The sound and the fury
HyperX's choice of large 50mm drivers tip off the company’s priorities when designing the sound signature of the Stinger. Bass is overemphasized compared to these cans' midrange, but sounds towards the top of the audio frequency band are reproduced faithfully enough. The gunshots in Superhot, my favorite game of 2016, were satisfying, and the high-pitched tinkling sound of my opponents shattering as I slashed them with katanas and pummeled them with baseball bats was intense. Blowing up Satan's minions in the Saints Row IV expansion Gat Out of Hell was similarly satisfying. I have no complaints at all about the Revolvers' sound during gameplay.
I also gave the Stinger a shot for non-gaming tasks. Watching episodes of HBO’s Hard Knocks was enjoyable with the Stinger on. I'd say the bass of the hip-hop soundtrack and the impacts of player collisions practically explode through the headset. Action movie aficionados and rap and pop music will love this headset. Audiophiles and lovers of subtlety may wish to look elsewhere, perhaps outside the gaming headset market entirely. The Stinger is not a substitute for audiophile headphones, and Audio-Technica shoppers will likely be disappointed. My decade-old pair of entry-level Sennheiser HD 201 headphones offered more accuracy and balance when listening to a FLAC recording of Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel… than the Stinger did. The Sennheisers sell for about $30 these days, but the HyperX Stinger adds a microphone and superior overall design and build quality. The Stinger’s audio quality was quite similar overall to an older Razer Carcharias headset I borrowed from a friend for a point of comparison.
Although we don't usually worry about impedance in a gaming headset, it's worth noting that the Stinger's sensitivity was higher than that of my creaky Sennheisers at 30Ω. Most consumer headsets ring in at 16Ω. Perhaps thanks to this unusual figure, the headphone jack of my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 lacked the power to drive the Stinger to full volume. When paired with the meager output of a generic Bluetooth audio receiver I sometimes use to watch videos in bed after my wife falls asleep, the Stinger produced just enough volume for late-night TV viewing. Use the Stinger with a reasonably powerful source, or prepare for disappointment.
HyperX says the microphone has passive noise cancellation features, and the opening on the front of the microphone boom lends credence to this claim. The microphone did a pretty good job of rejecting noise from system fans and a sump pump motor in my basement when making audio recordings. In keeping with TR tradition, I've recorded three separate sound samples so you can hear what the Stinger sounds like compared to the Razer headset I borrowed and a generic model I have lying around.
Here's the HyperX:
And the Razer:
And my generic headset:
While none of these contenders are going to record a Grammy-winning album, the Cloud Stinger's mic does the job without any major notable flaws. We've heard worse from more expensive hardware.
Overall, I think the HyperX Cloud Stinger delivers a compelling gaming-headset package for $50. The bass of these cans does overshadow the midrange output of the drivers, but a headset obtained by trading a single green wallet-size portrait of Ulysses S. Grant can’t be expected to deliver perfection. I had three non-audio related digs against the Stinger, though all of my complaints are minor ones. The combined length of the integral cable and the included extension was far too long to use with my laptop, so gamers the over-ear design and vinyl-and-foam construction of the ear cups made my ears quite sweaty, and the contact of my ear tips with the barely-padded plastic speaker grilles was fatiguing after long periods.
Those minor issues are personal beefs for the most part, though. The design of the Stinger is conventional, but HyperX was content to avoid fixing what isn’t broken, unlike some more adventurous headsets. The overall aesthetic of the headset is subdued compared to the garish colors and angular design of some competitors. The microphone boom is really the only characteristic that obviously marks the Stinger as a gaming headset. The soft foam, high degree of articulation, and low clamping force of the band made the headset comfortable whether the Stinger was over my ears or around my neck. For $50, the Cloud Stinger had ample opportunity to go wrong, but HyperX successfully walked the budget tightrope and delivered a solid gaming headset for the money. If you want to get into the game on a budget, the Cloud Stinger comes TR Recommended.