Review: Topre Realforce TKL R2 55g

Introduction

When I first heard that Topre was going to update the Realforce TKL, I was extremely excited as I felt like the old design was getting stale. I also thought that with a few minor upgrades to the keyboard, it could be that one prebuilt that I could wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wanted a solid keyboard with all the bells and whistles, but without the fuss of having to build up a custom kit.

I got to try the Realforce TKL R2 when it just launched way back in the summer when I was in Japan and I really enjoyed my initial time with it. I didn’t buy it then because it was only released in the JIS layout at the time, but I have made up for that by purchasing one on Amazon the day it released. Now that I’ve had a chance to use it for an extended period of time, here are my thoughts on it.

Specifications

Model Name: Realforce TKL R2TL-US5-IV

Case Material: ABS Plastic

Plate Material: Stainless Steel

Elevation Angle: ~4.75 degrees (~10 degrees with flip out feet)

Keycap Material: 1mm dye-sublimated PBT

Switches: Topre 55g Uniform

Price: $258

Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K9M7X9F/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Case Quality and Design

Writing reviews on plastic-shelled prebuilt keyboards is not in my wheelhouse by any means, but from my experience with entry boards, the Realforce TKL R2 is built better than most off-the-shelf boards that I’ve come across. It is up there with the Filcos and KUL ES-87s of the world, and definitely better than your average Razers and Magicforce 68s. Its case doesn’t flex or creak when force is applied, whether linearly or rotationally. It is made of plastic, yes, but very good plastic at that.

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The Realforce TKL R2 sports a pared back case design that is in line with the modern prebuilt case designs. Moving away from the curvy, forehead-and-chin-heavy R1, the R2 is angular all-around with even bezel sizing all around the key clusters. While many people still prefer the R1’s design, I like the refreshed aesthetic of the R2 just as much. Because the R1 and R2 are fundamentally similar keyboards, I’m hoping that both the R1 and R2 can coexist in the collection in some form. As Taylor Swift once said, “two is better than one”.

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Another significant change from the R1 to the R2 is the addition of a semi-transparent grey accent on the top right of the keyboard surrounding the ‘Print Screen’, ‘Num Lock’ and ‘Pause’ keys. The accent allows for the LED indicators to shine through and adds an additional visual element when looking at it upfront. I personally could do without it, but at this point I’m so used to it that I can’t imagine the keyboard without it.

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The sides of the keyboard feature two-step recesses that makes the keyboard easy to pick up — a feature that I have championed and will continue to champion. Visually, though, the side profile is nothing impressive. I’m not really sure what the designers were going for with this, but I think that it could have been done with a lot more thought.

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The slight chamfer to the chin of the keyboard is a welcomed addition as I find my palm resting on it pretty often. Where it would usually be sharp on a custom kit, it is angled here so as to not dig into my palm.

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The textured rubber feet on the underside of the keyboard provide a lot of traction, which is extremely important for a keyboard as light as this one. Unfortunately, while the flip out feet lock in place with solid detents, they are not finished in that same textured rubber. As such, there is no additional friction between the keyboard and the surface it’s rested on when in the flipped-out position. I haven’t found a difference in slideability when fully flipped out — probably because changing the angle of the force changes how much friction is needed to move the keyboard — but it is a talking point that could have been avoided if they just put some damn rubber on the flip out feet.

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As with many prebuilts, the Realforce TKL R2 has three-way routing channels on the underside for your choice of either a left-aligned, middle-aligned or right-aligned cable position. Having three options for where the cable comes out from is a feature I sorely missed when using custom keyboards as all three can be viable depending on the aesthetics and functionality of your setup. As an example, I prefer to have a middle-aligned cable when the keyboard is the only thing on my desk, and a left-aligned cable when using the keyboard over my laptop keyboard.

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Speaking of the cable, the non-removable rubber cable on the Realforce TKL R2 is evocative of peripheral cables back in the old days. Insert ‘back in my day’ comment. Old memes that should die aside, it’s a nice cable that will probably last, but I personally would have gone for a more modern-looking braided cable to match the updated aesthetics of the R2.

Keycap Quality

The 1mm-thick PBT keycaps that come stock with the Realforce R2 TKL are decent enough and get the job done, but are nothing to write home about.

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The reprisal of PBT keycaps is one that I fully welcome as the deeper bottom out sound of PBT complements the naturally deep Topre switch well. The sculpted Topre profile found here is also nice to type on as it’s similar to Cherry profile — my singular favorite profile. Furthermore, the keycap surface is nicely textured, though it has that skin-like texture similar to what’s found on MT3 keycaps.

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Texture that looks like skin pores

The quality of the plastic is, in short, not great. Most glaringly, at least 30% of the keycaps have burrs (little protruding plastic bits) on them. This is one aspect of keycap quality that most people overlook, but is something I find annoying. With simple quality control checks, these burrs could have been avoided. They could very easily be filed off, too. However, to most keycap manufacturers, burrs aren’t even a thing that crosses their mind in the quality inspection process. From all the keycaps I’ve seen so far, only the MT3 keycaps get it right.

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Plastic burr on the top of the keycap

The dye-sublimated legends don’t fare too well, either. Across the board (ha!), the keycaps have inconsistent kerning, bad centering and mismatched thicknesses. Most of these errors are carried over from the R1, so the refreshed R2 is a huge missed opportunity to right those wrongs. Check these photos out:

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‘Caps Lock’ legends are shifted slightly upwards from center
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‘End’ key looks good spacing wise, but ‘Insert’, ‘Home’ and ‘Delete’ are laterally compressed
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Inconsistent icon thickness between the ‘Enter’ arrow and ‘Shift’ arrow
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‘Num Lock’ and ‘Pause’ look regular, but ‘Print Screen’ looks squeezed laterally
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Curly bracket lines are much thinner than the square bracket lines

On the bright side, it seems as though the dye sublimation process has improved slightly from the Realforce R1s and HHKBs. While the dye subs on older Topre boards were heavily feathered and blurry, the dye subs on the Realforce R2 TKL, while still not as good as the dye-sub legends from the likes of Hammer (think IMSTO and BSP), are very acceptable.

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Plenty of feathering still, but now not immediately noticeable

Typing Feel and Sound

It’s publicly known that Topre is my favorite switch, and as with other Topre keyboards I’ve tried, this is the section where the Realforce TKL R2 really shines in my opinion.

With the 55g Topre switch inboard, like on the stock 45g Topre found on the HHKB, the tactile event is relatively subtle. There is a slight amount of resistance that you need to get through right at the top of the depress, but clear that and you’ll bottom out onto the plate with little force. While the slightly more tactile 55g Topre is perfectly fine to type on, I still prefer the more subtle 45g.

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As I’ve mentioned in my review of the Hacking Keyboard Professsional 2, Topre’s tactility is different from that of other tactile switches because of its ‘return tactility’. Essentially, return tactility is the feeling of tactility when the switch is moving back up. In MX-style tactile switches, the return tactility is felt at the same physical position as the depress tactility; in Topre, the return tactility is felt right at the bottom, opposite from the depress tactility. Here’s a diagram explaining that because words are hard sometimes:

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The sound profile of the Realforce TKL R2, like most other Topre keyboards, can be described as a reverby ‘thock’ upon bottom out followed by a higher-pitched clack on the upstroke. That higher-pitched clack is more pronounced on this board as the steel plate makes for a higher-pitched sound. Here’s a sound test to demonstrate what I mean:

There are some drawbacks to the Topre system on both the typing feel and sound production fronts, though. For one, the ‘Backspace’, ‘Enter’, left ‘Shift’, right ‘Shift’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys sound and feel rattly upon bottom out as they’re longer keys that aren’t stabilized on multiple points. Even with the stabilizers lubed, these sounds cannot really be removed as most of the rattle comes from the keycaps shaking on the plunger-like stems they’re mounted on. Bad stabilizers were one of the main critiques most people had of the older Topre boards, so I thought that a refresh in design would also bring and improvement in this area. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.

Conclusion

The Realforce R2 TKL is an update to the exterior shell above anything else. Without the design change, I feel as though the Realforce R2 TKL has nothing much that’s new over the old R1. There were so many shortcomings on the first Realforce that they should have known about with the years of community feedback they should have gotten, but yet they decided to do nothing about most of them. The stabilizers are still rattly and the legend quality is still mediocre.

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One thing I will say is that I like the new design a lot. Head on, it’s a great looking board and I think it sits better on a modern desk setup than the old one does.

Like with other Topre keyboards, if you’re used to the perfect and exacting quality of custom keyboard kits, you would probably be disappointed by the Realforce TKL R2. The stabs are trash, the plastic shell is, well, not metal, and the keycaps aren’t even as good as EnjoyPBT (and that’s saying something!).

Ultimately, though, the Realforce R2 TKL is still my to go recommendation for a prebuilt keyboard. Topre as a switch is just too good, and the rest of the prebuilt space is just a terrible mix of disappointment and compromise. This is the board for only the Topre lovers and for the people who want a good enough prebuilt. If you’re deep into the custom game though, look elsewhere.

Review: yuktsi’s TGR 910RE (Polycarbonate)

Introduction

The TGR 910 series of keyboards has had multiple spinoffs since its inception in 2015, and the polycarbonate-cased TGR 910RE is the latest in that line. Initially ran as a limited friends and family only group buy, only 30 units of the TGR 910 RE were made, making it rare even for a TGR.

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While there were a few custom keyboard kits before that were made in polycarbonate (the Duck Unicorn comes to mind), the TGR 910RE was the board that brought the material to people’s radar.

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Subtle but necessary TGR flex

I have never tried a polycarbonate-cased keyboard before, so when I was offered to build this keyboard for a reader of the blog, I jumped on that opportunity.

Specifications

Model Name: TGR 910RE

Case Material: CNC-ed Polycarbonate

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Case Elevation: 7 Degrees

Layout: Modified 65%

PCB: Proprietary TGR Unicorn 1.2

Building Process

To my surprise, building the polycarbonate 910 was not a fun experience. In my experience building TGRs, the plates and PCBs have always been easy to work with. However, the sandblasted brass plate that came with this kit had extremely tight switch holes, making snapping the switches into place a real chore. In some instances, the switches would not go all the way in even after the snap. I had to do a bit of extra contorting and forcing of the switch before they could go all the way in.

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Switch that didn’t sit flush on the plate even after the ‘snap’

Another gripe I had with building the polycarbonate 910 (and all other 65% boards that try to do too much) is that the large switch cutouts for multiple layout support made building up the bottom row difficult. This is because the PCB mount holes don’t hold the switches in snugly and because the plate doesn’t constrain the switch on all 4 sides. I would have preferred if the keyboard only supported 6.25u and 7u spacebar layouts, but this is easy for me to say as I don’t use split spacebars on my boards unless I have to.

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Through-cut TGR logo on the plate

Apart from those two major issues and a few minor ones like the plates screws not being the same size and the case screws, building the TGR 910CE plate/PCB up was problem-free. The PCB was pre-flashed out of the box and the plate/case screwed in without issue.

Case Quality and Design

The TGR 910RE is essentially a TGR 910CE with a polycarbonate shell instead of an aluminum one. This means that it comes with a T-shaped back, a 2-part case construction with seam, and the iconic 65%-with-top-right-blocker layout.

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Side-profile shot, with semi-see-through view of the brass plate, brass weight, blocker and PCB

As you’d expect from a board designed by yuktsi, the TGR 910RE has excellent keycap-to-case spacing and usage of fillets/edges. There’s only so much a designer can do on a micro level when it comes to keyboard design, but I agree with all of those design choices in the TGR 910RE.

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You’d think the case is light because of its polycarbonate shell, but the huge brass through weight on the underside adds a lot of weight to the case. Heavier than a lot of the 60% customs. Weighing in at 2.3kg, the polycarbonate 910 is only 200g lighter than the aluminum 910.

 

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The massive brass weight

The top right blocker houses a removable polished brass insert that, if not constrained to the case, just shakes around in the cutout. I would recommend using clear tape to hold it down (or up, I guess) so as to not show through the opaque polycarbonate case, but other methods work fine too. It’s a nice touch as it completes the poly-brass look with a brass accent on the top side, but I wish the brass piece was constrained a bit more ‘professionally’.

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Brass insert at the top right blocker

 

About Polycarbonate

The pièce de résistance of the TGR 910RE is its polycarbonate shell, which I have mixed feelings about. One thing about the polycarbonate top-mounted case here is that there are many points around it where discontinuities break up its visual cohesion. For example, the grain and opacity of the top case are different from those of the bottom case, making for a mismatched look at the seam. Also, because the TGR 910RE is a top mounted keyboard joined at seams, the screw holes and threads are visible from the outside. This is particularly annoying when looking at the keyboard head-on as the screw holes manifest themselves as 16 light spots grouped in pairs around the bezel of the case. The tray-mounted KBDfans Acrylic Tofu, an $88 dollar keyboard case, pulls this look off much better as it doesn’t have those visual discontinuities on its exterior.

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See through screw threads and mismatched top/bottom cases that break the cohesion of the case aesthetics

Additionally, I have concerns about the durability of the polycarbonate case. The frosted polycarbonate case attracts scratches, dust and dirt more easily than its aluminum counterpart. The flimsy and very bendable polycarbonate case also doesn’t inspire any confidence. When screwing on that monster of a brass weight onto the light polycarbonate base, I was fearful that the weight would snap the bottom case into half. Polycarbonate screw threads also just aren’t durable — the threads on this 910 already make sandy/scratchy sounds when screwed into.

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Top case warped in the z-axis

From a designer’s standpoint, polycarbonate as a material is a pain in the ass to work with, too. The success rate of CNC-ed polycarbonate is low because of how soft a material. While this increases its perceived value I guess,  it means that even the better-made cases are still pretty bad. For this board in particular, the top case came warped on all three axes — and this was the top case that passed quality control! As a result, the top and bottom cases just wouldn’t be flush at the seam no matter how much aligning I did. The CAD file that yuktsi designed could very well be perfect, but the material limits how good this case can be.

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One thing I will say about polycarbonate cases is that they look great. While polycarbonate is a plastic, it doesn’t look cheap at all (unlike the HHKB, for example). The best angle of the keyboard is definitely from the bottom of the case as the sandblasted brass weight and PCB seen through the opaque polycarbonate looks amazing. I wish there was a way for that ‘see through technical’ aesthetic could be replicated all around the case, but that would be a feat of engineering for sure.

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Now that’s just pretty

Typing Feel and Sound

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’d know that I prefer a hard plate setup for my linears. This keyboard is built just the way I like it. The high Young’s modulus of the brass plate in combination with the 8-point top mounting make for a stiff bottom out feel that complements the vintage blacks inboard very well. Even when smashing on the keyboard, there is no perceptible flex to the plate/PCB combo — just the way I like it.

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Top-mounted screw holes

As for sound production, which would be the most interesting part of the review because of the polycarbonate case, I cannot comment with any certainty as to how the TGR 910RE compares to custom keyboard kits. This is because the TGR 910RE is a customer build with Krytox 205g0-lubed vintage Cherry MX Blacks for switches instead of the customary Superlubed retooled Cherry MX Blacks that I use to keep this section consistent across multiple kits. While Krytox 205g0 makes switches smoother and more consistent from switch to switch, it also makes the switches mushier and more muffled-sounding, very different from the scratchy but full-sounding Superlubed switches.

What I can say about the sound production is that it does sound every so slightly more reverby than other 65% aluminum customs I’ve tried. However, the difference in reverb is basically negligible, probably because of the sheer amount of brass present in the construction. That brass weight does a lot more for the case’s typing feel and sound production than you would think by adding that much more material for vibrations to travel through, as I’ve mentioned in my article on keyboard construction.

Conclusion

Is the TGR 910 RE overhyped? Yes a hundred times. I understand that rarity, novelty, TGR name brand and the iconic status of the TGR 910 RE all contribute to its staggering >$700 aftermarket price. However, unlike other >$700 keyboards, this keyboard probably won’t stand the test of time. I have serious doubts about polycarbonate’s durability long-term and as such it doesn’t appeal to me on an intuitive sense like aluminum custom kits do.

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Its saving grace is that the frosted polycarbonate look makes it an excellent display piece. As such, if it’s the frosted look that you’re after, and you’re not interested in clout, I’d recommend you save a couple hundred bucks and get a frosted acrylic Tofu from KBDfans with a dremmeled-off center mounting post instead.

 

Guide: Keyboard Construction Explained

Introduction

When I first started learning about custom keyboard construction, I was taken aback by all the different terminology and what they all meant. Even with guides like Deskthority’s Custom Keyboard Construction wiki entry, it was hard for me to get a grasp of everything and understand how that translated into the actual performance of a keyboard.

This, along with ‘gatekeeping’ by elitist collectors and the general lack of understanding about keyboard construction pushed me to write this guide. I want to preface with the fact that people have different preferences for typing feel and sound — some people like flexible plates, some people like very stiff plates, some people like something in between and some people like everything. Also, note that case construction is only one part of the typing feel and sound equation for a keyboard — switches and keycaps are equally important parts.

Hard Plates v. Soft Plates and Vibration Science

The main factor affecting typing feel is how hard the plate is during bottom out. All plates will bend/flex to some extent, but some more than others. From my 2nd year engineering classes, I learned that the amount of deflection/flex is a function of the material’s Young’s Modulus (think stiffness), position of supports (how the plate is mounted) and moment of inertia (think the distribution of the plate’s mass). Thus, all else equal, the lower the Young’s Modulus and moment of inertia, the greater the deflection/flex of the plate.

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Understanding the physics behind vibration science is crucial in our discussion about sound production. In general, the denser a keyboard part is, the higher the pitch produced because sound waves travel faster in denser mediums and higher speeds produce higher frequency sounds. Also, the more volume a keyboard part has, the more singular the sound produced as the sound waves have more material to travel through, dampening the sound produced.

The Plate

Materials

In the early days of keyboard group buys, steel and aluminum (with brass a little later on ~2016) were the only options we could choose from. Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in different plate materials like plastics (ABS, acrylic, polycarbonate), carbon fibre and FR4. I’ve also been hearing chatter about titanium, PBT and copper plates being offered. Suffice to say, the plate material is the case element that we’ve seen the most experimentation in.

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FR4 plate for Keycult No.1 by keycapdungeon.bigcartel.com

Understanding the performance aspects of plate materials is relatively straightforward. In order of most stiff to least stiff, the plate materials rank: steel > brass > aluminum > acrylic = polycarbonate > plateless (not to be confused with PCB mount — that refers to the switch bottom). As mentioned in the previous section, the stiffness of the plate is linked to the Young’s Modulus of the material, with steel having the largest Young’s modulus of the common plate materials. While the Young’s Modulus of materials does vary a little based on their alloying, the order of stiffness mentioned is usually accurate.

While it may seem intuitive to min-max a certain plate feel (offer only steel for hard plate setups and only plateless for soft ones), there are many people who prefer aluminum as the perfect middle ground of having flex but still retaining a more metallic, singular bottom out sound.

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Jer-A06’s Top-Mounted Plateless PCB

With that being said, one thing I’d like to see more of in keyboard development is a PCB with mounting tabs for a top-mounted plateless keyboard like the JER-A06. We have seen the opposite end of the stiffness spectrum fully explored with stainless steel sandwich mounted plates, so it’s about time we got some love for the flexy side of things.

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yuktis’s TGR Alice brass plate

In terms of sound profile from bright and singular to deep and reverby, it follows similarly: steel > brass > aluminum > plateless. However, from my experience, brass has a special sound signature to it that is deeper and more musical than both steel and aluminum, which makes it special as a plate material. Not to say that keyboard sound signatures are nearly as significant as trumpet sound signatures, but this is why brass is the material of choice in certain musical instruments.

Thickness

1.5mm plates have been the standard plate thickness since the old Cherry days of keyboards and has worked well for us all this while. Besides the acrylic custom community in which 5mm (the maximum possible for Cherry) acrylic plates have been around by necessity, plate thickness wasn’t really something that custom keyboard designers intentionally messed with.

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ZealPC’s Zephyr 5mm brass plate. T H I C C.

In the last year or two, though, boards like ZealPC’s Zephyr and RAMA’s M60-A that use the thicker 5mm plates has sparked a lot of discussion about its viability. Some keyboard enthusiasts have even called 2018 the ‘Year of the 5mm Plate’. That aside, thicker plates are stiffer and have more material for vibrations to travel through, making for a harder bottom out feel and a more high-pitched, singular bottom out sound.

Flex cuts (universal plate, intentional flex cuts, fixed layout)

For the purpose of simplification, plate flex cuts are through cuts made to the plate on top of the minimum needed to put switches in. By this definition, a fixed layout plate has no flex cuts, whereas a universal plate that takes away material from the plate to support multiple layouts does. The more flex cuts a plate has, the smaller amount of material it contains, providing for a more flexible typing feel and a more reverby, deeper bottom out sound.

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TGR Jane V2’s Flex Cut Plate

Aside from layout-bound flex cuts, keyboard designers have intentionally designed plates with additional cuts since the early days of Korean kustom keyboards. Famously, the OTD 360 Corsa (sidenote, but check out this really cool project) had flex cuts all over and around the alpha cluster to promote flex and isolate the alpha cluster from the rest of the keyboard. To my glee, designers like riotonthebay and yuktsi are bringing back the flex cuts with their respective Keycult No.1 and TGR Jane V2 keyboards. The Jane V2’s brass plate-only option defeats the purpose of flex cuts (brass plates are much harder than aluminum), nonetheless I’m glad that designers are not letting this idea die with the old kustoms.

The Plate-Mounting System

Tray-Mounted Plates/Tray Mount

The tray-mounted plate is the most basic and commonly used mounting method of any custom keyboard. Essentially, tray mount keyboards act as a drop-in box with standoffs onto which the PCB/plate combo is secured to. The standard tray mount arrangement originated from replacement cases made for the Poker keyboard back in the day, and has persisted to this day, serving as the bread-and-butter of KBDfans’ custom keyboard business.

 

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Standard tray mount arrangement

For all intents and purposes, this is a perfectly fine way of constraining the PCB to the case. Tray cases are cheap to manufacture but you get the same customizability and modularity as more complicated plate mounting systems. However, because of a mounting post right in the middle of the alpha cluster, there’s a hard spot in between the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys that makes for a discontinuous typing feel. Custom keyboard makers have fixed this by removing the center post on their tray mounts at the cost of having to use a proprietary PCB. However, as I’ve mentioned in the review of the Duck Raven, a tray mount sans center post, I’d take the far improved typing experience any day.

Top-Mounted Plates/Top Mount

Keyboard cases with top-mounted keyboards generally consists of two main parts: the top case and the bottom case. Top-mounted plates have mounting tabs with screw holes that screw onto the top case, which in turn is screwed onto the bottom case to fully assemble the keyboard. Top-mounting has become the go-to plate mounting system for custom keyboard designers and for good reason. It performs admirably for both hard and soft plate setups, while also being easy to implement as there are many other top mount keyboards to base off.

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yuktsi’s TGR Alice top-mounted plate

While I do think top-mounted plates perform very well, it is unhealthy that it has become a default option for most keyboard designers. Top-mounting may very well be the best way to construct keyboards, but we’ll never truly know until we experiment with other plate mounting systems. As such, I hope keyboard designers at least try to innovate in this fundamental part of keyboard construction.

Bottom-Mounted Plates/Bottom Mount

Bottom-mounted plates are similar to top-mounted plates in their use of mounting tabs, but with the tabs mounted to the bottom case instead of the top case. In theory, this should provide for a more singular bottom out sound and a more stable typing experience as bottom cases tend to have more material for vibrations to diffuse through than top cases. How much of an improvement that is, I can’t say for certain. This is because bottom-mounted keyboards are few and far in-between — only the KBD 8X and old KMACs come to mind. So, keyboard designers, try this out and you have my money.

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KMAC 1’s bottom-mounted plate 

Sandwich-Mounted Plates/Sandwich Mount

Sandwich-mounted plates work exactly how it sounds: the top case and bottom case sandwich the plate between them, and the bottom half is screwed to the top, holding all three pieces together. Because sandwich-mounted plates are constrained continously around the plate instead of at distinct mounting points, they flex less than their top/bottom-mounted counterparts, providing for a harder bottom out. Also, because the plate is connected to both the top and the bottom cases, sandwich-mounted keyboards are better able to dampen bottom-out vibrations, making for a more singular bottom out sound.

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Graphic detailing the TX-style sandwich mount

More than half of kin25’s TX keyboards use a sandwich mount to excellent results, providing for the hardest plate setups you can buy. As I mentioned in my article on TX keyboards, kin25 wanted the brass sandwich-mounted plates on his flagship TX60 and TX65 keyboards to do exactly that.

Integrated Plate

Unlike the previous plate mounting systems mentioned, integrated plate setups don’t have a removable PCB/plate combo. This is because the plate and top case are milled out from the same block of material. As a result, similar to how sandwich mounts are constrained, integrated plates are constrained continuously on their perimeters. This provides for a hard bottom out feel like the sandwich, just less so because it’s only constrained on the top side and not on both sides. Integrated plates also tend to be louder and more reverby because they’re usually attached to the lighter top case.

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RAMA’s M60-A integrated plate

Case Design

Case design also contributes to sound production (just to a lesser degree) as it directly affects the amount of material vibrations have to diffuse through. All of density of material, elevation angle, height, layout, case thickness, bezels and brass/steel weights contributes to the amount of material in the case. This makes designing a case for a specific sound production very subjective and brings up a lot of questions. What is the minimum amount of material the case needs to sound a certain way? What is the point of diminishing return past which adding more material doesn’t change the sound too much anymore? If we’re really to call ourselves quote-unquote designers, these are the things we need to be thinking about.

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kin25’s TX65 and its chunky design

One example of a keyboard that is designed to maximize vibration diffusion and a hard bottom out is the TX60/65 keyboard by kin25 (yes, again with the TX shilling). While its layout is relatively compact (compared to TKLs, that is), it is VERY chunky and it has a large brass weight on its underside, making it extremely heavy for its 60%/65% size. It also comes with a sandwich-mounted brass plate adds more heft to the keyboard. You can tell that the TX60/65 is designed for maximum vibration reduction and it shows in the performance of the keyboard.

Aside from vibration reduction, case design also affects how hollow the keyboard sounds. The larger the distance from the PCB to base of the bottom case and the larger the distance from the bottom of the keyboard to the surface the keyboard is on, the more hollow the keyboard will sound.

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LZ’s GH V2 hollow but full brass bottom

This can be mitigated to an extent with usage of denser materials all around the case. For example, while the LZ GH V2 has a huge space underneath its case, it still manages to not sound hollow as the entire bottom case is made of super dense brass.

Dampeners

In pursuit of the most singular and quiet bottom out sound possible, keyboard enthusiasts have started adding materials with dampening characteristics to their keyboards. By adding stuff lilke sorbothane sheets, shelf liners and vibration dampening mats, hollow sounding keyboards that are otherwise awesome can become truly awesome. For example, keyboards like the M60-A, CA66 and the HHKB are unique and cool keyboards that fall short because of hollowness, but are greatly improved with dampeners installed. Of course, if keyboards were designed well in the first place, add-on dampeners would not be necessary. But, it’s nice to know that if you get a dud of a keyboard, you’re not just shit outta luck.

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Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2’s anti-vibration mat 

Another way keyboard designers have been toying around with dampeners is by using elastic material to cushion the bottom out feel of a keyboard. We’ve seen some of this through the psuedo-gasket mount of the Keycult No.1 and the o-ring cushion on both the Hineybush Compact and Windeh’s Reflex/Paradox. While not new, this adds another design element for designers to consider and that’s awesome.

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Windeh’s Reflex/Paradox o-ring cushion

Integration of Parts

While in the previous sections, case elements were described as distinct features, it is possible for designers to combine them in creative ways. While this complicates the physics of it all and makes it more difficult to anticipate how a keyboard will feel or sound, the move towards experimenting in this regard has been an interesting development in keyboard science this year.

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Quantrik’s Kyuu brass plate

One recent example of a keyboard that combines different case construction elements is Quantrik’s Kyuu keyboard. Instead of just using a single plate-mounting system, the Kyuu’s plate is mounted both by sandwich on the top half and by top mount on the bottom. The plate also shows through the sides and top of the case as a psuedo-midpiece accent ala Lin3x’s Dolphin and EM7 keyboards. This breaks all the rules of plate mounting and I find that fascinating.

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Keycult accented midpiece + weight combo

The Keycult No.1 is another keyboard that combines multiple construction elements in an interesting way. Instead of having separate pieces for the weight and accented midpiece, designer riotonthebay combined the two elements for a weight/midpiece combo that is milled out of a single block of metal. This makes for one HEFTY keyboard that should diffuse vibrations better than the standard rectangular weighted keyboards.

There is countless opportunities for experimentation here because of the multiple combinations of case elements theoretically possible and I’m excited that we’re trending in this direction.

Conclusion

Keyboard construction is such an important part of the typing feel and sound equation of the keyboard, but yet it is one of the least talked about parts of it. From my experience hanging around Discord servers, talk about keyboard cases usually devolves into just the aesthetics of it (which is terrible compared to real product design by the way, but that’s a topic for another time) instead of the ‘why it performs the way it does’.

What I hope for with this is that the overall understanding of how keyboards work improves in the community, When joining a keyboard group buy, all we get is a mere spec sheet with all of this information that tells us nothing about its performance. We can’t tell how a keyboard is going to type or sound before getting it, but this information can at least help us better guess what we’re getting our $400+ into.

I also hope that keyboard designers take this and actually design their keyboards to go for a certain typing feel/sound instead of just ticking the hottest features of the month off a checklist. I want keyboard designers to actually exhaust all their design options and experiment with everything to distill the ultimate version of their design. Basically, I want them to design a keyboard. Like, Dieter Rams or Jonny Ive-level, 900IQ-type design.

Keyboards are great. They can be better.

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

Review: yuktsi’s TGR Alice (B-Stock)

Introduction

If you know anything about high-end custom keyboards, you know that owning a TGR gives you clout second only to owning an OTD. TGR boards regularly sell out in a matter of minutes (or 41 seconds in the case of the Jane V2) and fetch astronomical prices in the aftermarket. It’s not just that yuktsi, the Malaysian designer behind TGR, is an established community member with a proven track record, TGR boards also tend to be released in extremely low quantities in relation to the number of people who like the designs.

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While I’ve always seen myself as a practical person when it comes to keyboards who prioritizes performance above all else, I wanted an Alice because unlike a lot of custom keyboards out there, it wasn’t a keyboard you could just get. Sure, there was a bit of national pride thrown in there (I’m also from Malaysia), and sure the layout and shape of the keyboard was something I could intuitively appreciate. But. That. Clout. So, when I had the chance to pick up a B-stock Alice, I sure as hell did exactly that.

Specifications

Case Material: Aluminum

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

PCB: Proprietary TGR PCB

Case Construction: Two-Part Case with Seam

Elevation Angle: 8 degrees

Plate-Mounting System: Top-Mounted

Layout: 60% Ergo

Price: $463 (+$60 shipping + fees)

Link: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=95054.0

Unboxing

The unboxing experience of the Alice, while extremely barebones, is very well done. When you first get the package, you’re presented with a cardboard box with the TGR logo emblazoned across it. Opening that up, you see the Alice nested firmly in a custom-cut piece of foam that fits the board perfectly.

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As a community, we have never expected Apple levels of design thought in the unboxing experience of a custom keyboard. As the premium product that TGR boards make themselves out to be, I would have preferred a more designed, unboxing experience similar to what Norbauer or RAMA does, but I’m okay with this. It does its job of protecting the keyboard completely as it travels halfway around the world perfectly.

Building the Keyboard

This is a hot take for sure, but the Alice has been my favorite keyboard to build, ever. The years of experience yuktsi has owning and designing keyboards really shows through here as all the small details like hole sizing, tolerance and spacing are done really well. This made building the Alice a smooth sailing experience with zero hiccups.

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The switch plate, a common cause of stress for me when building keyboards, came warp-free with perfect switch hole sizing for the retooled Cherry MX Blacks I was using. All the switches snapped in securely, but they never felt too difficult to remove when I had to. The PCB was also easy to work with as the PCB-mounted Cherry switches went in firmly with little wiggle room. I’m glad that yuktsi designed the PCB holes for Cherry switch stems because I use Cherry almost exclusively, but this could be a problem for you if you’re using Gaterons (Gateron, pls fix).

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Even the best of us screw up sometimes. Check out that 1u Code mistake.

One mishap with building, which was of my own doing completely, was that I didn’t test the layout before building. On the bottom row, the right most two keys on the left side of the central blocker supports either a 2u-1.25u or a 2.25u-1u configuration, but I very stupidly soldered in a 2u-1u setup, leaving me stuck with an awkward hole between left ‘Spacebar’ and left ‘Windows’ until I made the trip back to the Maker Space. Always check your layouts before soldering, even if you think you’re a pro!

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Both the plate and the case screw in together with M3-sized screws, with 4mm variants holding the plate up to the top case and 6mm ones constraining the entire case together. Because the Alice has a two-part case construction with a seam that runs around where the cases meet, I had to do the look-super-closely-and-run-your-fingers-across-the-seam-while-holding-everything-still thing to make sure everything lined up perfectly. Some people call it the LSCARYFATSHES, but I say the full thing because I’m hardcore like that. I’m not a fan of boards with seams as I think more thought could be put into designing around them, but at this point, that struggle of feeling everything out before screwing the case together is essential to the keyboard building experience.

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The Alice is also fully programmable through the Bootmapper Client — my favorite out of the remapping methods available. The GUI was straightforward and easy to use, which made flashing and reflashing layouts a walk in the park.

Case Quality

Something I want to dispel immediately is the rumor that ‘TGR B-stock keyboards are the equivalent of A-stock boards from (insert any other designer)’. While my unit here is free of physical damage on its exterior, there are very clear reasons as to why it is labeled B-stock. What’s B-stock for TGR would also be B-stock for all but the scummiest makers in our hobby.

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Perfectly aligned left seam feat. some anodizing discoloration/yellowing

On two-part cases with joining seams, the most obvious demarcator of quality is the tolerances on those said seams. After spending an hour making sure the seams are as flush as possible and running my finger across the seam, I found that the top and bottom cases don’t fit perfectly. While the front and back seams are flush, one of the sides always ends up sticking out just a tad. This is not that big of a deal as it plagues most (if not all) keyboards with this style of construction, but it’s not perfect.

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Chamfers and edges done right.

The chamfers and edges on the interior of the bezels are done right — sharp at the protruding angles and chamfered everywhere else. Bezel spacing is also done right here with even spacing both horizontally and vertically between the keycaps and the bezels. This not only makes the keyboard look symmetrical, but it also makes keycap removal easy. If we were to standardize spacing dimensions on keyboards, we would base it off the Alice; it is that good.

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Mini-USB connector sticking out from the back.

One tolerance issue that needs to be addressed is the mini-USB connector that sticks out slightly from the back of case. In my opinion, this is unacceptable as it’s a clear design oversight that should have been caught during the prototyping phase. This mistake could potentially create additional wear and tear on the USB connector that could have been avoided completely.

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While the exteriors were free of flaws, the interiors on the Alice were full of machine marks — one of the reasons why it was sold as B-stock. These don’t bother me too much because they’re out of sight, but if you’re a perfectionist, you might find these unacceptable. Check these photos out:

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Machine marks below the chamfers.
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Some scratch marks that change the anodizing color.

The sandblasted brass weight that rests at the bottom of the keyboard is the sleeper hit for me. The dirty gold, almost olive-brown tone of the brass weight is very different from the typical golden-hued variants that I think most people would prefer. But, I think it’s cool that it stands out from the pack. The weight is also engraved with that beautiful cursive ‘Alice’ insignia that’s flanked by the TGR logo and ‘R-01’.

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The main reason my board was considered B-stock is the anodizing. As you can see in the photo below, something went horribly wrong with the dyes during the anodizing process, resulting in some yellowing at the seams. I was able to rub off some of the yellowing when I first got the board, but some of the yellowing still remains.

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Some yellowing at the seam. The yellowing is present on all four sides.

If we ignore the yellowing — and yes that is difficult considering how bad it is — the anodizing on the Alice is one of the best in the business. The texture is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen come across my review table. Upon close inspection, the board exhibits none of the typical ano/machining flaws like streaking, pitting, dark spots or color inconsistencies. While this doesn’t excuse the anodizing flaws, it makes me hopeful that A-stock designated boards have the top-tier anodizing you’d expect from a board at this price.

Layout

The Alice’s layout is not new by any means. It draws very heavily from Lin3x’s EM7 keyboard but with a few changes, the most significant of which is the removal of the arrow cluster and the two extra keys on the right. Yuktsi decided to remove the arrow cluster because his palm would end up pressing the arrow keys during typing. Also, with the Alice’s setup the homing rows are almost perfectly centered for that symmetrical #setupgoals.

From a purely functional standpoint, a layout is only as good as the efficiency at which you type on it. Personally, as someone who doesn’t type with proper form (don’t laugh, but I use my right pointer figure for ‘Spacebar’), adjusting to this keyboard was a very difficult process, and one that is ongoing. When I first got the Alice, my WPM was a disastrous 20WPM. I slowly but surely found my groove, but I still type about 10WPM less on the Alice than on my other keyboards. Even with the slower WPM, I still find myself wanting to use this layout because I appreciate the design thought put into creating it. I mean, just look at that:

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There are some other stuff about the layout that are worth mentioning. For one, the big holes between keycaps at the point the layout tilts, while necessary, breaks cohesion and will play a big role in deciding what keycaps you put on the Alice as the brass plate shows through in an obvious way. Additionally, don’t let the 60% ergo layout fool you — the Alice is almost as long as a standard TKL due to its center bezel and extra left column.

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Brass plate showing through the keycaps.

So is the Alice actually ergonomic? Kinda, but not as much as you think. It is slightly more ergonomic than a keyboard with straight rows because you don’t have to twist your wrist to get it lined up, and the homing row now fits the curve of your fingers much more naturally. However, I don’t feel like my wrists hurt any less using the Alice over regular keyboards, even after long typing sessions. I’ll let y’all know in 5 years if I get an RSI, though.

Typing Feel and Sound

The Alice, with its top-mounted 1.5mm brass plate and dense case, types like a dream. In my opinion, the hard plate setup found on the Alice complements the heavy retooled Cherry MX Blacks I have in them well. The very stiff brass plate gives no give when bottoming out, making for a consistent typing experience that is pure and unobstructed. A good feeling of oneness with cup rubber pronged sliders, if you will.

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I wish the Alice (and Jane V2, for that matter) came in an aluminum plate option for keyboard enthusiasts who prefer that in-between amount of flex that’s still metallic unlike plateless/half plate but not hard like brass/stainless steel. In my opinion, an aluminum plate option should be a standard offering for all top-mounted keyboard kits because it complements the additional flex that top mounts provide over sandwich mounts.

Sound-wise, the combination of brass plate and dense aluminum/brass case mean that the Alice produces a very singular, warm and clacky bottom out. As far as hard plates (aluminum, brass, stainless steel) go, brass is king for me as the sound signature of it just makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. Paired with the ABS of GMK sets, the ‘dampened clackiness’ of it absolutely sings when I type at full speed.

I do like variance in sound, soft plates and reverby bottom-outs, but the Alice’s typing feel and sound are perfect for me as my daily typing board. For how I like my keyboards, the Alice is top 3 in terms of typing feel for linears and my favorite board of all time in terms of sound. As such, while some of the cosmetic flaws do irk me, this keyboard performs like the best of them and that’s what’s most important.

Conclusion

I’m conflicted. As a reviewer, I find my job is to educate the consumer’s purchasing decision and side with the consumer over the manufacturer. As such, it feels weird reviewing a board that you not only can’t actually buy at list right now, but also is prohibitively expensive in the aftermarket. At the same time, this review can act as a written guide about this keyboard so people who don’t have the opportunity to own one can experience it vicariously through my terrible writing. This also provides a jump-off point for people who want to know what to expect from joining a TGR board.

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Me questioning my life choices aside, the Alice is fantastic. I’m still working on getting used to the layout, but during the 10% of the time I get into my stride typing on this thing, it feels and sounds amazing. The kit was easy to build and the keyboard goes together extremely well, too. It’s no wonder many people in our community put this board in the running for ‘Board of the Year’.

When I was first offered the opportunity to purchase the B-stock board and was shown the anodizing flaws, I felt perfectly fine with it. Strangely, now that I’ve come to really enjoy typing on it, I’m kicking myself wishing I had gotten in on an A-stock one instead. I know I’m going to keep this around for a long time, so I wish I have one that’s perfect.

For all you people with money thinking of picking one up, the Alice is NOT a $900 keyboard, market factors and intangibles notwithstanding. But, we cannot just ignore clout and supply/demand; this keyboard is selling at a higher and higher price with every passing day. Most of the Alices have delivered to customers and the market is flush with new units, so if you’re gonna get one anyways, get it now.

Review: KBDfans’ TINA-C & Plateless Tray Mounts

Introduction

Before you go all ‘hurr-durr tray mounts are shit’, trust me when I say that I felt the exact same way about tray-mounted boards just a few weeks ago. From my experience, they tend to have very bad tolerances, lots of design oversight, rattly bottom out sounds and inconsistent typing feels. But, that doesn’t disqualify all tray mounts from ever being good.

Plateless tray mount builds are by no means a new thing in the hobby, but it never crossed my mind until Anthony from 001Keyboards started talking about it on his stream. Being the naturally curious person I am, I decided to pick up a TINA-C on mechmarket to see what all the fuss is about. After about 4 weeks of using the board, the board has grown on me to the point at which I find myself using it more than any other board in my collection.

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TINA-C with IMSTO Cyrillic Black on Black

Specifications

Case Material: Aluminum

Weight Material: Aluminum

Layout: MX HHKB

PCB: DZ60 (Zeal60 used in build instead)

Elevation Angle: 9 Degrees

Case Construction: Two-Part Case

Plate Mounting System: Standard 60 Tray Mount (built plateless)

Price: $159 for a kit (case, plate, PCB, stabilizers)

Link: https://kbdfans.cn/products/tina-keyboard-60?variant=40096238221

Build Process

OFF TOPIC: If you’re buying a built board on mechmarket — even if it claims to have all the bells and whistles like lubed/clipped/band-aid modded stabilizers — unless it was built by a reputable builder (and my list of reputable builders is VERY short at this point), expect to have to rebuild the board. Lubed stabilizers/switches can mean different things for different people, switch alignment is an oversight for most people and neat build jobs are few and far in between.

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Perfectly Lubed Stabs, the Anthony Way

I had to rebuild the keyboard as it was near unusable when I got it. I personally subscribe to the 001Anthony method of building keyboards (check his stream out here) and it has never failed me. While desoldering and disassembling the built TINA-C was extremely painful, building it was a breeze. With no plate to mess with and PCB-mounted switches, soldering the switches in straight was a walk in the park. Also, without the plate, I could access the stabilizers even after all of the switches were soldered in which made it easy to fine-tune them.

(Sidenote: The Zeal60 PCB is extremely easy to work with and is my PCB of choice if you’re going for a standard 60 build. It is really fucking expensive at $120, but it is the best PCB you can buy right now. I’m not sponsored by ZealPC — though that would be nice — I’m just recognizing a great product)

EDIT: Price Inaccuracies

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Screwing in the plate to the bottom case and assembling the keyboard together was also an uneventful experience — a good thing when building keyboards. The screw threads and case tolerances were all excellently done, making for a smooth build experience. Well done, KBDfans!

Design

In my opinion, the TINA-C’s design is iconic, well-thought out and functional. From most angles, the keyboard looks like any other HHKB custom in the last 2 years — not a bad thing, in my opinion. But, it has some extra design features that improve on the simple HHKB shell.

For one, I appreciate the ridges on the flanks of the case as it makes picking the keyboard up easier. I would have preferred if they rounded the ridges just slightly to make it softer to the touch, but it’s not like it hurts my fingers holding it now. Personally, I think incorporating some design element that helps ‘pickupability’ is something designers should be thinking about as it’s a point where creativity and design chops can shine through. Unfortunately, designers (and enthusiasts, for that matter) seem to love clean sides. It is minimalistic I guess, but it’s also uncreative and easy.

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TINA-C Side Profile and Ridges

All edges (both interior and exterior) on the top part of the keyboard are also slightly chamfered, giving it a bit of visual interest in the light. It’s a design element that would usually be overlooked at badly designed boards, so I’m glad it’s included here.

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While I have LEDs turned off, the backglow implementation on the TINA-C is some of the best I’ve seen in custom keyboards. There are discontinuities in the RGB at those darker spots on the diffuser (check the photo above), but it’s still good-looking. I question the implementation of RGB at the back of the case as all it does is glare against my computer screen instead of creating an aesthetically pleasing light show (which I hope is the reason designers even do RGB).

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The TINA-C also has a teal-colored accent/’weight’ thing on its underside that I personally could have done without. It’s supposed to be an additional visual element on the underside of the case, but I feel that it breaks up the clean underside unnecessarily. Saying it’s a weight is also a misnomer as it is made out of aluminum just like the rest of the case, so it doesn’t actually add any weight.

Build Quality

The anodizing quality on the TINA-C is in the top 20% of custom keyboards I’ve seen, and that’s a remarkable feat for a $159 keyboard. The anodizing texture is smooth to the touch, consistent with no dark spots or discontinuities and free of defects.

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Even and Nicely Textured Anodizing

However, there is one major anodizing/machining flaw on my unit — a dark streak running across the entire chin of the case. I’d posit that you see flaws like that on 90% of custom kits out there, but just because something is common doesn’t make it excusable.

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Streaking Line Across the Chin of the Case

This awesome anodizing quality could be attributed to the large runs that KBDfans does for their keyboards, and that the TINA-C is a tray-mounted board so no color matching/seam matching is needed.

The machining and tolerances on the TINA-C are also tight enough all around that there are no major flaws to them. One surprising this is that there are no marks visible on the inside of the case, which is where KBDfans has historically been disappointing at. I could excuse some machine marks on the inside of the case, but in this case there is no excusing needed.

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One thing that could be improved on with tolerances in future revisions is in making the bezel spacing more consistent all around. Right now, the vertical spacing between the keycaps and the bezels is slightly larger than the horizontal ones, making it seem unbalanced. That might be due to the fact that they wanted the vertical spacing to be similar to the spacing between rows, but I would prefer consistent bezel spacing instead.

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Inconsistent Keycap-to-Bezel Spacing

Typing Feel and Sound

Typing on the plateless TINA-C was initially very unsettling. Coming from only custom keyboard with hard plate setups, the bounciness and flex of the TINA-C distracted me from what I was typing. In particular, the bottom row (OS key, ‘Alt’, ‘Spacebar’) really threw me off as it was the part of the keyboard with the most flex. The PCB also vibrated a little after every bottom out which I thought was weird. I did notice that my finger joints hurt less while typing on the keyboard and I attributed this to the very cushioned bottom-out feel the plateless setup provided.

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Now that I’ve gotten used to that very different bottom-out feedback, I’ve come to enjoy typing on the TINA-C. Unlike the cold and emotionless hard plate setups, plateless feels fun and refreshing on type on. In the last few weeks, I found myself gravitating towards this over my customs when just derping around on my computer. I don’t think I would be able to use this for long typing sessions just because I’m so accustomed to hard plates, but for the short bursts of replying messages or trolling on Discord, using the plateless TINA-C has been very enjoyable.

If you’re looking for true HHKB thock in your MX custom, plateless tray mounts are definitely the way to go. With less material (as it’s plateless) for the vibrations to travel through, the plateless TINA-C produces a bottom-out sound that is deep and full of reverb. While the sound isn’t as drawn out as the one found on plastic keyboards, it’s still way more musical than any plated keyboard. However, it is that same drawn out sound that makes the bottom-out sound mushy. I like that it sounds different from other keyboards that I’ve tried, and it definitely isn’t my preferred sound signature, but it’s definitely up there.

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Plateless builds definitely aren’t perfect, though. One big issue with it on universal 60% mounts (like the one here) is that the flex is discontinuous at certain points in the layout. The typing feel at the keys closest to the mounting posts is dramatically different from that of the other parts of the keyboard. In particular, the ‘G’, ‘H’, ‘Q’, ‘Pipe/Backslash’ (which I use as ‘Backspace’) keys are affected the most as they are frequently used keys positioned near said mounting posts. They generally feel much harsher and pingier to bottom-out on than the other keys which ruins muh immersion.

As such, I’m hoping that in the near future, KBDfans (and other designers, for that matter) start experimenting with tray mounts without that center mounting post. Or better yet, experiment with a new 60% tray mount standard that has mounting holes along the edges of the PCB to emulate a bottom-mounted keyboard.

Conclusion

Tray-mounted keyboards have a very bad reputation for being cheap and low quality by custom keyboard enthusiasts. However, I think that some of that hate should be directed solely to the ones with shoddy build quality and the ones that are built with plates. Sure, many tray-mounted boards have boring designs, terrible tolerances, bad anodizing and rattly bottom-out sounds. But, with how positive my experience has been with the plateless TINA-C, I think that tray-mounted keyboards can be done well.

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Sure, the plateless setup is what makes this TINA-C so special, but I wouldn’t knock the case either. The TINA-C is a great custom keyboard kit that punches way above its price class. The anodizing is great, the machining is clean and the design is excellent. If made top-mounted, the TINA-C would be a $400 keyboard and nobody would bat an eye.

In short, tray-mounted boards can be good when made plateless, and the TINA-C is one amazing keyboard kit for the money.

Quick Review: Massdrop x Mito GMK Laser

Introduction

The cyberpunk-inspired GMK Laser has always been on my radar for sets to check out. It is very different from the beige + sublegend keycap sets I gravitate towards, but I can appreciate when thought has been put into designing a cool custom colorway. While I wasn’t in a good enough financial position to pick up a set during Massdrop’s group buy phase, nor was I willing to pay the absurd >$200 aftermarket that GMK Laser was demanding after that, I was fortunate enough to purchase the Cyberdeck base kit during Massdrop’s Keycap Re-cap for about $140 shipped — an excellent price for a GMK set that I don’t have to wait 4 months for.

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This is going to be a shorter review than you would normally be used to from this blog. This is because I feel that my main audience is very familiar with GMK’s shine-prone ABS plastic, amazing base kit compatibility, terrific doubleshot sharpness and use of the best keycap profile in keyboards — Cherry profile. As such, I will just be covering the things that are new in this set and a few of the flaws I noticed.

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Colorway

Personally, I like the GMK Laser’s cyan-on-purple alphas and magenta-on-indigo modifiers A LOT. The colorway is very coherent and the text colors contrast well with the base colors. This makes for an aesthetically pleasing colorway that’s easy to read in any light. While the Laser colorway is composed of 4 very strong colors, it never feels overwhelming.

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Having been burned by the GMK Plum group buy and seeing sets like GMK Solarized Dark, making sure the physical set’s colorway match the renders is something of a pet peeve of mine. Fortunately, from my back-and-forth comparison of the physical set and the render on MiTo’s site, the colors look spot on. It seems like Massdrop’s site has some sort of funky compression thing going on, making the colors darker than what MiTo intended. But, it’s always great having a set turn out exactly the way the designer envisioned it.

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Legend Quality

GMK legend sharpness have always been a hit or miss thing for me. With some GMK sets, there is bleed and mixing of colors at the edges of the legends, which is disappointing considering doubleshot’s supposed reputation of perfect sharpness every time. For GMK Laser, this is a non-issue. In fact, the legends on the set are some of the sharpest I’ve seen on any set period. Look at these edges:

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As for the typography, it is very good overall, but not perfect. I do want to preface this section by saying that GMK legends are still consistently better than the ones on most keycap sets out there. As such, the following flaws are just nitpicks, with the most egregious errors contained to the keys supporting non-standard compatibility.

At-a-glance, I noticed that there are many keys in the number row that are misaligned. The ‘6’ key is far too close to the edge compared to the correctly aligned ‘5’ key, the ‘2’ key is rotated clockwise very slightly, and the left part of the ‘8’ key is much thinner than the right. Check out these photos:

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The scroll lock key has the worst example of kerning on the keyset, with inconsistent spacing between all the letters:

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The one kerning issue I’m still trying to wrap my head around is the one on the 1.5u ‘Control’ key. On the 1.25u version, the typography is pretty much flawless with really good spacing, but the spacing between the ‘O’ and ‘N’ isn’t perfect. I’m no expert on doubleshot, but couldn’t they just copy the molds over for the same words?

Also check the ‘i’ on this 1u shift key LOL:

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Overall though, GMK Laser has some of the best legends out there, but falls short with kerning on a few keys here and there.

Keycap Quality

The ABS plastic keycaps on GMK Laser are the best in the business. GMK has been killing it ever since they started working with designers to come up with custom colorways. They have elevated the original Cherry doubleshot tooling to greater heights and the community is better off with them in it.

The keycaps are nicely textured out of the box and feel soft to the touch. It has a really fine grit to it with just enough texture to create feedback when sliding across it with my fingers. However, as you may know with ABS plastic, that nice texture doesn’t last for long. It usually takes me about 6 months of daily use to wear down the texture, but your mileage may vary.

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Another great thing about GMK’s ABS doubleshot is that there are no burrs or dangling plastic bits unlike on PBT keycap sets. All the edges are clean and high quality. Peep these upskirt shots:

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The greatest benefit of GMK sets in my opinion is that the long keys are consistently the straightest you can get in the market. On the shorter modifier keys, warp is a non-issue. There is a very slight amount of height-axis warp on the 6.25u spacebar, but it’s very nominal. The 7u is basically perfect.

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Conclusion

GMK makes a solid product with their custom ABS doubleshot keysets and this is no different. While some of the products released together with this set are tasteless and cringy, the Laser keycap set itself is excellent and definitely worth the price of entry. With the extra 400+ keysets added in the Re-Cap, the price of GMK Laser has fallen to below $200 — a reasonable price in my opinion for a nice looking set with great compatibility. If you’re into the colorway, go pick one up!

Review: Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar

Introduction

Along with the Milgauss collection, the Explorer collection has always been the most underappreciated collection in Rolex’s repertoire. The Explorer watches have great designs, come from valid histories and and are steel sport watches — with the latter being the main reason Rolex is so popular. Yet, it doesn’t have the same pedigree that a Submariner or a GMT Master II does in the eyes of collectors. There are many reasons as to why that’s the case, but none of them are because Explorer watches are bad watches, or even necessarily worse watches than the Daytonas and Submariners of the world.

I was given the chance to borrow the Rolex Explorer II Polar review and I’ve found that while it’s dated, it remains a great watch at a great size. It represents the era of Rolex watches that just does it for me and I’ve been since drawn to this watch.

Case

The Rolex Explorer II’s case is assembled in a three-part case construction consisting of the bezel, the middle case and the caseback. This is typical of Rolex tool watch construction and is a tried and tested method throughout the industry.

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The different types of finishing throughout the case make this watch really glisten in the light. With the radial brushing on the bezel, curved brushing on the lugs and high polish on the flanks, the watch under natural light is an amazing sight to behold. A little detail Rolex added is the very slight beveling between the brushed lugs and high polish flanks. It’s such a small detail, but it catches the light so well and is that ‘one more thing’ that elevates the case to greatness. It’s something that Tudor still does on their heritage watches, but it’s something that Rolex has taken away from its current line up — a damn shame.

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Wearability is a huge component of how a watch looks and it is where this watch really excels. At 40mm in diameter and 12mm in thickness, the watch is at that perfect average size for a modern tool watch. While the caseback does protrude out a little from the case, the Explorer II sits on the wrist really well and doesn’t flare out (I’m looking at you, Apple Watch). The slim shape of the crown guards and strong taper on the thin lugs also help make this watch wear smaller. This is unlike the modern Super case Rolexes with their chad-like chunky lugs and masculine crown guards.. If you’re the type to fly under the radar with your watches or wear your Rolexes underneath a dress cuff, this watch is perfect for you.

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One thing I will note about the Rolex Explorer II’s case shape is that because it has a relatively flat profile and non-arching lugs, it may look out-of-place on smaller wrists because the caseback bump will be accentuated. This watch does work with a wide range of wrist sizes, but may not work if your wrists are too small.

I won’t claim to be able to distinguish the 316L stainless steel on this Explorer II from the 904L on the newer models, but the 16570 I have here definitely doesn’t feel as solid or well-built as newer Rolexes. It just doesn’t have the same heft and rigidity to it that the 42mm Rolex Explorer II’s have. However, for me, it rests at that perfect point of Rolex’s case construction in that it’s not as flimsy as the ‘vintage’ models, but also not as overbearing as the modern ones.

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The coronet-embossed crown is present and done well in typical Rolex fashion. It is a good size for gripping, it doesn’t stick out of the crown guards too much and has a nicely detailed embossing. One nitpick I have with the crown is that it’s a bit too sharp for my liking so gripping on it can hurt, but it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things.

Bezel

The fixed 24-hour bezel dons in-filled black arabic numerals and is brush-finished radially. The non-moving bezel means that you can only read up to 2 time-zones at a glance unlike the 3 of the GMT Master II. But, this also means that the watch can be made to fit under a cuff better than the GMT Master II — a tradeoff I will easily take.

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Durability is a big issue on the bezel as it loves to show off its wear and tear marks. This is because the brushed finish makes any scratches it has more obvious. There is no way to refinish the bezel in a way that retains the original look because any polishing you do will make the numeral engravings less pronounced. The glossy black enamel in-fill on the numerals also rubs off pretty easily, but unlike the brushed finish, it can be easily repainted.

One design choice that perplexes me to this day is the presence of a ‘crevice’ between the bezel and the middle case pictured below:

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The crevice is finished in high polish, which is a nice touch, but I would prefer a more integrated bezel design as I find that it clips onto my shirt cuff sometimes and is a space where dust can settle in.

Dial

The polar dial base on the Explorer II is one of the cleanest dial bases you will ever find on a watch. Looking at it up close, there are no grains or textures to it — it’s white and that’s all it is. On a tool watch like the Explorer II, that sterile dial base can feel spare and boring sometimes. However that same boring dial base is what sets the stage for the rest of the dial details to really stand out.

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The simple-looking black circular indices are actually made of glossy black-painted white gold. It’s a superfluous detail for sure, but one that I welcome. Embedded in the indices is the excellent Superluminova lume that holds up for 8-12 hours in my usage — very impressive for an 18 year-old watch. In comparison, my personal Bond Seamaster from around the same period only holds up for 3-4 hours these days.

The 3 main hands are made in the same way the indices are and work really well to tell the time. They are distinct enough shape-wise to be able to tell them apart, and have the perfect lengths as to point towards the indices well. Rolex is really good with its hands.

All of this monochromeness sets the stage perfectly for that sweet, sweet, red GMT hand. Traditionally, Rolex has been very restrained with its usage of color in its watches. Think the Submariner and its black dial. Iconic, yes, but oh so boring. However, every time Rolex uses colors in its dials, it’s sensational. That bright, glossy red GMT hand on the Explorer II is so beautiful I’ve now forgiven Rolex for their decades of holding back colors.

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Excellent typography is par for the course as far as Rolex goes, but this watch still has some flaws that I cannot overlook. For example, the ‘ROLEX’ text below the crown has some serious kerning issues. This is not to overlook the perfect symmetry of the ‘Swiss Made’ at the bottom of the dial, the excellent serifs Rolex uses, and the feather-free printing present throughout the dial. However, Rolex is usually perfect with their typography and thus it is disappointing seeing errors.

Crystal

The flat sapphire crystal on this Explorer II does an alright job showing the dial head-on, but fails dramatically from an off-angle. Under natural light, this thick, AR-coatingless crystal creates a lot of glare on the dial and makes it flat out unreadable. The cyclops eye, on the other hand, is a welcome addition as it increase date window visibility substantially. I use the date window a lot and I’ll take all the criticism from purists for that with open arms because it’s a functional upgrade in my opinion.

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The sapphire crystal is raised slightly above the bezel, making for a vintage-esque aesthetic which I have come to appreciate. But, because it doesn’t sit flush with the bezel, there is a chance the crystal gets clipped onto something and gets cracked. It also interrupts the taper of the bezel when sliding it over a dress cuff which is mildly annoying.

Bracelet

The quality on the Oyster-style 316L stainless steel bracelet is pretty good overall, but is obviously lacking when compared to the competition. Out of the box, the tolerances between links on the Explorer II’s bracelet are tight. This, together with the relatively small number of channels, mean that the bracelet doesn’t pull hair easily. Also, running my fingers along the flanks of the bracelet, I noticed that the 20mm to 18mm taper does not flow continously. It’s close enough and probably fine for a watch at this price point, but no cigar.

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The Explorer II’s bracelet isn’t the heftiest bracelet, either. It’s charming for sure, but nowhere near as solid as modern bracelets, or even old Omega bracelets from the same time period. The quality on the links are good enough, but the friction-fit clasp on the Explorer feels rattly and weak. The spring bar-style microadjustment is also a very antiquated feature that doesn’t inspire confidence. While it has never failed on me, I always get the feeling that it could pop out at any time.

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The finishing on the bracelet, on the other hand, still holds up decently to this day. The bracelet sports brushed polishing down its length on the top side and high polishing on its flanks. Being the tool watch the Explorer II is, this is a good setup as the bracelet doesn’t attract too much attention by being shiny and flashy, but still retains some detail and contrast when viewed against the light.

Movement

Rolex movements are boringly reliable and the caliber 3185 found here is no different. When I received the watch, it had not been serviced in 15 years, but yet it ran smoothly with minimal time deviation. It has since been serviced and is extremely accurate and precise, staying well within COSC specs throughout my 2 months with it. To me, boring movements are amazing as everyday wearers as they’re easily serviceable (both watchmakers and service parts are readily available) and just work with no fuss.

The movement setting procedure functions as you’d expect on a GMT watch. There are 3 pull-out positions on the crown: the first position is the manual winding function; the second position moves all the hands and hacks the seconds; the third position moves just the regular hour hand and changes the date. As such, to set the time on the watch, you first pull to the second position to set the home time on the GMT hand, then pull to the third position to set the local time and date. This is, of course, assuming that you’re a frequent traveller and use the GMT hand more as a constant reference back to where you’re from. For sedentary people like myself, I set the regular hour hand to my home time and the GMT hand to the timezone of the place I wish I was at.

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Sapphire crystal casebacks have become a must have feature recently, and it’s a feature the Explorer II lacks, but I would argue that the watch is better off this way. Rolex movement finishing, especially compared to other watches at this price point, is nothing special. Most parts are industrially finished and lack the special touches other watches in this price point have, making a see-through caseback moot. Some omissions include the beveled bridges, countersunk screw holes, polished balance bridges and embellished Côtes de Genève — details that the Jaeger LeCoultres, IWCs and Zeniths of the world have.

Conclusion

There are many things that this watch does well in my opinion. However, as superficial as it sounds, what I like most about the watch is that it looks good on my wrist. It wears well size-wise, sits well on the wrist, sports that beautiful polar dial and has a sporty yet elegant case shape. A few gripes I have with the watch include the AR-less crystal that glares too much, the cheap-feeling clasp and microadjustment, and the mediocre movement finishing for the price. But, because of how good it looks on my wrist, I can look past those shortcomings.

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At between $4000-$5500 depending on condition, box/papers, service history and year of production, the 16570 is an excellent value play. Relative to other Rolex watches, especially a GMT Master II from that era, the Explorer II represents great value. However, I would caution against buying one as an investment piece as while it punches way above its price point, quality isn’t strongly correlated to price and I don’t think this watch as much more to grow price-wise in the aftermarket.

All-in-all, the Rolex Explorer II Polar is an excellent watch to get into the Rolex brand through. It’s a stainless steel complicated sports watch at a great size and a great price. If it strikes your fancy, you shouldn’t hesitate to get one.

Long Term Review: Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2

Long Term Review is a series through which I take a closer look at a product that I’ve used for an extended period of time. Because of my experience using these products, I believe I have a unique and more detailed perspective on it. This allows me to provide insight on the product that would not be illuminated if only given a week or less with it.

Introduction

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 (HHKB) is either the best keyboard ever or the worse keyboard ever for a lot of people. I personally attribute this polarized opinion of the board to the meme exposure it has had over the years. All those ‘rubbreh domeh’ and ‘oneness with cup rubber’ memes over the years definitely had something to do with it.

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While this keyboard has been reviewed multiple time by many forum users, there is a lot about it that has yet to be said, or is just wrong in general. Also, as someone who operates primarily in the MX custom world, I think my opinions on the HHKB are different enough from what most people have said that I’m still adding meaningful points to the discussion. As such, here is my take on the HHKB.

Case

The HHKB has a matte ABS case that’s decently durable, but not great. As my go-to to-go board for the past few months, it has picked up a few nicks, scratches and dirt marks. Many of those marks are now permanent and impossible to fully wipe away. I’ve also found that the case has started to shine a little in some areas. Personally, the marks and the shine are non-issues as I’m really into the whole wabi-sabi thing, but it might be a problem for you.

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The case has a two-part construction that consists of the top case/integrated plate/PCB combo and the bottom case. Separating the two parts is a seam that runs across the entire flank of the case. The tolerance on that seam is very bad on every HHKB case I’ve come across, mine included. The seam is super obvious to the touch, sometimes even bumpy depending on where you’re running your fingers across. On a ‘premium’ product like this, I wish they would have done something to the seam to make it look and feel less obvious, closer to how it’s done with aluminum customs.

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The design intention of the case is to have as minimal of a physical footprint as possible, while having some flair to it that it isn’t just a simple slab. The top bezel (4Head) is slightly larger than the side and bottom ones because room on the top is needed for the USB connectors. They could have easily made the sides and bottom symmetrical, but chose not to for the sake of the design. The case also has rounded-off/filleted corners, edges and interior angles all over that makes it appear smaller and comfortable to hold.

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The added flair of the design comes in the curved top edge when viewing the keyboard from the side. This is similar to how some ALPS keyboards like the AEK, AEK64 and Lunar 65% does it and it is a nice touch. Another thing is the printed logo on the bottom right bezel that adds some visual interest to the otherwise bland-looking board. Don’t confuse visual interest with good aesthetics though; I would have preferred the case without the logo.

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Anthony Ooi from 001Keyboards once described rubber feet as the great equalizer of custom keyboards. From what I understand, he meant that custom keyboards can come in all forms and sizes, but one thing that stays consistent is the rubber bump-ons. I wish this were true in the case of the HHKB, as the rubber feet on them are the worst I’ve seen on any keyboard, period. They don’t provide enough traction and that problem is made worse by how light the HHKB is. The result is a board that moves around while typing if not placed on a high-friction surface.

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The flip-out feet are no better. The flip-out feet have 3 positions: closed, one-opened and two-opened; I find all three positions comfortable to type on. However, the flipping action is lackluster and flimsy. The detent (stopping mechanism) on the feet is also not assuring and contributes to how cheap the feet feel. Honestly, they are a joke for feet that’s supposed to go on a $250 keyboard.

Overall, the case is trash. Even the most passionate of HHKB fanboys would not be able to defend this. The only upside to this is that because the case is so light and made out of plastic, it’s a very easy board to carry around. Ever since I got the keyboard, I started bringing it with me to classes, the library and coffeeshops without any extra burden to my back. Other than that, PFU, please step up the build quality on this board in the next iteration. Even a fucking Magicforce has better build quality than the HHKB. This board deserves better.

Layout

When this board was made, keyboards were largely large in largeness. There were smaller boards around like the M0110 (that the HHKB drew inspiration from) and the F62 Kishsaver, but smaller form factors were more exception than norm. There’s an interesting interview with Eiiti Wada, the inventor of the HHKB that talks about his design choices with the layout that I highly recommend reading.

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When this board was released way back when, it introduced several changes to what was the ‘standard’ layout at the time:

  1. Splitting of the 2u ‘Backspace’ into 2 1u keys
  2. Moving ‘Backspace’ to the ‘Pipe’/’Backslash’ key and moving the latter up to a 1u key
  3. Removed ‘Caps Lock’ and moved the ‘Control’ key there
  4. Used an asymmetrical bottom row with a 6u ‘Space’ key
  5. Removed the function row, navigation cluster and numpad (that’s like, 40+ keys LOL)
  6. Split the right ‘Shift’ key into a right ‘Shift’ and a ‘Function’ key to create another layer of keys

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This spawned what is now considered the ‘HHKB layout’. Love it or hate it, most of those changes were revolutionary and some of ’em are still the preference of many keyboard users to this day. Personally, I’ve learned to adopt the ‘Pipe’/’Backslash’ key as ‘Backspace’ and prefer a split right ‘Shift’ on my 60s unless I want to use OG Cherry/BSP on them.

However, there are a few things about the layout that I think could have been done better. For starters, I would have prefered a 1/1.5/7/1.5/1 bottom row for symmetry instead of the left-shifted 1/1.5/6/1.5/1 layout it has. As geekhack user jacobolus described in this post, the spacebar is shifted to the right to center it with the homing row. This also creates enough room on the bottom-right bezel for that atrocious HHKB logo. While functionality is important, I would take the far-improved aesthetic of the 7u spacebar over just a slight increase in spacebar performance that the 6u one has.

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Another thing I have a problem with is the arrow key implementation. I get that they wanted the arrow keys to be accessible with one hand, but I would have vastly preferred a k-l-;-‘ VIM-style setup instead of the diamond-style it currently has. I got used to the current diamond-style arrow keys eventually, though.

All-in-all, the HHKB layout is alright. The 60% layout is far and away my favorite layout (though I prefer standard 60 over the HHKB layout) so this is right up my alley. I would personally make some changes, but they’re not dealbreakers by any means.

Topre Switch

For many, this is the main point of contention when talking about this keyboard. The reactions to this range from ‘it’s the best tactile switch ever made’ to ‘this is a rubber dome and so it’s shit’ and everything in between. Personally, the 45g Topre switch found on the HHKB is my favorite switch to type on bar none. I love the rubber dome-esque tactility that the switch provides and it’s one of the very few reasons I still use this keyboard over my customs. As such, this is going to be a really long section so try to stay with me here.

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Topre is known for having a tactile bump right at the top of the depress action. This is because the tactility comes from the dome flattening. On the stock 45g domes, the tactile bump is very subtle, similar to the Cherry MX Brown’s. After passing through the tactile bump, the dome collapses and bottoms out onto the plastic plate immediately, creating the famous ‘thock’ sound of the HHKB.

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One thing I don’t really hear mentioned about Topre switches is the ‘return tactility’ when letting go of a depress. Essentially, return tactility is the feeling of tactility when the switch is moving back up. In MX-style tactile switches, the return tactility is felt at the same physical position as the depress tactility; in Topre, the return tactility is felt right at the bottom, opposite from the depress tactility. Check the diagram below:

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Topre is also a naturally scratchy switch. Even with some lubing, the switch has a high amount of feedback throughout both the depress and the release. This comes from the sliders rubbing against the plastic housing and is generally unavoidable because of how close the tolerances are on the sliders. You can also hear the scratchiness when typing on it, too.  On the bright side, this means that the switch doesn’t wobble a lot throughout its actuation.

The sound produced by Topre (and more specifically the HHKB) is, in my opinion, out of this world amazing. It’s the complete opposite of how a lubed linear on an aluminum custom (my other favorite switch sound) would sound. The lubed linear has a singular, clean, sharp, high-pitched sound that’s consistent with every depress. On the other hand, the HHKB’s Topre has a deeper, reverby, cushioned and musical ‘thock’. This is because when sound travels through materials that are less dense (eg. the plastic case on the HHHKB), it has a slower speed and thus a lower, deeper frequency. The HHKB sound could potentially be replicated in MX with a plateless, plastic-cased build, but probably not to the degree of the HHKB.

On the upstroke of the HHKB’s Topre, you hear the slightly higher-pitched clack that defines the sound profile of the keyboard so much. That sound is much louder than the sound produced on the downstroke and is what makes the HHKB sound so special and different from any MX-style switch out there.

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Compared to other Topre boards like the Realforces, FC660C and FC980C, the HHKB is the much more fun-sounding and clacky. This is because of its plastic integrated plate design vs the tray-mounting or case-mounting on the other Topre boards. The Leopolds in particular don’t sound anywhere close to the HHKB as they have a much higher-pitched bottom out and less significant upstroke sound. The feel solid to type on, but don’t sound nearly as special as the HHKB or even the Realforce.

A very key element of how the switches feel is the stabilizers on the longer keys. Topre stabilizers are very bad out of the box. They rattle out of control, are unstable and are very wobbly in general. As such, I would HIGHLY recommend that you lube your stabilizers with dielectic grease or something similar like you would with your customs’ Cherry stabilizers. This removes all of the rattle and makes it feel much better, but don’t expect it to be as good as a well-tuned Cherry Stabilizer.

Overall, the HHKB’s Topre switches are fucking amazing. In my opinion, it is something that everyone should try (even if you’ve tried Topre on other boards) because of how special it is. As of right now, 45g Topre is my joint favorite switch with lubed vintage blacks and I don’t see myself changing my mind anytime soon.

Keycaps

The stock keycaps on the HHKB are of the PBT dye-sublimated kind in a sculpted Topre profile (in between OEM profile and Cherry profile). As some of you may already know, PBT dye-subs are my favorite kind of keycaps as they produce a deep bottom-out sound, feel nicer to the touch and are more durable. However, the stock keycaps on the HHKB are a pile of flaming hot garbage compared to what’s available in the MX market.

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To start on a positive note, the stock keycaps have very good typography throughout. Every single legend on the keycaps are properly positioned, have no kerning issues and have very clean lines. The quality of typography is at least as good if not better than those of most third-party keycap makers in the MX world like EnjoyPBT, GMK and Signature Plastics.

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However, the dye-sub quality on the keycaps are absolutely terrible. Feathering/Bleeding is rampant all throughout the stock keycaps on the HHKB, making the legends look very blurry. This isn’t something that is immediately noticeable when looking at the keycaps from a regular typing distance, but is very obvious when you look at it even semi-closely. This also affects all Topre keycaps that I’ve experienced like the Realforce replacement sets and Hi-Pro donor keycaps.

This is very disconcerting as it is more of a tooling/machinery issue than a mistake on their part. The typography on the keycaps is already excellent, so upgrading their dye-sub process would make the legends some of the best in the market. Instead, the great typography on these is a waste because of the weaker dye-subbing and they look terrible when compared to even midrange MX dye-sub sets like EnjoyPBT. For a closer look at how the HHKB keycaps stack up to some MX PBT ones, check out my review of the EnjoyPBT 9009.

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As for the keycaps themselves, they’re a very thin PBT. I definitely prefer a thicker PBT for better bottom-out sound, but it’s honestly fine. One thing that is a known problem because of how thin the keycaps are is that they crack really easily when pulling them out. This is because Topre keycaps go on to the keyboard with a click mechanism instead of purely friction like in MX-style keycaps. So make sure your pull out game isn’t too strong.

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Another negative with the stock keycap set on the HHKB is that it comes with an ABS spacebar instead of a PBT one like the rest of the keycaps are. A PBT spacebar in this case would be a huge step up as they generally sound better and have better durability. I recognize that it’s difficult to get a straight PBT spacebar a lot of the time, but move gives me the impression that they’re cutting corners here. Not a good look for what is supposed to be a $250 keyboard.

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The stock colorway on the white printed HHKB I have here is a blue-gray modifiers, beige alphas affair. The colors are understated and fit complement the aesthetic of the keyboard very well. Personally, I prefer the more muted gray of BSP, EnjoyPBT and OG Cherry, but I definitely do not mind this colorway. One thing I would change, though, is the color of the top-right-most key to match the blue-gray of the modifier for symmetry purposes.

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Last but not least, aftermarket support for Topre keycaps is garbage compared to MX. You’re pretty much stuck with donor keycaps from other Topre keycaps and the limited run of replacement keycaps for Realforce keyboards. There was that KBDfans run of the Topre 9009 that I wrote about here, but it’s unlikely that there’ll be another run of those because of how little sales they got.

Looking through some of the reviews out there, I see some people saying that the stock caps on the HHKB are excellent. Maybe it’s a case of inexperience or ignorance, but I definitely don’t agree with that sentiment. They’re aight. I also cannot believe how ridiculous the prices of the Realforce replacement keycap sets and Hi-Pro sets have gotten. Maybe if you’re the hypebeast type who buys stuff to flex, it makes sense. But functionally, the keycaps aren’t great and the dye-subbing is terrible.

Internals

The internals of the case consists of the main PCB, the daughterboard PCB, conical springs, rubber domes and a fuck ton of screws. The internals are fine overall, though. I’m gonna keep this section short so there are just 3 things I wanna touch on.

Firstly, the number of screws that attach the PCB to the integrated plate is too damn high. It does make for a solid connection I guess, but I’m really trying to avoid spending 15 minutes unscrewing just to lube my switches and stabilizers. I decided to keep a few of them removed so that I don’t have to deal with this, and I advise you do too if you plan on tinkering with the internals often.

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Secondly, the daughterboard implementation on the HHKB is horrendous and potentially damaging to the keyboard. When you unscrew the bottom 3 screws and try to open up the case, you’ll see a cable connecting the daughterboard to the main PCB that restricts the complete opening of the case. If you’re not careful, you might even snap the cable in the process. I would have preferred if the designers found a way to put the daughterboard on the top case instead of the bottom to avoid this. From my understanding of how the keyboard mounts, it’s definitely something that could have been designed for so I’m not sure why they didn’t think of that.

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Lastly, the rubber dome and spring implementation is bad. Basically, the domes and springs are sandwiched between the PCB and plate and held in only by the PCB/plate screws. As such, when you remove the PCB, there’s a chance of the rubber domes and springs flying all over the room, which happened to me the first time I disassembled it. This is because the springs rest within the domes and the domes are not all in one big sheet but in separate domes. I would prefer a more integrated approach, like a housing or something to hold all of that, but we don’t always get what we want I guess.

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Conclusion

I hate how badly built this keyboard is and I hate the bad tolerances on the seam around the keyboard. I hate how thin the PBT keycaps are and I hate the dye-sub quality on them. I hate the internals and the layout could definitely be better. The HHKB is also ridiculously overpriced at $250 a pop. For about the same price of the HHKB, you could get a KBDFans Tofu kitted with lubed retooled MX Blacks, an EnjoyPBT keycap set and cash to spare for an assembly service if you need it. Going that route, you get a keyboard that’s better than the HHKB in almost every aspect.

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However, with custom keyboards, I find myself nitpicking every jagged seam, machine mark, anodizing flaw and hole placement. As for the HHKB, because it does all of the build quality stuff so absolutely horrendously, I find myself focused purely on the typing experience on it instead. That is a refreshing experience and one I’ve learned to cherish when using it.

Ultimately, the HHKB has taught me to love keyboards for the joy I get from typing on them and the sound they produce above all else. It is a trash board by all metrics but typing feel and sound. But, because of how much I like the HHKB for those two things, it has become one of my favorite boards, even in my collection of high-end customs.

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.