The Fountain Valley, Calif.-based maker of memory products isn’t the sort of company that comes to mind when you think about cool products. For many consumers, the memory add-on devices that Kingston makes are a commodity. But 12 years ago, Kingston created its HyperX brand of high-end memory products for PC gamers. It invested heavily in that space, and today, it sponsors 22 different competitive e-sports teams across the globe.
Now the company has unveiled a couple of different versions of its headsets that it will begin promoting heavily this fall. That’s a bit of a surprise as Kingston is certainly big enough to enjoy its existing businesses. In 2010 (when its financial performance was called out), it had sales of $6.5 billion. And today, it employs 4,150 people.
But Kingston cares about gaming, and it has been trotting out headsets for a year and a half. And now its investment is getting deeper and deeper.
“The reason we are doing this is simple,” said Mark Tekunoff, the senior technology manager at HyperX. “Our focus for HyperX is the gaming market. We want to focus on it. We are not trying to become the mainstream consumer brand. We’re focusing on what we’re good at — selling high-performance products to gamers.”
At first, the HyperX division launched a relabeled product from headset maker SteelSeries, just to gauge demand.
But Kingston recently unveiled the HyperX Cloud White Edition, a $99 headset with a black-and-white color scheme designed for comfort. It has memory foam ear cushions, a soft leather-padded headband, leatherette-padded cups, and an over-the-ear closed-cup design — all designed for long gameplay sessions. It has 53 millimeter drivers producing the sound so you can hear dialogue, gunshots, and explosions clearly.
It also has a detachable microphone for when you want to just listen to music on smartphones and tablets. Kingston designed the headset so it can play enhanced bass and a wide range of sounds.
Tekunoff played a demo for me that started out with songs with lots of treble.Then he slowly added more bass with other songs.
The headset is a companion to the HyperX Cloud Black Edition launched in April, and it gives gamers more choice within the HyperX brand. The headsets work with the PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, smartphones, and tablets. They work with the Xbox One game console if you buy a special Microsoft dongle.
Kingston’s HyperX headsets are the official audio products for pro gamer teams such as the Intel Extreme Masters, Alliance, CNB E-sports Club, SK-Gaming, and Team Liquid. It takes a “sizable investment” to support those teams, according to Kingston.
“They are the brand evangelists for us,” Tekunoff said.
Tekunoff said that the HyperX division worked with Swedish manufacturer Qpad to design a headset for comfort, quality, and long gameplay sessions. The design has electrical, mechanical, and comfort features that set it apart. You can change the ear pads to leather pads if you want to have a near-soundproof experience. But if you want to be able to hear other people like your teammates, you can use the velour design.
The people who care about these features are the same sort of hardcore gamers who would spend a lot of money on the best memory products such as high-speed DDR3 memory, SSDs, and USB flash drives. Kingston believes there’s a lot of crossover, and that’s why it has moved into the market.
But it’s a crowded category with competitors like Turtle Beach, Logitech, Astro, and Plantronics. Tekunoff said the company will add an audio dongle that will allow players to enjoy 7.1 surround sound on their HyperX products. And over time, the company expects that it will make an internally designed and produced audio headset in the future, Tekunoff said.
The dedication to quality isn’t new at Kingston. The company was established in 1987 by founders John Tu and David Sun, two entrepreneurs whom I met when I worked at the Los Angeles Times in the 1990s. It consistently won awards for being one of the best companies to work for. In 1996, SoftBank bought 80 percent of Kingston for $1.5 billion. They bought the company back in 1998. After the acquisition deal happened, Tu and Sun gave $100 million to employees as bonuses. Now they’re giving gifts to gamers.