Kul ES-87 vs Leopold FC750R. The best of 2014 in 2015

User avatar
the1onewolf

13 Mar 2015, 06:40

If you’re looking for an expensive, quality keyboard then the 2 best TKL keyboards on the market are probably the FC750R and the KUL ES-87. These are two of the hottest and hyped stock keyboards among the general enthusiast community at the moment.
Kul and Leopold are two titans in their own regard. Kul is branded as a high quality keyboard and was released last year to overwhelmingly positive reception. It has quickly displaced Filco as an enthusiast fan favorite. There is a bit of controversy as to whether or not Filco is deserving of this title to begin with though.

For example see This.

Leopold’s been around for a while and has a strong following in Korea. It’s been popularized outside of Korea because of the gaming scene, particularly the brood war and starcraft II scene. They’re characterized by their minimalistic design and excellent build quality. Lately, international vendors have stopped carrying Leopold products they’ve been harder to obtain outside of Korea. Leopold has transitioned into offering stock PBT keycaps for some time and also enjoys annoying enthusiast with non-standard spacebars. There has been controversy to Leopold’s reputation as well and many users question the quality and particularly the reliability of older Leopold products.

Filco TKL boards haven’t changed since the Majestouch 2 line. They’re still excellent boards but they can no longer be really considered “current generation”.

I bought my Leopold 750 last year and I just received my KUL 2 days ago. Both of these keyboards have similar MSRP price points ($125-130 USD) but shipping is another story depending on where you live.

The KUL is relatively easy to buy online in the US. The Leopold 750 is not easy to buy outside of Korea. As such, the 750 isn’t mentioned as often in English speaking communities.

If I had a better, more charming personality and a popular youtube channel, I would gleefully waste 10 minutes of your time unboxing each of these products in front of you.
While unboxing is fun, it’s not really worth mentioning. You get the same thing in both boxes:
• Detachable USB cable.
• PS2 adapter.
• Keycap puller.
• Clear plastic cover
• Different types of modifier keys to swap out

Not really a big whoppiee doh.

The Kul and Leopold are both keyboards of the “new generation”. Both these keyboards sport modern design philosophies. Both of these came out in 2014 and a few things you’ll immediately notice that strike out from their “predecessors” in the older 2011-2013 era of keyboards are:
• Significantly thicker extendable keyboard feet
• Detachable USBS with sturdier contact points
• Thicker and more rubber feets
• Standard layouts – which means they have standard stem spacing for 6.25 spacebars and will fit basically any standard keyset (although this one is more aimed at the Leopold)

At a glance these are very good improvements over previous “generations”. These both sport a clean, minimalistic design suitable for professional workplaces. They are also not backlit either. Leopold has ninja’d their logo on the bottom right edge of keyboard (under the arrow keys). Hilariously, the Leopold logo is white on my white keyboard so I basically can’t make it out at all. The KUL only has brandings on the bottom of their keyboard. These are both made in Taiwan. Both of these also use cherry MX switches.
Both of these use cherry stabilizers which are known to feel mushy on the larger keys. Personally I think Leopold improved something on their stabilizers because the larger keys on the 750 feels much better. The Kul stabilizers still feel mushy – perhaps they might get better once I use this keyboard a bit more.

Where they differ:
Kul has dip switches, Leopold doesn’t.
Kul has thin pad printed abs keycaps, Leopold comes with thicker 1.5 mm PBT keycaps in various prints styles (top, side print and blank) depending on the color.
Kul comes in 1 color (black) and a special edition “smoke” edition for a select few MX switches. At the time I bought my Leopold, it came with 3 colors (white, navy and black). You can however, buy and change the top case (3 colors right now) for KuL for $29.00 USD.
In addition to the four standard cherry mx switches, KuL offers MX green and MX clear. Leopold only offers the standard four switches.
Kul uses OEM stock profile keycaps, Leopold use cherry profile stock keycaps.
Leopold has a sound dampener mat inside keyboard under PCB
Kul has a thicker bezel than the Leopold.
Kul has 3 directional wire grommets that all extend and are routed towards the top of the keyboard. Leopold has 3 directional wire grommets, one extends towards the top and two are routed directly to the side of the keyboard.

With no cable on either of the keyboards and with their stock keycaps on respectively: The KUL weighs 2.19 pounds and the Leopold weighs 2.16 pounds. My scale may not be the most accurate though.

I wanted to go a bit more in depth here but for the moment I can’t. I have some issues with my KUL ES-87 so I’ll skip over some things for now.

I barely got to type on my KUL ES-87. I started typing on it and I realized it was producing a terrible ringing sound. At first I didn't think too much of this, but when I extend the keyboard feet, the entire board just permeated with this annoying ring. Then it clicked and I hate to say this but yea, it’s the dreaded ping. It’s really bad on this particular board. I got in touch with Kul and sent them a quick video. Kul’s response (I’m paraphrasing) is that their steel plate on the KuL is probably thicker than the steel plates on other boards that I probably own. To a certain extent, you can expect some resonance due to the stiffness from the thicker steel back-plate. What in the duck? To say the least a bit of dichotomous answer. There's an almost inherent contradiction in this - on one hand we have a thicker backplate which is good but we can't control the ping so you're just going to have to deal with this. Explanations like these really feel like the product makers are applying a liberal amount of spin to overcome basic quality control shortcomings. While the reasonable side of me understands and accepts this explanation, the other side of me is just calling bull****.

Flipping the keyboard feet shouldn't be causing the board to make this kind of noise.

http://youtu.be/wAMJGk0Niko

There's probably a legitimate technical explanation here but from an end consumer's standpoint this is just wrong. I do have to say again none of my other boards have pinged nor had this issue before and the short and skinny of this is that if I buy a board I shouldn't have to deal with this period.

Try flipping your keyboard, does it make this kind of noise?
It shouldn’t be.
http://youtu.be/bnLFzXfr_2Q

This is the normal noise you should be hearing.
You might have to adjust your audio here and please keep in mind this is cell phone quality and there’s sound compression. This sounds much worse in real life. I definitely think this is very severe and beyond normal levels of expected resonance.

To put this into perspective, I’ve never had issues with ping before, so I won’t readily dismiss KUL just for this. I remember when many people used to complain angrily about pinging in the past but the Filcos I’ve owned have never had these issues. I’m still in the process of exchanging emails with KUL and I’m waiting to see how this develops.

Speaking of ping, the Leopold 750 comes with a sound dampener mat that is said to alleviate ping. The Leopold doesn’t any issues with pinging. I think the sound matt does make a little bit of difference, but if you’re mashing keys loudly or “working hard” you’re not
going to be able to obscure the noise anyways. None of my other keyboards produce this noise when typing or when extending the keyboard legs.
The Leopold 750 is very solid keyboard. It’s a drastic improvement over the 700 which was widely known to have some issues in its heyday.
Personally, I think Leopold did a much better job with its finish then Kul did with their’s. The KUL ES-87 doesn’t have the best finish. There’s nothing particularly wrong but it just feels kind of cheap. A big part of this is that other companies have made significant strides and drastically improved their finishes. It’s not that big of a deal but I would put that out there. You can swap out the top case for the KUL ES-87 (which only covers the top or half of the keyboard) with another color.
You know the experience when you watch a savory McDonald’s big mac commercial and then you actually order the burger and find it to be … well really different. Jokingly, this category of buyer’s remorse goes to KuL. Their marketing pictures are just a bit little too clean and touched up. It’s a common industry practice everywhere but just like models on a magazine the real thing isn’t quite as pretty in person as it’s drummed up to be. Anyways, I’m kidding and don’t take this too seriously – remember it’s what’s inside that really counts.

For the purposes of swapping out the top case, you have to remove a security warranty sticker (this doesn’t void your warranty though). The sticker leaves a gooey residue which you’ll need to clean off later. There’s 3 screws that need to come off and 5 latching clips which are a little tricky to unlatch.

Cosmetic flaws:
The KUL ES-97 keycaps have very noticeable injection molds on the back of their keycaps. Most keycaps have these flaws but I noticed this immediately upon unboxing. I’m kind of disappointed because this is the kind of stuff you would expect to see on PBT keycaps. Most stock ABS caps do not such atrocious and visible mold markings.
Leopold PBT keycaps have very noticeable injection molds on the back of the keycaps too but this more or less expected of PBT.
I will admit a little bit of bias here as I obviously favor thick PBT. I will say that compared to stock abs caps from CM, Filco – I would not consider the KUL caps to be up to current industry standards.
Both the Kul and Leopold “top case” have very noticeable injection molds on all corners of the keyboard. These kind of stick out like a sore thumb and you will see them when replacing your keycaps. I really dislike that both of these companies dropped the ball on this one and didn’t dress up these cosmetic flaws a little bit better.
BOTH keyboards have this issue. I’m just showing the Kul top case only for convenience (and because it’s readily accessible).

http://imgur.com/a/5eTyU#hyeXZWd
i.imgur.com/uAUdewy.jpg
http://i.imgur.com/T4uYEa3.jpg
i.imgur.com/fozUfvU.jpg

I wish I got off with a better start to my KUL keyboard so I could write a lengthier, subjective typing experience comparison between the two but my KUL keyboard isn’t in tip top shape at the moment. I suspect with two proper boards the typing experience should be exceptional on both.

As it stands right now, Kul hasn’t lived up to its hype and Leopold has done a tremendous job in transforming its keyboard into a quality product that comes with stock PBT keycaps.

The cosmetic flaws on both keyboards really annoy me though. I know injection molds come and go with the territory (everybody keyboard is going to have this) but at the 130 USD price range for a TKL board, I’d expect a little better.

March always seems to be a terrible time to buy new keyboards. Everything is out of stock. That being said you can normally buy a good quality tenkeyless keyboard at around $80 MSRP. On sale, you can often get these lower.
At 130 MSRP, it’s worth considering if Kul and Leopold are worth the approximately 40% extra premium. It’s really hard to gauge the value of this 40% and whether or not the quality that you, as a consumer, extracts from this premium is really worth it.

I’ll start with Leopold and I would say yes. Solid keyboard and I love the new improvements they’ve done with this board. The 1.5 mm thick PBT keycaps are some of the nicest in the business and probably one of the industries’ best out of box stock PBT keycaps. The cherry profile really complements the Leopold’s slim and minimalistic design. I don’t use dip switches but I think that is something Leopold should add. You also get that sound mod bonus too.

Kul is a bit harder for me to say yes. Their company sells the ES-87 based on quality. You pay that extra premium for quality. It does show and this keyboard reflects modern design elements. The dip switches are nice. Where this board doesn’t stand out value-wise is ABS keycaps at 130 MSRP. PBT keycaps are slowly and steadily becoming the normal standard at this price range (Ducky, Leopold, Vortex and much more). The thing is I didn’t actually get the promised quality. I don’t know if this is normal or not. The board I have has a resonance issue. If this is a result of bad QC, then I can’t wait to try out a proper KuL board. If this is actually within normal parameters (and I really don’t believe this to be the case) then I’ve paid a 40% premium for “quality” that basically doesn’t affect the outcome of my typing experience – well it makes it worse actually. I shouldn’t be paying 130 MSRP for a board that I feel offers a subpar experience than a cheaper $80 board.

Another thing I wanted to say about Kul. We’ve all heard the rave reviews but as a community we haven’t actually compared Kul to things that are within the same generation. So what do I mean by generations – well take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_fighter_generations
As you can see, fighter jets are characterized by generation according to demands from the market and how countries’ project force. If fighter jets doesn’t do it for you then something more relatable. Think about smart phone trends and how they've improved and shifted due to consumer demand. Obviously technology always leaps ahead but the general things like screens are bigger, wireless charging, phones are thinner, nfc, compatibility with more formats. You shouldn't be compare the Apple Iphone 4S (2011) to the Samsung Galaxy S5 (2014). To say things like the S5 is a better phone because it's got a larger screen, better materials, thinner and etc is not a fair comparison. They’re generations apart and within the years a lot of things have changed in-between for both companies.

That's sort of what's been happening here. People have bought the Kul ES-87 and compared it to keyboards that are older. People have been touting at the Kul ES 87’s build quality but in reality a lot of changes and improvements have been naturally driven by the market. For the longest time, removable USBs had high failure rates, so companies improved them. People have started favoring keyboards with removable USB cables because they’re more convenient and easier to move around. Thicker feet, more rubber pads on the bottom and things like that are driven by the market and pushed by consumer feedback. It’s worth a glance to see if other competitors have improved their products. I’d like to see some of the newer keyboards like the full sized Ducky premier (2014) go against these keyboards. It's important to distinguish between a company's ethos and commitment to it's user by providing high quality products and it's important to note that some improvements are just general manufacturing improvements that most companies will adopt naturally as a response to market forces. I compared the Leopold FC750R vs KUL ES-87 because it’s a direct TKL vs TKL comparison and of course it’s been an interest of mine since last year but I certainly think the community could benefit from some side by side reviews of products within the same generation.

Depending of what follows, I’ll write more about my experience with the ES-87 as the situation develops.

I really think the moral of this story is if you must cherry MX then get a custom keyboard or just be done with it and get a HHKB Type-S.
Last edited by the1onewolf on 14 Mar 2015, 02:33, edited 8 times in total.

User avatar
the1onewolf

13 Mar 2015, 06:41

Reserved:

Here's a quick side by side.
Image
Trust me, the KUL ES 87 looks better naked.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

13 Mar 2015, 16:00

the1onewolf wrote: I really think the moral of this story is if you must cherry MX then get a custom keyboard or just be done with it and get a HHKB Type-S.
Hear hear!

Unless KUL goes beyond MX switches, they're unlikely to catch my attention.

I wondered what you were on about, not mentioning Leopold's FC660C or Topre in general, but that's because I'm a card carrying member of the Topre snob club these days. Not everyone is as pedantic as me in mentioning "oh yeah, before I begin let's just point out this is all about Cherry MX, so hands off your monocles, gentlemen!"

zts

16 Mar 2015, 02:51

I barely got to type on my KUL ES-87. I started typing on it and I realized it was producing a terrible ringing sound. At first I didn't think too much of this, but when I extend the keyboard feet, the entire board just permeated with this annoying ring. Then it clicked and I hate to say this but yea, it’s the dreaded ping. It’s really bad on this particular board. I got in touch with Kul and sent them a quick video. Kul’s response (I’m paraphrasing) is that their steel plate on the KuL is probably thicker than the steel plates on other boards that I probably own. To a certain extent, you can expect some resonance due to the stiffness from the thicker steel back-plate. What in the duck? To say the least a bit of dichotomous answer. There's an almost inherent contradiction in this - on one hand we have a thicker backplate which is good but we can't control the ping so you're just going to have to deal with this. Explanations like these really feel like the product makers are applying a liberal amount of spin to overcome basic quality control shortcomings. While the reasonable side of me understands and accepts this explanation, the other side of me is just calling bull****.
what MX switches did you try? ... what I've noticed is that some quality-reputable companies don't know how to handle anything *heavier* than the browns. WASD/CODE TKL ... awful metallic resonance with the clears but OK with the browns?

Other than that, a nice review. The problem with most of more expensive brands that use Cherry MX (or clones) is that once you bring them up to your esthetic and *feeling* standards (PBT caps, pads, o-rings, colors, etc.) they'll cost you more than the out-of-the-box ready Realforce TKL. So, why not go directly to Realforce (as the monocled gentleman before me implied) :shock:

But for people who don't like Topre, obviously, KUL is not a very good deal, but FC750R is. The other quality TKL is Deck that comes with PBT+POM (backlit) ... but the font choice on the keys is (very) questionable. Anywho, it seems to me that FC750R is probably the best TKL choice for MX fans. If backlit TKL is a must, then I'd consider Deck and Max TKL offerings.

User avatar
AlexdeL

29 Apr 2015, 20:50

Leopolds are also difficult to buy within Korea, esp. FC660M

zts

09 May 2015, 03:59

Just to throw in a few pics ...

Back label with a very useful dip switches functions description; the actual dip switches in the top left corner:
kul_3.jpeg
kul_3.jpeg (527.28 KiB) Viewed 9035 times
Inside look; dip switches:
kul_1.jpeg
kul_1.jpeg (679.97 KiB) Viewed 9035 times
Removing the top cover revels the board; it's relatively easy to remove the top cover in order for users to buy 3 or 4 available colors (cost note -- replacing ABS keycaps with PBTs and a new top cover plus the cost of the board will cost you about same as a new Topre TKL):
kul_2.jpeg
kul_2.jpeg (654.67 KiB) Viewed 9035 times
kul_4b.jpeg
kul_4b.jpeg (437.99 KiB) Viewed 9035 times
Note: This particular board came with Cherry MX brown -- no ringing/metallic resonance at all.

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