HyperX Cloud Alpha S
Surround sound headphones and headsets can be contentious in that it’s a form of digital audio attributed to dedicated hardware or software that emulates directional audio. In the home theatre space, you’d have 5 to 7 speakers’ setup around a room each offering a discrete channel of audio. In Windows 10
offers up its own virtual-surround support that can be toggled on or off at will. This is all a way of saying that surround sound on one headset can sound very different to the surround on another.
The new HyperX Cloud Alpha S
is a versatile built-for-PC gaming headset that features a dedicated USB-DAC and controls that allow you to switch between a stereo signal and 7.1 surround sound via the press of a button. And all without the need to run software. On paper it sounds like the right way to go, especially when you factor in HyperX
’s recent history of releasing great stereo headsets.
Well, the main issue here being that outside of its rich (albeit unbalanced) stereo performance across music, films, and games – the 7.1 surround sound features of the Cloud Alpha S turn in mixed results. Highlighting some of the shortcomings with its overall design – and making the somewhat high asking price feel like a bit of a stretch.
- Type: Closed
- Driver: 50mm
- Frequency response: 13,000 to 27,000 Hz
- Impedance: 65 ohm
- Weight: 321g
- >Cable length: 1.0m audio
- Microphone Pickup pattern: Bi-directional, Noise-cancelling
- Frequency response: 50 to 18,000 Hz
But first the good stuff, with the Cloud Alpha S continuing the trend of high-quality audio components found in the HyperX range, alongside custom tuning and audio capabilities that put it somewhere between what you’d expect in this price-range and a headset taking those first steps into the audiophile realm. The results, in default stereo mode without any equaliser action, are crisp and detailed with a balance across most frequencies – except for, strangely, bass.
“The 7.1 surround sound features of the Cloud Alpha S turn in mixed results, highlighting some of the shortcomings with its overall design.”
Even though the Cloud Alpha S features all-new Bass Sliders, which offer three levels of bass via toggles located on each ear, each is somewhat lacklustre in the desired effect. The lowest level works as intended but just about removes all weight to the overall sound, giving off a tinny metallic sounding bass-free feel to the audio. Normal and the highest toggles, instead of rattling your brain with bass rhythms, balance the frequencies out instead. Which is a shame because “turning the bass up” whilst gaming, offers very little perceived benefit or change.
And this is where the mixed results of the surround factor into the equation. The virtual 7.1 surround does a great job of separating and emulating positional audio, but it can make certain games feel less immersive or cinematic as they should sound without the ability to amplify the bass for things like explosions and meaty firearms.
Design and Comfort
Okay, so one area where HyperX has exceeded all our expectations with the Cloud Alpha S comes with its overall physical design and comfort. The metallic and sturdy frame will be familiar to those that have used the company’s Cloud Alpha headset, and here the design returns with a durable headband and a slew of great touches like having a detachable microphone, interchangeable leather or fabric cushions, thick braided cabling, and even a nice silky carry case for taking the Cloud Alpha S on the road. Weighing in at just over 320 grams, wearing these for extended gaming sessions is perfectly fine too – and the over-ear placement of the cups feels natural and, yeah, comfortable.
The only real area we see could any sort of improvement here, and we took a moment or two to think about this, would be to give the USB controller a hybrid metallic/plastic build as opposed the current plastic-only one. It’s sturdy as is sure, and still as responsive even after many hours of toggling surround on or off. But, in keeping with the overall premium design of the headset some extra design flourishes here would have been nice.
Impedance isn’t usually something we highlight when reviewing gaming headsets but it’s worth bringing up in regard to the HyperX Cloud Alpha S. Rated at 65 ohms, this simply means that when disengaged from the USB controller and connected to a console like the Nintendo Switch
or smart device via the standard 3.5mm connector the Alpha S will initially sound a little soft and require more power or volume than most other headsets.
As to why HyperX opted for this type of design it probably comes down to how the drivers are powered with the company noting that there’s a clear separation between the low, mid, and high frequencies.
“One area where HyperX has exceeded all our expectations with the Cloud Alpha S comes with its overall physical design and comfort.”
In the end this highlights some fundamental issues with the Cloud Alpha S, that otherwise mar what could have been an exceptional product. The lack of bass amplifies the crisp and almost sharp sound given to the higher frequencies. For surround sound this approach makes directional audio and speech easy to hear and impressive but lacks the presence and warmth that a ground shaking explosion can bring. Some games fare better than others, with Overwatch
, Borderlands 3
, and DOOM
being some of the better examples we tested.
Music-wise the Cloud Alpha S basically required us to crank up the bass manually via an in-software equaliser, which then gave excellent results across a wide range of genres. But, this sort of tweaking and having surround sound that isn’t as good as it should be speaks to this falling short of the greatness we’ve come to expect from HyperX.