HyperX's Cloud Alpha is the first gaming headset with dual-chamber drivers -- one dedicated to bass and the other for mids and highs -- designed to deliver a fuller sound. But that's not what you'll first notice about the Cloud Alpha. No, the salient takeaway is comfort. My ears have never known such luxury.
That's a blessing in the gaming-headset world, where many headsets feel heavy and tight. But the Cloud Alpha doesn't just float like a butterfly, its audio also packs a punch comparable to its less-graceful competition. Plus, it's just $99 ($169, £59), less expensive than similar offerings from the likes of Razer, Logitech and Plantronics.
HyperX, a subsidiary of Kingston, has a somewhat confusing lineup of headsets. There's the Cloud Stinger, a lightweight plastic model for gamers on a budget; the top-of-the-line Cloud Revolver (stereo) and Revolver S (Dolby surround); and the midrange Cloud models, which consist of different bundles (such as cords with different inline controls) based around the Cloud Core (stereo) and Cloud II (virtual 7.1 surround). The Cloud Alpha falls between the Stinger and the Cloud Core in that middle group. Unlike the similarly priced Cloud II, the Cloud Alpha doesn't have 7.1 surround sound, and it doesn't come with replaceable earcups.
It's hard to definitively tell how much of a difference the dual-chamber design makes, but I was pleasantly surprised by the audio quality of the Cloud Alpha. The battlefields of Overwatch were vibrant with sound: Gunshots and player catchphrases (I hate you forever, Tracer) were crisp, and explosions and thuds were deep but never distorted. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was an intimidating experience, with skirmishes audible terrifyingly loud and clear from the distance.
In keeping with the whole "comfort of a cloud" deal, the Alpha's removable microphone is flexible, meaning it can be more easily adjusted than a fixed mic. It's a nice touch, as is its detachability. The mic itself is noise canceling and Discord- and TeamSpeak-certified, and does a decent job of blocking out background sounds and the clacking of your keyboard -- though mechanical keyboards can be tough to cancel out.
But what makes the Cloud Alpha headset such a good choice is that it easily doubles as "lifestyle headphones." Most gaming headsets are often either too heavy or too gaudy-looking to be taken out and about, and some of the remaining ones are disqualified by having a mic that can't be detached or a USB input. The headset certainly stands out -- many of HyperX's products have distinct red and black design -- but they're no flashier than Beats so they shouldn't raise eyebrows on the train.
If you've got a big gaming budget, there are better headsets out there. HyperX's Revolver models are worth a look, as are some of Razer's high-end offerings like the Tiamat 7.1 V2. But the Cloud Alpha gives you more bang for the 99 bucks it asks for, and is worth considering if you don't need higher-end features such as an onboard amp, wireless operation or colorful LEDs.