Long Term Review: Nomos Tangente 35

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.

DSCF2576.jpg

Introduction

The Nomos Tangente 35 is a watch that I fell in love with ever since my first encounter with it. As a shameless wannabe minimalist, I’ve been drawn to its bauhaus-inspired aesthtic and ‘form follows function’ marketing mantra. I mean, look at all those kids with their fancy pourover coffee setups and I-just-got-out-of-bed hairdo. It’s not wrong wanting to be them, right? I thought, y’know, if I had one of these here hipster watches I could be cool!

Anywhos, I’ve worn this watch for an extended time and I’ve developed a lot of thoughts about it. Like 3000 words a lot. So here’s my take on this wonderful little watch!

Specifications

Model Number: Nomos Tangente 35 Reference 139

Movement: Nomos Alpha (modified ETA/Pesaux 7001)

Case Material: 316L Stainless Steel

Glass Material: Sapphire Crystal

Caseback Material: Sapphire Crystal

Lug Width: 18mm

Diameter/Height: 35 mm/6.6 mm

Water Resistance: 30 meters

Price: $2180 including free 5-day shipping

Where to Buy: Nomos Store

Case

The Tangente 35’s case is 35mm in diameter, slighly less then 7mm in height and made from 316L stainless steel. The case itself is very svelte and sits very low to the wrist, an aesthetic I’ve come to enjoy among the sea of giant watches. The case is light on the wrist and very comfortable to wear for an extended period of time.

Nomos Case Construction.001.jpeg

As seen in the picture above, the case is a three-part construction (tripartite) that consists of the top case (bezel and crystal), middle case (case flank and lugs) and the sapphire caseback. This construction style means that there are two seams on the case between each of the parts. The seam that goes around the case plays the role of breaking up the visual mass of the case and and adding a detail on the case, but the tolerance on the seam is not great. Running my fingers along the seam from bottom to top, I found that there was an obvious bump. This means that the top case is ever so slightly larger than the middle case. I’ve never actually seen a tolerance problem on a watch I’ve handled ever so this is quite worrying.

The case is finished in high polish all over. This makes the watch stand out on the wrist despite its size as it reflects light very easily from the case flanks. However, because the whole thing is polished, the watch attracts micro-scratches very easily that tarnishes the polishing. The relative softness of 316L steel does not help this either.

DSCF2597.jpg

The lugs are a twice-angled affair with the first part sticking straight out from the case and the second bending downwards to better fit the curvature of the wrist. Because the lugs extend far out from the case and are finished in high polish, the Tangente looks much bigger on the wrist than its 35mm diameter would indicate. The two separate angles of each lug also means that they reflect light in different ways from different angles, making the watch stand out despite its small stature. However, the long and slim lug design means that the lugs may bend easily when a force is applied on them. That has not been my experience, but it’s something to be wary about.

The simple, thin, and bezel-less design of the Tangente makes it adapt to different strap options very well. It’s near-Daniel Wellington (and I mean that in a good way) ability of matching with any strap you put on it makes it a very versatile watch to wear. Want a hipster aesthetic? Put a suede strap on. Need it for business? The black cordovan strap is perfect for that. Want to look like you’re wearing a Daniel Wellington? Put a nato on that. I kid, but this aspect of the Tangente is very useful, especially if this watch is your only watch. I’ve personally worn this watch in many occasions but I’ve never felt the watch was out of place.

DSCF2586.jpg

Speaking about straps, the Tangente’s lugs use a pin hole spring bar system that makes it easy to change straps on the fly. All you need is a toothpick (or similar tool) to compress the spring bar from the outside to get the spring bar out. No need to fuss with a spring bar tool that may scratch up your lugs. This feature helps a lot when cleaning the dust off the crevices between the case and the lugs (which you will be doing a lot of if you want to keep your watch clean). However, this spring bar system means that there is a small hole through each lug which ruins the visual coherence of the lugs. Not that big of a deal for me — I take strap changeability over that minor aesthetic gripe any day — but it could be for you.

DSCF2596.jpg

Because the lugs and the case has that sharply-angled aesthetic, their edges (of which there are many) are easy to ding and nick. I’m usually very careful with my watches, but my Tangente has already developed a few nicks on the top case bezel. Chamfers or rounded edges which would fix this issue would look out of place in a watch like this. It’s just something Tangente (and Nomos in general) owners will have to live with.

Overall, the case while plain, has just enough detail to make it attractive. Durability is an issue though, and you can only polish that thin of a watch so many times.

Dial

The Tangente’s dial base is made out of galvanized steel plated in silver, which gives it a sparkly texture when viewed from certain angles. Looking at the dial closely, I don’t see any flaws to the plating; the texture is consistent throughout the dial. This choice of dial is much welcomed compared to a plain white dial found on many dress watches as it creates a visual interest on the dial base. I find myself rotating my wrist to see how the Tangente reacts to light in different angles. I don’t get that same enjoyment from other white dials like the one on the Rolex Explorer II. It’s an excellent dial base that the rest of the dial builds upon.

DSCF2594.jpg

The silver dial base is printed with a nice and glossy black for the arabic numerals and stick markers. The typography on both the numerals and text is generally excellent, with all the printing well-spaced, well-sized and well-centered. You can tell that significant thought was put into designing every part of the dial to make it aesthetically pleasing, and aesthetically pleasing it sure is.

All three of the hours, minutes and seconds hands are also real heat-blued hands and not the chemically-dyed kind. The hands have a nice shade of blue that adds a dash of color to the otherwise monochrome dial. It’s also nice knowing that the Nomos watchmakers went through the effort to heat blue the hands as it adds value to the watch. A completely superficial reasoning, but I like knowing that a lot of time was spent on making my watch.

The hands also have just the right length, being just long enough to pass over their respective glossy black markers, but not too long as to obstruct them. This makes it easy to make out the time at a glance and shows that the minor details were not afterthoughts even on a budget-friendly watch like this one.

DSCF2593.jpg

The thin and flat crystal is low to the dial, making enjoying that wonderful dial from at angles distortion-free during the day. However, there is no lume on the dial and the hands do not reflect light so reading the dial in the dark is practically impossible. This is not a big deal for me because I have a phone for that, though it may be a feature that is sorely missed for some folks. Come to think of it, I have a phone for daytime time reading too. Why do I wear a watch again?

Existential crises aside, one thing I would say about the dial design is that it is a distinctly Nomos one, unmistakable for any other brand and instantly recognizable by watch geeks the world around. While not an original Nomos design, Nomos has done a good job designing then marketing this dial to make it their own. It’s an iconic dial design that is timeless and will stand the test of time. Bravo, Nomos.

In my opinion, in determining the aesthetic qualities of a watch, the dial is the most important part. This is even more true in the case of the Tangente where the dial is 90% of what you see in the watch headon. Thankfully, while sterile, the dial is well thought out, iconic and detailed enough that it’s worth staring at from time to time. I’m a big fan of the dial design (if you can’t tell already from this strangely positive section of the review).

Crown

On a manual watch like the Tangente, the crown is a very important part of the watch as it is the part you will interact with the most. As such, the combination of good size and comfortable ribbing of the crown has to be just right to make it a fun daily experience.

DSCF2589.jpg

In the case of the Tangente, the crown is very small. It is just big enough for me to to grip the crown and wind it, but any smaller and that would be too difficult of a task. I would have preferred if the diameter were slightly larger, but too much that it ruins the minial aesthetic of the watch. This is a serious issue though. They claim to be a company that abides by the ‘form follows function’, bauhaus-esque philosophy, but the crown size is clearly not that.

DSCF2591.jpg

Another (albeit small) complaint I have with the crown is that the Nomos signature on the crown is laser engraved in a way that disappears in certain lights. At this price point, I would have preferred a stamped signature instead of the laser engraving we have on the Tangente. If other brands in this price range like Oris, Sinn, Tudor and Longines can do it, why can’t Nomos?

The ribbing on the side of the crown, on the other hand, is very nice. It’s sharp enough to create a grippy surface, but not too sharp that I hurt my fingers winding the watch. No complaints here.

Strap

The stock strap is a black Horween shell cordovan strap that tapers from 18mm at the lugs to 16mm at the buckle. The buckle is a tang-styled one with a laser engraved Nomos insignia. The strap is stitched together with a matching black thread that blends in with the strap’s black color. While nice, the stitching is a bit too tight as some points, but that’s not too big a deal.

DSCF2604.jpg

Shell cordovan is well-known (and overhyped) in the shoe collecting community for having superior toughness, nice aging and a high-shine look. The application of cordovan here is a welcomed one. The strap is soft, pliable and molds to the wrist very easily like a suede strap would, while still holding its structure unlike suede. The leather loops are also not too thick as to add pressure on the underside of the wrist. A watch’s strap plays a huge part in the watch’s wearability and comfort, and Nomos did it right with this one.

The glossy black shell also makes for a nice business/dress strap that would go well in more formal occasions. In more casual settings though, I found the strap to be out of place and incompatible with many kinds of outfits. Thankfully, the Tangente wears other straps well (as mentioned in the Case section of this review) and will fit other occasions besides the rough and tumble if need be.

DSCF2602.jpg

Once the stock strap is worn out, you can purchase a new one with the Nomos signed buckle for 80 Euros on Nomos’ web store, which is not expensive by any means relative to OEM straps from other brands. I would even go so far as to recommend this strap as a replacement strap for other slimmer profile watches as I love this strap a lot.

Movement

The movement under the hood of the Tangente 35 is the Nomos caliber Alpha, a glorified ETA/Pesaux 7001. I’m not knocking the movement though; it’s a solid movement that should be easy to service by any watchmaker worth the candle. What I am knocking is the terminology used by Nomos to describe the movement. While the movement is made in-house by Nomos, they’re not clear about the fact that the movement is not one of their own design. While some parts were redesigned by Nomos, it shares the same basic design as the ETA version. It’s one of those things that a lot of brands with ebauche movements do, but that does not make it right. A consumer may be misled into thinking that they’re getting additional ‘value’ over the competition by having an in-house designed and manufactured movement.

DSCF2598.jpg

That aside, Nomos has done some pretty good work on the movement, especially for the price. It is supposedly adjusted to 6 positions through the Trivois adjustment system, which to my calculations is a lot of positions. More accurately, it’s one more than 5 positions. More is better right?

Anecodotally, the watch was accurate enough that I didn’t notice much time shift day-to day. For me, because I don’t wear a single watch every day for an extended period, an accuracy better than +/- 20 – 30 seconds a week is good enough. This watch definitely surpasses that in my testing, running well within COSC specs throughout my ownership of it. Nomos’ claim of a 43 hours power reserve also holds true, which is nice.

Hacking seconds is present which is nice. Better than Patek Phillipe confirmed? Winding action is also nice enough. It’s not the smoothest winding experience nor the nicest tactile response, but it’s about average for a manual watch at any price.

In terms of servicing, Nomos recommends the Tangente be serviced every 5 years. Nomos offers a complete overhaul of the watch for 220 Euros. It’s an above average price to pay for servicing such a simple manual winding watch, but when compared to the competition the price is very reasonable. I would still use my go-to watchmaker for this though to save some cash.

Caseback View

The caseback has a slight convex shape to it that goes against the curvature of the wrist. This is not my preferred caseback shape as the caseback adds pressure to the wrist when strapped down tightly, but a curved caseback is probably too much to ask at this price point.

The movement seen through the caseback is also very small relative to the case. This is another pet peeve of mind especially for movements that claim to be in-house. A movement that’s that much smaller than the case speaks ‘compromise’ to me. The newer movements that Nomos has been putting out do a much better job at that, which is nice. I hope to see those newer movements proliferate throughout their product line, even on the smaller watches like this one.

DSCF2598 2.jpg

In traditional Glashutte fashion, the movement has a 3-quarter plate construction that covers everything but the escapement and a bit of the going train. The finishing on the movement is nice for the price. Looking through the caseback, we see Glashutte ribbing on the plates, perlage on the base plate, swirled sunbursting on the power train wheels, heat-blued screws, chamfers on the edges of the bridges and countersunk screw/jewel holes.

The well-decorated movement is kind of a novelty feature, though. It’s something nice to show your non-watch friends to explain why mechanical movements are a cool thing, and you may get a kick out of it for the first few weeks of owning it. I would look at the caseback quite a bit at the start, but nowadays I find myself staring into the dial more instead. I would still recommend the $280 sapphire case back upgrade because I’m a normie, but I don’t think it’s a necessary feature if you’re strapped for cash.

Miscellaneous

Because of how thin the case is, the ticking sound coming from the pallet fork/escapement interaction can be heard from as far as 14 inches away if unobstructed. I would be working on something on my computer and I would hear the ticking sound eminating from the Nomos. I kinda like the sound when working so it’s not a big deal for me, but have this by your bedside table and it will be a problem.

Buying the Watch

Outside of Germany, Nomos has a relatively small retail presence which makes it difficult to just drive down to an authorized dealer to get a feel of their range. Nomos works around this issue by offering a 14-day no questions asked refund when ordering from their online. This means that potential buyers can try on Nomos watches and return if it doesn’t work for them. This is an awesome thing to see, so PLEASE DO NOT exploit Nomos’ graces as it would increase their cost of operation.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 6.57.11 PM

Buying through the store is also a very simple process. After placing the order, it took the watch 5 days to reach my doorstep from Germany. Impressive.

Value

The inherent value contained in this watch is way higher than its price tag would indicate. The Tangente packs a super detailed and well-designed dial, true heat-blued components, a well-finished and well-regulated movement, all for under $2500.

Nomos has since moved up the value chain, releasing watches in the Omega/Tudor/Tag price bracket instead of the Longines/Oris/Baume price bracket it used to occupy with the Tangente/Ludwig/Tetra generation of watches. With Nomos releasing new watches at that higher price bracket, Nomos has placed itself in competition with those more premium brands in the eyes of the consumer. This continued association with higher end brands makes Nomos seem like a more premium brand, making the Tangente even more of a steal.

In the secondary market, though, the Tangente doesn’t fare as well. With prices for one with full box and papers hovering between $900 – $1200 (as of 2018), that means the Tangente takes a huge hit in its resale value when worn. But, that also means that getting one preowned is a ridiculous value play — in my opinion the best out there at or around the $1000 mark. Compared to other semi-dress/casual watches at the $2500 retail/$1000 aftermarket range, the Tangente 35 takes the top spot.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the only thing that seperates a buy and a no-buy decision on teh Tangente is the look. It’s a polarizing design that may not sit well with some. There are some downsides to the watch like the crown design, case tolerances and durability, but I can look past those at this price. So, if you dig the aesthetic, and boy do I dig it, the watch is a no brainer at this price point.

DSCF2581.jpg

So, if you’re looking for a watch with ridiculous value under $2500, an iconic dial that will stand the test of time, a modern look yet with vintage proportions and a versatile wearability, the Nomos Tangente is the watch for you.

You can pick one up from Nomos’ web store here.

 

Release Notes: GMK Space Cadet

Release Notes is a series of articles through which I share my thoughts on new Interest Checks, Group Buys and general releases in the keyboard space. Keep in mind that I do not own these pieces of hardware and that information in this article may not be completely accurate. I will try my best to make sure that all information presented here is as accurate as possble.

K7Py8Cz1SI6gCVUVx1Rh_2.jpg

Introduction

Originating from a LISP machine keyboard, the Space Cadet’s blue modifier/grey alpha colorway is one of the most sought-after colorways in the keyboard space. Back in the good ol’ days (ah the good old mid-2010s LOL) of custom keycap sets, 7bit, an early community member, initially ran the Space Cadet colorway in the spherical SA with just the regular SA legends. Then in their round 6 buy, 7bit reran the Space Cadet colorway with the full Space Cadet legends, giving rise to the most expensive SA set in the aftermarket.

Some people love the keyset so much that this monstrosity was made.

After an extensive IC phase, Oblotsky and Massdrop have finally launched the rerun of the Space Cadet colorway and legends in the much more typing-friendly GMK/Cherry profile. Rejoice!

Specifications

rlJSWF2FSJehujNP5ST5_01_base_kit.jpg

Designer: Oblotsky

Maker: GMK

Vendor: Massdrop

Material: ABS plastic with doubleshot primary legends and sublegends

Profile: Cherry profile R1-R1-R2-R3-R4-R4

Price: Base Kit starts at $149.99 (drops to $119.99 at 1000 MOQ)

Group Buy Link: Here

Thoughts

The Space Cadet colorway has always stood out to me as the colorway that didn’t need to do too much to be special. Blue and grey with white legends are nothing special when compared to the multi-colored GMK sets we’re used to seeing, but it still pulls on my heart strings every damn time. This combined with the typically better color matching afforded by GMK is a home run on the color front.

A nice inclusion in the base set are the special keys in the original group buy like ‘Rub Out’ ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°), ‘Hyper’ and ‘Meta’. The set also comes with text modifiers and arrow keys to complete the look, though I prefer the look of icon modifiers if given the choice.

The fully doubleshot legends and sublegends on these are also a welcomed addition over a doubleshot primary legend/pad printed sublegend combo. This is slightly more expensive than a 1000MOQ GMK set would usually be ($10 extra over Nautilus and Yuri), but is in line with other dual-legend sets like Serika (and $10 cheaper than Laser). At the 1000MOQ’s 120 dollar price, this set is a good value for the amount of keys you’re getting and the potentially higher than retail aftermarket price when delivered.

One notable exclusion from this set is the R0/R5 support that the next GMK set, GMK Carbon R2 is getting. I would have loved to see R5 support on this set as it feels more comfortable to type on and looks nicer with that more sculpted aesthetic. This set is just one set too early to get that sweet, sweet sculpting though. While unfortunate, with the number of sets GMK Space Cadet is expected to sell, it shouldn’t be too difficult reaching MOQ for an R0/R5 group buy after the fact.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for the next hottest GMK set to pick up and enjoy the Space Cadet colorway, this is the set for you. I will be picking a set up myself and you should too!

You can pick this set up here!

Release Notes: Keycult No.1 – 2018’s Board of the Year?

Release Notes is a series of articles through which I share my thoughts on new Interest Checks, Group Buys and general releases in the keyboard space. Keep in mind that I do not own these pieces of hardware and that information in this article may not be completely accurate. I will try my best to make sure that all information presented here is as accurate as possble.

zTpfBw7

Introduction

In recent times, keyboard design has devolved into just differences in aesthetic choices and layouts rather than improvements to the core features of a keyboard like typing feel and sound. Top/tray mount, brass plate and rectangular brass weight together is a combination of features that will make a good keyboard, but it’s not anything significantly different from any other custom keyboard. It’s not that appearances are not important to me — I love a nice looking keyboard and I was enamored by the Modern M0110 — but as a mechanical engineer I love the #keyboardscience part of things more.

Thus, when the Keycult No.1 was first teased on Geekhack in 2017, keyboard enthusiasts collectively nutted all at once. It was the first time I got excited over a new keyboard in a long time. A small group buy of 20 units was announced, built and delivered. Subsequently, the pictures that flooded the Internet made keyboard enthusiasts all over the world drool.

After months of delays, OCO posted this update a few days ago, saying that a soft launch of TypeMachina is imminent. As such, here is why I think this keyboard is special and deserves your attention. *but please let me checkout before you do when the day comes*

Keycult Exploded View.001

Specifications

Designer: riotonthebay

Case: Aluminum 3-Part Case

Plate: Brass, Aluminum (the private group buy had a partial polycarbonate plate option, but the TM release will only have Brass and Alu)

Plate Mounting System: Sandwich Mount with Gaskets

Weight: Aluminum or Brass Weight Integrated with Midlayer

Lift Angle: 9.5 degrees

Layout Support: Winkeyless and Winkey Tenkeyless

PCB Compatibility: TX87

Price: TBD (the private GB in 2017 costed ~$300, but release price should be more than that — insert joke about OCO tax)

Group Buy Date: SoonT(ype)M(achina)

Geekhack Teaser: Link

36533126490_67ae7b0a1b_o

My Thoughts

Plate Mounting System

Keycult Top Gasket.001

One of the coolest (but not necessarily new) features of the No.1 is its sandwich mount with gaskets (aka gasket mount) plate mounting system. Found only on two other keyboards ever, the OTD 356mini v1 (check out pr0ximity’s awesome guide, Anthony’s Unboxing and Let’s Build) and the Meme, legend has it that this mounting system produces the ‘best’ bottom out sound and typing feel on a keyboard. This is widely believed to be because the rubber gaskets serve as dampeners to remove any unwanted reverberations, creating a clean and singular bottom out sound that’s free of plate rattle within the case. The gaskets also add a compression on the plate to create a tighter sandwich construction within the case. However, it has also been argued that the effect the gasket has on typing feel and sound (if any) in the case of the 356mini may not have been an intentional design choice on the part of the OTD designers.

Regardless, the designer of the keyboard obviously took some inspiration from the gasket in the 356mini when designing the No.1 and took it to the next level. This can be seen in the different ways the gaskets are implemented between the two boards.  On the 356mini, the gasket is a large rubber o-ring wrapping around the outermost switches between the plate and PCB while resting on top of a ledge on the bottom plate. As the case is screwed tight, the gasket compresses and flattens on the ledge, pulling the plate towards the bottom case and creating a sandwich seal. On the No.1, the gasket tabs rest on the top part of the plate, with space between the top case and the plate. As the case is screwed in, the gasket compresses, causing the top case and bottom case to sandwich the plate between them. Here’s a crude diagram I drew up explaining the two:

Sandwich Mount Crude Drawing.001While different, the gasket mount is a feature that should be explored further in the custom keyboard world and I’m glad to see riotonthebay taking this on with the No.1. I’m excited to see how the keyboard sounds and feels when I get this keyboard in.

T8rRh58

One other thing that’s special about the plate is that there are through cuts surrounding the alpha cluster, presumably to introduce flex during bottom out. This is also a feature which has its roots in the early Korean custom keyboard scene and keyboard enthusiasts have speculated that this not only creates a cushioned typing feel but also improves the acoustics of the bottom out. I’m no audio engineer, but this sounds to me like we’re entering psuedo-science territory and I’m going to have to test it out myself to figure out if it’s true. Still, it’s interesting that the designer is trying out different methods to create a better typing experience.

xbzoibf

Weight Design

The weight design in the No.1 is another feature that stands out above the rest in my opinion. Too often have we seen the keyboard weight be an afterthought in the keyboard design process, with many manufacturers opting to go for a standard rectangular weight. While a weight like that does its job (adds heft and changes the acoustic properties), it’s boring.

Keycult Midlayer:Weight.001

In the No.1, the ‘weight’ is a solid weight & midlayer combination that shows through the bottom, the sides and the back of the keyboard. What an absolute madlad riotonthebay is for trying this, but boy is it interesting. This design feature not only functions as a weight but also a visual interest on the side to break up the mass of the side profile. It’s also an excellent way of dealing with the side seam problem that many two-part cases face. Genius. I’m sure that this weight design will add heft to the keyboard, but I’m not sure how this design will affect its sound.

Conclusion

Through this keyboard, riotonthebay drew upon the ideas put forth by the Korean keyboard Gods while putting their own spin on things. This synthesis of ideas has created a marvelous piece of gear that I believe is a strong contender for custom keyboard of the year. While I prefer keyboard layouts with centered alphas (60s, 65s and 75s), this keyboard is different (and interesting!) enough that I will get my first custom TKL.

For more Keycult goodness, here’s riot’s build log of the No.1 and here’s the teaser of the No.2.

Huge thanks to designer riotonthebay for providing the information I needed to complete the article.

EDIT 1: Section on fit and finish of the keyboard was removed due to potential inaccuracies in the reporting.

EDIT 2: Added the argument that the OTD 356mini’s gasket may not be as important as widely believed to be

Keyboard Assembly and Switch Lubing Services

Update: I’m currently NOT accepting builds. Sorry for the inconvenience!

On top of reviewing cool stuff, I’m also passionate about building keyboards. I have extensive experience doing these things, and I have some free time on my hands. As such, I’m currently offering a professional custom keyboard assembly and switch lubing service.

For my standard assembly service, I do PCB testing, stabilizer clipping and tuning, band-aid mod, switch alignment, soldering switches and a typing test after. Desoldering, soldering LEDs/SIP sockets and programming cost extra. I have genuine Cherry stabilizers in stock so you could use my stabilizers at cost to save on shipping.

For switch lubing, I brush lube the sliders, housing, nubs if linears, springs and stem with Superlube Oil. Spring swapping, housing swapping and stem swapping are included in the cost, while adding switch films cost extra. I have other lubes, switch films, and springs in stock so you could use my stuff at cost to save on shipping.

Do note that because I currently have a large backlog of things to review, I might be selective in choosing boards to builds as they would also have to be boards that I would like to take a look at.

Here are my costs:

  1. 60/65-key assembly: $50 + shipping
  2. 75-key/TKL assembly: $65 + shipping
  3. 96-key/Compact 1800/1800/Full-Size: $75 + shipping
  4. Switch Lube: 50c/switch + shipping

I’m local to San Diego (92092) so you could save on shipping by dropping it off to me!

If you’re interested, send me an email to brianlzf#gmail.com with the following template:

___________________

Name:

Physical Address:

Phone Number:

Reddit/Geekhack/Discord Username (if applicable):

___________________

Keyboard Assembly (repeat/delete this section where appropriate)

Keyboard Name:

Preferred Layout (standard/WKL/ISO/etc, be descriptive if needed!):

Desoldering Service (Y/N):

In-House Stabilizers (Y/N):

Band-Aid Mod (Y/N):

Programming Layout (Y/N):

LEDs (Y/N):

SIP Sockets (Y/N):

___________________

Switch Lubing (repeat/delete this section where appropriate)

Switch Name:

Lube (BLR’s/Otherwise) :

Switch Quantity: 

Modifications (spring swap/housing swap/stem swap):

Switch Films (Y/N): 

Other BLR Materials (springs/films/lube):

___________________

Thanks for viewing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Release Notes: KBDFans’ Topre 9009 – Topre is getting better

Release Notes is a series of articles through which I share my thoughts on new Interest Checks, Group Buys and general releases in the keyboard space. Keep in mind that I do not own these pieces of hardware and that information in this article may not be completely accurate. I will try my best to make sure that all information presented here is as accurate as possble.

fullsizeoutput_128

Introduction

Topre is a compromise.

Don’t get me wrong, Topre is my favorite switch of all time, but there are no Topre boards that fit my preferences to a T(opre) like custom MX boards can. Silly r/mk memes aside, here’s a list of my grievances with stock Topre boards:

  1. Switch plate material is limited to either plastic on the HHKB or steel on the Realforces/Leopolds (may change with Xondat’s XRF custom keyboard)
  2. Plate mounting system is limited to only integrated plate on the HHKB, psuedo-bottom mount on the Realforces and tray mount on the Realforces/Leopolds (also may change with the XRF)
  3. Case material is limited to plastic in every case (ha!) but the absurdly expensive HHKB Professional HG (there are third party cases for the Novatouch, Realforce, but only by one maker)
  4. Absolutely dumpster fire stabilizers that rattle even when lubed up and modded
  5. Generally uninspiring case design
  6. Keycap sets that only come with alpha-colored pipe/backslash and tilde/backtick keys
  7. Generally thin PBT dye-subs with clean but feathered legends
  8. Replacement keycap sets are limited to keycaps harvested from vintage/other Topre boards, mono-colored keycaps made for the Realforce that do not support all Topre boards, resin keycaps by third party manufacturers and cheap sets on Aliexpress/Taobao

Are these limitations really worth suffering through just for Topre? Some think so. But with this group buy for the Topre 9009 keyset by KBDFans, number 6 and 8 may no longer be in issue. The prospect of a better Topre experience excites me to no end.

Topre 9009 Layout.001

Specifications

Material: PBT with dye-sublimated legends

Pricing: Base Kit starts at $69, with additional kits ranging from $9 to $19 each and free standard shipping

Compatibility: Most current production Topre-stemmed boards (doesn’t support the Realforce R2, Realforce RGB and some 7u spacebar Realforces but support for those are coming soon!)

EDIT: KBDFans has added a 7u Spacebar kit!

Thickness: Approximately 1.2mm

Profile: Topre/OEM

Group Buy End Date: August 17th

Estimated Ship Date: October 17th

Group Buy Page: Link

fullsizeoutput_129

Thoughts

Colorway

Well, it’s 9009 like all the 9009s. I’m guessing KBDFans is going for this classic colorway as their first set because it’s a safe one to start with that people can easily buy into. 9009 is a tried and tested colorway that has been proven to sell well, even through their own store.

Not gonna lie, I just can’t get excited over 9009 anymore. It’s way overplayed in the keyboard space and we’re gonna get to a point where every enthusiast owns something 9009. But, I’m excited for the possibilities of custom colors in the future and this is probably contingent on the set selling well, so I’m okay with the colorway choice. The colorway choice is not a deterrent here.

6_6ae9f76b-8c1f-4e9e-bbd9-385b41a3e3c7

Keycap Quality

Because I don’t have the keycaps in my hand right now, I cannot say with any certainty how good they are. But, based on the pictures on their website, which I believe to be pictures of actual prototype samples, they are very similar to stock Topre caps in terms of thickness, texture and sound. If standard Topre caps are of any indication, they will be thick enough but not great, be smooth enough but not Gateron/EnjoyPBT smooth and sound deep enough but not as deep as I would prefer. However, at the price point KBDFans plans on selling this set at, I’m more than willing to accept those shortcomings.

Topre 9009 Burrs.001

One area that I see an issue in is PBT defects around the edges of the keycaps. Unlike my stock HHKB and Realforce keycaps, I see some burrs and chips as circled in the picture above. This is an issue with many PBT keycap sets like EnjoyPBT/Gateron, KPRepublic and other stock PBT sets, and is probably a minor nitpick as they’re easy to sand down, but is an issue nonetheless.

Note that this is just what I see from their prototype pictures and that many things can change from their prototype samples to the finished product.

Legend Quality

As seen in the photos, the legends in this set looks pretty decent but not anything to write home about. In general, their quality looks in line with the quality seen on stock Topre caps, just with better sharpness. Kerning also seems to be a non-issue on these caps; all the word legends are tight and evenly spaced. Well done.

Stock Topre keycaps can be characterized as having clean lines and flawless typography, but with significant feathering around the edges. As with stock Topre caps, these keycaps look like they have an issue with feathering, albeit a lot less of it. Peep these photos:

Topre 9009 Feathering.001Topre 9009 Feathering.002

As far as I can tell, the feathering on these are not nearly as bad as the feathering on stock Topre caps. In the case of the stock Topre caps, feathering can be seen around every legend, while feathering only affects certain legends in the Topre 9009. An upgrade over stock Topre for sure.

fullsizeoutput_12a

This set also has the unproportionally short backspace arrow that plagued R1 of the EnjoyPBT 9009. I do expect this to be fixed just like in R2 of ePBT 9009, but I’m including this for completion sake.

Other miscellaneous legend issues are the tilted legends on right control and page down; the thinner-than-my-liking legends on the diamond key, menu key and number row keys; and the lack of side-printed legends like on the HHKB. But, I plan on bringing up the first two issues with KBDFans and I understand that not all Topre boards share the same function layer as the HHKB.

Again, many things could change from prototype phase to production phase (whether for the better or otherwise) so take this analysis with a grain of salt.

EDIT: It was brought to my attention by EnjoyPBT Black on White designer u/gok101 that the prototype Topre 9009 caps share the same legends (and errors!) in ePBT 9009 R1. This explains the disproportionally short backspace. This also means that the navigation cluster in the prototype Topre 9009 has misaligned arrow keys and other errors as seen here:

Topre 9009 Nav CLuster.001

Conclusion

I’m excited, not just for this but for the future. KBDFans has historically been very good at addressing criticism and listening to customer feedback on what to run. With some improvement to the legends and potentially custom colors in future runs, this is a home run for KBDFans and a new frontier for Topre users. This, along with Xondat’s XRF, gives me hope that the Topre experience can be elevated to newer heights, and that Topre will no longer be a compromise but a choice.

At $69 for the Base Kit, this is an instant buy for me. If you’re interested in a set too, you can pick one up here.

Btw, KBDFans if you’re reading this, Topre Hi-Pro maybe?

Review: EnjoyPBT 9009

DSCF2450

Ah, the fabled 9009. Originating from this CHAD of a keyboard, the Cherry G80-9009, this pastel green, pastel pink, beige and white colorway is very popular in the keyboard community. Like, VERY POPULAR. In this review, I’ll be taking a closer look at the EnjoyPBT (ePBT) version of this colorway — the EnjoyPBT 9009 to see how far ePBT has come over the years and how it stacks up with the other PBT dye-subs I have with me.

Unboxing

The unboxing experience is, as the kids would say, kinda whatevs. The keycaps came in 3 ziploc bags packed in a cardboard box. Not my ideal method of storing/shipping keycaps (I prefer trays like how GMK, JTK etc do it) but it gets the job done. One worry with storing keycaps in bags is that there’s a chance of the keycaps being nicked and scratched while in the bag. Thankfully, there is none of that here.

The Layout

 

fullsizeoutput_11f

 

Layout Support here is nothing short of amazing. Most layouts I can think of are supported with this keyset and we get 9 (!!!) spacebars to choose from. KBDFans even threw in a free set of 1u blanks to support folks with ortholinear, ergonomic etc. layout keyboards. In GMK terms, it means this set comes with a Base Kit, a lesser Spacebar Kit and a 40s kit minus legends. That equates to, let’s see, a lot of bleeping PBT caps.

There’s an argument to be made about whether paying for so many keys is necessary as the for 120 dollars the buy-in price is the same as a GMK set’s. But, for a relatively high-end, probably long-lasting set like this, the huge keycap compatibility is important as it means the set will support most of your future keyboard purchases. Also, the complete compatibility means that selling the set in the future is easier as this keyset will support other people’s keyboards too. Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra for that security, whether or not it encroaches into GMK price territory.

Most importantly, for all you folks who have attained enlightenment, the set comes with modifier-colored pipe/backslash and backtick/tilde keys for the A E S T H E T I C symmetry.

One minor gripe is that the 6u spacebar does not have a center mounting stem, which is a problem for Razer/Logitech/Corsair users. Yes, yes, Razer is bad. I get it. However, my dad bought this set thinking that it would fit his Razer Blackwidow’s strange bottom row but the 6u spacebar only has an off-center stem and not a center one. I don’t know how difficult it would be to add a 6u spacebar with support for both but considering that 50% (a wild estimation) of mechanical keyboards out there have 6u centered stem spacebars, not having it is a missed opportunity. Still, it’s a pretty minor issue, but I would be remiss to not mention that.

Colorway

9009 is an iconic (and straight up overplayed) colorway in the keyboard community, with the OG version and GMK versions of the set selling over retail (and sometimes WAY OVER RETAIL) on r/mechmarket. Hype aside, I do enjoy this colorway for it’s simplicity and classic design. Beige and grey sets get me every single time because I’m an unapologetically, vintage-loving hipster normie and this is no different. While I do not own a GMK or OG set to compare the colors of this ePBT version with, I do think the pastel pink and pastel green accents are pretty (regardless of whether it’s a faithful reproduction of the original). Props to KBDFans and EnjoyPBT.

Keycap Quality

The keycaps themselves are very thick. At 1.5mm thick, these Gateron-made PBT keycaps are absolute units. Here’s a photo comparing the thickness of the caps with the other PBT dye-subs I have on hand.

Cap Thickness.001

They’re joint thickest with IMSTO Ural (which makes sense since this IMSTO set utilized Gateron/ePBT blanks just like the 9009 set) and /dev/tty, while also quite a bit thicker than the Topre ones.

fullsizeoutput_11c

The ePBT caps have a uniform matte finish to them with a very slight glossy sparkle when viewed at from an off-angle. You can see said gloss on that F8 key on the right side of the picture above. It’s not super bright or even noticeable head-on, but it’s still brighter than my future as a reviewer.

Texture Comparison.001

The texture of ePBT/Gateron keycaps is my personal favourite of all the keycaps I’ve tried. Up close, the skin-like, pore-ish texture of the /dev/tty is an immediate turnoff (and downright icky if you ask me!), while the stock Realforce keycaps have too visible and rough a texture to my liking. Meanwhile, ePBT keycaps have a texture that’s soft to the touch, yet provide just enough friction to rest your fingers on. Very nice.

However, the keycaps are not all perfect.

fullsizeoutput_113

As seen in the photo above, the edges of the keycaps are pretty jagged and rough. In some cases, there are even extra PBT bits protruding outwards from the keycaps. Nothing that a file can’t solve, but I wish it were better. You get jagged edges with most PBT sets, even the more expensive ones like IMSTO Ural. However, the edges on /dev/tty are near perfect on every key and are the benchmark of PBT quality (as in the keycap itself, not the legends) to me so seeing burrs on the ePBT is off-putting.

Warping is a serious issue that past iterations of ePBT/Gateron caps and most PBT keysets face. In many cases, the long modifier keys and spacebars are so warped that even with the most well-lubed of stabilizers, they would cause an uneven depress and as such cause the stabilizer to rattle.

In the case of the ePBT 9009, warping is still an issue on the longer keys, but much less so. On the shorter keys like both shifts, backspace and enter, warping is a mild issue at best. The keys look relatively straight on all 3 axes and probably won’t cause an issue with your stabilizers. Peep these photos:

Shift Warping .001

Even the spacebars are relatively straight on all the axes, with /dev/tty edging out ePBT and IMSTO VERY slightly in the 6.25u test, and with both 7u ePBT and IMSTO spacebars performing admirably. Well done, ePBT. While I may have gotten lucky with this set and have no warped spacebars in them, this is very promising as most ePBT sets I’ve seen have had bad 7u spacebars. Are the days of banana modifier keycaps finally gone? See for yourself:

Space Warping .001Space Warping .002Space Warping .003Space Warping .004

Legend Quality

Legend.001

Legend quality is an often overlooked part of keyset design. I mean, as a touch typist myself, I don’t even look at my keyboard while typing so it shouldn’t matter that much, right? Well idgaf and I like my legends so why I can sometimes be very anal passionate about it. The way I did this part of the review is by IRL pixel peeping the legends for inconsistencies and comparing them to my IMSTO dye-subbed set. IMSTO is renowned in the community for making the best dye-subs ever, so if past ePBT keysets are any indication, they *should* be blown out of the water here.

Surprisingly, from a distance, none of the keycaps stood out as atrocious, which surpassed my expectations of it already. At a glance, that already makes it better than the tilted by an angle, off-center and feather-prone /dev/tty set. And we all know it’s gonna be better than JTK. Get your shit together, JTK.

Another good thing I noticed about ePBT (and IMSTO Ural) is that the legends have mostly consistent cap and midline heights. To illustrate what I mean:

leading

Many keysets out there cannot get it right 100% of the time because it takes a lot of design effort for it to be so. Well done.

Legend Comparison.001

In the above close up images of the 8/* key, we can see that the legends of the ePBT keycap are very sharp, possibly even sharper than the IMSTO one, though I do not have a microscope on hand to verify. This could be due to the darker black utilized in the ePBT keycap, or due to the fact that I’m not looking close enough, but I truly believe the sharpness on the ePBT cap is similar to the IMSTO one. Another positive.

However, like the rest of the keyset, there are some flaws in ePBT’s dye-sub that stem not from the quality of the dye-sub process but from the typography used in their raw files.

Legend Comparison.002

Against the Realforce key, ePBT wins hands down as the Realforce key has way too much feathering around the legends. The Realforce key has cleaner lines and zero flaws that I can make out, but its lines are not sharp at all.

Here are more pictures comparing the legends side-by-side with IMSTO:

Legend.003Legend.004Legend.005

One problem I noticed with the ePBT spacebar row keys is that they are shifted up away from the center axis. When I first noticed it, I thought it was an optical illusion or something because every other key was centered well. But up close, it definitely fails the eye test. In the case of the IMSTO, every, and I mean EVERY legend is centered correctly. Minus points for the ePBT here.

Legend.002

Legend.006

Kerning is another issue as seen in the picture above. On the one End (ha!), the letters are too close and are touching each other on the ‘End’ key; on the other, the space between the ‘i’ and the ‘o’ on ‘Option’ is so big your mother will fit in it. Plus points for me for being able to hang with the teens with that joke, minus points for ePBT for that spacing.

Kerning.001

There is inconsistent kerning on most of the other word legend keys too as seen in the picture above.

Overall, though, ePBT 9009 only falls slightly behind IMSTO Ural in terms of typography, kerning and centering while besting all three of /dev/tty, HHKB and Realforce keycaps. It still has some egregious issues with legends, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed in future iterations of EnjoyPBT. I like ’em. A lot.

Sound

Now I’m just going to start by saying PBT is my preferred keycap material for sound AND IT SHOULD BE YOURS TOO. I kid, but I’ve tried many keycap materials in many profiles and I found myself going back to /dev/tty’s PBT for the best sounding keycaps. So how does Gateron/ePBT caps sound compared to /dev/tty?

The ePBT caps have a slightly higher-pitched, softer in volume bottom out sound compared to /dev/tty’s louder, more full and deeper bottom out. The ePBT caps are more consistent in its sound (which sometimes makes it dull, but that’s a matter of preference) compared to the more lively, dare I say even musical sound of the /dev/tty.

In the grand scheme of things, ePBT sounds amazing in its own right and definitely sound better than some other PBT (DSA, XDA) and ABS (SA, GMK, etc) keycaps, but I still prefer the more inconsistent but fun /dev/tty bottom out.

Typing

In my opinion, there’s not much to say here other than the fact that Cherry profile is the far superior layout compared to anything I’ve used over the years. I’ll be writing a Long Term Review on Cherry profile in the coming months but in short, I prefer cylindrical keycaps because they are easier to move between rows with and I prefer a lower profile sculpted set because I’m just not used to typing on a high profile set (that’s why I cannot use /dev/tty for any extended period) or a flat set (DSA and SA R3, BEGONE!). This set being run in Cherry profile is the best thing KBDFans could have done in this regard.

Conclusion

If you have 120 dollars to blow on a keyset, and you like the 9009 colorway, buy this one. Everything about this keyset in terms of layout, keycap quality, legend quality, sound and typing feel is on the better end of what’s available in the keyboard community. KBDFans is a reputable seller with very good communication so I have no qualms recommending them to anyone in this hobby. EnjoyPBT has stepped up their game and, in my opinion, officially stepped into the big league. With improvements to their typography and maybe the introduction of 5-sided reverse dye-sub for custom color keysets, ePBT has the potential to be the biggest player in this space.

As of the time of writing, there are still some sets available directly from KBDFans and some available on r/mechmarket.

I’m not sponsored by KBDFans btw. I just really like this set.