Headphone Showdown: HyperX Cloud Alpha VS Plantronics RIG 400
It's Monday, and it's time for the headphone showdown!
Today, it's the best-sounding $49 gaming headset vs the best-sounding $99 gaming headset.
The answer to "Which is better?" is not as simple as you might think!
HyperX Cloud Alpha
The Cloud Alpha is HyperX's just-released followup to the classic Cloud and Cloud II. The Cloud II dominated the headset market for years, and the Alpha looks to take that crown away. HyperX threw out almost everything about the old model, which was actually a re-branded Takstar Pro 80. The design has been refreshed. The ear pads are new. The drivers are new. The ear cups are new. The cable is now detachable.
And the mic is kind of the same as it always was.
Plantronics RIG 400
The RIG 400 has been around for a while and comes in about a million different versions. Some come with regular headbands, others come with suspension headbands. Some have Xbox branding, others have PS4 branding, and others have no branding at all.
All of these models are built on the RIG modular headband system, which offers a wide level of compatibility with a wide variety of RIG headset parts. It's really easy to snap parts in and out of the headband. Even though the 400 is the entry-level model, it still offers exceptional sound quality and comfort.
And a surprisingly good microphone for the price.
This is not a terribly fair category. The HyperX Cloud Alpha is better. It has deeper bass, more natural mids, crisp highs, and a "clean" overall signature that you could use to listen to just about anything.
HyperX's biggest investment into updating the Cloud lineup comes in the form of their new "Dual Chamber" ear cups. Basically, they've split the ear cup into two chambers to help capture the different frequencies emitted by the driver, and accurately reproduce them with low distortion. It seems sort of like a gimmick on first glance...but in practice it works startlingly well. I'm still impressed by the sound of my Alpha's every time I put them on.
Now, the RIG 400 still has excellent sound, particularly for the price. The bass is not as deeply resonant as the HyperX model, and the overall tone isn't quite as impressively clean...but it still presents a very natural, pleasant, accurate sound with plenty of high end excitement. The sound is a touch more open overall, thanks to its less-isolating ear cups, and I love that Plantronics publishes a frequency response graph for all of their gaming products.
These are both the best headsets in their pricing tiers as far as providing clean, natural, accurate sound. I have zero complaints about how either one sounds, in a vacuum. In direct comparison, I like the extra oomph and resolution of the Cloud Alphas a bit more.
The Cloud Alpha isolates much better due to its leatherette pads, and the soundstage on the two headsets is about the same.
WINNER: Cloud Alpha
Here's where things start to get interesting. Both of these are in the top tier, as far as comfort goes. I should mention I've only tried the suspension headband version of the RIG 400, and not the standard headband version.
The RIG is light, floaty, and practically disappears on the head. In spite of having circular ear cups, they still encompass my ears quite well and they don't pinch or push down at all. It feels like I'm wearing almost nothing.
HyperX is no stranger to comfort. They proudly proclaim that they use a special blend ofmemory foam in all of their products. I wish more headphone and headset companies would care about comfort the way HyperX does.
The Cloud Alpha has amazingly soft leatherette on top of its memory foam. It's so soft that I enjoy just feeling it, and I've noticed it doesn't collect sweat as much as other leatherette materials I've worn in the past.
Its headband is nice and plush, and manages to float on the head almost as well as the suspension strap on the RIG.
Each headset has some very minor comfort drawbacks. The Cloud Alpha's ear pad holes are ample in size, but not that deep. So it's likely that the inside of the cup will gently touch your ears.
The RIG 400 only has three positions to slot the ear cups into on its modular headband, so you might have a tough time getting the right fit depending on your head size. I have to use the biggest option. It too is going to touch your ears a bit thanks to the circular cups.
For me, both of these headsets are exceptional to wear even for long sessions. I don't notice their minimal touching of my ears after a few minutes, and neither one is overly heavy or sweaty. your mileage may vary depending on your specific tastes!
HyperX's design is based on an iconic studio classic. Plantronics' design is...a weird thing full of angles.
The original HyperX Cloud was based on the Takstar Pro 80, which itself was based on Beyerdynamic's excellent DT 770 Pro 80. It has a classic studio look from the 80's, with aluminum forks holding the ear cups to a metal headband. It has exposed wires going into each cup, and big plus ear pads.
The Cloud Alpha keeps this same basic design. Now, however, the whole thing is a little larger to accommodate bigger heads. The aluminum forks have holes cut in them for a more modern look, and to reduce weight. The cords are still exposed...but the main cable now detaches. It's an improvement to the Cloud II in every way.
I only wish it came in more colors.
The RIG series has a weird look with angles everywhere that don't seem to serve a purpose. It's clearly geared towards a younger userbase that wants a product which screams "gamer." And that's fine for some people...but it was kind of a turn-off for me for a long time.
I do really like the modularity. Everything snaps together and apart very easily, with satisfying clicking sounds. So points for that.
The RIG 400 mic detaches, but the cables for audio do not. And there are two of them.
WINNER: Cloud Alpha
Again, HyperX's build is pretty classic. Aluminum headband, forks, and ear cup backs. Rubberized and high grade plastic. There's not much here to complain about unless you're worried about snagging those exposed wires coming out of each cup.
My Cloud Alpha has a slightly looser adjustment mechanism on the left side than on the right...but I've had this same issue with almost every headphone I've owned that uses this sort of design, and I could probably tighten the screws on that side to even it out if I ever felt like tinkering.
The RIG 400 feels cheap when you first pick it up...but I actually like the way it's built. The headband frame is quite flexible, and although the thing has almost no weight to it...it doesn't feel like it'll snap in half very easily. Plus, the modular nature means I don't have to worry about something breaking, because it's easy to replace individual parts.
HyperX's build is better overall. But The RIG 400 is stronger than its first impression. And again, the Cloud Alpha costs twice as much.
WINNER: Cloud Alpha
Plantronics includes a better mic with the RIG 400.
This is going to be a thorn in HyperX's side for a while. Not because the Cloud Alpha's mic is bad, but because there are so many other better ones out there at affordable prices.
The one nod I'll give to the Cloud Alpha's mic is that it's very good at cancelling out background noise. But it has a slightly tinny, slightly artificial sound to it that doesn't really line up with all the other amazing things about the headset.
The RIG 400's mic is pretty good, and better than I'd expect from a $49 gaming product. I guess that shouldn't surprise me, since Plantronics has made communication headsets for years. It has a rather natural sound to it, with only a touch of an artificial feel holding it back.
If you forced me to pick based solely on the mic quality, I'd always go with the RIG 400.
WINNER: RIG 400
HyperX gives you a free bag with the Cloud Alpha, and a nice braided cable with a good in-line volume wheel and a mic mute switch. You also get the removable mic.
The RIG 400 comes with a removable mic...and that's it. All the parts will detach from the headband if you want to swap things out with a different RIG model, and that's cool.
Neither one comes with any fancy USB dongles or processing software. Certain RIG 400's do come with a free Dolby Atmos unlock code right now, so if you're on Windows 10 or Xbox One, you might seek out those models. But otherwise the headset is rather bare bones.
WINNER: Cloud Alpha, mostly for the carrying bag
OVERALL WINNER: HyperX Cloud Alpha
So, of course the $99 headset is better than the $49 headset. Case closed, right?
I mean yes, if we look solely at sound quality, the Cloud Alpha is indeed better. But the gulf is not that wide. And the RIG 400 provides exceptional comfort, a better mic, and has a cool modular design.
The Cloud Alpha has better isolation, incredibly soft materials, a better design and build, and a detachable cable. And its sound really is amazing.
But you'll be happy with either of these. The RIG 400 shows that you can spend a little and get a lot of sound...and it's exactly the sort of product that makes it tough for me to answer people's headphone questions.
No one would expect an angular-looking incredibly-light headset like the RIG 400 to perform as well as it does. No one would expect the Cloud Alpha, a headset that looks so much like the Cloud II, to perform so much better. And the Cloud II was no slouch.
Marketing and perception are both inextricably linked with quality in people's minds. This is why Beats are so popular. Furthermore, not everyone is going to think that something sounds good just because I think it sounds good.
So, the absolute best advice I can give you is to go listen to headphones! And buy from a place with a good return policy! Don't buy the latest hyped-up thing expecting it to blow your mind. And don't be afraid to try some of the cheaper stuff. Both of the headsets in this article have impressed me more than several $200+ pairs of headphones.