Keyboard, Opinion

Entry-Level vs. High-End Custom Keyboards – Worth the Premium?

Over the past year or so, we’ve seen quite a number of affordable, entry-level custom keyboards. On top of that, these keyboards are really, really good too – even the most expensive pre-built keyboard can’t compare to them in terms of typing experience and overall refinement.

So that brings up the question: are higher-end custom keyboards worth considering then? Absolutely. Obviously, the value proposition of a premium keyboard isn’t quite as good, but you do get your money’s worth – I’ll explain why in this article.

What Separates a High-End and Entry-Level Keyboard?

Pricing is the easiest indicator. The general rule of thumb for how much a high-end custom keyboard would go for – in my opinion, anyway – is above the $400 price point, which comes up to about RM1,700. As for an entry-level keyboards, they should be half of that, so that’s below the $200 mark (approximately RM845).

Of course, there are some exceptions here and there, but this is the general idea.

What’s So Great About a “High-End” Keyboard?

Well, for one, a proper high-end custom keyboard is generally more refined and polished than entry-level offerings, whether it’s in terms of design, finishing, or choice of material. After all, more expensive keyboards are held to a higher standard; with a higher price tag, higher expectations have to be met as well.

Aside from that, some of the best-sounding keyboards are also more premium offerings. The Jelly Epoch by OwLab, for example, has one of the deepest sound signatures, and it started at $389 (around RM1,645) when it went up for sale.

Granted, sound is subjective, and there are entry-level keyboards that sound great, such as the KBDfans KBD67 Lite and CannonKeys’ Bakeneko60. However, it’s not inaccurate to say that higher-end keyboards have more “character” in their sound profile, which give them their own unique sound signature.

Branding Plays a Big Part Too

As with any premium products, branding is important for high-end custom keyboards. Some of the most recognisable names in the custom keyboard scene include Keycult, Rama Works, as well as Singa, which is based right here in Malaysia. If you own any keyboards from these big brand names, you’re definitely in “endgame” territory.

Naturally, companies with good branding can also charge a premium on entry-level keyboards; Rama Works is a great example of this with the Kara. Even though the keyboard’s $160 price tag (about RM675) puts it in the entry-level segment, folks will argue that it shouldn’t cost that much.

That being said, in this particular example, you’re not paying more just for Rama’s branding on the Kara. Rather, you’re paying for the keyboard’s overall polish and quality. Even though it’s an entry-level keyboard, the Kara is still a Rama Works product, a company renowned for its high quality custom keyboards.

Surely Entry-Level Keyboards Can Also Be Good?

Definitely! Even though more affordable custom keyboards have to sacrifice on a number of features to bring down the price – such as choice of material – they can still be really good. They won’t look or feel quite as impressive or premium, but hey, you’re still getting the full “custom keyboard experience.”

After all, the biggest draw of the custom keyboard hobby is the customisation options and getting a superior typing experience, and an entry-level keyboard is an excellent way to start off. While a more premium board does offer better typing experience (generally), an entry-level keyboard is still miles better to type on than a pre-built one.

The Best of Both Worlds? Mid-Range Keyboards

However, if you want a good compromise between a high-end keyboard and an entry-level one, opt for a mid-range keyboard instead. These keyboards don’t quite have the “accolades” of a premium keyboard, but they don’t feel as “cheap” as an entry-level keyboard either.

Some good examples of mid-range keyboards are the ai03 Vega and Wilba.tech Salvation, which cost $329 (about RM1,390) and $295 (approximately RM1,250) respectively. It’s worth noting that ai03 and Wilba – who is working with Salvun for the Salvation – are also well-known in the custom keyboard scene.

These two keyboards in particular, despite not being particularly expensive, can easily be endgame keyboards for some folks. They sound fantastic, they look great, and in the case of the Salvation, it has a unique leaf spring mounting system as well.

Plus, the Salvation is machined by Salvun too, another big name in the custom keyboard scene.

So there you have it. Whether you’re new to the hobby or not, going with an entry-level, mid-range, or high-end custom mechanical keyboard are all good choices. At the end of the day, it really depends on your personal preference.

To some folks, spending upwards of $400 on a keyboard doesn’t make sense, even if you do get a more refined product – it’s all, as mentioned, preference.