The HyperX Cloud Stinger is the latest entry into the popular Cloud line of gaming headsets. As a refresher, the HyperX headset lineup includes the $80 Cloud, the $100 Cloud II, and the top-of-the-line, $120 Cloud Revolver. The Stinger takes the Cloud line to the $50 price point generally inhabited by headsets with questionable build quality, low-fidelity audio, and microphones that will remind users of the early days of cellular phones. We wanted to see whether the Stinger was different, and HyperX was kind enough to send us an example headset for us to put through the wringer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a budget headset, the Stinger is constructed primarily from black plastic. The only elements of the headset that aren’t black are the large red HyperX logos on each ear cup and the steel slider that is exposed if the user’s head is large enough to require the headset to expand from its most compacted form.
The headphones are intended to contact the user at the same three points most headphones do: the pair of ear cups and the top band. All three surfaces are composed of a soft vinyl-like substance backed by a thick layer of cushioning foam. The interiors of the ear cups were about 3/4” deep, 2-3/4” tall, and 1-1/2” wide. Large-eared users might make contact with the black fabric covering the hard plastic grilles protecting the 50mm drivers. The contact isn’t immediately unpleasant, but it can become annoying over time. These cans weigh in at just under ten ounces (275g). I never found the headset’s weight to be annoying, even after wearing it for a long time. The relatively light weight and the entirely conventional design of the headset probably play some role in permitting the unobtrusive clamping force of the band.
The combination of thick foam and vinyl around the earcups helped keep the Stinger’s head pressure under control, though the over-ear design and thick materials made my ears quite sweaty after wearing the Stinger for extended periods of time. Gamers condemned by their families to cool basements may appreciate the added warmth, but others probably won’t like it.
The steel slider in the band allows twelve notches on either side of the headsets to accommodate a wide variety of head sizes. I wear a size 7-3/8 fitted hat and found the headset most comfortable when each side was adjusted to the fifth notch. The adjustment notches are well-defined and the headset doesn’t fall out of adjustment easily, even when it’s jerked around or removed from the head with one hand.
The cups are mounted to the band with swivels capable of spinning just over ninety degrees. The swivels allow the cups to conform to the user’s head better, but the primary reason for the twistiness is for stowing the headset when it’s not in use. The ear cups rotate to rest on the users’ clavicles when the headphones are worn around the neck. In this position, the ear cups won’t brush against a user’s manly beard or delicate cheeks like they would without the swivel. The rotated position makes the headset very slightly more compact for storage, though someone would have to have a very particularly-sized storage location for this feature to be of much practical use.
The Stinger’s microphone is mounted to the left ear cup on a boom made of a flexible rubbery plastic material. The headset’s marketing materials say this flexibility allows for a more tailored position, though in my experience with the Stinger, the boom can hold two positions: very close to the mouth or very far away. The boom swings up and down, as well, so it’s reasonably simple to find a comfortable position for the mic within its limited range of adjustment.
When the microphone is swung up roughly parallel with the band, the boom provides a tactile, audible click as the microphone is muted. The control over microphone functionality was far superior to that in the pricier Corsair Void Surround headset we reviewed a while back. A detachable microphone could have saved me from savage ridicule from housemates as I wore the Stinger while performing chores around the house, but its absence is forgivable at the price point.
The right ear cup sports a volume slider made from the same hard plastic as the rest of the headset. The potentiometer underneath didn’t introduce any additional noise to the headphones’ output while I manipulated it, though the driver in the right ear cup did cut out when the slider was adjusted near its minimum volume position. The volume slider is convenient and intuitive, and represents a welcome improvement over in-line volume sliders used on some other gaming headsets. In my opinion, the slider should have had a splash of color, perhaps the red from HyperX logo on the ear cups, in order to make it a little more obvious.
A 51″ (1.3m) cable coated in flexible rubber sprouts from a less-flexible reinforcement in the left ear cup and terminates in a plain-looking, four-pole 1/8” (3.5mm) mini jack. Detachable cables and gold-plated connectors apparently don’t make the cut in the $50 price bracket. The cord is thick enough to feel substantial, and handling the cable during playback does not introduce noise to the headset the way that braided cables sometimes can.
The headset cable is an appropriate length for connecting to a 3.5mm-jack-equipped Xbox One, PS4, or Wii U controller, but is much too short for use with a gaming desktop PC sitting on the floor next to the user’s desk. I also tried the Stinger with a laptop, and I still found the integrated cord to be a bit too short. Thankfully, HyperX includes a 67” extension cable ending in a pair of 1/8” minijacks for audio input and output. The three-yard total length of the headphone cable and the extension proved ungainly, however. Laptop gamers will want to invest in some Velcro straps to tie up the excess cabling, particularly if their laptop can’t natively accept the four-pole connector on the integrated cable.
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.