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.