Gaming headphones and headsets are serious business, especially for players on the PC. While everyone used to sport cheap PC speakers next to their CRT monitors, the demands and expectations of PC gamers has lifted the hobby into new heights across all input and output devices. Everyone has incredibly nice HD monitors, lightning fast GPUs, and a collection of cutting edge games to go along with them. The technology behind PC sound reproduction has advanced as well. While some still use dedicated speakers, home theater setups, or studio monitors for their PC sound, most gamers have moved to using headphones or dedicated gaming headsets. Kingston’s HyperX brand has provided affordable performance to gamers for years, but are now set to unleash their first wireless gaming headset into the world, the HyperX Cloud Flight.
Digging Into the Box
The Cloud Flight headset is pretty much what you would expect as you begin to remove it from the packaging. It is all-black pair of headphones with red HyperX branding on each ear cup and red wires peaking out from the space between the cups and the headband. Included in the package is a 3.5mm boom mic, which attaches to the left cup. Also provided is a micro-USB charging cable and a male-to-male 3.5mm cable so that the headset can be used without the included USB bluetooth dongle or if you plan on pairing the Cloud Flight with the Xbox One controller 3.5mm jack.
As for build quality, the Cloud Flight is an all-plastic affair, which is in line with the price category it competes in. Both cups offer around 90 degrees of swivel in a clockwise direction. This allows you to lay the headset slightly flatter on a table or possibly hold them up for some DJ-style one ear monitoring. The red HyperX logos on each cup are backlit with LEDs that come to life each time the headset is powered on in wireless mode. The lights have a few different modes that are set by pressing the power button a few times. Disappointingly, whatever mode you prefer the LEDs to operate in is lost every time the headset powers off, so you must toggle the unit to your preferred mode every single time you use them (or even after they power themselves off after brief intervals of inactivity).
The Cloud Flight’s drivers are covered by a thin piece of foam and surrounded by pleather ear pads. The headset features a closed-back design. When this design is paired with the pleather pads, the clamping force on the headset works to provide some isolation for outside sounds. The effect is not as pronounced as you would find on dedicated noise-cancelling headphones, but the Cloud Flight is not meant for that task, so it’s no big deal. As I prefer open-backed headphones, it took me a long time to adjust to the quirks of a closed-back, sealed setup. I found it very hard to hear myself speaking on Teamspeak as the seal caused the higher frequencies of my voice to be attenuated and I felt like the lower frequencies were being amplified resonating inside my head. I was never sure how loud I was talking compared to normal. The mic works, but the volume is very low and my friends had issues hearing me the entire time I used it. The software driver offers no mic gain adjustment. I found the wireless range to be acceptable, but audio would drop out once I got more than ten to twelve feet away from the receiver. My dreams of sitting on the toilet and talking to my friends on Teamspeak still go unfulfilled.
Taking My Game Wireless
I gave the Cloud Flight headset a spin on the PS4 and PC. On both platforms, getting started was as simple as plugging in the included bluetooth USB dongle and performing a long press on the power button of the left cup. On the PC, Windows automatically installed and configured whatever drivers were needed to make the headset work in a snap. The headset appeared in my Sounds and Recording Devices tabs and were ready to use. There is no other software or controls for the unit outside of what you’ll encounter in the Windows sound settings window. When you use the volume control wheel on the right cup, a small black window will pop up on your monitor indicating the volume level. In some cases, the driver will recognize audio output from different applications and provide additional information or graphics. I’m not sure of what the full software compatibility list includes, but it worked automatically with the Spotify desktop client. This pop-up did not appear in fullscreen gaming, but I did have it appear and annoy me while playing some games in windowed fullscreen mode.
For the purposes of this review, I chose to compare the Cloud Flight headset to the headphones or headsets I currently own or have used extensively in the past. These units include:
- Samson SR850 Stereo Headphones (~$30)
- Audio Technica ATH-M50 Stereo Headphones (~$100) *Discontinued
- Audio Technica ATH-AD700 (~$100) *Discontinued
- Logitech G930 Wireless Headset (~$150) *Discontinued
- HyperX Cloud II (~$90)
- Sennheiser HD598 (~$140)
Strapping Myself In
An important part of enjoying a set of headphones or a headset is comfort. You may find yourself wearing these things for long gaming sessions, movies, or listening to music while browsing the web. As a disclaimer, I have a bad case of stupid head. It is big, like really big. I often find that many sets of headphones provide an uncomfortable amount of clamp that prevents me from using them for any extended period of time. I can safely say that the Cloud Flight headset was able to accomodate my gourd without causing stress right off the bat. Compared to the Logitech G35 and G930 headsets I previously owned, the Cloud Flight was a real improvement in the comfort department.
I am not a big fan of pleather ear pads, as they cause my ears to get too warm and even make my head sweat while gaming or listening. While I absolutely love the sound I get from the Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones, their clamp and pleather ear pads means that I cannot wear them for more than 20-30 minutes at a time. Because the clamp was not bad on the Cloud Flight, I was able to wear them for around 90 minutes before the pleather pads had made my ears so hot I had to take a break. In comparison, the Samson SR850s and Sennheiser HD598s, with their open design and velour ear pads, made me forget I was wearing anything while playing. On the far end of the comfort spectrum in the Audio Technica ATH-AD series, which are so comfortable it feels like your headphones are giving you a backrub.
Sliding Off The Runway
In my opinion, the most important factor in deciding on which headphone to use is sound quality. Great sound quality will allow me to tolerate discomfort (at least in short doses, as proved by the previously mentioned ATH-M50s). Poor sound quality simply takes me out of the game, album, or movie I would normally be enjoying. For gaming alone, the Cloud Flight headset performs adequately. Positional audio works the way it should and I had no trouble using audio cues to find enemy players in PUBG. While I prefer the larger soundstage provided by open-backed headphones, at no time did I feel like the closed Cloud Flights were impairing my play. Most sound effects were spot on and the closed-backed design of the headset helped to emphasize the lower frequencies heard in explosions or from certain types of gunfire. To be honest, reproducing sound effects and typical game audio is not incredibly demanding on most headphones. For what the Cloud Flight headset costs, I found it disappointing that it does not offer a superior game experience when paired against a decent $30 set of headphones, though it was no worse than the Logitech G35/G930. I feel that the HyperX Cloud II headset offers a better level of quality when it comes to game audio.
For anyone who cares about music in the slightest, the Cloud Flight is a big let down. I auditioned the headset using a variety of albums using Spotify’s high quality streaming option and using some 24bit/96Khz recordings via foobar2000 (that had to be resampled anyway since the Cloud Flight dongle only supports up to 16bit/48KHz output). I listened to an array of offerings, mostly in the rock, metal, pop, and rap genres. I found recordings that were already full of distortion to be passable and the Cloud Flight did well enough to hide some faults on some songs that were poorly recorded to begin with. For any well-mastered recordings, the HyperX headset really struggled. I heard lots of sibilance in the upper registers of female and male vocals, as well as with any cymbals. Instrument separation was also poor, where the kick drum in a rock recording could cause the volume of other instruments to fade. Airy recordings with strings simply lacked the small details I expected to hear. I did find music performance from the Cloud Flight to be better than what you can get from the Logitech G35/G930 (which are abysmal), but even incredibly affordable headphones like the Samson SR850 simply do everything better when it comes to music reproduction. As with game audio, I found the HyperX Cloud II headset to be much better sounding than the Cloud Flight for music.
I was worried that the wireless bluetooth transmission of the audio could be the culprit for some of the lackluster music reproduction from the Cloud Flight, so I hooked the headset up via the included 3.5mm cable. My wired signal chain includes a Schiit Modi USB DAC and Schiit Magni 3 headphone amplifier. When used in a wired configuration, music reproduction is definitely improved. The biggest benefit I heard was to instrument separation. Every instrument was able to shine through on busy recordings and I was able to reach volume levels well above what I got in the wireless configuration. It did not fix the sibilance issues and whatever headphone drivers are contained within the Cloud Flight are still not able to provide all the background details, but it brings the headset much closer to the level of quality I hear in the HyperX Cloud II.
Kingston built up the HyperX brand on the backs of high-value products for gamers that punched above their weight class. Their HyperX Cloud II headset stood alone for years as pretty much the only affordable “gaming” headset that could provide a really enjoyable music listening experience. It endeared them to audiophiles who wanted the convenience of a gaming headset without having to sacrifice the performance they were used to in their dedicated listening setups. The HyperX Cloud Flight headset is an attempt to bring that experience into the wireless realm and it succeeds in many of the things it set out to do. The headset is fairly comfortable, even to someone like me who shies away from closed-back, pleather pad configurations. The initial setup procedure could not be any easier. Battery life was excellent in my opinion. I let the unit fully charge before using it over a weekend of long gaming and music listening sessions and it never showed signs of running low on juice. With its micro-USB port, you can charge it up just about anywhere and get right into the game.
Obviously, moving from wired to wireless will bring some compromises to the end product. Some of my gripes with the sound quality of the Cloud Flight headset can be chalked up to quirks with bluetooth transmission or how much power is used to drive the headphones while worrying about battery life. For most of the entire time I used the Cloud Flight, I felt myself looking for more volume. It performed better when used in the wired configuration, but doing that kind of defeats the purpose. I understand that many users do not care about listening to music at all and those folks should put no weight into my thoughts on that. If you only care about the games and you find the headset comfortable, go for it. For the $160 price tag that the Cloud Flight currently carries, it finds itself in shark infested waters full of strong competition. It fails to offer the outstanding value of its legendary wired cousin, the HyperX Cloud II. I find it hard to recommend the Cloud Flight, even if the wireless function is most important to you. There are competitors that sell for almost $100 less that can give you a decent gaming experience in a wireless headset. Without the ability to offer strong music reproduction performance, the Cloud Flight only fits the bill if you love the look or the feel.
This review unit was provided by the manufacturer. The HyperX Cloud Flight Wireless Headset works with PS4, PC, and Xbox One (with 3.5mm adapter). The headset currently retails for $159.99