As I write this review, the other half of the screen is dedicated to Counter-Strike. Teams from across the world are converging at DreamHack Marseille to compete for their share of the $250,000 prize pool.
As well as practising for hours each day, these elite players rely on the best equipment money can buy… and most of them seem to be wearing a headset from HyperX. The Cloud Alpha seems to be the most common choice, and that’s exactly the headset we’re reviewing today. Let’s take a closer look at what gives this £70 headset its widespread appeal.
- HyperX Dual Chamber Drivers for more distinction and less distortion
- Signature award-winning HyperX comfort
- Durable aluminium frame with expanded headband
- Detachable braided cable with convenient in-line audio control
- Detachable noise-cancellation microphone
- Discord and TeamSpeak™ Certified
- Multi-platform compatibility
|Driver||Custom dynamic, 50mm with neodymium magnets|
|Type||Circumaural, closed back|
|Sound pressure level||98dBSPL/mW at 1kHz|
|Weight with mic & cable||336g|
|Cable length and type||Detachable headset cable (1.3m) + PC extension cable (2m)|
|Element||Electret condenser microphone|
The Cloud Alpha has a red and black design, with a distinctive red aluminium frame that attaches the ear cups to the headband and red stitching along the head band. The ear cushions and head band are both made from black leatherette, while a slim braided cable that connects the two earpieces.
Each earcup has a HyperX logo in red on the side. There is no RGB lighting to be speak of, so we’re looking at a 3.5mm headset rather than a USB one. The headphones don’t swivel or fold for easy portability, as they are instead intended for use primarily at your PC.
Unlike the earlier Cloud II, the Alpha has a detachable audio cable that runs from the bottom of the left earcup. This means that if the cable fails, perhaps because you’ve run over it too many times in your gamer chair, you can swap it out for another one.
The audio cable comes in two parts. You can use just the first section for smartphones and laptops with a single 3.5mm port, and the full cable for PCs and laptops with individual mic and headphone ports. There’s an in-line remote about half-way along the first cable, allowing you to adjust the headset’s volume or mute the microphone.
The microphone can also be detached or removed depending on your preference, providing a cleaner look (and a slightly lighter weight) for times when you’re using the headset for listening to music or when you have a desktop mic. It also means that if the mic fails, you can just swap out that single part — awesome.
A small soft bag is provided with the headset for travel use, which should provide limited protection but will at least keep your Cloud Alpha clean.
As well as what comes in the box, you can find replacement HyperX parts and accessories online for reasonable prices. You can pick up velour ear cushions which should provide a wider sound stage, replacement cables, microphones and USB sound cards.
Overall, the Cloud Alpha looks and feels like a very well-built headset, and I have no doubts that these headphones should survive for years, even for users that don’t always treat their audio equipment with respect.
We tested the Cloud Alpha for a two week period, largely using it for shooters like Counter-Strike, Radical Heights, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Ring of Elysium on PC. We also listened to music while working and watched a few episodes of Sherlock to test the headphones in non-gaming scenarios.
We largely used the headphones hooked up to the computer via a Cambridge Audio DACMAGIC XS, to ensure that our sound card’s quality didn’t affect the result. We also tried the headphones briefly hooked directly to our motherboard’s 3.5mm input and via a PS4 controller input. Here are our thoughts at the conclusion of the review period, from audio and mic quality to comfort and usability.
The Cloud Alpha headphones have a narrow to average sound stage, courtesy of the closed back design of the headphones, while the large drivers provide noticeable bass response and excellent clarity in the mids and treble. The bass is a little muddy in some bombastic scenes, and some loud and high sounds can be overly shrill, but neither issue was enough to distract from the action at hand. It’s hard to say how much of the strong audio performance is down to the ‘dual chamber’ design shown in the diagram below, but whatever HyperX are doing, it’s working.
The headphones’ passive noise isolation is quite impressive, allowing you to block out the outside world and focus on what’s happening on-screen. This is great for anyone that plays in a shared space, whether you want to avoid disturbing others or vice versa.
The lack of a 7.1 surround sound mode is absolutely fine in my book. I find it easier to pinpoint opponents in Counter-Strike or PUBG while using a good pair of stereo headphones than any surround sound headphones that I’ve tried, and you’re of course free to use software like Razer Surround to achieve this if you do want it.
The Cloud Alpha is better sounding than the earlier Cloud II to my ears, but remain firmly in the realm of ‘good gaming headphones’ rather than ‘good headphones’. If you’re primarily going to be listening to music instead of gaming, I’d recommend something from Sennheiser or AKG. However, for headphones that can handle both tasks, the Cloud Alpha is definitely a strong choice, particularly if you’re going to be using them in a noisy environment where that passive noise cancellation really helps.
The HyperX Cloud Alpha’s microphone is nothing particularly special; just a short but bendy microphone with a furry cover that can be positioned in front of your face. The quality of the microphone is unremarkable; more than sufficient for clear communications in all but the loudest of environments, but not suitable for professional-grade activities like streaming or recording a podcast.
I found that the volume levels were a little low out of the gate, so it’s worth checking your setup before wondering why your teammates didn’t hear you in that critical moment.
HyperX make a big deal of the comfort provided by the ‘softer, more pliable leatherette’ ear cushions and expanded aluminium frame for those with ‘larger head sizes’. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the Cloud Alpha comfortable at all, as my ears started to ache after less than an hour of gameplay.
Part of this might be due to the weight — these headphones weigh 298 grams without the microphone or audio cable attached, compared to 246 grams for my usual Sennheiser HD 598 SE.
The fit of the ear cushions around my ears also didn’t feel ideal; the relatively small circumference of the ear cushions meant that my ears felt squashed into the hard surface of the driver.
Some users online have recommended swapping out the standard ear pads for after-market models to solve this problem, and HyperX offer velour ear pads as well. However, other visitors to XSR HQ didn’t experience discomfort after similar usage periods, so changing the ear pads may not be necessary for you depending on your physiology.
Despite my discomfort, the Cloud Alpha wasn’t a complete wash. The soft headband remained comfortable for hours, and the headphones didn’t feel as tightly clamped to my head as I’ve experienced on some other headphones. The range of adjustability of the headphones was also impressive, and should allow for basically anyone to get a secure fit.
If you don’t find that you get sore ears as I did, then the Cloud Alpha should be a comfy headset that you can use for hours.
When it comes to usability, there are two features that we’re looking at in particular: the headset’s buttons and its cabling. The in-line remote is placed intelligently and works well; I particularly like the fact that you can spin the volume wheel from either side of the remote. The mute switch is also easy to grasp, although there’s no indicator on the headphones themselves that the volume is muted which may lead to some mistakes.
In general, I like to see controls built into the earcups as I find these easier to locate while playing, but for an in-line remote this one is fine. Similarly, I prefer a rigid microphone that can be flipped away to mute it, as this is more intuitive to me, but the Cloud Alpha’s bendy and removable microphone works just fine and allows for easier repairs. Removing the mic also drops 14 grams from the weight of the headset, which is nice if you’re using a desktop microphone like a Blue Yeti.
Finally, the cables provided here are pretty handy. The short cable works great with the USB DAC to reach the front of the PC, and I can use the same cable with a smartphone or laptop. I can also use both sections of the cable together if I needed to plug into the back of a PC, or if I wanted to be able to move around a little bit without taking the headset off. Nice.
Conclusion & Score
The Cloud Alpha makes a strong case for itself as one of the best gaming headsets for under £100.
The distinctive design and rugged build quality set these headphones apart immediately, eschewing trends like 7.1 surround sound and RGB lighting for something that will actually make a difference every day. The Alpha’s audio reproduction is also excellent for a gaming headset, offering good bass response and clear highs and mids. Even usability is impressive, with a sensible in-line remote and removable (and therefore replaceable) components throughout.
The only issue we encountered in our testing was that of comfort, as my ears felt sore after less than an hour of gameplay despite multiple readjustments. However, other testers didn’t experience similar issues and found the headset comfortable.
Ultimately, the Cloud Alpha’s popularity amongst pro gamers feels well deserved. This headset manages to nail the essentials and ditch the fad features to hit a reasonable price point.