Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Keyboard Review: Hcman 87

Posted: May 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

hcman-87-keys-mechanical-keyboard-under-30-e1494904419595-960x494Sometimes, you just have to see how low you can go. In this case, I was looking for the least expensive true mechanical keyboard I could find. After poking around Amazon, the Hcman 87 keyboard I have here ended up being “the one”. Depending upon market factors, it may well not be the low-priced crown, or even available when you’re reading this. Nevertheless, it constituted the value winner at the inception of this test.

It is a tenkey-less design, or the 87% format, if you prefer. The device has an aluminum top plate, floating key layout, and features Outemu blue switches. These are clicky and tactile, like the Cherry switches of the same stem color. The keys are backlit. With the backlighting turned off, it looks okay. It looks really hokey with the backlights on.

The ‘board is quite light, but has good structural regidity, due to the aluminum top plate. With the LEDs lit, it has a “gamer” aesthetic, which is not my preference. That said, at this price, one takes what one can get.

The legends are clear enough with the backlighting on, but are quite difficult to read when the lights are turned off. Because of the design of this keyboard, it would be easy enough to change key caps, should you desire. That being said, there are secondary functions that would have to be remembered or noted elsewhere, should you remove the stock caps. Also, it should be mentioned that going to the expense of purchasing a new set of keycaps for a ‘board of this price point would likely be a questionable step. Many of the key cap sets you might select are more expensive than this keyboard in total.

Functional aspect:

Because of the key switches used in this ‘board, it provides a clicky and tactile typing experience. I find that the Outemu switches provide a similar feel to the more expensive Cherry switches. I have not found any cause to say negative things about them. They seem to do what they were designed to do. I don’t know if they will, in fact, have the same service life or retain their performance after long term use, but they seem to do just fine over a short course.

The layout of the Hcman is a standard ANSI design. All the keys will be in the same place you’re used to. They’ll be the same size and shape. There are no large hurdles here.

When one combines the fact that you have a true mechanical switch that acts as it should and a standard key layout, this is a solid typing platform. There are no strange sounds, squeaks, pings, or malfunctions to report. Because I was familiar with blue switches going in, there wasn’t a major learning curve. I have used it back to back with a few much more expensive keyboards, up to and including a Realforce that is the better part of ten times as expensive. It did not give me great feelings of sadness and regret while employing it.

Summation:

This is a lot of keyboard for the money. If you are willing to forgive some of its little quirks, like having dumb LED lighting that will make you look like a rube if you use it, this thing will give you typing feel equal to a much more expensive ‘board. If you find that you really, really like the Hcman, you could always throw some better caps onto it. Or, even better, some caps you’ve kept around from a previous craft project. Much better if anything you do with this ‘board be cheap or free, since the whole idea of this device is value.

Functionally, it’s a win. With the lights off, it’s okay. Lots of ‘board for the money.

Cheers, and happy typing.

Post Script:

After my initial review of this ‘board, I decided to recap it with keys I had hanging around. Now, it’s using the modifier keys from a Magicforce and the rest of the keys from my old DasKeyboard. While there are still a few slightly rough or cheap elements present, the change in the looks are huge. With the LEDs off and a good, legible set of key caps installed, it’s actually a nice looking ‘board. One interesting element I found during the switching of the key caps was that this board has a totally different type of stabilizer than anything I’ve seen. They work fine, so it’s just a data point.

I still believe that a slightly more expensive (an additional $5 to $10 will do) platform would provide you a better jumping off point for a customed-up board. I would say that the Magicforce 68 by Quisan is right up there with the best in this regard, while the Drevo Tyrfing is also impressive. For a full sized keyboard the Eagletec is also totally legit. For a cheap, dangerous duty ‘board or a loaner for friends, the HCman is pretty darned good, however.

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Details and Unboxing:

This keyboard was purchased from Amazon and delivered for less than $40. It is a Chinese made keyboard in a very small layout, featuring Outemu brand switches of the “brown” type. These have Cherry-compatible keycaps. Said caps are white with grey legends.

The keyboard construction has no bezel, so the key caps “float” above the exposed switches. The chassis is minimalist in nature and is very light. The whole device weighs very little, but seems structurally sound. When biased by gentle pressure, rigidity along the long axis of the keyboard is quite good. The chassis features an aluminum top plate with an anodized surface, while the lower is off-white plastic.

Badging on the keyboard is kept to a minimum. There is a small “Magicforce” logo on the right hand side in chrome relief.

The keycaps have a nice feel, although the contrast on the lettering could be better. When I pulled one of the key caps, I found that the thickness of their construction was fairly significant. The switches beneath looked essentially the same as a real Cherry switch.

Because of the minimalist key complement, there is a function layer that can be used to access secondary or tertiary functions for some keys. Thus, the number row can be used to access the F1-F12 functions by holding down the FN key, then tapping the key in question. Because of this, many of the keys have more legends on them than you may be used to. That, I suppose, is the tradeoff for the form factor, and is not limited to this keyboard in any way.

Overall, the white and silver presentation looks classy, but not in a self-conscious way. The detachable cable has a routing mechanism that forces the cord to exit in the center, back of the keyboard. Many keyboards with detachable cables allow multiple points of egress for the cable, but that will only be a concern for a small number of implementations. The cable itself is a vinyl-clad white unit with Mini USB to standard USB routing. The look of this keyboard would be quite at home in front of a Mac computer, I believe, as the color scheme and design aesthetic are somewhat akin to that brand. That said, the keyboard is set up as a PC device, with all the standard functions one would expect from that format.

Packaging was simple but solid, with a dense, small box. The box was high quality, in my estimation, and the information was provided by a slip cuff that went around it on the outside. Included in the box was the keyboard, the cable, and a mini-booklet with details of the purchase. Oh, and a plastic key puller. I’m getting quite a collection of those now.

I think that the Magicforce’s visual presentation doesn’t give any hint of cheapness or shoddy manufacture. Everything fits, seems sturdy, and functions. The bottom of the keyboard has rubber feet and rubber-clad riser feet on the back that move under enough resistance to feel well-designed. The overall size of the device means that, for a given gauge of plastic, it will feel more rigid. Simple leverage makes this a fact. Thus, without a lot of material or a heavy device, this little ‘board presents as rugged. Not too shabby.

A Little History:

In recent months, it has become easier and easier to find mechanical keyboards at prices that would have been impossible in years past. Up until recently, the mechanical keyboard shopper could look forward to spending upwards of $100 for a new mechanical ‘board. Sometimes a lot more than that, depending on the manufacturer and the key switch they selected.

While these premium priced ‘boards are still afoot, and still have their proponents (like me), a new wave of mechanicals has hit the market, and their prices are extremely attractive. How did this happen, and what does it portend for the market?

The Thing About Patents:

The dominant switch in the mechanical keyboard market has been the Cherry MX switch for a while now. Yes, there are buckling spring keyboards being made, but they’re only available from one company, Unicomp. And, they aren’t making any effort to cater to the users who want “new hotness” in terms of style and form factor. Matias makes an ALPS-type switch, but they’re expensive and targeted to a narrow market. Topre switches are wicked cool, but good luck finding a keyboard featuring that technology for anything less than a king’s ransom.

So, Cherry MX switches. That’s what all the “cool” keyboards use, and what all the aftermarket parts are created for.

Some time ago, Cherry’s patent ran out on their switch design. Subsequent to that, other companies were free to create duplicate or slightly redesigned versions of their switches. The market has seen several companies take up this challenge. Among them are Greetech, Gateron, Outemu, Zorro, Kailh, and others.

None of these models have been panned by the critics. In fact, some say that the Gaterons are better and smoother than the Cherry switches, perhaps due to some changes to the formulation of the plastic used on the slider mechanism.

All of the Cherry clone switches can be used as replacements on a PCB that is printed to take Cherry switches, as their pins are in the same place and they are the exact shape and size. All of them can utilize Cherry-style keycaps, as well. They have, in the main, kept up with the color-coding and weighting of the Cherry switches. This means that a brown switch from Gateron or Outemu will have manifestly similar typing feel to one made by any of the other companies. It may, in fact, be difficult to tell much of any difference in some of the switches. The weighting may be a bit heavier or lighter on some switches, and some of them may click louder than another, but the idea behind the color of the switch stays intact.

Keyboards using these knock-off switches are typically half or less than half the cost of the Cherry equivalent. While Cherry-equipped ‘boards are still over $100 in most situations, you can find Gateron equipped devices in the $60 range, and Outemu switch ‘boards for as little as $30.

What does the proliferation of the inexpensive mechanicals mean for the market? What does it mean for Cherry, the manufacturer of the more expensive switches?

Well, I am no strategist in this regard. I can’t tell you what market pressure does to business with any accuracy. Common sense does indicate that, if the quality of these devices proves to be similar to their more expensive competition, it will certainly have an impact. Cherry will have to either find a way to compete in a value proposition, or find ways to make their switches better at the price point they currently command. My sense is that the smart play for them would be to look into ways to justify their current price point. Perhaps an MX-compatible line of new switches that is smoother, longer-lived, and just better. If they are capable of such a thing, that’s what I’d go for. Let the upstart companies take the cheap keyboard market, and allow the luxury-price buyers feel that they’ve been able to buy something better. Let that feeling be borne out by clear and discernable improvement.

For the consumer, this development means that mechanical keyboards are within the reach of far more people. Someone who simply can’t afford the price of a premium keyboard, like a Realforce or a HHKB, can plunk down thirty or forty dollars and have a keyboard with real mechanical switches. In addition, they can have said keyboard in one of the new, interesting form factors that they may be itching to try.

It will really depend on whether the typing feel/sound of these inexpensive ‘boards delivers upon the promise of a mechanical keyboard or not. If the feels are still there, and the devices prove to be built well enough to survive the vagaries of being at a desktop and in use for a significant amount of time, I think that this inexpensive market will stick around.

If the price curve follows the launch strategies of a lot of these companies, they may be operating for little to no profict at this point, creating their place in the market by brand association. If this is the case, which it often is for Far East manufacturing, they will gradually get more expensive over the next year or so. There will be enough good reviews of their products, and enough brand recognition, that they will be able to overcome the reticence of the buying populace. They will have established trust, and that will allow them to dial in a bit of profit. I’d expect prices to climb ten or fifteen percent, if what I’ve seen in the past is borne out.

Then again, my career as a prognosticator has been a pretty rocky ride, so take any of my soothsaying with a grain of salt. Or a whole shaker of it.

The Functional Review:

The keyboard that I’ve got for review today is the Quisan Magicforce 68 key model. It has no backlighting, wireless, or anything fancy. As you may imagine from the key count, it is a small device, without quite a few blocks of keys you might be familiar with. The switch used in my version is the Outemu Brown switch. I understand that many of the least expensive of these new mechanicals use the Outemu switch. They are said to be “almost as good” as Cherry by most observers. Quisan makes several iterations of this keyboard, and they utilize a few different kinds of switches. The price of the keyboard fluctuates depending on their choice in this regard, with the least expensive being the Outemu.

Otemu brown switches are tactile, quiet switches. They do not feature a click in their travel, but this doesn’t assure an altogether silent typing experience, as the key caps themselves will make a noise when taken to their full travel, as well as a sound when the key resets to top center. Much of the noise can be dampened on this type of switch, if you install a small rubber O-ring on the key stem. I find that, the O-rings somewhat take away from the tactile feel of a mechanical, and though they are quite effective at making the keyboard quieter, I don’t enjoy typing on a ‘board thus equipped as much.

Brown switches typically yield a bit of a “clack” sound in use. There is no high-frequency component, so it will typically not be terribly annoying. Overall sound is low to moderate. Your officemates will be aware that you’re typing, but will likely not be motivated to plot your death. At least not because of the typing chatter. The stunt you pulled during the meeting last Thursday is a different matter. I’d watch my back. Just sayin’.

I’m quite familiar with the Cherry MX brown switch, as I have used a DasKeyboard thusly equipped for my primary work keyboard for years. I would say that the brown switch is one of the fastest of the switches I’ve tried, allowing fairly effortless typing at speed. Because of the lightness of the Cherry version, I have at times found that I will have to acclimate a bit. If I’ve been at a keyboard that forces very authoritative key presses before I go back to my desk, I’ll sometimes have mindfully ease up a little to get the best results. Using the Das, I’ve never found that my typing caused a lot of consternation among nearby colleagues. It’s just a sound. It’s actually a fairly calming and industrious sound, to me. Probably twenty percent louder than a standard membrane ‘board, with more “clack” than the “thunk” of a rubber dome.

For some time, the Brown switch has been my favorite among the Cherry offerings. I though it was right on in terms of feel and speed. Thus, I had to try one of the inexpensive keyboards with the same switch “idea”. (I will say that I’ve had some level of opinion drift in this of late, as I have warmed up to blue and red switches a lot more recently.)

Does the Outemu switch feel identical to the Cherry? I would say it does not. It feels slightly heavier, at least in this keyboard. There may be a bit more “grit” or roughness in the travel, but this is a fairly small distinction that would be hard to feel without A/B testing.

In terms of key feel, the tactile bump of the switch seems to manifest in a very similar way. It seems like it may be just a bit higher in the key travel than its exemplar. With the higher percieved weighting and the tactile event taking place closer to the top of the travel, I feel like the Outemu switch may have a slightly stronger tactile feel. Not a huge difference, but that’s what I have for you in that regard.

The key sound is always somewhat dictated by the compsition of the key caps and the structural resonance pattern of the keyboard chassis. Because the brown switches don’t have any auditory component to add, this is pretty much all chassis and key cap interaction. That said, they don’t sound out of character for a brown switch. The minimalist chassis does have a bit of a “ring” on some key presses toward the center of the ‘board, but it feels solid enough. Some of the stabilized keys, such as the backspace, do have a bit of stabilizer judder, such that they have a high-range component that the other keys lack. The spacebar will always sound a bit different from the other keys, but it is not unduly loud on this implementation.

It didn’t take me any real time to get comfortable with the typing mechanics of the Quisan. All the keys work, and the general dynamics of the typing experience are good. It feels agile and precise while touch typing, and has plenty of return force on the keys to feel like you can’t “overrun” the ‘board if you are a quick typist.

Because I’ve been typing on a lot of keyboards that have a higher activation force than the Cherry browns, the slightly stiffer key feel here with the Outemus is actually nice. I find that it improves the typing feel. I type somewhat hard, however, so your results may vary. Some people like a softer key feel, others want to have that sense of slight effort. It’s taste.

If you like the brown switches you’ve tried in the past, I think that the Outemu switch will probably feel like something you can deal with. There is definite key feedback, as one would expect from a mechanical keyboard. This is not some pale attempt at doing a thing. They’ve given you a mechanical keyboard. For less than $40. It’s quite something. I’m pleasantly surprised.

I’ve typed out everything up until this point in the narrative with the Quisan on the first day of its arrival. I have found it to be rewarding enough in use to suit my purposes. No difficulties have presented themselves in terms of the layout or the ergonomic feel of the keyboard. It being so small, you do have to figure out exactly where it needs to be on your desk, but it seems to remain in place well enough, despite its flea-like weight.

From here, I’m going to use the ‘board for a week or so to get you a more thorough understanding of how it wears in. Although I won’t be able to tell you if the mean time between failure that the key manufacturer states is in any way accurate, I’ll be able to make sure that it doesn’t start degenerating quickly. Mainly, I’ll just be able to refine my veiwpoint a little and make sure none of my early thoughts were wrong-headed.

In the Fullness of Time:

1) After the first day of typing, I can say that the form factor is pretty darned nice. For pure text typing, like one would do if you were writing papers, reports, posts, letters, fiction, etc., the smaller form factor is not a big deal. If you’re doing a lot of things that require the function row or the numeric keypad, your results may vary.

I like the looks of the ‘board. It just looks neat and tidy. The size of it is amusing every time I glance down. I’m having no problems with the ‘board moving around beneath my hands, and it feels perfectly solid. No give, bounce or wiggle when I’m typing. It should be noted I have pretty big hands, and I rip phonebooks in my off time. Thus, if there is a problem with chassis solidity, I might be the guy you want to bring in to check things out.

The key feel is quite good. As stated earlier, I do feel that the Outemu browns are higher effort than the “real” Cherry MX switches. They are also a little more tactile. They may not be quite as fast, but it’s close. Maybe too close to call. I can crank out the words. I just did a thousand words essentially in one burst, with no issues.

The sound is quite good. Not too loud, but nice and communicative. The acoustics of the open, slab style case aren’t proving to amplify the sound. I gave a close look to the key caps, and they’re actually quite thick, considering the price of this ‘board. I believe they are ABS, but they are better than a few keysets I’ve seen coming off of ‘boards that weigh in at more than $100, so I can’t complain.

The main element where there’s that tell-tale of cost cutting is that there are some squeeking sounds that come out of the board here and there. It seems that it is mainly the space bar and a few of the other stabilized keys. I will put a few drops of lubricant on the hinges for those keys to see if that quiets them down. That’ll be covered in the next progress report.

All in all, after a day, I can say that I could totally live with this keyboard. If I were doing the hipster thing and writing my novel in the coffee shop, this would allow me to do so unimpeded. At this form factor, it would easily slip into the backpack with my laptop and go along with me. It may not be the absolute final word in keyboards for all time and space, but it’s so much better than any laptop keyboard that it isn’t even a fair comparison. This is a real mechanical, and it does the mechanical keyboard things. At a price that I had to see to believe. More to come.

Further On Down The Road:

Day Two:

After finding that some of the squeaky larger keys were making the sound of the keyboard a little less than ideal on the first day of typing, I pulled the caps of the offending keys off and oiled the stabilizer inserts. After having given it a fair number of keystrokes to work the oil in, I have found that the sound of the spacebar and other keys that were having the original malady have much improved.

There is still just a bit of a resonance inside the chassis of the keyboard. The form that this takes is a very light “ring” sound when the typing action is taking place. At least, when I’m hammering on the ‘board. Other than perhaps taking the whole chassis apart and finding some way to damp the affected area, there is probably not much that can be done. Luckily, this is a very low level sound, and not much of a problem. Unless your surroundings are pretty quiet, you may not even notice. If you’re not heavy handed, the device might not even make that noise.

I do think that oiling the stabilizers on the keys so equipped is a good idea, and has improved the sound. The oil I used is called Super Lube, their high viscosity, high dialectric synthetic oil. It has PTFE in it, so it should provide long duration slickness. It’s food grade, non-volatile, and doesn’t have a smell. I’ve used it on any number of different things, and it always performs great. This has been no exception.

I stick with everything I said in the earlier part of the review. The keyboard performs well. The switches are a little heavier than their counterparts, but otherwise have a similar feel. It is a “fast” ‘board, as you can really get going if you have a lot to type. I continue to find the small form factor to be a non-issue for most situations. The key positioning and spacing all feel natural. I’ve actually really enjoyed typing on this keyboard, and I’m kind of sold on it.

It’s a little surprising, since so much of my keyboarding life has been with the full sized ‘boards. I have enjoyed the ten-keyless designs, but this is a sigificant amount smaller than that. You kind of have to see it in person and up close to really grasp how much smaller it is. Because there is no bezel or surround at all. it is exactly the size of the standard alpha block on a normal ‘board. That’s it, really. Just two additional columns of keys for the directional keys and a few formatting functions. That’s it. Everything else is where you’d expect it to be.

Because I’ve been enjoying the experience so much, I’ve been typing way more than I absolutely need to. I stayed up too late last night as a result, and that typically means that it’s a pretty good experience. Tiny keyboards? Kind of a convert. Cheap mechanicals? No longer nearly as skeptical. Dang.

Cheers, and happy typing!

(Post Script: Because I had some key caps hanging around, I replaced the modifier keys with black caps from my old Coolermaster Quickfire Rapid, as well as throwing on a red spacebar I had left over from yet another build. Thus equipped, it has a sort of custom look to it. Perhaps not as classy or as “Apple Chic” as it was, it feels more like a tuner’s ‘board now. No functional differences could be found after having done this, but I think the ‘board has more character now. Besides, the modifiers I took off of the Magicforce ended up as a great little pep-up set for another cheap keyboard I was hotrodding. Way too much fun.

The Settling In Phase

Posted: April 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

In the course of wet shaving mania, we have many points when we’re engaged in the wild accumulation of gear. We can’t do anything but comb through our favorite places to buy equipment and software. We aren’t happy unless we’re testing a new razor or lathering up a new soap. We are in the grips of Gear Acquisition Disorder.  Money takes wing and flies out of our wallets like each bill was a migratory bird. Wet shaving isn’t alone in this phase. It could be said that, in comparison to some of the other hobbies you could get into, this malady isn’t that costly. Good luck if you start collecting speed boats or vintage guitars.

Regardless of the severity and type of your purchasing psychosis, it will typically hit a particular point when you’ve purchased so much stuff that it takes a while for you to even try all your new gear. You simply have to stop, because you have such a large backlog of things to take out for a spin that you can’t even deal with it. You’re broken. You’re the kid who’s crying at Christmas, because it’s all a bit too much, and you just want to play with your one action figure for a while before looking at anything else.

Sometimes, in that refractory phase when you’re slowly trundling through your messy wonderland of stuff, you’ll find that you have no real impetus to frantically jump around anymore. You kind of want to run with a few things you like. You need to. You’ve overdone it. You need to return to base and relax.

I find myself in that phase now. I’ve run through and tested so many things that I will have enough reviews to last me months, even if I bug you guys all the time. I’ve had great shaves aplenty. I’ve cycled through the vast majority of my razor collection. I’ve used a great litany of blades. Soaps and aftershaves have propagated through my shave den like an endless tide of suds and good smell. It’s been a good time. It’s been a little crazy.

I’m tired now. I have been for weeks. I’m just loading blades into the Merkur Futur as needed. I’m going through and using my old soaps that I had before acquisition madness hit me.

Here’s what I found.

1) I hate how much I love the Futur. I don’t want to admit how good it is. It doesn’t conform to all the things I think I believe about how razors are designed. It works when my logic says that it shouldn’t. I get such good, easy shaves from the damn thing. It can be turned down to be safe enough, but it has more “headroom” for aggression than I’ve ever needed. It’s a beast. The Futur doesn’t care that much about what blade it has. I have a hard time finding fault with it.

2) For me, Razorock soaps are the answer. I always get a great lather, and I always get a great result. I know that many people differ on this. All the way from the Amici soap, that goes for three bucks, to The Dead Sea, they kick ass. At the low middle part of their range, their vegan formula with argan oil might be the sleeper of all of them. This soap, featured in the soaps such as the Essential Oil of Lime and Lavender, is really great stuff. It could not be any easier to work with. The scents in the soaps are very much to my liking. The types of scents that I could use every day. I have A/B tested this soap against stuff many times the price, and I had a hard time coming up with anything that the RR soaps weren’t doing that the more expensive soaps were. Allowing for “status” shaves, I suppose.

3) It’s good to have your remembrance of your favorite products confirmed after an absence. I’d been using various and sundry razor blades. Many of them good. One or two of them sucky. I finally went back to my beloved Astra SP the other night. Ahhhhh. So smooth. The Futur isn’t the most discerning razor, but there was that beautiful glide on the face that some other blades can’t seem to do. I keep testing them, and I keep saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, but it’s not quite the Astra.” I almost get tired of saying it. I’m glad that at least it’s true. There is no better razor blade at the price point. There are only a few that perform better, regardless of the price. Bold statement. I believe it to be true. Even price-no-object, my second favorite blade, only losing out to the Polsilver Super Iridium. With cost inclusive, easily my favorite. The Astra works in every razor I own. I will stop rhapsodizing at this point. I trust you get the message.

4) Media overload. Yeah. Such big thanks to all the guys who create the Youtube videos. I have devoured an absurd amount of hours worth of the content out there. You’re all great. I’ve picked up such deep and varied knowledge about the hobby, and I’ve grown to feel like many of the presenters are like old friends by now. Still and all, I have to take a rest. I have gone through times when I watched hours and hours of shave videos a week, and loved every minute of it. At this point, though, I am standing back from that, and only watching videos if there’s a particularly interesting product involved. And, because I’m not in an acquisitive mood, not that many new products are catching my eye. I’m sure I’ll come back, but for now, the shaving hobby has taken me down a different road.

5) There is no one perfect tactic. I’ve tried so many different “schemes” for shaving. From the orthodox three pass method, to a variety of other approaches. There’s no one perfect answer. Not even for a single person. It depends on the day, the week, the season of the year. Right now, I’m primarily doing two-pass shaves, with a three-pass thrown in there once or twice a week. It’s enough. With an efficient razor like the Futur, I’m always neat and tidy as I go off to work. Mostly, no one cares as anyway, but it helps me feel like I’m pseudo professional. The main thrust of this little segment is to say that I’ve relaxed a bit. I’m not chasing the perfect shave quite as hard as I was. That’s good, because I’ve had a lot of stress in my life this year, and sometimes, my system isn’t ready for anything challenging right at that point. Sometimes, taking it easy and just shooting for “good enough” is the best policy.

Well, that’s about it for my thoughts. I don’t know if any of the topics I talked about today resonate with you out in Internet-land, but I thought I’d share them in any case.

Cheers, and happy shaving!

Ye Olde Reality Check

Posted: September 17, 2016 in Shaving Articles, Uncategorized
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I love the wet shaving game. The scents, the hardware, the ritual aspect…it’s all great. However, this last ten days on the road have proven that, when you come down to it, it doesn’t take high-zoot gear or super special stuff to get a great shave.

I’ve been using the Gillette 1967 Superspeed with Astra blades, Arko soap, and store brand Aqua Velva. It has provided completely comfortable, reliable, and excellent shaves. Pretty much baby’s butt smooth on the first shave of the blades, then somewhere between damn fine shave and BBS for the next two. No nicks, cuts, weepers, or irritation (collectively…for all the shaves combined. Never even any unusual sting when the aftershave goes on.) Great face feel all day, no issues to be found in the slightest. The Plissoft brush does all that you could hope, every time.

Not that the rig I have would work as well for everyone in all circumstances, but I’m certain that there’s an alternative that would work equally well, and for equally minimal cost. Every time. Like our granddads and dads may have done. One brush, one soap, one razor. No muss, no fuss. You like Old Spice? English Leather? Brut? What? Me, I’m an Aqua Velva man. It’s said that there’s something about us. Primarily, it’s that we smell like Aqua Velva sometimes.

What does it all mean? What’s the point of all the soaps, all the razors, all the GREAT SCIENCE? Fun. That’s it. It’s a hobby, and it’s fun to try things. That’s where all the additional energy goes, all the throwing of money at a problem that’s already solved. If I had to shave with the rig I’ve got, all the same gear, every day…I’d still enjoy myself, but it would get to be routine eventually. It would fall back into a simple activity, and only the little nubbin of artistry that is required to shave properly would remain. And for some, perhaps that is all they need. For the real shaving dorks, we need more.

Shaving on the Road

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Shaving Articles, Uncategorized
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For the first time since my headfirst fall into the churning madness of wetshaving, I found myself preparing to take the gig on the road. I had the pleasure and awful self-reflection of a man trying to decide what I would carry with me on a trip across the country. Sure, I could go easy and elect to not shave on my vacation…okay, no. Cross that out. I certainly couldn’t do that.

Well, I could just take a cartridge razor, and make do. But no. I have divested myself of every vestige of those dark days. I would have to, gulp, purchase a multiblade razor. That’s right out. I have not lost all vestiges of my self respect at this time, so I’m not about crawl back to a cartridge razor and admit defeat.

So, then, I needed to pick gear. It had to be fairly light. It had to be easy to use on the road. It had to be good enough and safe enough to trust my face to it when I’d probably not be in the absolute perfect conditions.

What did I choose?

  1. 1967 Gillette Superspeed (anodized handle). One of my most gentle and friendly razors, it’s small, light, and won’t jump up and slit my jugular if I look at it cross-ways. It’s also feasible to replace it, if it were to get lost by some awful circumstance.
  2. RazoRock Plissoft “Bruce” Brush: My fanboy-ism for the Plissoft brush is well documented. They’re cheap, they’re awesome. The “Bruce” handle shape is very compact. All win.
  3. Arko (in shaving bowl): Arko works. It’s very high-yield, so a little goes a long way. It’s a very neutral scent that won’t raise merry hell with others using your area. I won’t cry myself to sleep if I lose it.
  4. Arko “Cool” shave bowl: A distant second in the Arko balm lineup to the Extra Sensitive, but it works fine and has very unassuming smell. Small tube. Cheap.
  5. RazoRock Alum Block: Both my deodorant and my wound sealer, as well as an astringent if I need it.
  6. Astra SP Blades: Because you need a sharp blade to get the most out of the Superspeed, and they’re smooth. And cheap. My philosophy is to not carry your most precious and irreplaceable gear on the road. Because that’s kind of daft. Says me.
  7. <Related Equipment> Original Listerine, for an astringent/aftershave/mouthwash/disinfectant/other thing…

How was the first shave?

Frikin’ rad is how it was.

With my mom looking on, because she was trying to grasp the purpose of all my endless, soul-destroying drivel, I launched into the shave. It went swimmingly. Reference closeness, no irritation, and my mom saying, “It’s like an art-form.” Everything you hope for when you’re little. Okay, maybe not quite that much. There were no swimsuit models or Lamborghini Countach supercars.

Would I have gotten a better shave with my more premium gear? I don’t know. There really wasn’t much room for improvement. And it was portable. Life is good. Bring on the open road and all its sub-optimal shaving locales.

Super-Max Super Stainless Blue

1) Sharpness: Fair
2) Comfort: Fair
3) Value: Good
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: India
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves): 2 (Shortened test)
8) Notes: The first test shave revealed these blades to be somewhat inferior to the smoothness of their Platinum counterparts, and perhaps a bit less sharp. Still, the shave came off all right, and I was not left with bleeding or excess irritation. Just…a mild sense that the blades were not that great. The second shave, a maintenance, two pass shave, left me far from enthusiastic, with more irritation than I am used to experiencing. I decided that I had learned all I needed to about these blades. What I’ve learned is that they are perhaps acceptable if they are all you can readily find, but they fall behind most of the other blades I’ve tested in terms of comfort, while not being overly sharp. Not highly recommended.

As I have posted the review criteria for these blade tests in all my previous reviews, I am going to go ahead and omit them from here on out. If you are interested in looking at the methodology, please look back at the earlier tests, or let me know in the comments, and I’ll repost. 

-Patrick

Super-Max Platinum

1) Sharpness: Good
2) Comfort: Good
3) Value: Good
4) Availability: Good
5) Country of Origin: India
6) Passes “First Shave Test?: Yes
7) Longevity (# of shaves):
8) Notes: The first shave provided good smoothness and closeness very close to ideal. The blade seems to be of moderate sharpness, as it doesn’t fly across my face. That said, it was sufficiently sharp for me to get an excellent shave. While not as smooth as the very smoothest of the blade I’ve tried in this razor, it still allowed me to go over areas a few extra times without lathing my face again. Irritation was minimal, with only the characteristic raspberry on my neck that I always get from shaving. I did provide essentially ideal conditions for success on this shave, with lather aplenty and only a moderate amount of growth. We’ll have to see what the second shave brings. For the second shave with this blade, I went with a two pass shave, as it was the late afternoon of a Saturday, and I didn’t need world-eclipsing closeness. The blade aquitted itself well in this regard, leaving about the level of closeness that I have come to expect with a maintenance shave. No irritation here, nothing untoward. The final shave was back to the standard, and I found that the Super-Max blade again did just fine. I didn’t notice any real sense of edge dulling after three shaves, and so it appears to be a somewhat robust edge. All in all, the Super-Max Platinum blade proved to be a good middle-of-the-road blade. Not super sharp, not the final word in smoothness, but more than adequate in both metrics. I finished the final test shave with near-perfect closeness, and no negative irritation to report. Although it didn’t fly across the face like the sharpest of the blades, it got the job done. It may not have been as smooth as the Derby Extra, but it allowed me to go for a maximum closeness shave without chewing up my face. Certainly worth a look for those seeking a nice middle ground blade. I’m sure that, in their home market, the Super-Max blades have their share of devotees.