Alex Audio Awards 2018: Best Gaming Headset of the Year
I reviewed a lot of great gaming headsets this year, so this category will have one winner and some runners-up.
I’ve never been more surprised by a gaming headset product…except for maybe the first time I tried a HyperX Cloud II.
Turtle Beach is known for wildly variable build quality in their cheaper headsets, and solid work on their premium gear. The Elite Atlas is the perfect mid-point, bringing the feature set of their Elite lineup to a more affordable price point, while retaining most of the good things about its build quality, sound signature, and comfort. And even adding some improvements of its own.
I love the sound signature. I love the comfort. I love the magnetically-attached pads and ear cup shells. I love the detachable cable system. I love the microphone. Its only flaw is a too-short cable, that I’m taking every excuse to mention in the hopes that they make it longer in a future revision.
It has a larger-than-average head profile, and its slight lack of adjustability means it might not work for the largest heads in the world, ironically. But the Elite Atlas is easily the most gaming headset you can get for $99, and also the best. At least right now. With how quickly the market moves, that could change three days from now.
If the Elite Atlas hadn’t come along this year, the G Pro would be the bang-for-the-buck winner. It too combines premium features into a shell that was improved from its more-expensive G433 predecessor. It too has a great sound, a great microphone, and a nice detachable cable. The G Pro isn’t quite as comfy as the Elite Atlas, and it doesn’t wear its durability on its sleeve as well. But it’s still an awesome product. And for only $89.
SteelSeries worked with an outside research firm to create their best-sounding headset, mimicking the audio profiles of popular enthusiast headphones, and then paired their new creation with a well-designed DAC/Amp combo.
But then, they gave their premium product a premium $250 price point, putting it against the heavily-iterated and much-beloved Astro A40. Then, they focused all of the marketing on hi-res audio, a feature of dubious utility at best that also happens to be supported by zero video games. And they gave the GameDAC a USB connection port…only to later sell a standalone version that came with a standard 3.5mm jack adapter, leaving owners of the original kit in the dust as far as expandability.
On the one hand, getting an end-to-end hi-res audio chain for $250 is totally fine and good, and if you know you need that, this is one of the best choices on the market.
On the other hand, that’s not going to be helpful to most gamers. The included DTS Headphone X 2.0 implementation is good…but offers no adjustability or room profiles. The microphone is the same mic from the cheaper Arctis models. And the sound signature, while well-crafted, doesn’t dramatically outdo the sonic performance of the HyperX Cloud Alpha or the Elite Atlas.
The Arctis Pro line targets a very specific niche, and it does that very well. If SteelSeries had either toned down their hi-res marketing message, or launched alongside a game that supported the feature…that would have been better!
I’ve wanted a wireless HyperX headset for the last three years.
When the Cloud Flight launched…I was frustrated by it. It used the design language from a much cheaper headset, and was then priced $10 above competing products on the market.
Maybe one day I’ll get over myself and review that pair.
But before I could do that, HyperX launched the Cloud Mix. Finally, I thought, a wireless Cloud that uses Bluetooth, and the same design as the classic totally-not-Beyerdynamic-ripoffs that were the Takstar Pro 80s/original Clouds.
HyperX made only a couple of choices that I view as mistakes.
They kept the same warm, creamy-yet-detailed sound signature from the Cloud Alpha. That part was good. But they made the headset about 10 percent smaller, cutting out just a hint of comfort in the process. The ear pad diameters aren’t as big as they used to be, and the headband isn’t as fancy.
And if you’re the sort of person that worries about driver size…they’re smaller here.
The other weird choice is the price. At a default of $199, it’s up against some serious competition, including the equally-good-sounding and slightly-more-comfy wired Cloud Alpha. That’s half the price.
I’ve seen these go on sale a few times for $150 now, and honestly, that’s the price these and the Flights should have both launched at. Hopefully the hi-res audio certification these also have didn’t do too much to inflate the price.
Recently, HyperX has further complicated their increasingly-full lineup by introducing the HyperX Cloud Stinger Wireless, a $99 budget wireless pair designed mostly for PS4 gamers. That one looks very interesting, and I’m hoping to do a review in the new year.
That’s it for my fake audio awards. I’ve got a few more articles planned before I take a short holiday break. Thank you for reading! Happy Holidays!