Azio MGK-1 Mechanical Keyboard

Posted: June 11, 2017 in keyboarding
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In the beginning of my mechanical keyboard journey, I found myself purchasing examples of the breed that went for well over a hundred dollars. They had Cherry MX switches. At that time, there weren’t nearly as many choices as there are today. You had old IBMs, the Cherry ‘boards that were easily available, and then a few fringe players that were hard to find and expensive.

Due to the recent advent of Cherry clone switches, there are a vast array of new keyboards to look at. I’ve already investigated a good number of the least expensive new ‘boards. Those proved to be quite useful devices, though many of them were hampered by a few small design oddities. In terms of making the clicking sound and sending the character to the computer, however, they were just fine. They worked as well, or even better than the “real” Cherry ‘boards.

The gap in my knowledge base was the “mid-priced” products. There are a good number of devices that go from $60 or so to up around the $100 range that I didn’t have any experience with. In some cases, the value brands will offer a bucks-up version of their keyboard that features either a “real” Cherry switch complement or one of the more expensive clones, like the Kailh or Gateron switch. In other cases, we’ll see brands that have chosen to position themselves in this price category and built their product from the ground up to satisfy this requirement.

The Product:

The Azio MGK-1 features Kailh switches. It has a single color backlight, but this is implemented in a “non gamer” fashion. What that means is that there aren’t a million different flashy effects. It’s on or off, with a reactive mode that lights up the key you’ve just hit, and lets you adjust the brightness. There are three levels of brightness, and the top brightness level isn’t blinding or disruptive. In a room with normal amounts of ambient light, the LEDs at full are fine.

The Azio is a pretty swanky looking ‘board. It has a blacked-out aluminum top plate with a brushed finish. The floating key caps feel pretty nice. They sit atop Kailh blue switches. As much as the top appears to bespeak high levels of weight and structure, the underside is fairly mudane or even underwhelming. The red plastic base features basic fold out feet that seem a little flimsy and don’t feature traction inserts. The metal top plate provides enough rigidity, however, while the minimal underside keeps weight low (if that is a concern).

In terms of nits to pick with the looks, I would only say that the LEDs used for the num lock, caps lock, and Windows lock are a bit brighter than I prefer. They are probably twice as intense as is required, and don’t appear to be configurable.

With build, I’d like to see better flip-up feet and a bit more material used on the underside, just to give the ‘boad a bit more substance.

In Use:

The employment of a blue type switch typically comes with several choices preset about the ‘board. The sound is going to be significant. The click of these switches has a bright, crispy sound that will either be something you’re totally into, or a real annoyance.

The sound of the Kailh switches, while consonant with the other blues I’ve tried, is not quite the same as the Cherry or the Outemu brands. The Outemu brand is the loudest of them, with what I feel is the “crispest” sound. The Cherry are, to my ears, the highest pitched in their sound, but not quite as loud. The Kailh switches are slightly mellower in their sound. These are all somewhat subtle distinctions, however, and would be hard to isolate without being in the room with keyboards thus equipped.

To my mind, blue switches have always been a mixed bag. I like the sound, and I like the feel (mostly), but I find that I often type a bit better with some of the other switch types. They are rewarding, but I’ve had a hard time warming up to them in some cases. I think that they are right on that threshold of weighting where I can’t “float” type, but if I go at them like I’d do with a buckling spring, I overpower them and bottom out hard. Shrug. It’s an issue that just using the particular key type for a few days would clear up. All of these technologies have a small amount of spin-up time where you’re not as comfortable as you might be.

The layout and key position of the Azio is altogether standard, so there is no adaptation needed to cope with that. If you’ve typed on a blue switch ‘board before, you’ll be able to get right to work here. As I said, the sound is a little more mellow than some blue-equipped boards. Let that not be code for “quiet”, however. Anything but. There are no quiet blue switch keyboards. Even with O-rings installed, they are going to make some noise. Also, O-rings kind of ruin the key feel, at least for me. Opinions must vary, because they carry on selling those things. Someone must like them.

Overall, I find the typing experience to be quite similar to the blue switch ‘boards I’ve already used. Which, I suppose, is to be expected. It can’t be more than it is. There is no fairy dust or unicorn powder at play. In terms of actual typing, I don’t know that it offers anything that the cheaper ‘boards don’t.

If looks are important, and you want to have a prettier or classier ‘board on your desk, then this one does have an advantage. Also, it does come with a palm rest, if you use such things. I find that most of my implementations do not require a palm rest, and that their inclusion would only hinder my progress. Thus, I have not used the included part for the Azio in any of my testing. Keep in mind that, when touch typing, it’s better form to have your wrists at a flat angle, and well above where the palm rest would normally have them. Just sayin’. If you’re going to be typing up a storm, we don’t want you to get yourself all ginked up.

Summary:

The Azio keyboard is a nice looking, good functioning device. If you have a fairly tasteful computer rig and you want a mechanical that goes along with this aesthetic, I think you could do worse. It’s significantly less expensive than something like a DasKeyboard, which would be in a competitive space. Since this is a full-sized unit, it will likely just sit in the same place for its whole life. Thus, any small concerns I have over its toughness are probably academic.

The Kailh switches seem good. I don’t know if they offer anything in particular that the Outemu switches lack, but there is no reason that I can see to shy away from them. If a keyboard you are interested in has this brand switch, I think you’ll find that they work as expected.

In relation to the full-fat Cherry MX keyboard market, the Azio is something of a value option. If you are less concerned with the looks, know that there are keyboards that will perform at a similar level for twenty or twenty-five dollars less. If this is not a meaningful economy for you, then the Azio might be the right choice. Also be aware that, if you’re something of a gearhead, you can purchase a set of aftermaket key caps to customize the look and feel of your ‘board. Doing that, you can take the cheapest of the ‘boards and make it look as nice as the Azio, or take the Azio and use it as the launch point for something amazing. Anything with minimally-invasive badging and a standard key complement will be great for such a project. There are excellent PBT key cap sets for as little as $20 available online. I’ll be doing a whole article on #keyboardhotrodding in the future where I talk in greater detail on this point.

Usage Case:

This is an “at home” keyboard. It’s too loud for work, and it’s not really suited for going into your backpack and accompanying you to the local coffee shop to hipster out. For that, I’d look at something like the Magicforce 68, or at least a tenkey-less model.

As with other keyboards using this switch type, I don’t think it offers any great advantage for gaming, and could actually be something of an impediment, if you’re used to a membrane keyboard or something with linear switches.

Typing is where it’s at for this machine. In an enviornment that is not noise-averse, it could be a really good option. It has the looks, and it has them at a price that isn’t quite as shocking to the average consumer. Also, it should be mentioned that Azio makes a fully Mac-based key format, so you don’t have to re-map anything or guess if the media keys will function. The Mac version is all in silver and white, so it will match up with the aesthetic of the computer in question.

Just know that this version is about 1/3rd more expensive, due to tooling and volume concerns. Still, far less than than a Matias, and possibly more attractive in the visual sense for some buyers. I will not say that the blue switches are as good as the Matias tactile pros, however. They have advantages, but overall typing joy still goes to the Matias, in my estimation. That’s a whole seperate argument, however, and in the PC sphere, the cost of a Matias ‘board is well over double that of the Azio. So, then, not a fair comparison.

Back in the land of apples-to-apples, it’s a pretty good bargain. In the realm of Kailh switches, I think that it’s one of the less expensive options (many of the others I’ve seen are kitchy in some way, while this is fairly standard in form and execution).

So, for the traditional keyboardist who mainly wants good typing feel, a handsome device, and a reasonable price, this would be one I’d recommend to try.

Cheers, and happy typing!

Note: It should be mentioned that the stabilizers on the larger keys have an interesting issue wherein they require great care when replacing keys, and often don’t quite line up on the first go ’round. Also, a few of the keys (the spacebar and the right shift) have non-standard spacing for the stabilizer inserts. This will make replacing these two keys problematic. I ended up finding it impossible to replace those two keys when re-capping the keyboard. While this isn’t necessarily the biggest deal, the stock caps on this ‘board are not the absolute best. If you’re like me, you’ll find that you want to upgrade them. In this, you’ll have to look for a special “compatibility pack” to help you out, if even that can. I’ll have to give this ‘board a demerit for the two issues listed above, and put it in the “probably don’t buy” category as a result.

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