In the distant hazy time of a few years ago, it was easy to just say “Oh, you want a good gaming headset? Buy the HyperX Cloud or Cloud II!”
HyperX used to have just one option. And it was pretty great. A re-badged Takstar Pro 80/Q-pad QH-90 with a totally fine microphone. It provided slightly v-shaped sound and good comfort.
But now, buoyed by the success of the Cloud, HyperX has launched 8 million other models.
Which ones are the best?
HyperX makes only three wireless models: The Cloud Stinger Wireless ($99),The Cloud Flight ($159) and the Cloud Mix ($199), so it seems like this should be an easy choice. Just pick the price you want and go!
However, it’s a bit more complex. Let’s start with the most expensive one.
The Cloud Mix isn’t really a wireless “gaming” headset. It’s more like a wired gaming headset with an included Bluetooth mode.
Bluetooth isn’t very great for gaming. I’m not being an audio elitist here. I think today’s Bluetooth codecs, even the basic SBC encoding, do a totally fine job of presenting high quality audio.
The issue is latency.
Audio wasn’t originally a priority feature for Bluetooth transmission, and as a result most of the systems used in current headphones don’t have a ton of bandwidth or power to work with.
One of the results of that limited focus on audio is perceptible lag/audio sync issues in games and movies.
Sometimes, software will compensate for this by delaying the visuals to match. In iOS, Apple attempts to compensate for Bluetooth audio lag at a system level. But gaming PC’s/Windows don’t do this. And the current gaming consoles don’t even support audio connections to Bluetooth headphones.
So if you’re looking to do some gaming, you’re essentially stuck in wired mode with the Cloud Mix. They’re still a great-sounding pair of headphones, and for music, the Bluetooth mode is exceptional. But they’re not really a “true” wireless option, if you’re looking to play some games.
Bluetooth is getting better. Bluetooth 5.0 pays more attention to audio, with improvements to audio quality, battery life, and signal quality. And AptX HD LL, a third-party codec from Qualcomm, has a much higher speed that would be suitable for gaming and movie soundtracks. If only more companies would implement it.
The Cloud Mix features neither of those newer options, instead offering Bluetooth 4.2, AAC, and standard AptX.
EDIT: In spite of HyperX’s own claims, Rtings tested these and found they did work with AptX LL, so that’s good to know. Thanks to Jailbreak for finding that!
That makes the Cloud Mix a solid contender for you if you have an AptX LL-capable gaming PC. But I personally still think the Cloud Flight offers more value for the price, as far as a gaming product goes. AptX LL still isn’t that common in the wild, and including a USB dongle for good low latency connections, like the Flight does, is an acceptable solution for me personally.
Moving to the Cloud Flight, things improve dramatically for gamers. It features a dedicated 2.4Ghz USB dongle, providing high quality audio at high speed. This dongle works on the PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch dock, providing good platform flexibility.
A light weight and good padding provide all day wearing comfort. And it features red LED lights for the lighting-inclined among you.
Wired connections are possible…but the microphone doesn’t work in wired mode. The microphone is the headset’s biggest issue, with a sound that’s merely average for the price.
The Cloud Stinger Wireless is like a cut-down Flight. HyperX removed the lighting, wired connection option, and the ability to detach the microphone. I don’t think these features are worth sacrificing, but if you’re strictly a PC or PS4 gamer and you don’t mind the attached mic, this could save you a few bucks.
WINNER: Cloud Flight
This is where the field gets a little messy. Rather than go in-depth on all of them, I’ll list them all and hit the highlights
HyperX Cloud Stinger Core ($40)
HyperX Cloud Stinger ($50)
HyperX Cloud Core(~$60)
HyperX Cloud X/Cloud PS4 ($79)
HyperX Cloud 2 ($99)
HyperX Cloud Alpha ($99)
HyperX Cloud Revolver ($119)
HyperX Cloud Revolver S ($149)
What…what on Earth happened here? How did we go from one good wired Cloud headset to 100,000 of them?
If I were in charge of HyperX’s marketing, I’d cut this list down to three modes: Stinger, Alpha, Revolver. Maybe I’d allow for different colors for different platforms, but still just within those three models and three price points.
As it is now, this is a muddled nightmare pile of options that’s only going to confuse people.
The HyperX Cloud Stinger is a great budget choice with an okay microphone. It has a fun v-shaped sound, excellent comfort, and is everything you need to “get started.” You could probably buy one and never think about headsets again, if you’re okay with a “fun” sounding pair.
At $99, the Cloud Alpha is an exceptional-sounding headset. Whether you’re comparing it to other gaming headsets, or to standard headphones, it handles itself well. It’s got a removable cable, a decent mic, and excellent padding. It’s clearly meant to be their main offering in the wired space, which makes the plethora of other options downright baffling.
The Cloud Revolver was pretty exciting when it first launched, but seems to have been a bit ignored by HyperX in the last year or so. It’s got the biggest, most comfy fit of any HyperX product, with a solid steel frame and a detachable microphone.
Sound-wise, it doesn’t deviate far from the warm, fun sound of other HyperX products…except it has a wider soundstage. The whole tuning of this headset was centered around getting as wide as possible a sound out of a closed-back design, and HyperX nailed it.
I wish it had a removable cable. I wish the Dolby dongle included in the S model was a standard accessory. And I wish HyperX would remember it exists.
The Cloud Alpha is the best choice for most gamers looking for a wired HyperX headset. It’s got a great, powerful, clean sound and all the features that are expected for that price. It’s a little bit better than the other Cloud models in every way…unless you have the biggest head and want the cushier fit of the Revolver.
WINNER: Cloud Alpha
WHAT ABOUT THAT ORBIT?
HyperX just can’t stop adding models to their wired lineup, can they? At least this one is dramatically new.
This week at CES, HyperX announced the Cloud Orbit, a rebadging of Audeze’s well-respected Mobius gaming headset. It’s a high end wired option with planar magnetic drivers starting at $300. And there’s a version containing WavesNX surround software for $30 more.
I think the surround model probably should have been the only option, but it’s clear they really wanted to hit the $300 price point for their “entry model”.
That puts them at the very top end of the gaming headset market price-wise, against other pairs that offer full wireless functionality.
Planar magnetic drivers usually aren’t cheap. They’re harder to design and manufacture. But it is possible to get planar-based headphones for cheaper than the Orbit. You could opt for the Massdrop HiFiMan HE4XX or one of Monoprice’s Monolith models, and pair it with a standalone microphone.
A year or two ago the Orbit wouldn’t have had any competition, but now it’s fitting into a tighter space.
Still, it’s very cool to see HyperX try and mass produce the Mobius, and bring Planar drivers into the gaming headset space. I don’t think their price is totally crazy, but I do think it’s a bit of a gamble. Will the crowded gaming headset market tolerate one more audio product that costs as much as a console or decent graphics card?