More often than not, the custom keyboard community gravitates towards keyboards with a “desirable” sound profile. Whether a keyboard has a thocky or clacky sound profile, the “worth” of a keyboard (typically) relies heavily on how it sounds.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I appreciate a keyboard with a clean, clacky sound profile. But the thing is, there’s more to a custom keyboard than sound profile alone; it’s also important for the keyboard to be actually good in other aspects.
Good Sound Profile Doesn’t Equal Good Keyboard
Just because a keyboard sounds good doesn’t automatically make it a “good” keyboard. It doesn’t matter if it has a fantastic sound signature if the typing experience, build quality, or design is horrendous. Plus, it’s easier to tune the sound profile of a keyboard than, say, the typing experience.
Of course, that doesn’t mean sound profile doesn’t matter, because it does. After all, one of the biggest draws of the custom keyboard hobby is building a keyboard that sounds and feels great. It’s important for a keyboard to both have a pleasant sound profile and an equally pleasant typing experience – at the minimum.
And that brings us to the next point..
Typing Experience Is Equally Important
Imagine this: you watched a video of a particular custom keyboard with a fantastic sound profile, and you decided it’s the keyboard for you. Fast forward a few months – or up to a year, depending on which keyboard you get – the keyboard is now in your hands. But once you’ve built it, you realise that…its typing experience is not to your liking.
Granted, it’s harder to assess the typing experience of a keyboard from videos, but that’s precisely why it’s important to judge a keyboard beyond its sound profile alone. Just like how a keyboard can have a clacky or thocky sound signature, it can have a soft or stiff typing feel too.
As a side note, the mounting style of a keyboard doesn’t give you the whole picture of the typing feel either. This is especially the case with a gasket-mounted keyboard: while most keyboards with this mounting style typically offers a soft, comfortable typing experience, some of them can be quite stiff too.
Take the Keychron Q1. Its implementation of a gasket mounting system offers a very, very flexible typing experience. But in comparison, the Monstargear XO K80 Alu – also a gasket-mounted keyboard – offers a much stiffer typing feel. Basically, you’ll need to look up the typing experience of a particular keyboard before committing to it.
Design Matters More Than Meets the Eye
The design of a custom keyboard can affect the typing experience too. The Jelly Epoch, for example, has a really, really tall front height. Because of this, you do have to lift up your hands higher to type on it, which can be uncomfortable for some folks. This is even more so if you’re using a tall keycap profile such as SA or MT3.
Again, this design quirk is not immediately noticeable in videos, and you do have to look up proper reviews that highlight such an issue. Naturally, we try to do the same in all of our keyboard reviews.
Other Components Can Affect Sound Profile Too
While each keyboard has its own unique sound profile, other components can also alter the sound signature. Plate material, for one, can affect the sound profile and typing feel of a keyboard pretty significantly. Same goes for keycaps of various profiles and switches of different types, not to mention sound deadening material.
Take note of these components when you’re listening to a sound test of any given custom keyboard. Again, let’s rope in the Jelly Epoch: even though it has a thocky, “marbley” sound profile, I’ve installed NovelKeys Cream switches on it, which makes it sound a lot clackier.
On top of that, I’m also using a GMK keycap set on my Jelly Epoch, which is known to provide a clacky sound profile from its ABS plastic material and low-profile. Trust me when I say that these components really change up the sound signature of the Jelly Epoch – stay tuned for our sound test (and review) of this in the near future.
So the next time you’re listening to a sound test of a custom keyboard, keep these points in mind before you make a decision. There’s much more to a keyboard than its sound profile alone, and even if it sounds good, I’m sure you wouldn’t be thrilled if it doesn’t provide a typing experience that you like.