There’s Never Been a Better Time to “Break Free” From Pre-Built Keyboards
August 30, 2023 Andrew Cheng

Pre-built keyboards have always been the go-to option for most folks who just want…well, a functional input device. But while these readily available keyboards are good – some of them, anyway – a custom keyboard offers so much more, including a superior typing experience with tons of customisation options.

Malaysia’s 66th Independence Day is tomorrow on 31 August, so we thought it’d be apt to come up with an article for those who want to “break free” from an off-the-shelf keyboard. Without further ado, let’s get to why you should get a custom keyboard, and exactly how you can get started.

Why Should I Get a Custom Keyboard?

The biggest reason is certainly for a much improved typing experience. There are two parts to this: typing feel and sound profile. In regards to the former, custom keyboards usually have more sophisticated mounting systems, offering either a soft, comfortable typing experience, or a stiffer, more “solid” typing feel. Some custom keyboards even offer multiple mounting styles to change the stiffness of the keyboard.

Compare this to pre-built keyboards, many of which use a tray-mount system of sorts to attach the main assembly of the keyboard to the bottom of the case with screws. Not only does this make for a much stiffer typing experience, you also get inconsistent typing feel across the board, especially near screw points.

Granted, there are more pre-built keyboards that use the popular gasket-mount system now, but these readily available keyboards can’t match the refined sound profile of custom keyboards. At least, not without modding them extensively, especially the stabilisers.

Stabilisers, as the name suggests, are used to “stabilise” longer keys such as the spacebar, backspace, and enter keys. More often than not, pre-built keyboards have rattly, noisy stabilisers. Even the most premium keyboard, custom or not, will feel bad to type on if the spacebar or backspace key has an annoying ticking sound.

That is where tuning stabilisers come into the picture. While it’s possible to tune the stabilisers of a pre-built keyboard, it is usually more difficult to do so for various reasons. This is not an issue with custom keyboards, as most are designed to be relatively easy to assemble and disassemble. This makes stabiliser tuning a much more seamless process.

Plus, you also have the option to purchase a wide variety of stabilisers, even in specific colourways.

But the stabiliser is just one part of a keyboard’s sound profile. Depending on a custom keyboard’s construction, build material, switch choice, and even keycap brand, you can really change up the sound signature to your liking. It is no exaggeration to say that a custom keyboard will almost always sound better than a pre-built one, though this is (to an extent) a subjective matter.

Of course, there’s also the sheer customisability of custom keyboards. The word “preference” is thrown around in the custom keyboard scene quite a bit, and that’s really one of the most defining aspects of the hobby. Almost every single part of a custom board can be customised to your liking, including the keycap, switches, stabiliser, plate material, and of course, the keyboard itself.

All of these customisation options allow you to really personalise a custom keyboard to suit your aesthetics – not something you can do with a pre-built keyboard.

Isn’t It More Expensive?

Not necessarily! In today’s custom keyboard market, budget-friendly options have improved by leaps and bounds. Take the JRIS75, a 75% custom keyboard that starts from only RM696 when it was available for order. There’s also the very, very popular Meletrix Zoom75 that starts at RM799.

There are also various pre-built keyboards that implement features that are typically found on custom boards at an even lower price point. While they can’t quite match the refinement of true-blue custom keyboards, these “pre-built custom keyboards” are certainly a good entry point for those who are just getting started.

Okay, Where Do I Start?

It is much, much easier now to secure a custom keyboard (and parts for it) in Malaysia. Rebult Keyboards, for one, is the Malaysian proxy for many custom keyboard groupbuys, including the aforementioned Zoom75 and JRIS75. The online retailer also carries various switches, keycap sets, and other keyboard parts.

If you want to check out a physical store instead, there’s Mecha Store located in Bandar Sunway, Subang Jaya. Not only does it have a wide variety of keyboard parts for sale – you can even try out a slew of switches there – Mecha even offers build services. Great for folks who are not quite ready to build their own keyboard yet.

The custom keyboard scene, especially here in Malaysia, has grown immensely over the past few years. There’s really no better time to get into the hobby if you want to elevate your typing experience to the next level regardless of your budget or skill level.

As long as you’re keen to up your keyboard game, there are many resources to take advantage of, including our various keyboard-centric articles and YouTube channel.