MX blacks: random impressions

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vometia
irritant

03 Jul 2019, 16:06

My long-standing quest to find "the perfect keyboard" has taken its latest meander today, and for someone who's a self professed feeler of "meh" about Cherry keys, I guess maybe it's interesting that it features Cherry keys.

Rather than going through my usual reams of waffle and irrelevance about my keyboard history and so on I'll attempt to get pretty much straight to the point and say that after a long time spent unproductively prevaricating (I don't care if that's a tautology) I made a more-or-less snap decision to get a Ducky One2 TKL with MX Blacks. MX Blacks because someone suggested I might like them: I forget who, so I do apologise for not giving credit where it's due; Mu, perhaps? But that was based on my previous comments that I really wasn't a fan of MX Blues, and from my brief encounter, that I was one of the people who thought that Browns just felt like linear keys with added grit. Black may not be the obvious choice for a self-avowed Model M fangirl but other inconsistent and random likes include the Matias Alps-esque Quiet Click (except for their terrible QA: avoid) and some of the early '80s micros such as the Dragon and BBC, which featured Hi-Tek switches IIRC: both linear and more clattery on the upstroke than the way down.

And that last bit is where the recommendation for MX Blacks came in. And they are, more or less. More more than less. So in principle I think it was actually a sound recommendation, in spite of my previous encounters of Cherry being the more-dislike-than-not experience of Blues and the awful creaky acres-of-plastic keyboards they (apparently) supplied for our NCD X-terminals 30 years back.

So I mostly like them, and they mostly do what I wanted which is to be less clattery than either my Model Ms (very loud indeed) or my Filco MX Blues with extra heavy keycaps (fairly loud, or probably very loud in most people's opinion). These are roughly on par with the Matias Quiet Click in terms of noise if not feel.

And their feel is mostly agreeable. The one thing that surprised me a lot is that they feel much heavier than I'd expected. So either the weight of the Model M was hugely overstated or maybe my typing style is a bit less "punch it as hard as possible!" than I'd thought. Actually my aversion to light keyboards still goes back to another almost-thirty-years-ago thing of the unknown switches used in the then new Philips VT-compatible terminals which were ridiculously light and had a serious hair-trigger thing going on. I'd assumed Reds would be like that but I'm already thinking I'd be happier with them than Blacks. Not that I dislike this keyboard but I can see it might fairly quickly become fatiguing.

So my summary of the switches is that I mostly like them, but also as someone (pretty sure it definitely was Mu this time) pointed out, I may find heavier keys to be tiring.

In terms of their packaging; well first I'd figured Filco as I already have an example of their Majestouch TKL and other than the Blues, I'm happy with it. But I'd also heard that Leopold are currently in the lead when it comes to build quality. And for various reasons I cant remember but probably mostly down to being me, I veered off in a random direction and chose the Ducky.

So far I'm impressed with it. It certainly feels very solid and has none of that crappity creaky plastic I hated so much in those X-terminals. The standard keycaps feel like they're decent quality and perhaps better than the stock Filco caps. I haven't yanked one off yet to see what's the deal with their construction but they don't seem to be the awful peeling layer of cheap plastic "rubber" of the last back-lit keyboard I had, some Microsoft-branded rubbish. Possibly double-shots, maybe not, dunno. As there's a key-puller within grabbing distance I should take a look. Okay, Z key, you're it; and the verdict is... somewhat inconclusive as I don't really know what to look for to be certain, but probably double-shots, clear and black. Except for the big ISO return key which keeps catching my attention due to being the odd one out not just in terms of size but also its electric pink colour. Not totally sure that's what I'd expected nor what it's like to live with.

Oh yeah, backlighting. Blue, which I think I'd hoped would be the colour of the accessory keys but is the colour of the LEDs, since everything has to be blue since their invention. I would say my eyes feel tired but actually that's my current favourite eye-liner that does that. And even if it is the blue LEDs it's easy enough to turn them off. As it is I have them on around 50% and will probably reduce it to the minimum once it gets dark.

What else? Oh, I dunno, I'm kinda crap at any sort of review so my stream-of-consciousness whittering will have to do. MX Blacks: like them more than I'd expected and reminiscent of early '80s micros, also not too loud but definitely mechanical. Also heavy. Actually I am now being reminded of a bout of typing on a Model M, so probably not dissimilar in overall weighting. Should've probably gone for Reds.

Ducky: seems to be very nice build quality, mostly no-frills TKL which is what I want and what frills there are can be easily tamed. Currently looking very suspiciously at that big pink return key. Also USB, as you'd expect rather than, I dunno, Twinax or something, but detachable cable with one of the current type-... er, I can't remember all the eleventy billion USB connector types. The current phone one that can be plugged in upside down. So it's convenient and is also buried well under the keyboard so it doesn't stick out. It also works quite happily with my Avocent KVM which is always a plus.

User avatar
kbdfr
The Tiproman

03 Jul 2019, 16:31

Nice read,
but be aware that liking Cherry MX blacks is now generally frowned upon since influencers have taken the (profitable) lead.

User avatar
vometia
irritant

06 Jul 2019, 16:02

Opinion after a few days' use is that I like it better. I need to find who recommended the linear MX switches because I like them way better than the clickety varieties, perhaps surprisingly given my Model M inclinations. Maybe some of it is early '80s nostalgia but I am finding them really agreeable.

I'm still not 100% sure about the weight and I don't know if the Black/Red thing will ever be resolved for me. I guess at some point I'm going to have to get a Red-based keyboard to try out for at least several days. I suspect my personal preference might be in that awkward space in the middle, just because I know what I'm like. I've normalised a bit to the weight of the Blacks but they still feel a bit on the side of "meh, typing is so much effort" but I am definitely a cack-handed halfwit so Reds make me nervous.

One thing that could be the deciding factor is that I'm very much the opposite of the blank keycap type: not just because I'm so forgetful and inattentive I forget where frequently-used symbols are, I just like them to look nice. Which means I'll be ordering various of the replacement caps that I always coveted as a Model M owner. The point is that replacement keycaps are usually heavier and though they obviously don't actually change the spring resistance, they do change the way it feels. So I should hold fire on "I really need to try a Red!" until I get some nice replacement retro caps. Which makes me feel a little guilty as the Ducky's stock keycaps actually seem pretty nice: certainly better than many I've encountered. But y'know, things need to be meddled with.

As a point of randomness I'm having a slightly pointless crisis about whether or not Blacks/Reds/etc are proper nouns. Pointless as my grammar is pants, but people need a thing to worry about. Or at least I do.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

06 Jul 2019, 20:35

Sounds like a recommendation I’d make. Including the bit about blacks being heavier than you’d expect. You’re onto something with replacing the caps, mind, but what makes a difference isn’t so much *weight* as their *height* compared to what’s already on the board. Taller caps tend to be heavier lumps of plastic anyway, but I believe it is the leverage that makes the difference for your fingers.

There’s a tremendous amount of custom spring-weight wankery you can get into, trying to make your own perfect blend of black and red’s weight. And don’t forget the lube! But caps are much more rewarding, I find, as you’ve more to gain than just a different weight with those. So long as you don’t care about backlit legends, that is.

Slap some great big tall SA caps, like 7bit’s, on that thing and see how you like it. I find Round 5 makes reds too light, while Cherry profile caps on reds are my outright MX favourite. SA on black, meanwhile, is right about Cinderella for me. You’ve multiple variables to play with here, what a blessing and a curse!

I don’t know if I’m included in the murky MX-loathing in-group Mr. Choc was grumbling about. Arguably, I deserve it as I’ve criticised them many, many times. But they have their charms, as I’ll often say, especially the classic linears; it’s simply their ubiquity in our circles (to the point of exclusivity in many a discussion) that awakens my curmudgeon. And their varying build quality over the years. I mean, they’re solid and all, unlike certain modern Alps clones: they’ll work! But scratchy MX is nowhere near as good as smooth.

Speaking of which, I’ve not been around to follow your adventures in stream of consciousness and keyboards. Did you ruin yourself with a Topre somewhere along the way? You’ll be needing Nixie MX blacks to compete with one of those! I’m guessing not, wisely, so do your best to forget I mentioned it!

User avatar
vometia
irritant

07 Jul 2019, 06:38

I thought it was you! Especially about the weighting thing because I recall you very strongly recommending I avoid hunting down 55g Topres as I'd them too heavy.

Anyway, yeah, SAs it is: mainly as I like the heavily curved profile and hadn't really given any consideration to height and leverage issues. I currently have Filco's rather nice doubleshots (which I think are SA profile... tall, anyway) on my Majestouch which I could swipe but I'm not really in the mood. I have some Tai Hao PBTs coming tomorrow, though I think their profile is much the same as OEM, and longer term more SA stuff on order from PMK. So I'll definitely end up with more caps than keyboards to put them on! At some point I'll probably end up with a Red too (not sure whose... Leopold, perhaps?) but I think I should really hang fire on that until I've seen or rather felt the results!

I'm not overly fussed about back-lighting and find it distracting even when it's just set as a constant low-level, plus I think the blue LEDs do make my eyes tired so the novelty will have soon worn off.

Other stuff I hadn't even considered is lubrication. As I'm one of the "life's too short" types when it comes to changing my keys around, not least as it is just a matter of time until I snap something, I'd better get my act together and find out about it. No damping for me though, I'm quite happy with the level of clatter: not loud, but it has that early '80s vibe that I like. As with the Blues' clicks, it seems a little high-pitched: dunno if that's the plastics they use or just the slight ringing of the springs going on. I dare say that will also change with different caps anyway.

wrt the curmudgeon stuff, even as a former non-MX-user I think I was also drifting into that group for the same reason and I wonder if I was being a bit hipster about it. Especially from a Model M background where I really didn't care for the different row profiles to compensate for a flat backplane! Which is why I decided I really needed to be better acquainted with them. Still surprised that I like the linears so much better but it seems obvious in hindsight: given that's what they're best known for and they also mimic the Hi-Tek/Futaba types common in my youth.

Oh, minor point someone PMed me about, I did for a moment wonder if these were retro Blacks they'd found in old stock (or old keyboards, as some manufacturer apparently did) but as they're clear blacks so backlighting can work I guess that'll make them new. Edit: no they aren't. I don't know how I'd misremembered them as clear blacks but they're regular black enclosures with an integrated LED...

My adventures haven't taken me anywhere since the group last flared up with a bad case of me posting! Largely ill-health, some indecision and not wanting to deal with Keyboard Co left me using the Filco & Its Fancy Keys ever since writing off my Matias Mini. It's actually not a bad combination, just not as rewarding as it should be. I would still like to try out Topre some time but I dunno; their main line of keyboards still doesn't appeal because of the colour scheme and lack of alternative caps, in that if I'm going to have beige then I may as well just use my SSK, and I'm too dysfunctional for black-on-black. I did seriously think about an HHKB for a while realising that really I don't need quick access to function keys for gaming, just easy enough, and the arrow keys I could probably survive without (I'm more sceptical about that though) but the killer for me is the "ANSI" return key, such as it is. I've never, ever liked horizontal return keys and they're the one thing I really don't miss about the legendary '80s micro keyboards: as soon as I used an LK-style keyboard with its vertical key (or the Twinax 5xxx-whatevs, I forget which was my first) I was instantly much happier with it and have continued to hate keyboards that don't have it. So probably not for me, but I can't help noticing I still keep glancing in that direction.

Nixie Blacks? Yet again I'm completely out of touch! Something else for me to look up...

User avatar
kbdfr
The Tiproman

07 Jul 2019, 08:01

vometia wrote:
07 Jul 2019, 06:38
Oh, minor point someone PMed me about, I did for a moment wonder if these were retro Blacks they'd found in old stock (or old keyboards, as some manufacturer apparently did) but as they're clear blacks so backlighting can work I guess that'll make them new.
If by "clear blacks" you mean that the switches have transparent tops, then you answered your own question:
vometia wrote:
07 Jul 2019, 06:38
Nixie Blacks? Yet again I'm completely out of touch! Something else for me to look up...
Have a look there:
wiki/Nixdorf_CT06-CT07/2_M_Softkeys
and there:
wiki/Nixdorf_CT11
.
Spoiler:
Sometimes Mu speaks in riddles - says Mr. Choc :lol:

User avatar
vometia
irritant

07 Jul 2019, 10:25

Sadly, I was mistaken! Having looked again once I realised what the Nixies are it turns out they're nothing of the sort: just regular blacks with added blue LEDs. I dunno, my memory is terrible. I think I'd probably somehow mentally filed the black-and-clear doubleshot keycap construction under keyswitches.

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Muirium
µ

07 Jul 2019, 14:05

I speak in riddles because I think in riddles…

Linear love is good love. Ain’t no harm in that. You’ve found the mother lode for caps, on MX. And MX will not fail you, like the temptress of the Alps.

But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share the downside. Here’s a video I made about it last year, comparing my brand new Filco silent reds with Topres of several types. It’s rambly and shaky, but I think that’s quite appropriate here! It gets to the crux of my opinion on linear MX vs. Topre. In a word: “shuf shuf shuf”.

How smooth do you need your mattress, Princess Pea?

Try not to think about it!

Anakey

08 Jul 2019, 09:31

Hi Vometia, maybe you might be interested in attending the next UK mechanical keyboards meetup as you could then try other peoples boards with a whole host of switches and keycap profiles to then find one that you prefer rather then getting different boards? There are different spring weights so it would be possible to replace the springs with a lighter weight and get that switch that is indeed in between black and red though sadly most pre made boards do not allow switch openings so the only way to open them would be to desolder the board first or buy a kit and build it.

User avatar
vometia
irritant

08 Jul 2019, 13:32

I shall watch the video once I remember where I left my concentration. Sadly, I wasn't paying attention when I left it in a safe place.

Meetups might be interesting: do they feature curry and beer? I was about to say that I'm not sure some fat old goth turning up would really raise the tone but it didn't seem to stop The Cure at Glasto. Meow, etc. :D

allenmathew

08 Jul 2019, 13:44

good information

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Wazrach

08 Jul 2019, 13:49

allenmathew wrote:
08 Jul 2019, 13:44
good information
Wow.

Anakey

08 Jul 2019, 14:16

vometia wrote:
08 Jul 2019, 13:32
Meetups might be interesting: do they feature curry and beer? I was about to say that I'm not sure some fat old goth turning up would really raise the tone but it didn't seem to stop The Cure at Glasto. Meow, etc. :D
Yeah we tend to have a meal in the evening then go out for beers afterwards so that you get to know the people as well as their boards.

User avatar
vometia
irritant

09 Jul 2019, 07:17

I think beers after keyboards is definitely the way to do it: during tends to result in beers in keyboards in my personal experience! There's a reason my new(ish) Unicomp M doesn't work and the addition of half a pint of Guinness (yeah, I know: bleh) didn't improve its circuitry. Interestingly, the SSKs are more resilient to that sort of thing.

Well I've decided it's time to get carried away with keycaps since they've been eluding me too long and a rather snazzy set of Tai Hao "you've been Tangoed!" orange-with-a-hint-of-black turned up yesterday afternoon. I think it could be argued that they're perhaps a little too orange and nearly as distracting as having the back-lighting turned up full (it's off at the moment as these have no clear component) so yeah, it's a bit full on. I may eventually do some sort of mix-and-match to try to achieve whatever it is I want to achieve: something along the lines of the more colourful keyboards in '70s terminals and early '80s micros, though I don't really have the artistic skill to judge what makes a good combo.

In the meantime, having thoroughly confused the poor woman at PMK who has the patience of a saint, I've ordered their Lime SA set as something a bit different. I'm always going to love the big, centred legends and the heavily curved "backplane" is definitely my thing too, both in terms of appearance and feel: it's a shame that most sets are DSA or otherwise "row three only" as I've never been big on the flat or evenly stepped profiles I've mentioned previously (more than once!) about a lot of keyboard snobbery in the early '80s with the BBC being touted as The Best Evar and the Dragon's as utterly pants, yet the feel of their respective Futaba and Hi-Tek switches was IMHO identical, or so close as to be difficult to tell the difference; same with sound, too. The Dragon's keyboard certainly wasn't without its failings, but rather than feel and quality they were elements that were seldom if ever mentioned: a few commented on its lack of keys (51, IIRC) as being less than a reasonable functional minimum, which is true and I think largely dictated by their choice of off-the-shelf software; but my least favourite thing was its even stepping which to this day leaves me wondering if I actually dislike spherical caps as my inaccuracy meant I'd often jab my finger on the top edge of the key, something which became quite wearing after a while. I suspect that wasn't so much the profile of the individual keys but the larger gap caused by them all being at the same angle. Pity, because other than that they're really nice quality double-shots. And being from 1981-vintage Hi-Tek Whatevs switches there's probably nothing else they'll fit anyway!

Edit: and that had nothing at all to do with the MX Blacks. I was going to write something about the caps changing the keyfeel and perception of weighting, and I think that may have happened with the TH keys, though the supplied Ducky caps were also of high quality so there isn't much in it. I think the TH PBTs (slightly misleading reference as the Duckys are also PBT I think) may be fractionally heavier but without removing the lot, I don't have any scales sensitive enough to measure the difference. So it could be all in my head but I'm thinking the keyboard feels ever-so-slightly easier to type on and the clack is a bit less high-pitched. But both could still benefit from some improvement, and may improve as the keyboard becomes no longer brand new. But it's such a subjective matter and even my own opinion varies according to what mood I'm in.

I've also experienced a couple of bounces with some keys: but it's important to give this some context. It's nothing like the chatter with the Matias Mini, which was a serious problem and getting noticeably worse, but I have still experienced it occasionally with both the Ducky and the Filco which suggests there's a common factor which isn't the keyboards. And yeah, looking at you, KVM switch. It's an annoyingly expensive piece of kit and it definitely has some weird quirks, and not everything plays 100% with it; or vice versa, I should say. I've always had random problems where some things are fussy about which port they plug into, some will mostly-but-not-quite work, and being USB-1 it's not 100% useful anyway. And there's the odd thing like Soarer's Converter that doesn't seem to work at all with the KVM. I suspect that isn't Mr Soarer's fault given that common factor thing. Shame the KVM so useful because it's bloody annoying.

Anakey

09 Jul 2019, 09:50

I would say this topic is more about your personal key feel then just strictly MX blacks which are only one part of what gives a board its feel after things like keycaps, plate stiffness etc this is what makes keyboards very much a personal hobby as everyone will have their own sweet spot in terms of feel that they like with the right combination of switch, spring weight, keycap and board construction this is just part of your journey to that combination so new keycaps are a part of that equation.

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