Click and clack. Sounds (or the hosts of Car Talk). The Reddit page kicks it off referencing the sound of the keyboard. Not keycaps, not switch types, but sound. And if you get it just right, the sound draws you in to its rhythm, its beat. Taeha Kim, the beloved keyboard content creator, tells us that the keyboard world also calls it “thock,” in an attempt to come up with a word that captures that dream sound of the keystroke.
Christopher Stepanian, one of our production leads and a keyboard enthusiast, put it this way:
Linear switch: A simple up and down movement with little tactile feedback or click. The smooth motion results in faster actuation (registering of the keystroke), meaning this is often considered a good option for gaming.
Tactile switch: These provide an audible bump as the key travels down, letting you know that your keystroke has registered. So you don’t need to bottom out with every keystroke, making for a lighter and quicker typing experience.
Clicky switch: The loudest of the three, these make an audible click when the keystroke registers.
Looks straightforward, but this is where it starts to get juicy. We asked Zach Allaun, our friend and founder of Keycult, if he could remember his first mechanical keyboard. He did, down to the switches.
Answer: Sound brought us in, but it’s not everything. So let’s set it aside for a second and consider some other technical specs.
The MX Blue travels 2.2 mm to reach actuation, and 4 mm to reach bottom. The MX Silent Red, though, travels 1.9 mm to actuation and 3.7 mm to reach bottom.
And these are just Cherry switches. Another switch maker, Kailh, has three lines of switches, and within each of those are multiple colors.
Switches are clutch, so we asked Cory Watson, Observability specialist and Grovemade customer, which ones he’s currently using.
Maybe someone to make the decision for you. If you find it too hard to pick just one type of switch, or are scared of committing, consider a hot swappable keyboard, which allows you to switch switches easily. A non-hot-swappable keyboard requires you to solder switches on to the printed circuit board (PCB)—a process much harder to undo. But hot swappable switches on a hot swappable keyboard just press into holes in the PCB, and pop out when you want to change them.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s revisit the basic mechanical keyboard structure.
2. Switches and stabilizers (which keep larger keys from the dreaded Wobble) sit on top of that. PCB-mounted switches have little prongs that fit directly into the PCB- no intervening plate. But plate-mounted switches are anchored by the plate and then soldered to the PCB.
3. Keycaps on top!
What all of this translates to is Opportunity. You can pick which case you want, you can pick the switches and stabilizers, pick the keycaps.
You can get a tenkeyless backlit board with a funky space bar and a clunky click. You can get a 65% form factor mechanical gaming keyboard with Kailh Speed Copper switches and NovelKeys Star Wars GMK Boba Fett keycaps. You can get a 60% wood case with some clicky switches and these fun Year of the Rattilicious Jelly Keys keycaps, or a Datamancer Inifinity ErgoDox Hardwood case for an Infinity ErgoDox Ergonomic Keyboard.
The Infinity ErgoDox Ergonomic Keyboard is a fully split keyboard and fully programmable, with an online tool that allows the purchaser to place keys in the order they like. It’s crowd-funded, open source, and a key to understanding the mechanical keyboard universe. Not because it’s brilliantly made, which it is, but because of how it came to be. After the first incarnation of ErgoDox, Input Club and Massdrop realized that individuals in the mechanical keyboard community wanted to weigh in on keyboard design and configuration. So they started Infinity Project as a way of gathering community input and challenging the status quo of keyboard layout and build.
The Infinity ErgoDox is a product of that project. A product of avid keyboard enthusiasts weighing in and voting on this tool that brings them joy, and challenges them to find new solutions, explore new designs. It reveals that the mechanical keyboard community really is that—a community. Connected by these toys, in the best sense of the word.
Group buys aren’t the only option though. You can buy ready-to-ship pre-made keyboards and ready-to-ship parts for custom builds. The CORSAIR Gaming K70 keyboard, for example, comes built with Cherry MX Red switches and contoured keys. Ducky, a Taiwanese company that just wants to give people the best typing experience possible, makes keyboards ranging from minimalist styles to celebratory Chinese New Year ones. For just under $100 (at the time of writing) you can get a premade Durgod keyboard on Amazon. Or if you’re more comfortable with a name brand and are willing to pay a little more, there are options like the Logitech G513 with built-in RGB lighting, or the fully-split Kinesis Freestyle Edge.
We can’t promise that you’ll buy it and be done. Once you’ve gotten your first taste, you might get a craving for something a little more punchy, a little more stand-out, a little harder to come by. You might find yourself clicking away, carried off by dreams of Turquoise Tealios and GMK Metropolis.
At least until the next group buy is posted. Like Chistopher said, the sound keeps you in! And the feel and the customizability and the dream. So imagine that the next time you sit down to type, instead of mindlessly putting your fingers to the keys, you could be saying,