Review: Duck Raven and Plateless MX

Introduction

If you’ve read my review on the plateless TINA-C, you would know how much I love plateless tray mounts. You would also know that plateless tray mounts sound and type weird because of that middle mounting post on the base of the keyboard. As such, when I found out that Boonduck Hwang (or Duck for short), a reputable (and very hyped) Korean kustom maker, produced a tray mount sans middle standoff as a regular production keyboard, I knew I had to get one in for review.

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Duck Raven’s standoff implementation

This standoff arrangement is not new for Duck as it is also shared with the Duck Eagle/Viper V1 and Duck Poker keyboards, but the Raven and Sidewinder are actually in-stock boards you can buy right now without the involvement of your friendly mechmarket price gougers.

I know, I know. Doing a Duck review right after a TGR one is far too rich for all but the most seasoned of collectors. Don’t worry, I have some content coming up for those of you who identify more with the proletariat.

Disclaimer: I got this keyboard from PrimeKB at a significant discount in exchange for my honest thoughts on the keyboard. I’ll never sell you all out I promise!

Specifications

Case Material: Anodized Aluminum

Plate Material: Aluminum MX, Steel ALPS (built plateless for the review)

Case Construction: Tray Mount with Proprietary Standoffs

Elevation Angle: ~7 degrees

PCB: Duck Viper/Eagle V1 (programmable through O2D)

Price: $310 + shipping (now on sale for $260 + shipping on PrimeKB)

Link: https://www.primekb.com/products/duck-raven-sidewinder

Unboxing

The unboxing experience of the Raven, as per typical custom keyboard fashion, is barebones but well done. Opening up the cardboard outer packaging, I was met with custom-cut foam that envelops the keyboard. Removing the foam was difficult as the keyboard fit tightly in the foam, but it was nothing that some wiggling and pulling couldn’t fix.

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I had a scare when I first opened up the package as I thought the plate was cling-wrapped directly to the bottom of the case. My concerns were quickly alleviated after unwrapping the cling wrap as all the components came packed in their own separate clear envelopes.

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We get it! It’s made in Korea!

One thing I noticed was that the packaging was littered with tiny ‘Made in Korea’ stickers. I, for one, am fully bought into the Korean Kustom Masterrace, but I don’t need to be reminded 15 times throughout unboxing it that Korean keyboards are superior. But then again, though, I could stick ‘em on all my stuff for the Duck flex.

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As per usual, I did a little inspection of the case to make sure that everything was good and scratch-free. I’m pleased to report that everything was flawless when it got to me — must be that amazing Duck quality control that he’s so well-known for. Also, the PCB worked right out of the box and came pre-flashed with a standard 60% layout. Good to see that while Duck might be cashing in by making boards in-stock, he’s still maintaining that high level that’s to be expected of a maker of his caliber.

Building the Keyboard

Building plateless tray mounts is usually a quick and easy experience and the building the Raven was no different. While I did have some setbacks (some of which was my own doing), it was nothing that couldn’t be worked around.

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For plateless builds, the switch-to-PCB fit is vital for getting switch alignment right. Fortunately, the lubed retooled Cherry MX Black switches I used fit very well into the Duck Viper/Eagle V1 PCB. Even with the PCB upside down, the switches stayed in the PCB firmly. This made soldering the switches in a breeze as they were aligned from the get go with minimal straightening needed. Keep in mind that while Cherry switches fit in fine, other switches that don’t follow the same Cherry standard (Gaterons come to mind} may be too tight or loose.

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After soldering everything in, assembling the stabilizers and connecting the keyboard to my computer, I encountered the first setback: instead of registering the keystrokes I was typing, the keyboard kept repeating the letters ‘ZXCVBN’. This indicated to me that the PCB has been shorted somewhere. After an hour (!!!) of troubleshooting, I found out that the left screw on my right ‘Shift’ stabilizer was shorting the entire bottom row. I used some electrical tape to buffer it, and you could also use non-conducting washers to the same effect, but this is unacceptable on any PCB, let alone one from a high-end keyboard maker. Keep in mind that if you’re building one of these with GMK screw-in stabilizers, you may need buffer material ready to prevent that.

While I did build the keyboard plateless, I tested the aluminum MX plate that came with the kit and I’m happy to report that the switches fit in with little-to-no wiggle room. As such, the combination of the excellently sized PCB mount holes and tight plate should mean building with the plate should be a smooth experience, too. However, the right ‘Function’ cut out doesn’t have a right constraint. That means that aligning a plate mount switch there is going to be a pain in the butt.

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O2D is notorious community-wide for being an unintuitive PCB remapping software that’s hard to get started with. If you’re setting O2D up for the first time, follow this guide word-for-word and you should be golden. Once you have all you need installed, O2D’s GUI is easy to use and flashing the PCB with your new layout should be straightforward. I had a bit of a setback on this part of the build as the ‘Duck Viper/Eagle V2’ marking on the PCB led me to believe that I needed a V2.x hex file when it actually needed a V1.x one as mentioned on the PrimeKB website. My bad! After I got that sorted out, though, flashing the PCB took me all of 30 seconds and the Raven was ready to use.

Case Design

From a birds-eye view (ha birds gottem), the Duck Raven has that ‘case-within-a-case’ aesthetic popularized by TX. The Raven also has a pseudo-octogonal shape to it with 4 long sides and 4 diagonals, making more of an octagon than the namesake Duck board, the Duck Octagon. Keyboard naming is often so terrible it’s actually funny.

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While the case lip and diagonals are superfluous as design elements — they don’t contribute much to the construction or performance of the keyboard — the interplay between the reflective chamfers, matte tops and shadowed sides make for an interesting textural and visual contrast when viewed against light. Even though the Raven is meant to be Duck’s budget keyboard, it builds upon the design language of previous Duck keyboards and feels like it is part of the lineup.

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Look at how the reflextive chamfers and shadowed sides play with the light

As someone with a bunch of keyboards in the review pipeline, I find myself moving and changing keyboards often. I’ve really come to value pickupability highly and the case lip/LED recess on the Raven helps with that immensely. I think side profiles have been criminally underused and underdesigned as many designers have opted for a more unadorned look. Because of that, it’s nice to see that Duck has and continues to apply his design chops in that area.

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That banana product placement tho

The rectangular bumpons on the underside of the Raven stick to the table well. A bit too well, for that matter. It adheres to any surface I put it on, and that works well to compensate for how light the board is.

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Additionally, while Duck keyboards are known for their wrist-breaking 11 degrees of elevation, the Raven sports a much more tolerable 7 degree angle. For me, this is a welcome addition as my wrist would hurt after typing on a Duck Eagle for an extended period of time. 7 degrees is just about perfect for me and is one of the reasons this board works so well for my usage.

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LED implementation on the Raven

While creative use of LED diffusers is a signature feature on Duck keyboards, they tend to be underwhelming more often than amazing. On the Duck Raven, the LED holes on the case flanks are more the former than the latter. With the PCB plugged in, the two LEDs on each side shine through the through-holes on the case onto the surface, creating two strong spots of light and diffused light around them. The LED implementation is intentional as you see it on other Duck keyboards too, but frankly I’m not a fan.

Machining and Anodizing Quality

Duck has built his reputation on strong quality control of his cases and the Raven is no different. Apart from a few machine marks on the interior of the case, the case arrived practically flawless. Machining is clean all around with no leftover swirls, hooks marks or burrs. On the exterior, there is not a single scuffed chamfer or scratch — a remarkable feat given how easy it is to mark up rough-anodized cases.

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Speaking of rough anodizing, it is a feature typical of Duck keyboards in the past, and is present here on the Raven as well. This time around, though, the anodizing is more pleasant to the touch and feels less sandpapery than on the Duck Eagle/Viper V2s or Duck Octagons. It is still rougher than most boards out there, though, and that means the anodization is going to pick up and show scuffs much more easily than its smoother counterparts. Furthermore, rough anodizing makes all the case edges softer and slightly less defined, which doesn’t lend well to its angular aesthetic.

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Super clean anodizing on the underside (dark spots are from my fingerprints LOL)

However, if you can look past that, the anodization on the Duck Raven is as good as I’ve seen. From what I can see, the anodizing is flawless with no dark spots, streaking or pitting. The neutral grey tone (and a nice grey at that!) is also maintained throughout the case with excellent color consistency. Plus, because the Raven is a tray-mounted keyboard, there is no need to color match the multiple case parts — the part of QC that even the best group buy runners fail to do well.

Typing Feel and Sound

The most notable change in the Duck Raven compared to the standard tray mount is the removal of the middle standoff, and that changes up the plateless typing experience completely, and for the better.

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Am I doing the r/mk scattered keycap style photo right?

The bouncy and flexible typing feel you’d normally associate with plateless keyboards is amplified in the Raven as the PCB flexes more than any other keyboard I’ve tried. This is particularly obvious on the 4th row as I can physically see the PCB flexing when I’m bottoming out on it. Compared to standard tray 60s like the TINA-C I reviewed earlier, the difference is staggering; the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys (where the middle standoff typically is) bottom out way softer on the Raven and it feels as though the entire alpha cluster is now uncaged.

I’ve said before that I liked plateless tray mounts for short bursts because it’s fun to type on, but that it’s not serious enough for me to use long-term. Now, with the more continuous typing feel on the Raven’s alphas, I take that statement back. The cushioned typing feel means my finger joints don’t hurt as much typing on them over long periods of time.

The Raven’s sound also benefits from the removal of the center standoff as the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys no longer bottom out with a ping. You get that same thocky, deep and reverby bottom out sound a la HHKB, but even more so. It is a completely different bottom out sound from what you’d be used to if you’ve only typed on hard plate setups (think brass, stainless, or even aluminum to a certain extent), but I would definitely recommend you give it a try.

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Two plateless tray mounts with Hammer Cyrillic dyesubs

Just like the TINA-C, though, the tray mount implementation here is not perfect. Because some standoffs are still positioned near important keys, ping is still a problem. For example, the ‘Pipe/Backslash’ and ‘Enter’ keys annoyingly bottom out with a harsh, high-pitched ping as they are positioned between the two right standoffs. This is mirrored on the left side of the keyboard with the ‘Tab’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys, but is less of an issue for me as I don’t use those keys often. It’s not too bad of an issue, but it is something that could (and should!) be improved on.

As such, I think there is huge upside for plateless tray mounts with only side standoffs as you’d essentially be able to get a bottom mount typing feel/sound at tray mount prices and quality. That being said, the Raven is a step in the right direction as just removing that one center post has dramatically altered the tray mount typing experience.

Conclusion

The Raven not only has great anodizing/machining, legendary Duck quality control, excellent typing feel/sound etc going for it, it is also in-stock! So often, you only find out how good a keyboard is after the group buy is over, and then you can’t buy the keyboard anymore or are forced pay flipper prices on mechmarket. Also, there’s nothing I hate more than joining a group buy and getting burned by delays, uncommunicative group buy runners, and bad QC. There’s none of that here. I support this trend of having high-end keyboards in-stock because it’s so much safer and available for the consumer.

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However, in-stock also means that overhead and cost-fronting have to be considered, and that’s reflected in the relatively high price. The Raven (along with LeandreN’s Klippe and Fjell) occupies the top end of tray mount prices, and that can turn some people off.  Some keyboard enthusiasts would argue that at that price point, you should be getting a top mount or sandwich mount instead. They have a point, but the plateless tray mount experience is something that just cannot be replicated fully in top mount or sandwich mount form.

As such, unless you’re okay with taking a Dremel to your Tofu ZealPC style, get the Raven for a plateless MX build. It’s an awesome board with great quality all around. It gets a buy recommendation for me.

You can pick the Raven (and the HHKB equivalent, Sidewinder) at PrimeKB here: https://www.primekb.com/products/duck-raven-sidewinder

6 thoughts on “Review: Duck Raven and Plateless MX

    1. Great article! thanks for wrote this up. I have the same Retooled Black setup but with Sidewinder and alu plate. This article makes me want to rebuild it with plateless.

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