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HyperX’s Cloud Stinger 2 is what budget greatness looks like

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2

MSRP $50.00

“The HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is just a great gaming headset. The fact that it’s only $50 is the cherry on top.”

Pros

  • Supremely comfortable
  • Solid microphone quality
  • Great audio quality and positioning
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • The wire locks out some devices

All too often in the world of the best gaming headsets, it’s all about features at the cost of price. Sure, headsets like the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro provide active noise cancellation (ANC) and a foot rub. But $350? For a headset? You could spend more on them than on a console (or even a graphics card in some cases).

HyperX’s latest Cloud Stinger 2 headset breaks that trend by getting back to basics. It’s only $50, and given the smash success of the original version, I wasn’t surprised to find that it in the areas that truly matter, it competes with even the best (and most expensive) headsets around.

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 specs

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2
Drivers 50mm neodymium magnet
Form factor Over ear, closed back
Frequency response 10Hz – 28kHz
Frame material Plastic
Ear cushion material Memory foam with leatherette cover
Microphone Bi-directional, noise-cancelling condenser microphone / Flip to mute
Weight 0.6 pounds
Wireless No
Connections 3.5mm (splitter included)
Surround sound Virtual (DTS Headphone:X)
Platform support PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Suggested price $50

Not too little, not too much

HyperX logo on the Cloud Stinger 2 headset.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Let’s take stock of the current market of gaming headsets. If you’re looking for a wired headset below $100, there are a few options you’ll land on: The Astro A10, SteelSeries Arctis 1, Logitech G335, and HyperX’s own CloudX. The Logitech headset is $70, the CloudX and Astro A10 are both $60, and the Arctis 1 is $50.

Normally, there’s quite a divide between a $50 headset and one in the $70 to $80 range. $20 is all that separates the SteelSeries Arctis 1 and Arctis 3, for example, but it’s hard to overstate just much nicer the build quality is on the Arctis 3. An extra $20 or $30 has traditionally made all the difference.

The Cloud Stinger 2 stands out because it brings a host of those higher tier features down to the $50 mark. DTS Headphone:X is what stands out most. This spatial audio software normally runs $20 on its own (you get a code with the Cloud Stinger 2), and you won’t find it on the Arctis 1 or the Astro A10. It’s not true 7.1 surround sound, but DTS Headphone:X helps a lot for spatial audio in competitive games like Call of Duty: Warzone and Rainbow Six Siege.

In fairness to the rest of the market, the Cloud Stinger 2 isn’t the first headset under $50 with DTS Headphone:X. The original Cloud Stinger had it, and the Logitech G432 supports the software, too.  Most don’t, however, and the Cloud Stinger 2 has plenty going for it otherwise to make it stand out from the crowd.

True comfort

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 earcup with microphone.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Even a couple days after launch, one of the key complaints with the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is that it feels cheap. It doesn’t. It feels comfortable. It’s true that the Cloud Stinger 2 has an all-plastic construction, but that means it’s extremely light. At only 0.6 pounds, it’s not a stretch to say that the Cloud Stinger 2 makes it feel like you’re barely wearing a headset at all.

This revision is more flexible than the original, as well. It looks more like the HyperX Cloud headset now, with floppy adjustment points that allow you to position the headset perfectly within seconds. The original version has the same points of adjustment, but the thick plastic shell made them a bit more difficult to adjust.

It’s a slight improvement, but the real improvements come when compared to the rest of the market. This became clear when I used the Cloud Stinger 2 next to the Alienware Tri-Mode Wireless Headset. Alienware’s headset is over $200, but the tiny drivers irritate the inside of my ears and the ear cushion is too thin. Similarly, the SteelSeries Arctis 7, also over $200, has too tight of a clamping force and rigid headband adjustments. No matter what headset I used, I defaulted back to the Cloud Stinger 2 for comfort.

On paper, there’s no doubt that the SteelSeries Arctis 7 and Alienware Tri-Mode Wireless beat the Cloud Stinger 2. They both are wireless, for one, and they come with a slew of additional features. But when it comes time to spend a few hours raiding in Destiny 2 or finishing my Ultra Nightmare run in Doom Eternal, comfort is king. The Cloud Stinger 2 beats headsets that cost four or even five times as much in comfort, and the sound can go toe-to-toe.

Premium sound

Connection cable for the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 headset.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Cloud Stinger 2 doesn’t sound as good as a headset that costs $200 or $300, but it’s close. The extra money doesn’t buy you more premium drivers in many cases, instead going toward wireless and features like RGB lighting and ANC. By stripping away those features, the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 is able to offer highly competitive sound quality at a fraction of the price.

My go-to headset has been the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless, which only sounds slightly better than the Cloud Stinger 2 despite costing $200. You’re getting a less sensitive driver overall, not as dynamic, but Cloud Stinger 2 still has the same profile tuned for minute sounds in games that you’re getting with the Cloud Alpha Wireless, as well as similar frequency response due to the size.

In the heat of taking down War Priest in Destiny 2, it’s tough to say that more expensive headphones earn their keep in sound quality. With DTS Headphone:X at the helm, the Cloud Stinger 2 sounds damn close and still provides plenty of clarity across the frequency spectrum. I’ve been using them for just over a week for my day-to-day gaming, and I plan to continue using them.

Should you buy the HyperX Cloud Stinger 2?

HyperX Cloud Stinger 2 sitting on a countertop.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive headset that does basically everything right, the Cloud Stinger 2 is for you. It manages features that are normally reserved for more expensive headsets, comfort that even the top gaming headsets can’t match, and sound quality that goes toe-to-toe with the best headsets around.

Unless you really need wireless, the Cloud Stinger 2 is a testament that you can get a great headset without spending a lot of money. It’s the sweet spot, and proof that $50 is all you need to spend for a top-notch gaming experience.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

Polk’s Reserve R200 is budget hi-fi greatness

Polk Audio, the American speaker company known for making hi-fi speakers at non-absurd prices, announced the Reserve series back in March. Shortly thereafter reviews flooded the web singing the speakers’ praises, particularly their bang for your buck.

Naturally, I had to get my hands on a pair myself to see what all the hype was about — and put the speaker through the test bench. I chose the Reserve R200, the $700/pair bookshelf model with a 6.5-inch woofer. While $700 may not sound all that cheap to people who aren’t into speakers, it’s basically a budget speaker when you consider most of the really good options retail for closer to $2000.

As TNW’s resident audio nerd, I need to see the data behind a speaker before I’m confident making a recommendation. If you’ve read my post on why speaker measurements matter, then you know that listening impressions can be fickle things, easily affected by biases and expectations. Having been an audiophile for a decade or so now, I know that reviews tend to become more positive in proportion to a speaker’s price. Unfortunately, sound quality and price barely have any correlation.

That’s why I’m always excited to see a speaker that punches well above its price class, and the R200 does just that. The R200’s measured performance shows excellent performance by almost any standard, easily going head-to-head with speakers two or three times its price.

It isn’t flawless — few speakers are — but the R200 is a prime example of sensible design decisions to maximize sound quality at a reasonable price. You won’t find crazy newfangled technology or materials here, just carefully thought out engineering.

This isn’t going to be your typical speaker review. Rather than spending 10,000 words describing different facets of the sound — there are plenty of reviewers more eloquent than me out there — I’m going to mainly focus on the data. Still, I should give you a summary of my thoughts before we jump in.

What does it sound like?

I spent about a week listening to the Reserve R200 before I measured them, and my overwhelming impression was that they pretty much disappeared — that they were nearly transparent. It may be the most neutral 6.5-inch bookshelf speaker I’ve heard under $1,000.

They also have a solid bass extension for their size, and their soundstage is pretty great too. It’s not too narrow, not too wide— vocals snap to the center but the speaker throws out a sizeable soundstage without sounding too diffuse. Dynamics are excellent for a bookshelf speaker too, and the R200 can handle volumes louder than I’m comfortable with without a hitch.

It’s just a really good speaker. The R200 isn’t just competing against other sub-$1000 bookshelf speakers; I think its performance is fully comparable to top-of-the-line $2,000-ish speakers like the KEF R3 and JBL HDI-1600 — and it’s certainly the better value. My benchmark for performance-per-dollar has long been the $1000/€700 Focal Chora 806, but the R200 gives that a run for its money too.

Sound aside, I also appreciate the understated, fairly minimalistic design. The matte black review unit I received is perhaps a little plain, but the white and wood finishes look classy and a bit more modern. Keep in mind the speaker is quite deeper than it looks in photos, about 14 inches.

What, that’s it?

Yep, that’s pretty much all you need to know. Although we reviewers often like to shower compliments on speakers we like, I’ve increasingly found the best speakers aren’t the ones worth the most praise, but rather the ones that have the fewest flaws.

The R200 has very few flaws that I could hear in my setup. But sure, I can nitpick a bit.

The R200 might sound a little bright if you aim it right at your ears, especially if you’re young and still have all your hearing left. It also can be slightly more finicky about positioning than some of the very best speakers I’ve tested, as the sound can change fairly noticeably depending on how the speaker is angled. But aim the tweeter at ear height and slightly away from your listening position — about 10-20 degrees off-axis, perhaps pointing straight forward — and you’re good to go.

The speaker might also sound ever so slightly forward with some vocals, but I personally like the effect on most tracks. And though it has a bit more bass extension than average, it’s nothing like you might find on a DSP-enabled speaker like the (much more expensive but similarly sized) Buchardt A500. As always, you might have to experiment with positioning to find the best bass balance in your room, or better yet, use a subwoofer and Room EQ.

But again, that’s all quite nitpicky.

Alright, get to the graphs already. I know you want to.

If you want to make a speaker that will sound great to most people, there are two things you really need to optimize: frequency response and directivity. The frequency response tells us the basic tonal balance of a speaker before the influence of reflections, and it should be mostly flat. The directivity tells us how that frequency response changes in different directions; the speaker should change smoothly as you move off-axis.

The directivity is important because the reflections off your walls, floor, and ceiling all contribute to the final sound you hear in your room. If you want a speaker to sound really good — to create that realistic soundstage that makes it feel like you’re watching a live performance — then the reflections off your wall should be similar to the direct sound.

We can figure all that stuff out by creating a graph called a spinorama. I capture the speaker’s response at 70 (not a typo) horizontal and vertical angles and combine all that information into one graph. Behold:

 

I explain what all of this means in the spinorama section of my measurements guide, but we can focus on a few key things here.

See the white and green lines above? Those represent the frequency response of the ‘direct’ sound — before reflections — with the green line being the ‘on-axis’ response and the white being the ‘listening window.’

The on-axis line shows off what the speaker sounds like when the speaker is aimed exactly at you (in this case, at tweeter height). The listening window gives us a small average of a few horizontal and vertical angles to account for the fact that people don’t sit perfectly centered in front of a speaker all the time, and that you might not aim the speakers directly at your listening position. It is usually the more representative curve for what you hear in a living room setup, so that’s what I tend to focus on.

Here the R200 shines: it is ridiculously flat. The listening window is one of the flattest I’ve measured, especially for a speaker without any kind of DSP processing to help it out.

It’s the type of performance you’d expect from a high-end studio monitor, not a $700 pair of speakers from a fairly mainstream audio company. The rise in the last bit of the on-axis does tell us that the R200 may sound a little bright when listened to head-on, but you can simply point the speakers slightly away from you — about 10-20 degrees seems optimal — to balance out the sound.

Next, we can look at the purple line. This is the ‘predicted in-room response.’ It applies different weights to each of the 70 angles measured to estimate what the speaker’s response will be like in a typical living room (yes, living rooms vary a lot, but it’s still a surprisingly good metric).

We want this line to be flattish too, except with a downward tilt:

 

Here the R200 also shows very good performance. There’s a bit of a dip around the 3 kHz crossover —where the woofer hands off the sound to the tweeter — but this is common among speakers with separate woofers and tweeters. The R200 performs almost as good as any speaker I’ve measured on this metric as well.

With just these two lines, we know the R200 is very likely going to have a neutral, largely balanced tonality in most rooms. It’s good stuff.

The bottom red (directivity index or DI) and blue (early reflections directivity index or ERDI) curves summarize the speaker’s directivity. These would ideally be a smooth rising line, so they are not exactly great on the R200.

However, they consider both a speaker’s vertical and horizontal response. While the R200 has a flawed vertical response (again, like most speakers), it has a good horizontal response, which is far more important for creating a good soundstage. The yellow line above isolates just the horizontal portion of the ERDI, and we can see this line is much smoother. That tells us that the speaker will likely have a good soundstage even though its vertical response may be finicky.

This spinorama also tells us that the R200 appears to be mostly free of major resonances that color the sound; this would show up as a bump that stands out in each of the top curves, and can contribute to a speaker sounding boomy or having a grating sound at specific frequencies. Knowing for sure would require an anechoic chamber or advanced tools I don’t have access to, but within the resolution of my system, the R200 performs admirably.

For comparison, here’s how the $1,800 JBL HDI-1600 performs:

While the JBL has a bit better overall directivity, its response is also less linear than the R200’s.

The spinorama gives us the big picture, but we can get a bit more granular using. For example, we can further break down the horizontal response by checking out what the reflections off the walls in front, to the sides, and behind the speaker might look like:

There’s a little bunching around 3-5kHz for the sidewall reflections, which may be why I found vocals to sound a tad forward, but you can see the total horizontal reflections balance out nicely to a linear response in the dotted yellow line.

Breaking things down further, we can see how the R200’s response changes in 10-degree increments horizontally:

In this graph, you can see how by 10-20 degrees off-axis, that little bit of brightness at the top of the speaker’s response has largely flatted out; if you want the flattest response, you should probably listen about 15 degrees off-axis. You can also see that above 6kHz, the tweeter’s response drops off steeply, which may be why the speaker can be a bit sensitive about positioning. On the other hand, it also means you can ‘tune’ the speaker’s brightness to your taste with positioning.

This isn’t the cleanest horizontal directivity I’ve ever seen, but the vast majority of the speakers that perform better have a narrower soundstage. There’s usually a trade-off between soundstage width and precision, and the R200 toes the line expertly. Among wider directivity speakers I’ve tested, only the Focal Chora 806 performs better.

Now we turn to the biggest flaw on the R200 (and most other speakers): its vertical response. First, we can see that the speaker is quite sensitive to being at the perfect ear height.

Ideally, the tweeter should be at just about ear height, within ±5 degrees. Being 10 degrees above or below the tweeter may noticeably alter the sound. That shouldn’t be an issue for most setups, but it’s worth noting if you can’t set your speakers up at ear height or if you listen to the speakers from less than 2m or 6 feet.

Next we can look at the estimated vertical reflections.

We can see some vertical dips, as is typical for speakers with separate tweeters and woofers. This is the portion that messes up the speaker’s response the most. Luckily, the vertical response doesn’t have a major effect on the soundstage, and despite these results, the end result is still very balanced, as shown with the predicted in-room response, so I wouldn’t worry about these anomalies too much.

That said, it does mean that the R200’s sound might vary a little more from room to room than speakers with better-controlled verticals. Whhile hear the presence bump as forward vocals, you might hear a recession where the response dips. Polk might’ve been able to improve the vertical response by using a larger waveguide that would allow for a smoother transition between the woofer and tweeter, but that might’ve had the sometimes negative effect of narrowing the soundstage too. While the vertical response is a notable flaw, it’s unlikely to be a major issue in most setups.

All these words are just to reiterate the headline; the Polk Reserve R200 is not just a fantastic deal — it’s a really solid speaker at almost any price. Though no one can guarantee you’ll like a speaker, I can at least tell you that you’re getting more than your money’s worth with the R200. Its refreshing to see such thoughtful engineering on a speaker in this price range.

And yes, I’d bet that you probably will like it. A lot. It has my fullest recommendation — especially considering it probably won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

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MacBook Pro 2021 leaks a return to greatness

This week a set of leaks suggest that the 2021 version of the MacBook Pro will bring back some long-lost must-have features. Where the MacBook Pro used to come with a variety of ports: USB, HDMI, headphone jack, and SD-card included. With the latest data leak on the next MacBook Pro release from Apple, it would seem that we could get at least SOME of that variety back later this year.

Per the latest set of leaks, there’s a good chance that we’ll get a full-sized HDMI port, a MagSafe connector for power, USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, and an SD card slot. The MagSafe tips also suggested that the Touch Bar would not be included in at least one version of the newest MacBook Pro for 2021. We’ve also been hearing for a while that Mini-LED displays will be delivered to the MacBook Pro, but those may not appear until 2022.

If we look back to Ming-Chi Kuo earlier this year, we see a MacBook Pro with HDMI output and an SD card reader. HDMI would be provided by a full-sized HDMI port, suggested Kuo, and an SD card reader would bring the MacBook Pro back to form… almost.

It’s unlikely we’ll see the headphone jack return to the MacBook Pro, regardless of the return of a couple other previously-removed ports. That is, unless we believe the hype delivered by leaked documentation from April of this year. In files leaked then, the next MacBook Pro was shown with 3x USB-C, Touch-ID (in the upper right-hand corner of the keyboard), a full-sized HDMI port, Magsafe power supply, and a headphone jack.

It’s unlikely we’ll see a 17-inch MacBook Pro in the year 2021, but the possibility of a larger machine remains for the future. At the moment, we’re expecting that the next MacBook series will be released in Autumn of 2021. Cross your fingers for as many ports as Apple can fit!

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Computing

Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook is a shiny red bid for greatness

Samsung never had to make the Galaxy Chromebook—a thin, light, and beautiful convertible laptop with a price to match. The company is doing just fine churning out the low-end Chromebook models that dominate sales on Amazon. Why mess with a good thing?

The fact that Samsung has made the Galaxy Chromebook anyway signals that the company is ready to join the small, but scrappy movement to make premium Google laptops. And if Samsung is joining up when it doesn’t have to, maybe this movement is finally a thing.

A Chromebook that makes a statement

Announced Monday at CES in Las Vegas, the Galaxy Chromebook will be available in Q1 2020, with a starting price of $1,000. That makes it one of the most expensive Chromebooks you could buy. Other vendors have tried to play in this space, and there’s rarely been any traction.

Samsung and Google executives who briefed journalists before CES, however, said the world was ready. Chromebook users were clamoring for better machines—larger displays, faster hardware, more stylish design.

Samsung has truly committed to the style part by offering a Fiesta Red-colored Galaxy Chromebook (pictured above) that could only be called a statement piece. Maybe the other available color, Mercury Gray, is the safe option, but a shiny red laptop is just the kind of desirable object that could draw more people toward premium Chromebooks. 

samsung galaxy chromebook gray front angleMelissa Riofrio/IDG

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook comes in a conventional Mercury Gray color (shown) along with the gutsy Fiesta Red alternative.

Later, Samsung’s Stephen Hawke acknowledged to PCWorld that cheap Chromebooks continued to dominate. He turned it into a positive, saying, “we’re comfortable playing at both the low end and the high end.” Hawke reiterated that the number of users looking for premium Chromebooks was growing. “People are asking for better experiences and are willing to pay for it.”

Based on the specs alone, the Galaxy Chromebook would make most mainstream users pretty happy. The Core i5 U part (from Intel’s 10nm 10th-gen Ice Lake line—state of the art) is the go-to CPU for productivity computing; the RAM and storage are generous; and then, of course, there’s the gorgeous display. It’s all sheathed in a durable aluminum chassis with a soft, smooth, and slightly sparkly finish. Here are the other details we know: 

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U
  • RAM: Up to 16GB LPDDR3
  • Display: 13.3-inch 4K (3840×2160) AMOLED touchscreen
  • Storage: Up to 1TB SSD
samsung galaxy chromebook red left sideMelissa Riofrio/IDG

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook’s left side includes the audio jack and one of two USB-C ports. 

  • Ports: Two USB-C, UFS/microSD combo port, audio jack
  • Networking: Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+), 802.11ax
  • Battery: 49.2Wh, estimated to last 10 hours
  • Dimensions: 11.91 x 8 x 0.39 inches
samsung galaxy chromebook gray right sideMelissa Riofrio/IDG

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook’s right side including a UFS/microSD slot, the power button, one of two USB-C ports, and the pen, tucked into its garage. 

  • Weight: 2.29 pounds
  • Colors: Fiesta Red and Mercury Gray
  • Price: Starting at $1,000

There’s one spec in particular to note: battery life. That 4K display may look fantastic, but we’ve seen such high-res screens take down other laptops’ longevity by as much as one-third. 

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