Keyboard Musings: Changing My Tune about Blue Switches

Posted: October 29, 2017 in keyboarding
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Opening Salvo:

In the past, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of Cherry MX Blue switches, as well as the clones of said switch. Not that I didn’t like them, but I just didn’t prefer them. Although they are the most popular of the MX style switches, and are well loved by peripherally-involved typists, the hard, weird core of keyboard arch-nerd-ery have sometimes been dismissive of them. “There are better switches!” goes the long and loud lament. “ALPS!” “Buckling Spring!” I get it. Non keyboard people, um, don’t. And that’s okay.

The Things That I Used To Do: 

For some time, my preference was for the brown switch. I still have a lot of good luck using the brown switch, and I believe that it does have its place. If you need a quieter ‘board, the brown will help you with that. I can always sit down and get a good result with the brown switch, without a lot of clumsiness or adaptation. I still use a DasKeyboard thusly equipped for my primary work keyboard. I’ve had it for 5 years, and though I’ve re-capped it, it’s otherwise stock and in just as fine a fettle as it ever was.

Yep. For a time, I was all about the Brown Switches. As I’ve tested more switch types, however, I’ve found that they are not the be-all-end-all. They’re a compromise, but they get the job done. Smooth enough. Quiet enough. Just enough actuation force that you won’t make an utter mess of things.

With the blue switches, I found that I didn’t have that same immediate sense of comfort. I liked them, but I would usually have to use them for a while to get used to their action. Not sure why. One thought about it is that I typically only used them when sitting in with someone else’s rig, and I just didn’t have enough mileage on them to get acclimated.

The Long and Crooked Road to Better: 

I tried putting o-rings on a blue-equipped keyboard, and that didn’t do anything good. Not at all. For me, the o-rings really hurt the typing feel with a Cherry MX type board. I’m sure someone likes them, but that person is not me, or anyone I’ve had try a ‘board so equipped.

After picking up some cheaper ‘boards featuring Outemu and Kailh switches, as well as stripping out the o-rings for my “real” Cherry switch keyboard, I found that I really began to warm up to the blue switch. The slight increase in weight from the brown switches seemed to help me be more accurate and have fewer accidental key presses. I acclimated to the sound, and it really grew on me.

Dress ‘Em Up: 

One thing, for me, became very clear. I liked all keyboards better with PBT caps on them, but with the blues, it made a big, big difference. Something about the sound and feel seemed to give the blue switches a big boost. Also worthy of mention would be the typewriter style keys, such as the ones made by Quisan. These, being built in a totally different manner, and having a lot of concentrated mass atop the keys, change their acoustics a lot. This takes a kind of “ping-y” keyboard sound and gives it a certain depth and fullness that even thick PBT conical caps do not confer. If you like that retro look, and can get used to the altered mechanics of a spherical key, they are also an option.

In terms of the variety of different blue switches, I like the Outemu best of all. I know, that’s weird. They’re the cut-rate brand. I just think that they have a neater sound, and the slightly heavier action seems to put them in the “just right” zone for me. The Kailh switches seem a bit smoother and a bit more subdued in terms of sound, but they are still really good. Strangely, my least favorite blue-equipped keyboard is my DasKeyboard with real Cherry switches and a beautiful set of bumblebee colored PBT caps. Ah, well. The amount of money spent doesn’t always equal the amount of enjoyment perceived.

Final Thoughts:

As a switch, apples to apples, I still think that the blue switch isn’t the equal of the Matias tactile pro (clicky). It doesn’t have that sense of absolute solidity of an IBM buckling spring. That said, if the blue switch is riding under some great PBT caps, that brings them up a notch or two. Not quite to the level of the Matias or the Unicomp, but those boards are louder, more expensive, and harder to customize. There are no cut rate models, short of finding an old one at a yard sale. You can order a blue switch keyboard from Amazon and have it in a couple days, for as little as thirty bucks or so. There are a million ways to customize them, as the market is flooded with stuff to work with for MX mount switches.

I know that I’ve talked some smack about the blue switch, and I’m here to say that I have changed my tune. They’re still too loud for some places you might deploy them, but they have a lot to commend them, and they’re a great value option for getting into mechanical keyboarding.

Cheers, and happy typing.

 

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