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How We Test Mechanical Keyboards

Measuring Noise

Switches of different types, mounted onto keyboards with different designs and materials, certainly make different levels and types of noise, and because of that, some try to measure the decibel level of the switches on a keyboard.

There is no point to measuring decibel level by hand, though, because each person will bang the keys with different levels of force. Even if the same person performed the test the same way each time, he or she would be unable to strike the keys in a consistent manner each time. And even if this was possible, at best you would be achieving only a baseline, not an objective decibel level that anyone else could replicate.

However, the audio experience of a keyboard is important. What is more important than loudness, though, is the quality of the sound being produced.

For example, a Red switch does not sound like a Blue switch. They have different mechanisms, and therefore they have different sound qualities. Reds are linear and have a single clack sound, when you reach the bottom of the key travel, whereas Blues have an extra "click" during the travel. One may be perceived as "louder" than the other, but that's not really important here; what's more notable is the fact that one has an additional event in its travel, and it makes a certain type of sound. Besides, a great many factors affect noise, including switch materials, tolerances, lubrication, and so on.

Further, the design of the keyboard can affect the sound the switches make. A keyboard with a metal top plate and switches mounted directly on top will have different sound qualities than a keyboard with a plastic backplate and switches mounted into a "bowl" with a top panel covering up parts of the switches. This is not to mention how sound is affected by keycaps (the material they’re made from and its thickness), how well a keyboard chassis is assembled, and even whether or not the feet underneath are flipped out or not.

Therefore, our methodology concerning audio is to record a reviewer typing on a given keyboard, describe the sound qualities he or she perceives, and offer that recording so readers can listen for themselves.


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  • dudmont
    I hope you guys end up testing a Unicomp. I'm dying(not literally) to know how an Ol' model M compares to the new guys.
    Reply
  • Spac3nerd
    I hope you guys end up testing a Unicomp. I'm dying(not literally) to know how an Ol' model M compares to the new guys.
    I can tell you all about it:
    The keys feel more or less the same as on the Model M. It sounds a bit different, but I can't really describe that difference expect by saying the the Unicomp keys sound a bit less "hollow" than the Model M ones.
    What lets these keyboards down is the finish and quality of the case. The button caps often have left-over plastic on the bottom edge, but you can fix that yourself if it bothers you. The second problem is that the plastic case flexes easily and it can wear the surface out overtime(in that it becomes more shinny).

    All in all, the things that matter(usability and reliability) are on par with the original Model Ms. The secondary characteristics(quality of finish) are somewhat below the originals.
    Reply
  • falchard
    I use a simple method with mechanical keyboards. Does every key and switch work? Yes, 10/10.
    Reply
  • Take_Out
    Please check out MaxKeyboard company. I have not had ONE LED go dark or change color on me, or a switch have a problem in 1 1/2 yrs of usage with me and my grandson age 7 playing Minecraft and me Dying Light and such for a total fo about 5 hours average a day. I sometimes game for 12 hours straight with 5 min breaks, no probs.

    Also I have not had to even investigate the bios software or programming chips ever (knock on wood), all done by keystrokes to modify the level of brightness, number of lit keys, volume, next song, etc. Don't recall if it does the fancy spashes or ripples of color, I don't like that stuff myself. It may have come with CD to install program, I would think. The soldering was better than I could do. Impressive stats and reviews. They come with lots of accessories and extra keycaps, pullers, leather wristrest, etc. Support and service are great. Check out reviews. I recommend the O-ring cushions that go on the push pin of switch to help silence the clack when the keycap hits bottom, helps about 50% get the thick ones.

    Visit their website at MaxKeyboard.com to see all of the hundreds of custom keycaps and switches they have for accessories as well. They have complete sets of translucent keycaps, even clear now, some with front letters only or no letters. I just realized I am a fanboy now, gosh, oh well, I could be worse in some ways I guess. I do not work for them but would try to if I lived in Taiwan or LA where the design studio was at last view.

    I have the BlackBird TenKeyLess (TKL) and studied for many months, many hours a day about 1 1/2 yrs ago, before buying and even develped a mild fetish for led lit keyboards just months prior to the advent of the RGB programmed changing color leds, tho MaxKeyboards still do not use the RGB yet, might be worth waiting, check them out.. I lucked out in finding MaxKeyboards and have not looked back since. The leds actually do not diminish intensity when you just change the led to get a different color.

    I paid 150USD for the BlackBird TKL with Brown Cherry type switches (slight felt click, on activation, not noisy like Blue Cherry types), with blue color leds throughout (remember, prior to RGB). I bought their leds they sell for replacing and or customizing your keyboard if you are the least bit handy and have a solder sucker. You MUST use their leds if you want to change the led colors or replace for any reason unless you want a change in intensity as I understand.

    BUT, you can buy a customized board with your specified colors on your specified keyswitches for only about 30USD more as I recall, which is quite good considering the chances of burning a hole in dining room table if you are clumsy like me. They make it easy to map out your custom board, kinda fun to do, I probably could have done that if I had any extra money at all.

    I ended up replacing about 2/3rds or 1/2 of the leds with different colors for my preference, not needed due to failure ever, red for weapons proper, purple for weapons modifiers, green for movements, yellow for maps and info, orange for music controls, blue for unchanged or unused functions in games. No need to change resistors, just led two joints (watch polarity, heh). I use my own keyswitch assignments system for myself, family & friends I build for (not WASD).

    The boards are well made, heavy, rubber-coated fold down legs, side lights, braided cord (USB 2.0 on mine), with thick steel backplate to mount the keyswitches on, and quality plastic keycaps with double squirted plastic and see thru letters that are where they are supposed to be (fully lit) unless you want none or on front. The board covers snap together basically. Have had my board apart about 6 times to change colors of leds and you would not see a tool mark anywhere. Easy to clean crumbs, buggers from gkid, heh.
    Reply
  • alidan
    I use a simple method with mechanical keyboards. Does every key and switch work? Yes, 10/10.
    also, are they mounted on a metal plate or right to a pcb. i would also have tool that tells me hoe much force it takes to depress, test all the keys, and tell the variance, than have one key choices and make a motor press it for a day/week and tell us the results from that, does it retain its force to depress? did it break?
    i would than go on to mention the overall quality of the keyboard, possibly trying to break it over my knee.
    Reply
  • digitaldoc
    Would like to see this analysis done on some notebook keyboards. Some of them are pretty dismal.
    Reply
  • Manfred Higgs
    If anyone is interested there is a great project going on at Deskthority and Geekhack at the moment to create brand new Model F boards to full specifications.
    Reply
  • humorific
    What's really needed is a "rage slam" test as I pound my fist into the keys as I die yet again.
    Reply
  • BorgOvermind
    KB quality is proven over time. There is no quick test to determine long term reliability.

    Other features can be checked though. For example, i recently spilled beer on my Lycosa and found out with that occasion that it is practically sealed and no liquid can get inside (unless you submerge it completely maybe).
    That's one example of a feature worth mentioning.
    Reply
  • scolaner
    KB quality is proven over time. There is no quick test to determine long term reliability.

    Other features can be checked though. For example, i recently spilled beer on my Lycosa and found out with that occasion that it is practically sealed and no liquid can get inside (unless you submerge it completely maybe).
    That's one example of a feature worth mentioning.

    Interesting idea. We'll have to mull that over...I don't want to get in the business of destroying keyboards just for a liquid test, but there may be something to that sort of evaluation!
    Reply