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.
In recent times, keyboard design has devolved into just differences in aesthetic choices and layouts rather than improvements to the core features of a keyboard like typing feel and sound. Top/tray mount, brass plate and rectangular brass weight together is a combination of features that will make a good keyboard, but it’s not anything significantly different from any other custom keyboard. It’s not that appearances are not important to me — I love a nice looking keyboard and I was enamored by the Modern M0110 — but as a mechanical engineer I love the #keyboardscience part of things more.
Thus, when the Keycult No.1 was first teased on Geekhack in 2017, keyboard enthusiasts collectively nutted all at once. It was the first time I got excited over a new keyboard in a long time. A small group buy of 20 units was announced, built and delivered. Subsequently, the pictures that flooded the Internet made keyboard enthusiasts all over the world drool.
After months of delays, OCO posted this update a few days ago, saying that a soft launch of TypeMachina is imminent. As such, here is why I think this keyboard is special and deserves your attention. *but please let me checkout before you do when the day comes*
Case: Aluminum 3-Part Case
Plate: Brass, Aluminum (the private group buy had a partial polycarbonate plate option, but the TM release will only have Brass and Alu)
Plate Mounting System: Sandwich Mount with Gaskets
Weight: Aluminum or Brass Weight Integrated with Midlayer
Lift Angle: 9.5 degrees
Layout Support: Winkeyless and Winkey Tenkeyless
PCB Compatibility: TX87
Price: TBD (the private GB in 2017 costed ~$300, but release price should be more than that — insert joke about OCO tax)
Group Buy Date: SoonT(ype)M(achina)
Geekhack Teaser: Link
Plate Mounting System
One of the coolest (but not necessarily new) features of the No.1 is its sandwich mount with gaskets (aka gasket mount) plate mounting system. Found only on two other keyboards ever, the OTD 356mini v1 (check out pr0ximity’s awesome guide, Anthony’s Unboxing and Let’s Build) and the Meme, legend has it that this mounting system produces the ‘best’ bottom out sound and typing feel on a keyboard. This is widely believed to be because the rubber gaskets serve as dampeners to remove any unwanted reverberations, creating a clean and singular bottom out sound that’s free of plate rattle within the case. The gaskets also add a compression on the plate to create a tighter sandwich construction within the case. However, it has also been argued that the effect the gasket has on typing feel and sound (if any) in the case of the 356mini may not have been an intentional design choice on the part of the OTD designers.
Regardless, the designer of the keyboard obviously took some inspiration from the gasket in the 356mini when designing the No.1 and took it to the next level. This can be seen in the different ways the gaskets are implemented between the two boards. On the 356mini, the gasket is a large rubber o-ring wrapping around the outermost switches between the plate and PCB while resting on top of a ledge on the bottom plate. As the case is screwed tight, the gasket compresses and flattens on the ledge, pulling the plate towards the bottom case and creating a sandwich seal. On the No.1, the gasket tabs rest on the top part of the plate, with space between the top case and the plate. As the case is screwed in, the gasket compresses, causing the top case and bottom case to sandwich the plate between them. Here’s a crude diagram I drew up explaining the two:
While different, the gasket mount is a feature that should be explored further in the custom keyboard world and I’m glad to see riotonthebay taking this on with the No.1. I’m excited to see how the keyboard sounds and feels when I get this keyboard in.
One other thing that’s special about the plate is that there are through cuts surrounding the alpha cluster, presumably to introduce flex during bottom out. This is also a feature which has its roots in the early Korean custom keyboard scene and keyboard enthusiasts have speculated that this not only creates a cushioned typing feel but also improves the acoustics of the bottom out. I’m no audio engineer, but this sounds to me like we’re entering psuedo-science territory and I’m going to have to test it out myself to figure out if it’s true. Still, it’s interesting that the designer is trying out different methods to create a better typing experience.
The weight design in the No.1 is another feature that stands out above the rest in my opinion. Too often have we seen the keyboard weight be an afterthought in the keyboard design process, with many manufacturers opting to go for a standard rectangular weight. While a weight like that does its job (adds heft and changes the acoustic properties), it’s boring.
In the No.1, the ‘weight’ is a solid weight & midlayer combination that shows through the bottom, the sides and the back of the keyboard. What an absolute madlad riotonthebay is for trying this, but boy is it interesting. This design feature not only functions as a weight but also a visual interest on the side to break up the mass of the side profile. It’s also an excellent way of dealing with the side seam problem that many two-part cases face. Genius. I’m sure that this weight design will add heft to the keyboard, but I’m not sure how this design will affect its sound.
Through this keyboard, riotonthebay drew upon the ideas put forth by the Korean keyboard Gods while putting their own spin on things. This synthesis of ideas has created a marvelous piece of gear that I believe is a strong contender for custom keyboard of the year. While I prefer keyboard layouts with centered alphas (60s, 65s and 75s), this keyboard is different (and interesting!) enough that I will get my first custom TKL.
Huge thanks to designer riotonthebay for providing the information I needed to complete the article.
EDIT 1: Section on fit and finish of the keyboard was removed due to potential inaccuracies in the reporting.
EDIT 2: Added the argument that the OTD 356mini’s gasket may not be as important as widely believed to be