Release Notes is a series of articles through which I share my thoughts on new Interest Checks, Group Buys and general releases in the keyboard space. Keep in mind that I do not own these pieces of hardware and that information in this article may not be completely accurate. I will try my best to make sure that all information presented here is as accurate as possble.
Topre is a compromise.
Don’t get me wrong, Topre is my favorite switch of all time, but there are no Topre boards that fit my preferences to a T(opre) like custom MX boards can. Silly r/mk memes aside, here’s a list of my grievances with stock Topre boards:
- Switch plate material is limited to either plastic on the HHKB or steel on the Realforces/Leopolds (may change with Xondat’s XRF custom keyboard)
- Plate mounting system is limited to only integrated plate on the HHKB, psuedo-bottom mount on the Realforces and tray mount on the Realforces/Leopolds (also may change with the XRF)
- Case material is limited to plastic in every case (ha!) but the absurdly expensive HHKB Professional HG (there are third party cases for the Novatouch, Realforce, but only by one maker)
- Absolutely dumpster fire stabilizers that rattle even when lubed up and modded
- Generally uninspiring case design
- Keycap sets that only come with alpha-colored pipe/backslash and tilde/backtick keys
- Generally thin PBT dye-subs with clean but feathered legends
- Replacement keycap sets are limited to keycaps harvested from vintage/other Topre boards, mono-colored keycaps made for the Realforce that do not support all Topre boards, resin keycaps by third party manufacturers and cheap sets on Aliexpress/Taobao
Are these limitations really worth suffering through just for Topre? Some think so. But with this group buy for the Topre 9009 keyset by KBDFans, number 6 and 8 may no longer be in issue. The prospect of a better Topre experience excites me to no end.
Material: PBT with dye-sublimated legends
Pricing: Base Kit starts at $69, with additional kits ranging from $9 to $19 each and free standard shipping
Compatibility: Most current production Topre-stemmed boards (doesn’t support the Realforce R2, Realforce RGB and some 7u spacebar Realforces but support for those are coming soon!)
EDIT: KBDFans has added a 7u Spacebar kit!
Thickness: Approximately 1.2mm
Group Buy End Date: August 17th
Estimated Ship Date: October 17th
Group Buy Page: Link
Well, it’s 9009 like all the 9009s. I’m guessing KBDFans is going for this classic colorway as their first set because it’s a safe one to start with that people can easily buy into. 9009 is a tried and tested colorway that has been proven to sell well, even through their own store.
Not gonna lie, I just can’t get excited over 9009 anymore. It’s way overplayed in the keyboard space and we’re gonna get to a point where every enthusiast owns something 9009. But, I’m excited for the possibilities of custom colors in the future and this is probably contingent on the set selling well, so I’m okay with the colorway choice. The colorway choice is not a deterrent here.
Because I don’t have the keycaps in my hand right now, I cannot say with any certainty how good they are. But, based on the pictures on their website, which I believe to be pictures of actual prototype samples, they are very similar to stock Topre caps in terms of thickness, texture and sound. If standard Topre caps are of any indication, they will be thick enough but not great, be smooth enough but not Gateron/EnjoyPBT smooth and sound deep enough but not as deep as I would prefer. However, at the price point KBDFans plans on selling this set at, I’m more than willing to accept those shortcomings.
One area that I see an issue in is PBT defects around the edges of the keycaps. Unlike my stock HHKB and Realforce keycaps, I see some burrs and chips as circled in the picture above. This is an issue with many PBT keycap sets like EnjoyPBT/Gateron, KPRepublic and other stock PBT sets, and is probably a minor nitpick as they’re easy to sand down, but is an issue nonetheless.
Note that this is just what I see from their prototype pictures and that many things can change from their prototype samples to the finished product.
As seen in the photos, the legends in this set looks pretty decent but not anything to write home about. In general, their quality looks in line with the quality seen on stock Topre caps, just with better sharpness. Kerning also seems to be a non-issue on these caps; all the word legends are tight and evenly spaced. Well done.
Stock Topre keycaps can be characterized as having clean lines and flawless typography, but with significant feathering around the edges. As with stock Topre caps, these keycaps look like they have an issue with feathering, albeit a lot less of it. Peep these photos:
As far as I can tell, the feathering on these are not nearly as bad as the feathering on stock Topre caps. In the case of the stock Topre caps, feathering can be seen around every legend, while feathering only affects certain legends in the Topre 9009. An upgrade over stock Topre for sure.
This set also has the unproportionally short backspace arrow that plagued R1 of the EnjoyPBT 9009. I do expect this to be fixed just like in R2 of ePBT 9009, but I’m including this for completion sake.
Other miscellaneous legend issues are the tilted legends on right control and page down; the thinner-than-my-liking legends on the diamond key, menu key and number row keys; and the lack of side-printed legends like on the HHKB. But, I plan on bringing up the first two issues with KBDFans and I understand that not all Topre boards share the same function layer as the HHKB.
Again, many things could change from prototype phase to production phase (whether for the better or otherwise) so take this analysis with a grain of salt.
EDIT: It was brought to my attention by EnjoyPBT Black on White designer u/gok101 that the prototype Topre 9009 caps share the same legends (and errors!) in ePBT 9009 R1. This explains the disproportionally short backspace. This also means that the navigation cluster in the prototype Topre 9009 has misaligned arrow keys and other errors as seen here:
I’m excited, not just for this but for the future. KBDFans has historically been very good at addressing criticism and listening to customer feedback on what to run. With some improvement to the legends and potentially custom colors in future runs, this is a home run for KBDFans and a new frontier for Topre users. This, along with Xondat’s XRF, gives me hope that the Topre experience can be elevated to newer heights, and that Topre will no longer be a compromise but a choice.
At $69 for the Base Kit, this is an instant buy for me. If you’re interested in a set too, you can pick one up here.
Btw, KBDFans if you’re reading this, Topre Hi-Pro maybe?