Tom's Guide reviewed the HyperX Cloud Alpha two years ago, and we came away impressed with the headset's sound quality and comfort, especially considering its sub-$100 price. Now, HyperX has released the Cloud Alpha S ($130), a slick upgrade that features steely blue highlights on the chassis and, more importantly, a USB mixer amp.
By all rights, the Cloud Alpha S should be a better product than its predecessor — but the price is a little hard to stomach, and the amp introduces just as many problems as it solves. The stereo-sound quality on the headset is still excellent, but the surround sound feels distant and metallic. Swapping out ear cups is a pain, and the mic is still just OK.
The Cloud Alpha S is a perfectly good headset, thanks to its quality stereo sound, attractive design and pleasant fit. But it doesn't quite make our list of best gaming headsets. Unless something about the amp really speaks to you, I'd at least wait until the price goes down a little before pulling the trigger.
HyperX Cloud Alpha S design
While the Cloud Alpha S doesn't look much different than the original Cloud Alpha, it's still a gorgeous design. There's a padded faux-leather headband, a sturdy plastic chassis and a steel bar holding everything together. This time around, HyperX has adorned the peripheral with metallic-blue highlights instead of red ones, and I'm honestly surprised we don't see more blue gaming peripherals. It's an incredibly slick look.
On the left ear cup, there's a port for a detachable mic and a port for a removable, 3.5mm audio cable. Each ear cup also has a bass-adjustment slider, a little button that you can click into three settings. It's an interesting idea: Rather than adjusting the bass digitally, you can physically open a small piece of the headset and give the bass driver more or less room to reverberate. In theory, this is a cool idea, one that obviates the need for complex software; I'll discuss how well it works later on.
As with the original Cloud Alpha, you can also swap out the ear cups. And as before, doing so is a pain. There's a leatherette set and a foam set, and they're both comfortable. They're also both quite difficult to finagle into place, so once you decide which set you like, you should probably just stick with it. The Cloud Alpha S also comes with a convenient carrying case.
The biggest difference between the Cloud Alpha S and its predecessor is the USB mixer. If you're so inclined, you can hook the headset up to a small rectangular mixer, which funnels the signal into a PC via a USB cable. This lets you adjust game/chat balance on the fly, as well as control volume and toggle surround sound.
I'll talk about the mixer's performance more in an upcoming section, but from a design standpoint, it's not great. First off, the wire is extremely long and there's no easy way to coil it up. I rolled my chair over the cord and got my legs tangled up in it multiple times per day.
The mixer itself is also light and doesn't sit flat on a desk. It has a clip, which I suppose could go on a breast pocket, but it doesn't work well to clip the mixer to button-down shirts (since it would sit sideways) or to a belt (since that places it too far down to reach during a game). More often than not, the mixer had fallen to the floor when I needed it most; the volume controls on my keyboard were much more cooperative.
HyperX Cloud Alpha S comfort
The Cloud Alpha S, like its predecessor, is an extremely comfortable headset. Between the two different sets of ear cups and the notched headband, you're almost sure to find a configuration that works for you. The ear cups don't press down too tightly, even for those among us who wear glasses, and the padded headband prevents the device from feeling too top heavy.
I handed the device over to a co-worker, who agreed with my assessment. He found the peripheral to be lightweight and easy to wear for long stretches.
HyperX Cloud Alpha S gaming performance
In gaming, the Cloud Alpha S gets almost everything right. I ran the device through Overwatch, Age of Mythology: Extended Edition, GreedFall and Final Fantasy XIV to see how well it performed across different genres. The results were satisfying. Dialogue sounded crisp and clean in GreedFall, and directional audio helped me pinpoint my enemies in Overwatch. Sound effects, voice work and orchestral scores all came across loud and clear in every game.
So long as I kept the headset tuned to stereo, I felt thoroughly immersed in every game. However, when I toggled over to 7.1 surround sound, I was much less impressed with the results. Surround sound on the Cloud Alpha S had a universally metallic twang, almost like it was coming over an AM radio. And while the directionality was good, it did give dialogue an unpleasant echoing effect. Even in competitive titles, I preferred the stereo sound. And since the surround sound is arguably the biggest draw of having the USB mixer in the first place, it made me wonder whether the addition is really worth an extra $30.
HyperX Cloud Alpha S features
The USB mixer is the most interesting feature in the Cloud Alpha S. There's no software, so you can't alter equalization levels or set up game profiles; all you can do is mute and unmute the mic, toggle surround sound, control volume and adjust game/chat balance.
As stated above, the mixer has an awkward design, and the surround sound isn't great. The mic controls and game/chat balance are useful, but not when the mixer's fallen halfway down your leg and you need to keep your hands firmly planted on the mouse and keyboard. The accessory has the right idea, but I wonder if there was a better way to implement its controls.
Then there's the mic, which has a clear, but quiet, pickup and a tendency to broadcast background noise. It's perfectly suitable for everyday competitive play, but I wonder how well it would fare in a noisy, close-quarters tournament environment.
HyperX Cloud Alpha S music performance
Since the Cloud Alpha S has a 3.5mm connection and a sleek design, taking this headset on your commute to listen to music on the go is completely feasible. However, the headset doesn't handle music very well, which undercuts that possibility a bit. While the treble-heavy soundscape works well for most games, the lack of bass means that you'll have trouble hearing some of the most important parts of your favorite songs.
I listened to tracks from Flogging Molly, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones and G.F. Handel and was disappointed with the bass performance all around. I thought that the bass sliders might help, but on the lowest level, I couldn't hear bass at all; on the highest level, I could barely hear it, but only if I knew in advance what I was listening for. The Cloud Alpha S is an unbalanced headset, and the problem is more noticeable in music than in games.
The Cloud Alpha S is a solid headset, easy to wear and functional for gaming. It's also a frustrating one, due to its tetchy mixer, subpar surround sound and lack of bass. If all you want is something comfortable for gaming and you have $130 to spend, this is a perfectly acceptable choice.
At the same time, the SteelSeries Arctis 5 and Razer Kraken Tournament Edition both offer similar features and comparable sound for $100 apiece. Before you open your wallet for the Cloud Alpha S, it's worth at least checking out those two as well.