Model Number: KBPV8000 (modified)
Modified weight: 3.5lbs / 1.586 kg
Key switch type: Matias Quiet Click
Modified keycaps: Double-shot ABS
Modified keycap average thickness: 1.2 mm
With all of my recent custom keyboard projects, I’ve decided to share some of them.
Modifying a keyboard or building a custom from scratch can be intimidating, especially the first time. I know it was for me, especially since there are so many options, and because mistakes can be quite expensive. But once you get a few under your belt, it gets easier in a hurry. My hope is to encourage more people to take on custom keyboard projects and to provide a resource for people to learn from my successes and mistakes. Also, I’ll try to detail the components used and where to buy them at the end of each post in case you see something you want to build yourself.
This particular project is a modified keyboard, rather than one built from scratch. For anyone not wanting to go through the process of building a keyboard from scratch (sourcing parts, soldering, assembly, and often programming the key functions) this is an easy way to end up with something that feels very “custom” without a lot of the additional work.
The heart of this keyboard project is a V80 from KB Paradise, a Taiwanese keyboard company known (to me at least) as “that keyboard company that sells 60% and TKL keyboards with Matias and Fukka/Fuhua Alps-clone switches.” As far as I know, Matias and KB Paradise are the only two keyboard manufacturers that offer Matias’ switches, and Matias doesn’t offer a 60% form factor keyboard (yet). Unlike Matias, KB Paradise provides higher-quality double-shot ABS keycaps rather than cheap lasered ones. If you’re in the U.S. you can purchase KB Paradise keyboards from mechanicalkeyboards.com
I’m a huge fan of Matias’ Quiet Click switches and I wrote about them at-length in my Matias Quiet Pro review. In terms of tactility, there’s not much from Cherry or Cherry-clones that comes near the tactility of Matias switches. While not as refined as their legendary Alps predecessors, Matias Quiet Clicks are nevertheless superb tactile switches.
In an effort to upgrade the KB Paradise’s stock plastic case, I purchased an aftermarket aluminum TKL case from TEX Electronics Co., LTD another Taiwanese company that manufacturers computers and computer equipment. TEX makes a number of aftermarket aluminum and acrylic cases for various keyboard form-factors, and my experience is that they are manufactured to a very high degree of quality. TEX’s TKL case is no exception. Everything, from the fit-and-finish, anodizing, and weight are all top-notch. Yes, they’re a little expensive, but well-worth the money. While there isn’t a lot of information about TEX, I’ve often wondered if TEX and VORTEX (another keyboard manufacturer) are related or even the same company. If you look at VORTEX’s logo, the “TEX” letters almost identical to TEX’s logo. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can let me know.
Installing the TEX case is simple enough. After removing the screws on the back of the V80 case, you can very easily pull out the PCB, drop it into the TEX case, and screw the TEX back together. The TEX TKL case comes with 8 HEX screws to keep snug, and it also comes with screw-in aluminum riser feet (which I installed) to increase the incline of the keyboard.
While TEX’s TKL aluminum case is superbly made, the included replacement USB cable is not. It’s cheap and because it attaches directly to the PCB it isn’t easily detachable, once installed. Moreover, it exits through a large opening in the back of the case, and because there’s no way of securing it to anything other than the PCB, there’s nothing to prevent it from being ripped out of the PCB, potentially causing damage to the PCB. This is a poor design in my opinion.
Luckily, I was able to work out a much better solution with Zap! Cables, a custom cable fabricator. Zap! cables are great for several reasons. First, their customer service is exceptional. Second, they offer cables with unique features like detachable connectors in the middle of the cable, and cool innovations like plastic coils. Third, I think they provide more color-way and configuration options than other custom cable companies. Lastly, with every purchase you get a Garbage Pail Kid trading card. I’m not sure it gets any better than that. If you’re in the market for a custom USB cable, I recommend checking them out.
Zap! worked with me to design a cable that attaches directly to the V80 PCB, but has a detachable connector, giving it more flexibility. You can see more detail on the installation of the cable here. If you want to replicate this cable, they should be able to provide the same custom cable setup, you simply need to let them know it’s for a KBP V80 and that it needs to connect directly to the PCB.
While Zap! Cables helped me solve the detachability issue, I was still left with the problem of the cord accidentally being ripped out of the PCB. To solve that issue I turned to the wonder product known as Sugru, which is essentially a moldable plastic glue. Using some black Sugru, I was able to create a plug or gasket to fill the USB cable hole, safely securing the cable to the case. Problem solved. If you’ve never used Sugru, do yourself a favor and try some. It’s amazing stuff.
The final step in the process was upgrading the V80s stock lasered keycaps, which are by far the weakest link of the V80. They’re thin and the lasered lettering looks like it would rub off, in a very short period of time. There aren’t a ton of aftermarket Alps keycap options out there. Luckily both Signature Plastics and Tai-Hao have some that are reasonably easy to purchase. I opted for Tai-Hao’s double-shot Red Dolch ABS keycaps in OEM profile on Massdrop. I’ve also seen them available on Ebay and Mechanicalkeyboards.com. One thing I will say is that removing keycaps from Alps keyboard requires much more force than Cherry switches. Removing all of the keycaps from an Alps board is slightly harrowing because of the force it takes to pull a keycap off of Alps switches. At times it can seems like you’re going to pull the Alps switch right out of its solder. I’ve actually damaged some Matias switches from not pulling keycaps off correctly, so be cautious when swapping keycaps, or have a few extras to replace ones that get damaged.
Overall, I’m very happy with the way this keyboard turned out. The stock KB Paradise V80 is no slouch, and competes with some of the better-made keyboards out there. The TEX case is a worthy upgrade and worth the extra money, if you’re looking for a top-shelf keyboard that will last you, well… forever basically. Some people have reported chatter issues with the V80, but I think that has more to do with Matias’ switches than KB Paradise’s PCB or firmware. In fact, I had to replace 2 of the Matias switches that came with my V80 due to chatter issues. Desoldering the old switch and replacing it with a new one fixed the problem completely. While the Zap! USB cable solution is much better than the stock option from TEX, it isn’t as good as simply having a mini USB port on the back of the keyboard case. All of that being said, if you’re looking for a high-quality Alps TKL, this is a great way to go.
Here is a list of the components for this build, and where to source them:
Model Number: M3501
Retail Price: $163
Weight: 3.81 lbs/ 1.73 kg
Key switch type: Alps SKCM Cream Dampened
Keycap average thickness: 1.13 mm
The Apple Extended Keyboard II, or the “AEK II” was introduced in 1990 as a successor to Apple’s original Extended Keyboard. Building on the design of the original, the AEK II had a similar profile, build quality, and overall design aesthetic with some fairly notable modifications. The case was redesigned with a lower profile and a more curves. A single retractable foot was added to allow users to adjust the typing angle. The Apple logo was moved from the bottom left of the case to the top left. The power key lost its standard key cap profile and became larger and flatter. The PCB and internals were redesigned. And most importantly, Apple revised the key switches from Alps tactile non-dampened complicated switches, to Alps dampened complicated switches (more on that later).
The Apple Extended Keyboard II was conceptualized by Design ID, an Irish industrial design company, and was later finalized by Frogdesign consultancy.
The AEK II was sold until 1995 along with Mac desktops like the Macintosh IIci and the Macintosh IIsi. The IIsi was my very first computer and incidentally the AEK II was my very first keyboard. Unfortunately the keyboard in this review isn’t my original keyboard. It was sold years ago and I’ve been kicking myself ever since!
Both the AEK and AEK II have a sturdy, oversized plastic case with, a black steel mounting plate, high-quality dye-sublimated PBT keycaps (with the exception of the spacebar), a unique keycap profile and, most importantly, some of the best switches Alps ever produced: Alps SKCMs. The AEK II came with 3 flavors of SKCM switches, depending on the year and country of origin:
– Cream (dampened)
The above colors denote the color of plastic used for each Alps SKCM’s respective switch slider, and most AEK IIs shipped with dampened cream sliders (as did the keyboard in this review). I’ve never used an AEK II with salmon or white switches but I’ve seen some on Ebay and they tend to get a big premium due to their rarity. Apple Extended Keyboard IIs were manufactured in the USA, Mexico, Ireland and Japan. As I discussed in my review of the Matias Quiet Pro, “complicated” Alps mechanical key switches were a very popular choice for keyboard manufacturers in the 80’s and early 90’s. They were (and still are) held in high regard for their smoothness, tactility, sound and serviceability. Alps cream dampened switches are no exception.
The term “complicated” comes from the relatively high number of parts used in each switch, (typically 10-13 components). That’s many more than in a typical Cherry or buckling spring key switch, but certainly worth it, considering the wonderful typing experience they provided.
Some really excellent videos explaining the evolution and mechanics of SKCL/SKCM mechanical key switches are on Chyrosran22’s Youtube channel. There’s also a fantastic article explaining Alps key switches on Deskthority Wiki here. I definitely recommend checking them out.
Alps key switches come with many different tactile and auditory qualities, ranging from linear, clicky, tactile, locking and more. The AEK II has Alps’ tactile switches.
Sound “dampening” is achieved via two rubber hourglass-shaped bumpers on either side of the Alps key switch slider. Because the slider strikes rubber instead of plastic when bottoming out, dampened Alps switches are generally much quieter. Also, unlike Cherry switches that often use very simple o-ring dampeners, Alps’ dampening mechanism reduces sound on the downstroke and upstroke which is a major advantage.
Unfortunately Alps switches are no longer being produced but you can still purchase simplified Alps clones from Matias. Their Quiet Click switches are some of the quietest key switches I’ve tested. Interestingly, if listen to Quiet Clicks via a sound recording on my Youtube channel, they sound much more like Alps cream dampened switches, but in person they sound nothing alike. Go figure.
The Apple Extended Keyboard II connects via Apple’s proprietary ADB or Apple Desktop Bus system. ADB permits multiple devices to be daisy-chained like USB. Only one cord is ultimately needed to be connected to the computer. This is an advantage over PS2 connectors, which require the keyboard and mouse to be plugged into your machine. ADB connectors look like s-video connectors and I’ve read online that you can use an s-video cable as an ADB replacement. I’ve never tried this so I can’t confirm whether or not it works. There are ADB to USB converters available online like Griffin’s iMate, even though I believe they are discontinued and no longer supported by Griffin.
Sadly, the Apple Extended Keyboard II was Apple’s final mechanical keyboard and was replaced by the Apple Design Keyboard with rubber domes. I owned an Apple Design Keyboard and it was essentially a pile of monkey poop. In stark contrast, the AEK and AEK II are considered Apple’s two best keyboards. I’d go a step further and say both AEKs were two of the best keyboards ever made. That’s right: best keyboards ever. AEKs have a cult following, and amazingly, new old-stock AEK II’s can still be purchased on Ebay. I happen to own several and it always boggles my mind to discover that 25-30 years later, there still exists unopened boxes of keyboards floating around in the world.
Note: for this review, I not only used this keyboard exclusively for 2 weeks prior, I also used the AEK II to write the review itself.
Looking at the Apple Extended Keyboard II packaging is like being time-warped back to the early 1990s. As was customary for all Apple packaging during the 90s, there were no loud colors, no star bursts, no marketing jargon. The raw cardboard box features a monochromatic image of the AEK II with what looks like a stippling Photoshop filter applied. There’s the name of the keyboard in Apple Garamond, Apple’s favorite font at the time, and some basic product information. Overall I think the packaging looks really good considering how old it is, and the raw cardboard has an eco-friendly vibe to it. I think Apple should give up its glossy packaging and go back to raw cardboard.
Inside there’s minimal packaging materials: some foam corner blocks, a clear plastic bag, a function key template strip, a thick coiled ADB cord, and basic product and warranty information.
The design of the AEK II was influenced by Apple’s “Snow White” schema. I won’t go into the details of the Snow White design aesthetic and if you want to know more, Wikipedia has a really good article here.
This particular keyboard happens to be in near perfect condition. I got it on eBay for a fairly heft sum of money, but I think it’s worth it since it’s essentially brand new. There’s no blemishes or yellowing on the case whatsoever.
The Apple Extended Keyboard is hefty, especially by today’s standards at 3.81 lbs. It has a rigid case with very little flex. This is partly due to the thick plastic and metal mounting plate. Amazingly the AEK II’s case is secured with only 1 screw. While you’d think that would make it easy to disassemble, the rest of the case is fastened with plastic clips around the front edge.
Like many keyboards from the 80’s and early 90’s there’s gobs of thick, high-quality beige plastic, or “platinum gray” according to Apple. The Apple Extended Keyboard II isn’t shy about occupying a lot of real estate on your desk, and it looks downright sexy, like it could be in NASA’s mission control or something. The margin of plastic around the keys is enormous, and the overall size of the keyboard gives an impression of luxury and spaciousness. When compared to modern TKL, 75%, even 60% boards, the AEK II is downright colossal. It’s easy to forget that other keyboards from the 80s and 90s were just as large, if not larger. I’m the type that tends to place objects on the keyboard case above the function keys such as business cards, my bluetooth headset, even credit cards when I’m buying stuff online, so I love all the room the AEK II has to offer.
There’s a lot of space between the R1 keys to accommodate a very useful plastic template. It’s secured by two plastic cylinders above the Escape and Power key. You can label each of the function keys if you choose. It’s really too bad keyboard manufacturers don’t include something like this nowadays. Luckily I still have mine and I like the way it looks. Rather than write directly on it, I use a label maker to add function key reminders. The template comes pre-labeled with Undo, Cut, Copy and Paste, most likely for some Microsoft product like Word or Excel. You can flip the strip over to reveal blank spaces if you’d rather not display the pre-labeled ones.
On the top left of the case is Apple’s iconic rainbow logo embossed into the plastic. I think it looks beautiful and I often stare at it lovingly. If you think about it, Apple could have chosen a one or two color logo for their products and no one would have given it a second thought. Instead they opted for a much more expensive logo and it was worth it if you ask me.
On the top right are the Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock lights, each with green LEDs. I’ve never actually seen the Num Lock and Scroll Lock lights turn on, and I’m honestly not quite sure how one accomplishes this on a Mac. Apple’s OS doesn’t support those particular keyboard functions and I find it really odd that Apple included them on this keyboard. Did they think Windows users would use an AEK II on a Windows machine?
The side of the AEK II’s case is gently curved, following the profile of the keycaps. The ergonomics of this keyboard are excellent and the curve of the case underscores the unique keycap profile. Apple products are known for looking modern for their time and this keyboard is no exception. In fact, it still looks incredible by today’s standards. If I were to design a modern keyboard, I would definitely consider getting inspiration from the AEK II’s case design.
On either side of the top is an ADB connector. One is for plugging the keyboard into your computer, and the other for connecting a mouse or other ADB device. Luckily I have a Griffin iMate converter that allows me to use Apple Extended Keyboard II on my Mac. The coiled ADB cable is detachable and is covered in a very high quality plastic that still looks brand new, even though it’s almost 30 years old. I’m surprised Apple decided to hardwire keyboards after going away from ADB connectors, but then again, I’m surprised by a lot of the keyboard-related decisions Apple made post AEK II. Detachable cords are definitely the way to go.
On the bottom of the case is a extra-wide rubber pad to prevent the keyboard from slipping. It’s almost comically wide. There’s also Apple’s adjustable mono-foot that increases the angle of the keyboard by adjusting a plastic slider. I think this is a more sophisticated design solution than traditional flip-out feet. Some people ridicule the mono-foot, but I think it’s simple, well engineered and elegant. There’s a drain hole for spills and high-quality product labels with a barcode, serial number, product information and more.
It’s safe to say the word “Extended” refers to the keyboard’s full-size layout. Maybe the name “Apple Full-Size Keyboard” just didn’t make the cut. Prior to selling the AEK and AEK II Apple sold the much smaller Apple Keyboard, which didn’t have a function row or a nav cluster. Apple’s early keyboards remind me of 60% or even 40% layout keyboards popular nowadays. Apple was big into design efficiency during Steve Job’s tenure and “unnecessary” keys were never found on Apple’s keyboards. Steve Jobs famously hated function keys, and there’s a great story of him removing them from a keyboard before autographing it for a fan. Even keyboards sold by Next lacked the nav cluster and function keys. It’s funny that today’s keyboard designs are becoming more like Apple keyboards from over 30 years ago. He may have been an absolute dick, but Steve Jobs was ahead of his time.
The AEK and AEK II were both introduced during the post Steve Job’s Apple era and Apple was probably attempting to win over business users with an IBM-inspired full-size layout. Interestingly Apple never stopped offering full-size keyboards upon Job’s return to Apple, and I’ll wager this was a major sore spot for Jobs. Even today, most full-size Apple keyboards have more function keys than their Windows counterparts, which is kind of an ironic twist.
The ANSI layout on the Apple Extended Keyboard II is nothing short of phenomenal, and I consider this keyboard a benchmark upon which all other keyboard layouts are measured. In a way, the AEK II is Apple’s own interpretation of a PC keyboard layout. Apple cherry-picked the best features producing a truly fantastic design that’s incredibly relevant even today. For instance, there’s a generous number of function keys, going all the way up to F15, but the F13, F14 and F15 keys also have the Windows functions of Print Screen, Scroll Lock and Pause. There’s also Apple’s typical numpad with small-ass Addition key, and a really useful Equals sign, right next to the Clear key (normally Num lock on PCs). This is especially handy when using spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel. The Help key, replaces the PC’s Insert key, although Apple no longer supports it in its OS. Replacing the Windows key is the Command Key (⌘), and replacing Alt is the Option key.
There is a power button located on the top right of the keyboard—another awesome Apple innovation that blew my mind when I first saw it in the 80s. Having a power button on a keyboard is so much more convenient than trying to find it on the back of a machine. Unfortunately this feature isn’t incorporated into modern Apple keyboards, other than their laptops. On the AEK II, even the Power key gets an Alps key switch. That’s pretty badass in my opinion.
They keycaps on the AEK II are high quality, thick PBT with the exception of the spacebar which is most likely ABS. PBT doesn’t yellow like ABS, nor does it wear or shine as much since it’s a much harder plastic. Used Apple Extended Keyboard IIs generally have pristine keycaps and a yellowish or even orangeish case and spacebar. This can be undone with Retr0bright which is both a recipe and process to de-yellow old plastics. The jury’s still out as to whether this is a temporary or permanent fix. I’ve had decent luck with it on some random ABS keycaps, but I have seen the yellowing return after about a year. The keyboard in this review has never been Retr0brighted and from my experience, keeping keyboards out of heat and sunlight avoids plastic discoloration.
The key cap legends on the Extended Keyboard II were beautifully produced using high-quality dye sublimation and have sharp contrasting edges. Apple, at the suggestion of Frogdesign, chose Univers 57 Condensed Oblique as the keycap font, a very controversial decision. Critics strongly dislike the oblique typeface but I think it’s very beautiful. As an aside, I remember seeing an Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard, Apple’s first keyboard adorned with Univers 57 Condensed Oblique, in the mid-80s. I recall thinking it looked progressive and modern. The typeface was a subtle example of Apple rethinking the computer in different ways making other platforms seem a little boring and unimaginative.
Also somewhat controversial is Apple’s decision to put the legends on the bottom left corner of the keycaps rather than top left or center. Again, I think this looks really cool but some dislike it. Functionally, I think it’s probably best to put the legends in the middle of the keycaps especially for those who aren’t touch typists.
Another strange Apple-ism was to place the homing bump on D and K, rather than the typical F and J keys. I really don’t see any reason to do this and it always throws me off when I first start typing on an AEK II. I’d really like to know what the thought process was behind moving the homing bumps, other than product differentiation.
The key profile isn’t like any other keyboard I’ve seen, other than the original AEK’s. It’s difficult to describe so I’m just going to show it below. It’s an ergonomic design and it’s very easy to type on.
In short, Alps SKCM cream dampened switches are magical little works of engineering art. Poems or Haikus should be written about how pleasant they are to type on. It’s an experience you won’t find with any other switch, partially because of the refined tactility, and partially due to Alps’ hourglass-shaped dampeners. Weighted at 70g, creams actually feel much lighter. The tactile bump is very subtle, and matches perfectly to the 70g weight, so you can avoid bottoming out if that’s your thing. And in case you do bottom out, not to worry. The rubber dampening bumper means your fingers won’t be fatigued after long sessions of typing. In fact, your fingers will continually want more. That’s because hours of typing is what this keyboard does best: data entry, blogging, screen plays, 8,000 page novels, it’s all-good, and your fingers tips will be happily clack-clacking away.
I’ve noticed Alps SKCM switches hate dust and heavy use, so if you’re going to buy a used AEK II, make sure it’s relatively clean with low mileage. Once they get dirty or worn out, they start to become scratchy and the typing experience downgrades quickly. If you own an AEK II, my recommendation is to use a dust cover religiously. There’s a nylon Interpro cover sold on Amazon that works beautifully and it’s only $9.
Apple opted for an Alps locking switch for the Caps Lock key and I really like this feature. When Caps lock is engaged, the Caps Lock key is locked in the down position. When Caps Lock is disengaged, it returns to it’s normal height. As a touch typist, I rarely look down at the keyboard and having a tactile indicator as to whether the Caps Lock key is engaged is fantastic.
In terms of sound, the Apple Extended Keyboard II is the Stradivarius of mechanical keyboards. The sound is glorious. While I’m not into ASMR, I probably could listen to 20 hours straight of someone typing on the Apple Extended keyboard II and be totally happy. A lot of it has to do with the dampened Alps switches, but some of it also has to do with the case design, the keycaps and how the metal mounting plate interacts with the PCB. I wish I could bottle it up and sprinkle the AEK II sound on modern-day keyboards. It’s a gorgeous soundtrack that always has me coming back for more.
Overall Impressions and Summary
The Apple Extended Keyboard II is one of those rare instances of product design wizardry whereby the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts (cliche but true). On paper, the AEK II has all the right ingredients. Full size layout, high quality plastics and materials and Alps SKCM key switches. But put them all together in just the right way, and the end result is what I’d consider one of the best keyboards around. There’s simply no comparison. Typing on an AEK II and then switching to a Cherry board is kind of revolting. I’d say the AEK II is up there with the original AEK, IBM Model M and IBM Model F. It’s a reminder of what a great keyboard can be, and should be.
Requires an ADB to USB converter. The plastics don’t do well with heat or sunlight and Alps SKCM switches don’t do well with dust or high mileage. The homing bumps are on D and K rather than F and J.
Thanks for reading my review. I hope it was informative, helpful and enjoyable. Below is a video of me typing on the Apple Extended Keyboard II.
*A very big thank you to Deskthority for making photos of Alps switches available for this review.
Keyboard Name: Matias Quiet Pro
Model Number: FK302Q
Retail Price: $139.95
Weight: 2.81 lbs/ 1.27 kg
Switch Type: Matias Quiet Click (simplified Alps-clone)
Keycaps: ABS with laser-printed legends
Keycap thickness: .91 mm
Matias is a Canadian manufacturer of (mostly) computer keyboards. They were founded in 1989 in the parents’ basemen of Edgar Matias, one of the company’s main founders. They’re better known today for keeping the simplified Alps switch technology alive, and for producing the Tactile Pro keyboard, loosely based on Apple’s original Extended Keyboard. Matias markets the Tactile Pro as a resurrection of the Apple Extended Keyboard, but I consider that a bit of an exaggeration, and not exactly true (I’ll talk about that more in my review of the Tactile Pro 4).
Equally notable is Edgar Matias’ conception and production of the “Half Keyboard,” a keyboard that only requires one hand to use. It’s a really cool idea and I wonder how difficult (or maybe easy) it would be to type using only one hand. I hope to give it a try one day but they’re extremely expensive at $595 USD. Doh! It looks like the Matias logo has a silhouette of the Half Keyboard behind it (pictured below), and my guess is the Half Keyboard is a very special product to Matias (or at least Edgar).
Listening to an interview of Edgar Matias it sounds like he was probably a fan of Apple’s keyboards during the 80’s and 90’s (as many of us were) and took notice (as many of us did) when Apple initiated the cheapification process of their keyboards. In a really awesome move, Edgar picked up where Apple left off and started producing Alps mechanical switch keyboards, and later, keyboards using Matias’ own mechanical switches, which are essentially simplified Alps clones. Thank you Edgar!!!
A bit about Alps switches
Introduced around 1983, Alps SKCL/SKCM mechanical switches were the choice of many keyboard manufacturers in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those of us who are old enough to remember using Alps boards hold them in high regard for their smoothness, tactility, sound and serviceability.
Better known keyboards that used complicated Alps switches were the Dell AT101 “bigfoot” and Apple’s “extended” keyboards. My very first keyboard was an Apple Extended II and I remember my best friend had an Apple Extended. I remember hours typing away on AOL instant messenger or some random BBS, listening to the wonderful, rhythmic sound they produced. It was all good stuff.
“Complicated” Alps were given their nickname due to the high number of parts used in each one, (typically 10-13 pieces). That’s more than in a typical Cherry or buckling spring switch, but it was definitely worth it, considering the wonderful typing experience they produced.
In the 90s and early 2000s, manufacturers looked for ways to make inexpensive switches. As such, Alps developed a “simplified” version of their switches, using fewer parts, and therefor lowering costs.
Simplified Alps weren’t as refined as their complicated brothers, and within about a decade, Alps discontinued manufacturing switches all together, eventually turning production over to Gold Star Alps in Korea, and Forward Electronics in Taiwan. Neither joint venture lasted long and by 2012 (sadly) Alps key switches were no longer in production.
Alps key switches come in many different colors, each one signifying different tactile and auditory qualities, ranging from linear, clicky, tactile, locking and more.
Matias relied on Alps for their keyboards and later, Forward Technology. As production dried up, Matias then committed to an order of one million switches to keep production going. But even that didn’t prevent Forward’s Alps production from ending in 2012. At that point, Matias decided to develop their own key switches, based on the simplified Alps design. Matias became the de facto modern day Alps key torch bearer and kept the dream alive, which is fortunate for those of us who love the Alps design.
It took Matias two years to develop their own cloned version of Alps and they improved Alps’ design in a number of ways. First, they made the switch housing from clear plastic which permitted light to shine through to the key cap. This allowed Matias switches to be tactile or clicky, AND backlit, something Alps key switches weren’t capable of. Second, Matias used gold-plated contacts in the switch plate, upping the lifespan to 50 million keystrokes. Third, Matias used better materials and production methods, reducing the “pinging” of simplified Alps, and creating a more refined, more reliable product.
All this brings us to Matias’ current switch offering: Click Switches, Quiet-Click Switches, and Quiet-Linear Switches.
The Quiet Pro keyboard uses Matias’ Quiet Click switches, which isn’t the best name in my opinion since they don’t actually have click leafs in them. Rather they have a tactile leaf and rubber dampeners. They should probably be called Quiet Tactile switches to be more accurate, but maybe that doesn’t quite have the same marketing ring to it.
Note: for this review, I not only used this keyboard exclusively for 2 weeks prior, I also used this keyboard to write the review itself.
The Quiet Pro by Matias is marketed “the world’s quietest mechanical keyboard,” and that might be true, depending on your definition of what a “mechanical keyboard” is. Some would call Topre switches “mechanical,” and Topre makes some super quiet ones, like their silenced ones. To others, Topre switches are just astronomically overpriced rubber domes and therefor not mechanical.
Regardless of your definition of “mechanical” I would even venture to say the Quiet Pro is one of the quietest keyboards available, period. I’ve heard many rubber dome keyboards that are significantly louder than the Quiet Pro. For those looking to use a mechanical keyboard in a hushed office this might be the keyboard for you. Matias achieves the lack of sound via a rubber dampeners on each side of the plastic slider, which are shaped like an hourglass, illustrated below.
One advantage of having an hourglass dampener on the slider as opposed to Cherry’s very basic o-ring mod, is that it dampens sound on both the downstroke and upstroke. But unlike other keyboards with dampened Alps-style switches, Matias managed to design the key caps and key switches in a way that prevents the keycaps from striking the key switch housing, or switch plate, effectively making them “float,” even when bottomed out. It’s an interesting design, and for my money, I think it’s a little too quiet. I like a little more auditory feedback when typing, and the only thing one hears when typing on the Quiet Pro is the “thud” of rubber on plastic. To my ear the Quiet Pro actually sounds more like a rubber dome keyboard than a mechanical one. Strangely enough, if you listen to the video at the end of this review on my typing demonstration, it actually sounds like an Apple Extended Keyboard II. Maybe my ears aren’t sensitive enough to pick up on the “mechanical” sounds. Bottom line, it sounds slightly louder in the video.
Key Switch Feel
Matias spent 2 years developing the Quiet Pro key switch, experimenting with click leaf shapes, springs, lubricants, dampening mechanisms and more. In the end, they developed something described on their website as “truly unique…” and a “tactile, yet quiet mechanical key switch.” And I think that’s a fairly accurate description. After using the Quiet Pro for over two weeks—and I’ve really thought long and hard about this— they’ve succeeded in creating a mechanical key switch that feels like a very tactile dome with slider key switch. Some people may consider that derisive, but I disagree. Sure, most rubber dome keyboards have the consistency of soggy monkey spunk, but there are some really high quality rubber dome keyboards that achieve very good tactility and key feel. So comparing the Quiet Pro to a high quality rubber dome isn’t exactly a negative to me.
The benefits to choosing Quiet Clicks are they provide a much longer lifespan and a more consistent key feel in the long run. And there IS something in there that feels mechanical, but it’s subtle.
Like rubber domes, Quiet Clicks have a tactile bump at the top, and then a quick drop to the bottom. In fact, it’s very difficult not to bottom on the Quiet Pro because of the strong, initial tactile bump. The rubber dampeners manage to make bottoming out tolerable. It’s only when pressing down on each key very slowly, that you can feel a second tactile bump, somewhere in the middle of the down stroke, presumably when the slider clears the tactile leaf, but it’s almost imperceptible during normal typing.
Quiet Click key switches are weighted at 60g, and because of their tactility I wonder if 60g is too light. Maybe a heavier spring would prevent the bottoming out effect. Alternatively, if Matias reduced the tactility of the leaf, it might make the springs feel more adequate, and prevent bottoming out. Off-center key presses are literally no problem, and Matias switches handle those with absolutely no key binding.
One final thing on Matias’ Quiet-Click switches I thought I’d mention: There is a lot of discussion on message boards talking about some quality control issues with Matias’ key switches, like key chatter and switches basically going dead. I’ve also read that Matias is working to fix those issues, and that switches produced in 2017 are better than those produced in prior years. Anecdotally, I purchased a Quiet Pro keyboard in 2016 and at least 2 keys that went bad on me. The model I’m currently reviewing is from mid-2017 replacement and has been working flawlessly so far, so maybe there’s some truth to it.
Matias produces some of the highest quality keyboard packaging I’ve seen. There’s high quality cardboard, beautiful color photos and they also include a plastic handle to carry it around. It’s the kind of box you’d want to hang on to and actually reuse. Everything about the packaging says high quality.
It took me a while to figure out where I’d seen the shape of Matias’ keyboards before and then it dawned on me. They’re basically clones of Apple Pro Keyboards (model M7803) introduced in the 2000’s. It’s odd that Matias cloned an Apple keyboard almost 20 years ago, and then essentially froze the design it in time, never giving the case a refresh. Maybe changing the tooling is just too expensive, or maybe they really like that design. If you’re going to clone an apple keyboard however, why not copy the gorgeous Apple Extended or Apple Extended II? The end result is the Quiet Pro has a slightly outdated appearance that you can’t quite put your finger on, until you realize where it came from. Ergonomically, the curved profile and key profiles does make the the Quiet Pro very comfortable and easy to type on. Also, there’s no Matias on the top of the board, which I think is kinda cool.
Overall construction is fairly good for a keyboard made in 2017. They Quiet Pro has some heft at 2.81 lbs. It feels solid and has very little flex. The keys are mounted on a black metal backplate. The overall quality isn’t as good as keyboards made in Japan, but it’s damn near close. The case is made from a sturdy plastic that looks like it’s been painted silver. I wonder if Matias simply paints the black PC case silver when making the Mac version. In any case the silver does look pretty cool and because it’s matte, it’s good at hiding fingerprints and dust. Both Quiet Pros I own have small paint blemishes where you can see the black plastic underneath.
On either side of the Quiet Pro is a USB 2.0 port, with a third USB 2.0 port on the back. There’s no such thing as too many USB ports, so having three right on your keyboard is really useful and convenient.
The USB cable is detachable, and I’m glad to see Matias did this. It’s a very recent modification too. I own a 2016 model and it has an attached USB cable instead. The Quiet Pro ships with two 90 degree angle USB to micro-USB cables, one that goes left and that goes right. You can use your own cables, in case you have a nifty braided one, but a word of caution: some of the aftermarket cables I own don’t work well with this keyboard for some reason, and I can’t tell if it’s the cable or the keyboard. Just something to be aware of.
On the back of the keyboard is a sticker with the serial number and model number, along with an 800 number for Matias’ customer support. There are two small rubber pads, to prevent the keyboard from sliding on your desk, and two clear plastic flip out feet that look like they were stolen from an Apple keyboard from the 2000s. They’re very sturdy and once engaged, they create a very comfortable typing angle.
The layout is really good and is one of the best features of the Quiet Pro. This model has a standard ANSI Mac layout with 107 keys in total. The function row has Apple’s media keys for brightness adjustment, volume control, mission control and more. I’m a big fan of function keys and the Quiet Pro gives you 18 of them. There’s also the wonderful Apple-inspired numpad with the small-ass Addition key and also an Equals sign, which is way more convenient than pressing the Equals key next to the Delete key. There’s a Function key next to the Home key, where the Help key used to be on old Mac keyboards and there’s also an Eject Key in the function key row, which seems a little unnecessary nowadays.
The keycaps are thin (.91mm), black ABS plastic with laser-printed white lettering. While the keycaps are cheap and (frankly) the weakest link on this keyboard, they do have a couple of notable features. First, they’re laser-printed white lettering on black plastic. I’ve seen black laser-printed lettering on white keycaps but the inverse is more uncommon. Matias claims that because the lettering is lasered, it won’t wear off. I’m not so sure that’s true. Also, Matias prints the main character for each key as well as the alternate characters or symbols that require the Option key for the bottom right character or Option-Shift key combination for the top right character. This is very useful, especially for someone like a copywriter, graphic designer, or anyone trying to locate the “∞” or the “æ” characters for example. One frustrating thing about Alps keycaps is that they’re damn near impossible to find Mac layout custom ones.
It looks like Matias uses the same condensed font that Apple did in their USB keyboards from the 2000s, only they opted for the regular typeface, rather than italics. I think this is a big improvement—I never really cared for Apple’s choice of italics on their keyboards, except for the ones from the 80’s and 90’s. Lastly, the Caps Lock key has a LED light window that allows light to shine through the keycap. I think this is a really cool feature and a nostalgic nod to old Alps keyboards.
So overall, what do I think about the Quiet Pro? To answer that question I first need to take a step back and talk about Matias’ Tactile Pro keyboard. The Tactile Pro is marketed as “ ‘The best keyboard Apple ever made’ rises again,” and is compared to Apple Extended Keyboard. By extension, one might assume (as I did) the Quiet Pro—with dampened tactile Alps-like key switches—is therefor a reincarnation of the Apple Extended Keyboard II. But if you purchase the Quiet Pro, thinking you are buying a modern-day Apple Extended II, the you’ll be sorely disappointed. It took me a while to get that concept out of my head. The Quiet Pro feels and sounds nothing like the Apple Extended Keyboard II which is disappointing at first. The key switches aren’t nearly as refined or smooth as the original dampened Cream Alps, the key caps are much thinner and aren’t PBT, the case isn’t as sturdy, and in general there’s nowhere near the typing experience. But that’s not how Matias markets this keyboard so it’s a little unfair to compare it to the Extended II.
On it’s own merits, I think Matias has successfully produced an extremely quiet mechanical board with good tactility an a smooth key feel. If you’re the kind of person that needs a little more auditory feedback, then the Quiet Pro might be a little too quiet. Going to the Tactile Pro is like going to the complete opposite end of the noise spectrum, and I think it would be great if Matias offered a keyboard somewhere in the middle.
The more I use this keyboard, the more I started to appreciate the feel and all the little details that make it a great keyboard. Admittedly, I’ll be sad to move on to another keyboard for my next review. If I had to chose one keyboard as my daily driver for the next 6 months, the Quiet Pro would be on or near the top of my list.
It’s very comfortable to type on for extended periods of time. It has a great layout for Mac users. The case is generally well made, with the exception of some minor flaws in the paint. The 3 USB 2.0 ports are super useful. The detachable USB cord is awesome, and the fact that Matias chose micro-USB rather than mini-USB means you have a lot more after-market cables to choose from. And while it gives you a good tactile experience, it comes with almost no auditory feedback, which I consider a pro for those who work in a shared space. The smoothness and tactility of Matias’ Quiet-Click switches is light years better than anything Cherry or it’s “Clones” produce. The only switch I can think of that is smoother or that sounds better is Topre, but Topre boards are typically weighted at around 45g or less, so you don’t get quite the same tactility. Bottom line, I would recommend the Quiet Pro for someone like a copywriter, programmer, someone who does data entry or anyone else that does a shit-ton of typing all day. Because of the full layout, I’m not sure this would be a good keyboard for gamers who generally steer towards TKL or smaller.
The keycaps are piss-poor thin for a keyboard that costs over $100. The case design is a little outdated unless you’re a big fan of Apple keyboards from the 2000’s. Lastly, it’s a little too quiet in my opinion.
Thanks for reading my review. I hope it was informative, helpful and enjoyable. Below is a video of me typing on the Matias Quiet Pro.
A very special thanks to DESKTHORITY for providing photos of Alps switches that I used in this review.