Budget Board Theorycrafting

Typically, in keyboards we assume that low end parts result in poor acoustics and feel. Trey mount sounds inconsistent and feels too stiff. Cheap switches don’t often sound or feel quite as good as those in the high end. Cheap keycaps don’t compete with GMK, or to a lesser extent JTK and ePBT. But, with a tight budget, how many of these issues can be phased out? My plan is to do something similar to what people might do with low-quality cuts of meat, where they sous vide it to cover up for the poor texture or fat content. I have a few ideas in mind:

Sound: Even with trey mount, sound can be vastly improved. By putting foam of the correct thickness both under the PCB, and in between the PCB and plate, you can eliminate the resonance inside of the case, and the sound of the switch itself will be isolated. The poor acoustics of the mounting system become much less relevant when the only sound being produced comes from the switches solely. Foam is also really cheap, and laser cutting can usually be done free of charge at your local makerspace if you’ve got one.

Typing Experience: I’m not sure if many people would agree, but I feel like a lot of the issues that trey mount and even integrated plate pose for typing feel are mostly just there for metal-based plates. What you get is a very very harsh and unpleasant feel, and the experience becomes much worse IMO if there’s resonance, or worse, ping in the case. However, give an plastic plate in a trey mount a chance. To me, a lot of the problem is greatley lessened. Yeah, it doesn’t flex at all, but I feel like the harshness is gone. With an FR-4 plate, I feel like you could achieve a really competent typing experience, even on trey mount.

Switches: To me, the best budget switches are gats. Hands down. They sound pretty good, and feel pretty good to. They’re not perfectly smooth stock, but with a thicker lube like 205g0 you could definitely smooth out the friction, and have an very smooth switch. As for the sound, the foam that I mentioned earlier does a great job at making every switch sound good, some would say that it makes every switch sound the same.

Caps: This is really straight forward. If you’re cool with blanks, you can just get some ePBT blanks for $40 and get a really good set, or if you really wanna go budget you can pick up some Keyreative blanks from the key company which are slighly thinner, are made from ABS and come in a much wider variety of colors. Blanks are the way to go if you want as good of a set as you can get for your money. If you just can’t use blanks, then there are a ton of options, just don’t go with any of the no-name sets on aliexpress or KPRepublic because they often have a very bad texture and legend quality.

Hopefully this shows a few people what can be done with a low budget, it doesn’t have to mean a poor typing experience or sound. If you’re okay with a muted signature, the sound of a low end keyboard can be improved very much. If you’re okay with non-metal based plates such as FR-4 and Acrylic, you can smooth over a lot of the harshness associated with low end mounting systems. If you are okay with thick lubes, you can get a lot of out of cheap switches. If you are okay with blanks, you can get thick, high quality caps for your money.

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I think you’re right about foam going a long way, some of my favorite boards are tray mount with foam.

For caps I would add Tai Hao Cubic, sets can be had for <$40 and I’ve found them to be perfectly fine to enjoyable in use.

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You can do a good deal of improvement with a ‘basic’ board. I had a stock Leopold FC900R PD. It was a solid board, from a construction standpoint, but lacked refinement.

It was an MX Brown board, so those stock Cherry switches pinged, and made a high-pitched rattle. The stabs were … okay. Nothing wrong with them, and they were quiet. But the sound profile of the board was inconsistent. Normal typing sounds with the alphas, deeper-pitched sounds from the smaller clusters, clacky Enter key, and an extremely-loud spacebar.

Anyway, due to some issues I had two Leopolds rebuilt by an assembly service. The most recent one swapped the stock switches with lubed Ergo Clears, lubed the stabs, replaced the LEDs, and carefully lubed or prepared where a few key switches were placed.

The difference was enormous. Compared to my stock FC900R, the modified FC900R sounds significantly deeper, more uniform, almost no ping, and the stabs are swifter and smoother. Nothing changed in terms of the mounting or structure. But lubed switches makes a huge difference. Choosing quiet switches on frequent keys is important. Rearranging the internal foam [poorly-situated in stock form IMHO] probably helped. Lubing the stabs obv helps.

So without changing the mounting or structure, you can really iron out some of the problems in a basic stock board.

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I really dislike how negatively you have phrased your initial argument. I don’t think it’s true that budget parts result in poor acoustics and feel. Diminishing returns in this hobby are huge, and you can have an expensive board that sounds or feels bad with all of the base issues you mentioned. I think you just missed saying that the issues for “low end” boards are a misconception.

I agree with your solutions for specific issues though.

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Yeah my bad. Budget boards don’t inherently result in bad acoustics or feel, especially with the mods I mentioned, but stock trey mount does sound very inconsistent because of the trey posts, and feels really harsh with certain plates because the plate is mounted to the trey.

Endgame is a conspiracy, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

This post does a great job of articulating the tagline at the top of my website. I don’t know the author or if they’ve ever purchased anything from me but his points are spot on - a bit of foam, some lube and a couple hours of effort can turn almost any board into a contender.

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lmao you do know me! PR on discord. I sent you pcb broken tokyo60 pcb, and I was at the 2018 boomtown and summer 2019 seattle meetup.

I also have purchased 2 foams from mkultra

My thesis is that the non-symmetrical / irregular screw holes together with nothing to support the plate is the main flaw of trey-mount.

this is exactly what i’ve been trying to work with as i’m starting to build my first one after only doing mods on pre-builds. as for the foam cut-outs, i see mentions of mkultra and laser cutting, but looking at the pcb / plate gap, i feel like even just cutting strips of acoustic foam and running it across the plates in those horizontal tracks would do a good amount of vibrational isolation without that much effort. is that a reasonable train of thought?

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Somewhere on here there is a thread about @donpark’s sorbothan strut mod, I think that’s probably what you’re after.

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Here is the original post: Sorbothane Struts mod

Even with plate forms readily available, I still apply this mod under the spacebar when plate foam doesn’t provide enough dampening. And it can make cheap factory-made keyboards, like MasterKeys S Pro or GMMK, sound nice. Just be sure to use 5mm sheets and have a few switches soldered on board before squeezing the struts into place.

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A lot of good points. Good foam does go a long way, but what is the best foam?

In the spirit of this thread, I’d say “what is a good enough foam available to me?” is a more balanced question.

For example, Sorbothane is referenced a lot in our community, but it doesn’t seem to be readily available in Germany (or I didn’t look hard enough), and importing seemed overkill to me. Not to mention it’s expensive. So as an initial mod I simply tried some acoustic foam that I happened to have lying around. Contrary to Sorbothane, it’s fluffy and porous, but still effective.

While the result isn’t necessarily worthy of an ASMR or guide video, the foam has improved the sound so much that I consider case dampening a solved issue for me personally – unless it doesn’t help my next build sufficiently. But then my next step would still be trying other easily available foams first.

I haven’t used sorbathane, but I have good luck with using butyl foam (sound deadening material for cars)

I think anything you can get easily will have to do. Sorbothane is the current best option but any kind of foam that is springy enough to dampen minor vibrations will improve typing experience. Not as much as it could be but better is always good.

And I found that our level of tolerance not only varies a lot but also changes over time so, at the extreme end, not even Sorbothane will be good enough. It’s like asking for the best wine when the best thing to wish for is the cheapest taste.