Ducky Shine 3 TKL - All Yellow Special Edition

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Muirium
µ

22 Dec 2013, 04:22

So, I have my hands on a Ducky Shine 3 thanks to Ducky Nordic’s recent competition. Sweet! No ordinary Shine 3, either, but the All Yellow special edition TKL. I’ll try to be objective about it in this review, but bear in mind I won this as a free prize.

Speaking of which, it arrived at my door here in Edinburgh just two days after Teraset shipped it from Helsinki. Not bad! Kayvee thought I wouldn’t get this before Christmas. I’m pleased to prove him wrong!



Introduction

It wasn’t all that long ago when I joined Deskthority in the bigger scheme of things. My first post here was to ask advice about a tenkeyless keyboard I planned to get. I’d heard of Ducky and Filco, and already knew I wanted MX blues. Indeed, I found the forum by watching reviews of the various keyboard models and Cherry switches on YouTube; where Mr. Interface’s videos caught my eye. He knows how to do a pretty solid video review without the nonsense, and so naturally I followed his link and wound up here. A few thousand posts later!

But here’s the thing: my keyboard quest took another direction. With a lucky find of an IBM PC/XT Model F, I got into buckling spring. Once I made Soarer’s Converter, the whole world of Model Ms and Model Fs opened up, and I’ve gotten quite into them. Meanwhile, through summer and autumn, I made my own 60% keyboard with Matt3o. One with clicky Cherry MX greens.

So when Kayvee told me I’d won the competition, I suddenly had the chance to explore the way I meant to go from the beginning. Only, now I have IBM’s finest to compare with!

Instead of MX blue, I chose MX red for this keyboard. The reason is my Shiny 60% is MX green, and I get my full share of click already! Linear switches have been calling me for a while, especially as this Honeywell is still lying around, unable to be used with a modern computer. In other words, I have a few tricks up my sleeve despite being new to old keyboards really!


So Very, Very Yellow

Here’s the box. Ducky knows how to make a handsome first impression. Note the duck logo, who seems a little more at ease with himself, bobbing on the water, than he used to.
An elegant splash of duck.
An elegant splash of duck.
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Inside the box comes most everything you expect with a good keyboard, the exception I'll get to later. There's a cable, a wire key puller, and a cover. The manual is quite interesting for a change, more on that in a bit. And there’s also the obligatory extra WASD caps — I’m an ESDF man myself — which are actually quite a bonus as they are the only backlit caps I have for comparison. See, the special edition Ducky is blank PBT. Oh, and just a little yellow.
Quack.
Quack.
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Yeah, it’s really yellow. Think rubber duck, or custard. This thing is yellow, and then some. Not a shy duck.



Space Saver

TKL’s have always seemed natural to me. I’ve really no use for a number pad that can excuse it taking up all that space between my right hand and the mouse. Until now, the TKL in my life has been the granddaddy of them all: the IBM Space Saving Keyboard. Well, the Ducky turns up the dial in that respect:
Pretty big for a Space Saver.
Pretty big for a Space Saver.
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And taller than you'd think, too.
And taller than you'd think, too.
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In fact, the Ducky is as compact as the latest addition to my IBM collection: the impossibly small Kishsaver!
They don't make 'em out of straight out sheet metal like that any more.
They don't make 'em out of straight out sheet metal like that any more.
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Okay, so buckling springs haven’t a chance against Cherry MX in pure space saving, but I’m pleasantly surprised in just how compact the Shine 3 looks on my desk. Simply put, Ducky’s got a nice compact package here. This keyboard is just about as small on desk space as a TKL can be.
Takes quite some beating in the old space saving department.
Takes quite some beating in the old space saving department.
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Light and Tight

The day this arrived, I’d just been shipping out some Kishsavers to the other locals who squeezed into Tinnie’s group buy. Those things are crazy, mind bendingly dense: 3 kilos for a 60%! Compared to them, any keyboard is light: even my home made 60% feels airy, and it’s made of stainless steel!

The Ducky struck me as absurdly light. It’s a third of the insane Kishsaver’s weight in essentially the same size. But don’t confuse lightness with cheapness. If not quite as effectively used as a sledgehammer, the Shine 3 feels just as firm.

I have a simple little trick I like to try with hardware. It’s the flex test. Pick up something from two opposite corners and give it a twist. You’d be surprised how bendy many things can be. Laptops have only recently become firm enough not to creak! The Shine 3 feels good and tough when manhandled. I’d put it in the same league as a Topre Realforce in this respect. Easily as strong as you need a keyboard to be, unless you’re determined to drive nails or knock out intruders and so on. Just don’t drop a Kishsaver on top of it, or your foot for that matter.


Perhaps a Little Too Tight

Detachable cables are a big plus, in my view. The Ducky comes with a passable one, but as a paid up member of the Keyboard (Snob) Club, I like to use a hand braided cable instead, like this one from Paranoid:
I am a snob and a gentlemen. I will not stick my braided cable in there!
I am a snob and a gentlemen. I will not stick my braided cable in there!
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Unfortunately, the cable channels on the Shine 3 are a bit too narrow to accept my aftermarket upgrade. The individual slots are a bit tight for my liking, and the channels only lead out about half way to either side at the back. I’d rather just put up with a cable straight out the centre than crink a USB lead through those sharp turns.

Also note the extendable feet: like many keyboards, the Shine 3 has rubber pads for slip prevention on its base — appreciated — but not its feet. This isn’t an issue for me at all as I use all my keyboards fully flat, but rubbery legs would be a nice touch, people! Doesn’t every review of every keyboard always seem to need to point this out?


The Caps

I’ve gotten very used to PBT with my IBMs. Dyesub PBT! This keyboard is my first with blanks, and it’s a different experience, that’s for sure. I know my way around, but I sometimes have to catch myself overthinking it! There’s a break in period with blanks, I think it’s safe to say. Strange, as I do so much of my typing at night this time of year and never really look at my keyboards while typing anyway. Psychology!
These yellow blanks are fantastically thick, by the way.
These yellow blanks are fantastically thick, by the way.
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Ducky Nordic also sent me a spare white PBT set, also blanks. They make an informative comparison for a couple of reasons. First, they’re much thinner. But they also have a distinct texture. The whites are rough, like pumice stone, which reminds me of the PBT caps on my Acer 6312. I’m not sure which caps I like better. That texture means a lot to me, and I’m thinking of mixing the sets on this keyboard, perhaps to help my fingers find their way around as much as for a brighter look.

This is the first time I’ve typed extensively on a standard ISO keyboard for many years. I turned to ANSI long ago, and switched to Apple when my desktop PC was still running Windows 2000. The combination of ISO layout and cylindrical profile caps is quite a callback to then.

Although then I had to try my Round 4 Sphericals…
Proof that Space Cadet colours go with everything! Albeit in a Fisher Price kind of way…
Proof that Space Cadet colours go with everything! Albeit in a Fisher Price kind of way…
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Ah, how I love my spherical caps. They’re not for everyone – tall SA profile, and they don’t come cheap – but these are the caps for me.



The Reds

Naturally, I put on my prized SPH caps set so I could take pictures. But I also wanted to see what MX reds feel like with such heavy caps. The answer is: pretty good. Really, I’m quite impressed with reds. They don’t feel at all “soulless” like I’d feared they’d be without the clicks that I’ve become so used to with my greens and buckling springs. The keyboard still clacks just as good. I even tried some o-rings, and the effect is fine by me. The important thing is there’s still substance in those strokes. It feels a bit like the first half of the stroke on buckling spring. And I do like being free from Cherry’s tactile bump, which I find dissatisfying compared with IBM’s sharp click and Topre’s smooth curve.

Reds get dinged for being scratchy. I’m not much bothered by it in practice. Having typed a good few imaginary lines on a Honeywell Hall Effect keyboard, these switches are certainly less smooth, and louder as they go. The scratch is there, but it’s nothing bad enough to bother me. I could lube the stems, or I could stop making unfair comparisons with the butter smoothest linear switch of all time! I really don’t notice it. The only time the MX red scratch is obvious to me is when I slow right down and try my best not to bottom out. But these switches are so light I have to tense up and type very deliberately indeed to encounter this.

The only switch on the entire keyboard I’m thinking of modding is the one beneath the space bar, which is a bit too light for such a large key for my taste. More on that in a bit.

My actual experience on reds is very positive. They have most of what makes the clicky switches I’m already so used to so satisfying, while escaping some of the most important downsides. They’re quieter, sure, but their smoothness reminds me of really flying on buckling springs, while the caps selection is far better.



The Plate

Something else is red in this Shine 3.
A rhapsody in red.
A rhapsody in red.
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Yes, that’s a red, red plate in a yellow, yellow keyboard. Oh Ducky, it would have to be you! I’m glad I chose matching red switches, as the combination does look pretty sharp when stripped of caps.



The Stabs

This is also my first keyboard with Cherry stabilisers. I like their convenience a lot. Switching stabilised caps is just as easy as the little ones, just swap the caps straight over, no need for transferring inserts or lining up hooks with wires. They’re a good bit quieter than Costar stabs, too.

Here are some recordings I made of typing on a few of my keyboards. Same microphone. But can you hear the stabs? Listen for the spaces between words. Only the Ducky has Cherry stabs.

Ducky Shine 3 with MX reds and Cherry stabs.
Shiny 60% with MX greens and no stabs!
IBM Model M SSK with Costar-style stabs
Kishsaver: 1983 vintage IBM Model F with Costar-style stabs
Costar stabs are easier to find and use in home built keyboards, which is why my 60% will have them… once they arrive! The Cherry stabs in the Shine 3 are PCB mount — the plate has holes cut for them to rise through — which isn’t much good for my Shiny project as it has no PCB. Cherry stabs do exist in plate mount variety, but I’m told they take some searching for.

Whatever makes manufacturers use the other styles of stabilisers, I don’t know. Patents? The cost? As far as I’m concerned, Cherry makes the best ones available for a commercial product. Their sound and convenience is something I could get very used to!



The Shining

Notice how much I’ve written without even mentioning the backlight? The Shine 3’s marquee feature is its smart backlighting, which even includes its own marquee! Every single switch on the keyboard has its own individually controlled LED, which means the controller can do essentially anything with them. Behold!
Yellow dot, yellow dot, another yellow dot…
Yellow dot, yellow dot, another yellow dot…
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(I'm up against the upload limit for this whole post. But this picture shows everything you can expect from the backlights with different kinds of caps. The yellows and whites are blank PBT, thick and thin, the WASD group over above the cursors are proper backlight compatible caps, and the arrows themselves are doubleshot Round 4 SPH, as is Escape.)

There are several modes, with all sorts of showy stuff that no doubt looks good on a display shelf. Especially because the lighting can be smoothly dimmed or brightened anywhere, to create ripples across the keyboard. The one mode I wanted to try was reactive lighting, where keys glow as you press them and then fade, leaving dancing pools of light as you type. Yet for the first few minutes I hadn’t a clue how to get it.

This is where the combination of a dense user’s manual and blank caps really gets confusing!

The default when you first get the keyboard out of the box is a simple uniform backlight. I’ve never used a Shine before so I looked in the manual to see how to switch to reactive mode. The crucial bit is the function key: you press combos like Fn+F10 to cycle modes, and Fn+Arrows to alter them. But which one is the Fn key when they're all blank? Turns out it’s the second mod from the right on the bottom row. Found it eventually!

The second layer of my confusion was when I cycled through all the modes but couldn’t find the one I was looking for. After checking the manual again, and verifying the order, I discovered that reactive mode’s own default is the opposite of what I expected: unpressed keys glow, while pressed keys dim. So when I was cycling through them, I was seeing a uniformly lit board instead of a dark one. You change this by using Fn+Arrow combos (vertical arrows control unpressed key brightness, horizontal arrows control the active keys) and your settings are remembered from then on, between computers, so long as you don’t cycle into another mode. Arg! Perhaps there’s a way to save them that I’ve not tried yet. Anyway, it’s dead quick to make alterations once you know which key is which.



More than Just the Yellow

Oh, there’s more going on with the backlight than just that. The space bar has a pair of dedicated RGB LEDs. These can synthesise most any colour. Fn+0 toggles a demo mode that colour cycles the pair. For maximum spectrum!

You can dial in any arbitrary colour you like for the space bar, or let it cycle through the lot. I’m not quite sure what to do with it myself.

Backlighting is a divisive feature in general. Most people love it. A glowing set of legends is a major win on the store shelf, I’m sure. I wanted a backlight too, back in my first post here. And now I’ve finally got one — probably the best available yet — so what do I make of it?

Well, I like lights too. Or certainly the idea of them. The trouble is that LEDs don’t put out the right shape of light to fully illuminate a key. MX switches mount them off centre. These backlit caps have dark bits too.

But even with an ideally centred LED, the light wouldn’t pick up every part of a cap. The little pool of brightness each LED makes is not wide enough. Instead, the legends must be compact. Compare this with the backlit caps and legends on my Mac. It’s no mechanical keyboard, but whatever way its backlighting works does manage a much more even job.

Image
Rather nice picture by Tom Woodward.

Why are flatter keyboards easier to backlight? Beats me.

Double shots of any weight obscure the LEDs completely. Even this little guy:

Image
Comrade Lenin does not approve of backlights.

So, if you’re short of backlight compatible caps, PBT is the way to go. And PBT caps I have aplenty thanks to Ducky Nordic. Trouble is, they’re all blanks, and so the backlight that is visible through them doesn’t really tell me much.

My beloved SPH are far too chunky for a backlight. But I quite like the way they look when they're on the Shine. The combo gives an otherworldly vibe, lit from below. Notice the light leak from the side of the case in this long exposure. It's barely perceptible in real life.
Do not underestimate the light stopping prowess of tall double shots.
Do not underestimate the light stopping prowess of tall double shots.
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What this keyboard needs for its backlight to really sing is compatible caps of course. Beware then if you’re in the odd position that I am, where the blank special edition is your first backlit MX keyboard!

Fortunately, backlit legends aren’t really that big a deal for me. I can type quite fine without them, and I even find the dancing background glow of the reactive mode behind my monolithic spherical caps to be a soothing mirror of the screen I’m writing on, these long northern winter’s nights.

Oh, and Kayvee packed in a little extra for me besides.
It’s pronounced nu-cu-lur!
It’s pronounced nu-cu-lur!
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The lighting, in all its manic modes and variations, can be a lot of fun. Anyone not already into keyboards can be momentarily dazzled at the press of a couple of keys. To really use it as intended — to help light up the legends in the dark – you need the right caps; ones with legends in the first place! But perhaps the best thing about the lighting in my perspective is that it’s an added extra. The keyboard works perfectly well without it.



Modding Potential, or the Lack of It

I mentioned that I find the MX red behind the space bar to be a little light. That is the heaviest of all caps, of course, and one you press with your thumbs. Besides, I’m just used to heavy space bars, especially my XT! The obvious mod is to either swap it for an MX black, or just its spring. The trouble with that is this is a good strong plate mounted keyboard, so I’d have to quite a bit of work to pull the switch. There’s no shortcut to just pop its little lid off. And the LED fits like a staple through the switch anyway, meaning both of them have to go to alter it. That’s the one actual downside of their presence. I’ll probably not bother. The red behind the spacebar isn’t that bad, I just need to give it time and see.

Less understandable is the fact that this keyboard doesn’t seem to support PS/2. The telltale absence of a USB to PS/2 adapter in the box tipped me off. Why should I care? I'm not even much of a gamer, so I don't "need" NKRO, and my computers have no PS/2 ports! But PS/2 is a way into Soarer’s Converter…



Soarer Rehab

I do all my typing through Teensies. Soarer’s Converter is what rescued my IBMs from history, and his Controller is what drives my Shiny 60% too. Because the same logic lives in all my keyboards, I’ve gotten quite into summoning its powers for layers and macros. Black magick I tell you! None of this exists on the Ducky, or any other mainstream keyboard of course. But try telling my fingers!

A Pn key for a program layer would be nice, like on the Ducky Mini. I prefer Soarer’s sorcery where you can use arbitrary combinations as triggers, rather than the beginner’s level witchcraft that is a single programmable layer; but it’s a start. Ducky even managed to have an Fn & Pn key pair on the Mini while sticking to the standard 1.25 unit mod layout, and could have done the same by sacrificing right Control on this model. Perhaps the fancy LED controller doesn’t have the spare capacity to also be a fancy programmable controller simultaneously. Or perhaps the poor guy left to write the manual told them it was impossible to describe! We’re talking about fancy power user features here and many a fine keyboard ships without any of them. Including every single one of my IBMs, I’ll admit.

Oddly, the Shine 3 reports itself to the host as simply "USB keyboard”. That's not especially descriptive! Other keyboards usually say their name, like a Realforce. This helps when you're like me and configure each input device individually. Seems a bit shy for such a proud chap.

PS/2 output on the Shine 3 would have been my way into hacking it. I could have plugged it into my external Soarer’s Converter or, after that worked, built one inside of it with a Teensy. But no PS/2 means no artful hacks.
That's a vintage knob, I'll have you know. Selects between three different sized sockets.
That's a vintage knob, I'll have you know. Selects between three different sized sockets.
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This external converter box I made speaks IBM: Model F, Model M & SSK. But at its heart there’s just this inside…
The Teensy name is well deserved.
The Teensy name is well deserved.
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If Soarer ever does make a USB to USB version of his converter, for programming modern keyboards, let me know!



Conclusion

Technology gets better all the time, right? That’s surely how it’s supposed to be. Just look at the screen you’re reading this on and remember your CRTs! Computers race ahead so long as Moore’s Law stands to take them, but keyboards are the one true exception to the rule that everything only gets better. For a while, they really went backwards instead.

The reason I use IBM keyboards as much, but not the original computers they came with, is not nostalgia. Well, not only nostalgia. I never did have computers with most of those guys attached, and the same can be said for these spherical caps that I’ve gotten into in a big way. No, the reason is because they are just as great today as they ever were. In fact even better, with added programmability. And the fact that Model Ms and the like still beat most modern keyboards is the oddity.

Ducky’s Shine 3 has a taste of the golden age of keyboards at its heart: the 30 year old Cherry MX switch. What Ducky’s done is wrap a reassuringly solid but compact case around them, one that certainly gets the job done in a thankfully small amount of space. They fully exploited Cherry’s LED mounts to the maximum extent possible: by making a complete matrix for controlling every one of them individually. And, all the better in my view, they stuck with Cherry for stabs. The overall result is a keyboard with a lot of the charm of the old days — including a good strong sense of presence, a great key action, and undoubtedly the best available choice of aftermarket caps — with a fresh layer of lighting glitz. Oh, and it’s yellow. It won’t ever let you forget that.

User avatar
matt3o
-[°_°]-

22 Dec 2013, 09:16

Muirium wrote: Image
MY EYYYEES!

Image

:)

great review Muir, better than the keyboard itself :P

User avatar
Muirium
µ

22 Dec 2013, 12:25

Thanks for reminding me (in another thread), I forgot to highlight the PBT space bar on the Shine 3!
matt3o wrote:PBT space bars are all but easy (even for the Chinese). I've seen pbt spacebars bent all over the places. Only recently they've been able to optimize production and build very nice *thick* spacebars. Indeed next year we will see very nice PBT sets.
Image
The yellow PBT space bar is nice and thick already. Ducky Nordic sent me two, actually. The other is from the white set. I'll line them up with my IBM space bars and some modern ABS ones… if there's ever any more daylight up here.

User avatar
matt3o
-[°_°]-

22 Dec 2013, 12:34

cool!

now remove backlighting and make a color combo that can't be seen from outerspace

User avatar
rindorbrot

22 Dec 2013, 12:40

Why is the stock cable not yellow, too? Seems a little odd to me.

But nice review!

User avatar
Muirium
µ

22 Dec 2013, 12:51

Good point, I think I need to find a red cable for this! The devil's tail…

JBert

22 Dec 2013, 13:59

So there's really no PS/2 support? Some other keyboards come without a passive adapter, yet they do work with it.

Second, what button is the Fn key? Is it the second modifier from the right?

fart_toast

22 Dec 2013, 14:02

Very nice review mate. I am now more excited than ever to open mine up for Christmas!

User avatar
kint

22 Dec 2013, 14:17

nice review, as expected. congrats. :)

User avatar
Halverson

22 Dec 2013, 20:25

Amazing review! Always loved ducky boards.
I don't know why but.....you've really made me want a yellow shine :p

User avatar
Muirium
µ

22 Dec 2013, 21:01

It's the Duckiest of them all, let's put it that way!

JBert: good question. I probably guessed too far, as I don't even have a passive USB to PS/2 adapter so I can't test it.

Thanks for the comments, guys. I rarely get new keyboards, as you may have noticed, so I went pretty gung-ho into it!

User avatar
Ducky Nordic
Kayvee

23 Dec 2013, 00:19

Oh wow. Thanks for the review Muirium. Brilliant!!1 :D

...and dont mind the purists over here (yes, im looking at u matt3o :p). Its a nice and tidy board...and its very...uhm...yellow. If one does not care for the led tricks one can simply not use them. The board itself is simple and compact without any extra design gimmicks nor any sort branding on the topside.

Muy bien 8-)

User avatar
scottc

23 Dec 2013, 00:45

Great review, very comprehensive! The keyboard is very... yellow. Very, very yellow. Nice and clean, though - I really like the lack of branding.

And now I want Space Cadet keycaps even more...

User avatar
matt3o
-[°_°]-

23 Dec 2013, 09:06

Ducky Nordic wrote:Oh wow. Thanks for the review Muirium. Brilliant!!1 :D

...and dont mind the purists over here (yes, im looking at u matt3o :p). Its a nice and tidy board...and its very...uhm...yellow. If one does not care for the led tricks one can simply not use them. The board itself is simple and compact without any extra design gimmicks nor any sort branding on the topside.

Muy bien 8-)
I really appreciate the simplicity of the keyboard. don't get me wrong, it's a really nice keyboard if you are in those kind of things... like burning your eyes staring at the sun :) (kidding!) It's just not my thing.

User avatar
drrtyrokka

12 Mar 2014, 15:03

Really really nice review, as it should be!!
Thank you very much, this helped me a lot! :)

User avatar
codehead

26 Mar 2014, 12:58

Awesome review, thanks! Oh man, those Honeywell caps are F.I.N.E.! :)

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