Holy Trinity of Kustoms Part 1: TX by kin25

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Introduction

If you know anything about custom mechanical keyboards at all, you probably would have heard of TX keyboards. TX is a custom keyboard brand based in Korea that has been active since 2014. The man behind TX is kin25 (or KI-N25), a prominent community member in KBDLab, a famous keyboard builder and owner of one of the best custom keyboard collections in the world.

Kin25’s goal with TX is to produce cheap, accessible and good keyboards for the custom keyboard enthusiast who isn’t willing to pay LZ and Duck money for them. Because TX is known for being one of the most accessible Korean custom kits you can get (you can actually buy one from them right now, unlike Duck, LZ, Lyn etc.), many custom keyboard enthusiasts have owned a TX keyboard. In fact, I would argue that a rite of passage into custom keyboard superfandom is through owning a keyboard from them.

If you can’t tell already, I love TX keyboards and I love the good work kin25 and LZ have been putting out. While many others would believe that TX is the keyboard maker most likely to get booted from the Holy Trinity when a new challenger comes in, I’d argue that they have the safest position out of the three. TX/Kin25 had a shaky start when they first entered the western keyboard market, but since then TX has developed into one of the best keyboard makers around and is well-deserving of the acclaim.

History

In 2014, kin25 ran an interest check on KBDLab (later cross-posted to Geekhack) for what was TX’s first custom keyboard, the TX-1800. The TX-1800 was a full aluminum custom keyboard kit modeled after the Cherry G80-1800, and was announced at a time when larger keyboards were more the norm than the exception. The keyboard (and all the keyboards up to the TX-1800v2) was designed together with LifeZone of LZ keyboard fame. According to kin25 himself, the 1800 layout of the alpha cluster, function row, arrow cluster, numpad and the additional 8 keys above the numpad was his personal favorite, and that inspired him to produce the TX-1800.

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The group buy was eventually run both in Korea and on geekhack for the western market (one of the earliest Korean group buys offered directly to non-Korean customers) for $335 (+$70 for NA shipping) and was sold alongside a PBT dye-sublimated to set by LYN3. Instead of collecting the full amount upfront like most group buy runners do, kin25 decided to only collect a $100 deposit to start.

Unfortunately, there were many issues caused by the factory that happened out of kin25’s control like dents, anodizing flaws, scratches, machine marks and stains. As such, kin25 decided to sell the boards without flaws at the full initial price, and the boards with some slight flaws (B-stock) at a discounted $225. Kin25 also offered the option of a full refund if anyone in the group buy wanted to opt out.

It was all fine and dandy and most geekhack users were appeased by that decision, until kin25 disappeared from geekhack for a 7 month period (August 4th, ’15 – March 1st, ’16) while still remaining active on the Korean-only KBDLab. This caused a lot of distress among the people who joined his GB, with some even straight up calling him a scammer.

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While that was all happening, kin25 ran the TX-87 ($308 for the aluminum-bottomed version, $275 for the polycarbonate-bottomed version), TX-84 and TX-Pad ($154 for alu bottom, $137.5 for PC bottom) in a Korea-only group buy. The order collecting and fulfillment period of that group buy happening in the months that kin25 was away from geekhack and that angered many a geekhack user.

It wasn’t until yuktsi (back then a notable geekhack member, now known as the person behind TGR) got involved to facilitate the group buy that people were feeling better about the process. Yuktsi essentially took over the group buy process, helping kin25 collect the money as an escrow and only sending money to kin25 after the board has been shipped out. As a token of apology, kin25 shipped the TX-1800 with an updated PCB that had RGB support.

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Eventually, everyone (supposedly except one person who disappeared from contact) got either an A-stock board, a discounted B-stock board or a full refund. However, there was still some resentment in the community for the long delay and kin25 decided to stay away from geekhack for a bit.

A few months later, on behalf of kin25, yuktsi ran the group buy for the TX-CP ($320 + $75 shipping) on geekhack for the non-Korean market. People who knew about the TX-1800 problems took to the reply section to warn about TX, but the buy ran smoothly with very few hiccups.

Learning from the TX-1800 buy, kin25 decided to change the way his board was to be distributed. Instead of the typical group buy style, Kin25 chose to front the money first to produce the boards, then have them in-stock to sell. This ensures that the keyboard he sells all are up to par and the ‘X60 problem’ of forcing group buy participants to pick from defective boards doesn’t reoccur. Using this method, kin25 ran the TX-75 ($280 + $70 shipping) and TX-87/TX-84 for the non-Korean market very successfully with yuktsi’s help.

EDIT: Changed ‘Xondat Problem’ to ‘X60 Problem’ as I felt that the problem wasn’t necessarily with the person but with the group buy.

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After those successful, back-to-back buys, trust in kin25 was generally restored. Following that, kin25 produced and sold keyboards like the TX-1800v2 ($375 + $80 shipping), TX-CP R2, TX60 ($350 + $68 shipping), TX65 ($360 + $68 shipping) and TX84se ($500 + $95 shipping) through the same keyboards-in-stock method, this time without yuktsi’s help. This brought the number of successful buys kin25 has done to a total of 9.

The TX60/TX65/TX84se buy was slightly different from the buys that came previously as they were generally more expensive and they were designed with BOK’s help instead of LZ’s. You can see the physical manifestations in the change in those boards through the removal of the iconic TX lip.

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The latest TX buy (as of time of posting) is one for the antique and white finishes of some of his existing keyboards like the TX60, TX65, TX87, TX84SE, TX-CP, TX-1800 and LZ Iron. This buy was done slightly differently in that there was a preorder form released while the keyboards were already being produced. Based on how I understand the situation, the preorder form was used to gauge interest and to have a better idea on how stock should be managed.

As of right now, TX/kin25 is known as the most reliable group buy runner in the space. Recently, he transitioned away from being a full-time teacher, part-time keyboard dude to a full-time keyboard vendor. Right now, he has new PCBs, springs, stabilizers, keycaps, keycap trays, cables and wrist rests in the works. As for keyboards, he plans on moving away from using designs from LZ or BOK and design his own keyboards instead.

Notable Characteristics & Advancements

Iconic Lip Design

If there is one thing that people associate the most with TX keyboards, it would be the prominent case lip design. In most of the older models, the lip would run across the entire case, creating what community members affectionately refer to as the ‘keyboard in a keyboard’ design. In the newer models like the TX60, TX65 and TX84SE, BOK and kin25 did away with the all-around lip design and went for just an angled recess on the sides.

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As iconic as this design is, it is a point of contention between collectors as some people prefer a more understated and minimalist design on the flanks. The fact that this design element permeates through the entire product line also means that the keyboards end up looking the same, just with different sizes. Personally, I like the lip design very much, but I understand why other collectors are not too fond of them.

‘Sandwich’ Mounting System

Another recurring feature with TX keyboards is all of them but the TX-1800s and TX84se (those have top-mounted plates) use a sandwich-style plate mounting system. Essentially, what a sandwich mount is is the top case and bottom case securing a switch plate between them and then tightened with screws. You can check the diagram below for a visual representation of what it is:

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Custom keyboard enthusiasts have argued for eons about what the best plate mounting system is, and whether certain plate mounting styles are better for certain type of switches (example: conventional wisdom states that stainless steel plates work best with linears, even though I disagree completely).

I’ve not tried all the plate material/plate mounting system combinations under the sun with the same switches to figure out what I like best, yet. What I do know, though, is that sandwich-mounted plates do not flex as much when bottoming out, and provide a stronger, more rigid connection to the rest of the case compared to top-mounted or bottom-mounted plates. This is because the plate is compressed on by the top case and bottom case all around its exterior, whereas top-mounted plates are only constrained on the 8-10 screw points. In theory, this will provide for a higher-pitched, more singular bottom out sound.

Because kin25 prefers the harder bottom out that a sandwich mount provides, he decided to have this feature in as many of his boards as possible. This is also the reason why kin25 has forgone aluminum plates seemingly for good and now only sells brass plates with his keyboards.

Sandwich-mounted plates also require a fewer number of screws to fully assemble the keyboard as there is no need for both case screws that screw the bottom case to the top and plate screws that screw the plate to the case.

‘TX-Style’ Isolated Bottom Weight

In TX keyboards, the way the bottom weight is executed is that it doesn’t show all the way through the bottom part of the case, like say a Keycult No.1’s weight is. Instead, the weight is screwed in from the bottom of the case and only shows through the bottom when fully assembled. In the pictures of the TX60 below, notice how the gold-colored brass weight is that huge slab at the bottom, but doesn’t show through the base of the keyboard when looking through the brass plate.

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In the custom keyboard community, this is commonly known as a ‘TX-style’ weight and is found in many different boards that both precede and follow the TX keyboards. But, the fact that this style of weight is attributed to TX keyboards is proof of how universal this feature is across the TX line.

TX Bags

Not much to say here but kin25 has single-handedly brought those thick, padded EVA cases to the mainstream. It is now the standard for keyboard storage cases (for good reason) and the world is now better for it.

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Best QC in the Business

You can love the design of TX boards or you can hate them, but you can’t deny the fact that the machining, tolerances, anodizing quality and color matching on kin25’s boards are top notch. As a result of this amazing quality control, many keyboards still sit in kin25’s warehouse and remain unsold because of the high standard he has for his boards. As roughed up as they could be, I find it sad that these keyboards don’t reach the hands of keyboard enthusiasts, but I respect kin25’s high bar for his products.

They also come with amazing packaging that is well padded and will survive the bumpy journey from Korea to wherever you are.

Aftermarket Performance

Disclaimer: This section is based on the aftermarket prices of TX boards as of posting. Do note that prices of these boards may change over time. 

Korean custom keyboards tend to do amazingly well in the aftermarket, with higher-than-retail aftermarket prices more the norm than the exception. TX keyboards, while Korean-made, do not always have that luxury. Some keyboards like the TX-1800, TX-1800v2, TX-CP and TX84 (non-SE version) currently sell for higher than their sale prices in the aftermarket, whereas the other keyboards sell at or below sale prices.

There are many factors that contribute to the relatively low aftermarket performance compared to the Ducks and LZs of the world, the most important of which are the high number of boards in-stock and the huge production runs. Kin25 currently has many of his boards in stock to purchase directly from him without a wait period. Kin25 also tends to make a high number of boards per production run, with some runs having up to 300 units made.

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Because of their relatively low price, TX keyboards represent great value in the custom keyboard aftermarket. Models like the TX87/84, TX75 and TX-CP are priced below what I think they’re worth in the aftermarket. In particular, the TX-75 is one to look out for as only 95 units of them were made in total, putting them second rarest behind the TX-1800v1. SELLOUT: A review on the TX75 should be coming out shortly so subscribe to my website!

Conclusion

Recently, there has been a taking-for-granted of TX keyboards. TX boards generally have the best quality control, above-average-to-great anodizing and a solid typing feel that rivals boards by makers that most people would consider ‘more premium’. However, instead of recognizing TX Keyboards as one of the best series of boards made, many people don’t give TX the love it deserves and sometimes bash TX for being ‘shit’.

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In my opinion, if you’re looking for your first truly high-end custom keyboard kit, look no further than TX. They are amazing boards that perform well in every category imaginable and have a hassel-free buying experience to boot. You can pick one up now at txkeyboards.com or by emailing kin25 directly at 225ozzy@naver.com.

To follow kin25’s latest work, you can check him out at his blog here if you can read in Korean. Huge thanks to kin25 for letting me use his photos and answering some questions I had about TX.

9 thoughts on “Holy Trinity of Kustoms Part 1: TX by kin25

  1. Damn, this is some good stuff. Very nicely done. I am an og TX1800 owner and also a TX-CP owner. I love my flawed 1800 as a reminder of the risks we take in joining group buys where the product doesn’t exist. My TX-CP is a reminder that everyone deserves a second chance.

  2. People need to realise that price =/= quality when it comes to custom keyboards, and also that you are paying for more than just the raw cost of manufacturing and materials.

    Think of it like any kind of rare collectable, certain boards are worth more purely because there are less of them around. They are definitely not perfect boards. Some customs brands are also overhyped to shit and are not worth the money even given their rarity. Kin’s boards are fairly vanilla and standard, and there’s nothing that fancy about them.

    Kin has learnt his lessons from the past and knows how to handle distribution and QC. He does a simple thing just really well, and he has a good reputation.

    You can’t put a price on that in this community, when there are so many scumbags who claim to be for the community but really just want to make a quick buck off you and deliver what would be the easiest and lowest cost solution with NO concern for quality control, typing experience or even basic shit like manufacturing tolerances and how to handle logistics. I’m not calling out any vendor in particular, aspects of this would apply to a lot of well known and even popular vendors.

    In terms of the whole overall package, I don’t think anyone can really top the whole overall experience that kin offers, from packaging to service. You really feel like you bought a premium product when you get it, which is not something you can say when the $900 board you overpaid for on mechmarket arrives in a cardboard box and some newspaper, maybe with dents courteously added by USPS. Kin’s packaging in particular goes beyond just a fancy box and some fancy paper printed graphics, the amount of thought he puts into this part is second to none. I would get more TXbags if the shipping didn’t kill it.

    High end customs are expensive primarily because of low quantities and because of the time and experience required to do it right. However a high price in itself is not an indicator of value. TX probably represents the best value for money in the high-end market for someone just seeking a good no-frills experience for themselves. TX boards won’t rack up high street cred or fake internet points on reddit but what really matters is that they are solid boards.

    1. *Attendum: This however does not mean that your trash anne pro or massdrop/KBDfans “custom” board is in any way equivalent to a high-end custom, even a bad high-end custom. Don’t be delusional. It’s the small details that really matter in this world of pursuing perfection, and most still don’t “get it”.

      To his credit wei is putting out better and better stuff but his margins are thin and also being based in China with easy access to manufacturing contacts is a HUGE competitive advantage. I would still however recommend supporting local vendors (not the scumbags) who are trying to innovate and bring in higher levels of quality in terms of both product design, branding and quality control over wei who is just… to be frank, copying our shit.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this write-up. As a relative newcomer to the hobby, I had no idea TX had a bumpy start. Are you planning on giving us a part two anytime soon? Looking forward to reading your take on the Duck or LZ keyboards.

      1. Hey, not joking around, I am actually Korean; so if you’d like, I would be happy to help you translate some things if you provide me links to what you need translated. Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in!

  4. I am happy that kin25 is getting his reputation recognized. I have TX1800 (v1&v2), TX-CP (v2, used to have v1 as well but I sold it, a decision that I will regret for the rest of my life, TX75, TX84 with TXPad. and I am telling you I’d rather have TX than Duck or LZ keyboard

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