone by the mic on the $60 Astro A10, but that headset isn’t wireless and the mic is permanently attached.
MPOW includes a long ~2 meter braided 3.5mm cable in the box for wired operation. The port on the headset is a little recessed, just like the port on the Cloud Alpha, but it should be somewhat easy to find your own replacement cable.
The battery is rated at 17 hours when used at 70 percent volume, a number I believe from my testing. You’ll probably listen at a lower volume so you shouldn’t have any trouble reaching that level of battery performance. It recharges via micro USB, and offers only a low battery warning through a flash of the power light and a beep; there’s no battery percentage meter of any kind.
When you turn on the headset it makes a hilarious 8-bit video game beep, and makes a different sad-sounding beep when you turn it off.
The MPOW 2.4Ghz Wireless Gaming Headset is fine. It’s cheap, feature-packed, and clearly ripping off HyperX. But in spite of that it still surprised me in many ways, and it may still be a solid choice if you’re looking to save a buck and you’re not an extremely picky listener.
The sound is much closer to “fun” than neutral, and the wireless mode has a couple of compression issues…but again, this is a $60 wireless headset that mimics the design of the iconic Cloud series, for less money.
This will be a strong challenger for my “Best Budget Gaming Headsets of 2020” list when we get to the end of the year, though my expert hunch is that it’ll be a runner-up at best.
If it had better sound performance, less questionable marketing, an easier-to-read mic mute function, and slightly deeper pads, it’d be an unqualified winner.
I’d love to see some of the bigger companies expand their mainstream wireless lineups with similar design principles and connectivity options. The ball is now in HyperX’s court to take their sonic expertise and make an affordable wireless Cloud III.
I can still dream, right?