Anyone daring to lay claim to the title of “serious gamer” has, at one point in their life, suffered at the hands of a pair of bad headphones. Whether it be poor sound quality, a cheap and static-ridden mic, or a frame so tight it causes migraines, horrible headsets have always found a way to plague the gaming experience. While there are plenty of manufacturers that provide decent audio gear, the inflated price for a passable product is sometimes staggering, and truly sets limits on those gamers who are not willing to shell out an amount of coin comparable to a down payment on a house. Enter the HyperX Cloud II, Kingtson’s latest compromise between what’s affordable and what’s acceptable.
How do they look, how do they feel?
Set on a brushed aluminum frame of varying colors (red, gunmetal, and limited edition pink) with leather, logo, and stitching to match, the Cloud IIs certainly resemble their Cloud I predecessors. The flexibility of the frame is reassuring from a wear-and-tear standpoint, and the amount of height adjustment afforded by the two ear pieces allows for a wide range of head sizes. With the cable and mic attached, the entire ensemble only weighs a shockingly light 0.7 pounds, and the amount of pressure from the headband is downright negligible.
The memory foam ear cups with the leatherette cover come with interchangeable velour replacements, and the leather headband cushion adds both stability and reprieve from the traditional “temple squeeze” that is characteristic of many current gaming headphones. However, the headband design and single cut of the earpiece arms unfortunately limit the Cloud II’s ability to fold up for convenient storage, especially when the thickly-braided (but very much appreciated) cable/extension comes into play. Even when stashed into the drawstring pouch included in the box, the entire package still seemed a little too bulky.
Apart from the headphones, which took up very little of the foam-happy packaging, the box itself included the aforementioned velour ear cups, the drawstring carry pouch, a USB audio control box, an attachable mic, and a mic/audio adapter. The mic, which plugs directly into the left earpiece, is easily the biggest downfall of the entire product. With so many other headphones offering retractable or adjustable mics, it baffles me as to why Kingston decided to make theirs an entirely separate piece. Not only could I lose the mic itself, but the tiny little cap that fits over the jack on the headphones could (and probably will) disappear completely. In terms of quality, however, the processed audio is crisp and loud, thus slightly making up for the physical inconvenience of having more than one piece to deal with.
The biggest crowd-pleaser (besides the asking price) that the Cloud IIs have to offer is definitely the USB audio control box. The controller itself connects to the computer via USB, and accepts the headphones with a 3.5mm jack. From there, users can adjust audio and microphone volume (with audible beeps to indicate volume level increases/decreases), mute the mic with a slider, and toggle the 7.1 surround sound with the press of a button. The entire device is small and easily navigated, and the red backlighting on the logo and 7.1 surround sound button give it a sleek design for low-light gaming. The additional length of cable included on the controller also make it appealing in terms of not being too tightly leashed to the computer at any point in time.
The best part about the USB controller, however, is the fact that it harbors a built-in DSP sound card, which means there is absolutely zero need to download any drivers or updates before using. Simply plug in the USB and get ready for some of the clearest sounding gunshots and zombie screams you’ve ever heard. While mucking about in Dying Light, I found myself constantly toggling between stereo and surround sound, just to hear and feel the massive difference between the two. Location-based sounds, such as footsteps or weather elements, actually felt immersive with the 7.1 virtual sound, and quite honestly I’m shocked that this isn’t already a standard feature for every current set of gaming headphones.
While it should be mentioned that the USB controller only works properly for PCs and Macs, the 3.5mm jack directly attached to the headphones allows for audio and mic compatibility with almost every other current gaming or music device. I spent a solid hour and a half just listening to music from my phone, and even after that, every movie I’ve watched on my laptop since then has been with the Cloud IIs, simply because the audio can’t be beat in terms of quality (for the appropriate price range).
The only thing that could compete with the Cloud II’s comfort and audio clarity in terms of excellent selling points would it’s price. Where headphones boasting fewer features and lesser quality may run up to (or exceed) $200.00, Kingston is willing to part with their new Cloud IIs for as little as $99.99, making them the ideal and affordable addition to any gamer’s collection of gear.