One of the main draws of the custom keyboard hobby is the ability to customise a board to your liking, including its sound profile. Whether you like a thocky or clacky keyboard, there are quite a number of ways to change – or even accentuate – the sound profile of a board.
If you’re building a custom keyboard with a particular sound signature in mind, take note of these factors – you’d be surprised how much each of them can affect the sound profile.
The Keyboard Itself
Needless to say, which custom keyboard you get will influence the sound profile the most. Practically every aspect of a keyboard can change the sound signature, from the mounting style, case material, to any unique design element of the board.
Take Owlab’s Jelly Epoch: even though it’s a gasket-mounted keyboard – this mounting style usually produces a cleaner, higher-pitched sound signature – it has one of the deepest, thockiest sound profiles we’ve ever heard from a keyboard. Of course, it also helps that it uses quite a bit of foam, which brings us to the next point..
Sound Deadening Material
There are a wide array of mods the custom keyboard community has experimented with over the years, and one of the more popular mods in recent times is the PE foam mod; the very same material used in the Jelly Epoch.
Basically, a sheet of PE foam is placed over the PCB in between the switches, and the result is a deeper, thockier sound profile. We did the same mod to our ai03 Vega, and you can hear for yourself just how much deeper it sounds in the Anubis switch review below versus our first video with a “stock” Vega.
For keyboards that sound hollow, many folks turn to adding foam to fill up empty spaces to make for a more solid sound profile. However, doing so also runs the risk of muting the sound “character” of a keyboard too much – it’s all about finding the right balance.
Naturally, switches affect the sound profile of a keyboard quite a bit too. Let’s bring the Jelly Epoch back to the picture: it is an inherently deep, thocky keyboard. But I’m currently using stock NovelKeys Cream switches on this board – to break them in before lubing – and boy, I’m surprised how clacky the Jelly Epoch is now!
NovelKeys Cream, besides its very scratchy nature out of the box, is one of the clackiest switches in the market, just like the SP-Star. Depending on the sound profile that you want to achieve out of your custom keyboard, pick your switch carefully. Want a thocky sound profile? Then the Cobalt POM and Anubis switches are great options.
That’s not all: lubing and filming switches will change their sound profile too. If you use a thick lube such as Krytox 205g0, it will lower the pitch of the switch. Installing a film can have the same effect too, with the added benefit of tightening the housing of switches, which can also result in a “cleaner” sound profile.
If you’ve experimented with different switches and added sound deadening material to your keyboard, but still can’t quite get the sound profile that you want, consider getting a different set of keycaps. After all, keycaps offered with pre-built keyboards are (generally) not of particularly good quality.
Two things affect the sound quality of a keycap set: material and profile. In regard to the former, if you want a clacky, higher-pitched sound profile, look for keycaps made out of ABS plastic, such as GMK keycaps. Want a deeper sound signature instead? Then look for PBT keycaps.
As for profile – which is basically the height of the keycap – the taller the keycap is, the deeper it would sound, and vice versa. GMK keycaps, given their low profile and use of double-shot ABS plastic, have a clacky sound signature, and I absolutely love it.
It’s worth noting that not all ABS or PBT keycaps will sound the same; the keycap manufacturer matters too. The thickness of the keycap set, for one, differs from one manufacturer to another. If you’re wondering why certain keycap sets from a particular company are so expensive – such as GMK sets – just know that there’s a good reason for it.
Among all of the factors listed in this article, a deskmat impacts the sound profile of a keyboard the least…depending on how hollow your table is. A good, high-quality deskmat helps to remove resonance from the table, so you can hear the “true” sound profile of your keyboard.
In fact, I actually stack a few deskmats on top of each other to really isolate my keyboard from the table. Really, depending on how hollow the surface you’re typing on, you may need the extra dampening of more than one deskmat to completely remove resonance.
So that’s roughly what you need to know to get the sound profile that you desire out of a custom keyboard. As its name suggests, a custom board gives you the ability to customise many aspects of the keyboard, and trust me, it’s a really rewarding hobby.
Well, and also quite punishing to the wallet. But it’s all worth it for a superior typing experience, right?