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Gamers would love this new virtual surround headset, if not for one painful flaw

HyperX's Cloud Alpha S headset is likeable, but it's not good to wear all day.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

HyperX's latest variation of its excellent Cloud Alpha gaming headset, the $130 Cloud Alpha S, adds noise canceling to the mic's repertoire. It also introduces a better version of the in-line HyperX Amp USB sound card, now dubbed the USB Audio Control Mixer -- it still delivers 7.1 virtual surround at the touch of a button, now with the much-needed ability to change game/chat balance as well. But somewhere along the way, HyperX also turned the extremely comfortable Cloud Alpha design into a literal pain to wear.

The company is known for its lightweight, all-day-wearable headset designs, but the Cloud Alpha S isn't one of them. It's not clear why, but in less than 15 minutes my colleague Josh Goldman developed noticeable jaw pain. They made my ears feel like the pressure in my head had increased to an intolerable level (possibly because of chronic sinus issues), which dropped noticeably after removing them. 

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The new in-line USB Audio Control Mixer adds game/chat balance controls and has a mic mute button on the side. When active, the 7.1 and mute buttons light up. I wish the others illuminated as well to see them in the dark or had a more pronounced feel to differentiate them.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's possible both problems stem from the new "breathable" leatherette ear cups. The headset ships with a spare pair of fabric-covered cushions, something I wish I'd remembered before I threw the box out.

Aside from that small issue, for which your mileage may vary, it's a really nice headset. It has the same great sound as its forebear, and adds independent, three-position bass control switches on each side that produce a perceptible increase (or decrease). The removable mic is slightly more sensitive than the earlier Cloud Alpha's and the audio quality is pretty good -- a little tinny for podcasting, thanks to the noise canceling, but certainly good enough for streaming. And when you're speaking, it does audibly decrease the sound of keyboard pounding in the background.

Whether or not you believe 7.1 virtual surround, which converts surround sound to stereo, is worth it, HyperX's did produce more dimensionality over traditional stereo sound, most importantly without muffling or decreased volume. In practice that didn't seem to translate into being able to track enemies sneaking up from specific directions, though. The volume can get pretty loud in general.