Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Keytronics rubber dome review:

Posted: October 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

My friend Dave is always on the lookout for an interesting old keyboard for me to try out. Recently, he found two old Keytronics models at a second hand store. I don’t have all the information on them, but they are old enough to have the DIN 5 pin connection. They do, however, have the Windows key, so my guess is that they were from the era of keyboards that came out with Windows 95.

Dave purchased two of them with the same form factor and of the same outward appearance. They are altogether bog standard keyboards, with rubber dome switches and standard plungers to actuate the rubber domes. The keys themselves are fairly nice, with a clean legend and nice, conical shape, taller and slightly narrower at the top than is the standard today. Basically the same shape as an IBM M series. The chassis and layout is much the same as the “M”, as well. Full keyset, large format with a lot of bezel around the key clusters.

The shape, however, is about as far as the similarities goes. Picking the keyboards up, they weigh less than half what a vintage IBM keyboard does, and have a good bit of chassis flex if you test them out. Being rubber domes, they have a chance to be somewhere between absolute rubbish and passable in terms of typing mechanics. While not absolute rubbish, I wouldn’t say that these old Keytronics keyboards have anything special to offer. Other than being in the vintage beige and having the old fashioned look/form factor, there’s nothing really special here.

Can you type on them? Sure.

Are they great? No.

Brass Tacks:

This era of keyboard had the “Big Ass Enter” key, and the little backspace. This is a rare design choice right now, but once held a big place in the market. Being DIN connection, you’ll need one or even two adapters to get it working on your modern PC. All in all, not really worth it. Not to me, anyway. There are better keyboards being sold for twenty bucks right now, without the need for weird adapters. Not all the old stuff is great. In this case, it was a mediocre product when it came out (most certainly build to minimize cost but appear to be the same as more expensive ‘boards.), and it has not gotten any better with age.

Cheers, and Happy Typing!

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Here, we have another keyboard featuring the Outemu blue switches. This time, the maker is Eagletec. I believe that the same keyboard may also be available from a brand called Mechanical Eagle, though I could be wrong.

This is a non-backlit 104 key ‘board, with a low profile aluminum top. This is not quite as “compact” on the desktop as some of the other options, but is is not a gigantic ‘board, either. I would say that it is about normal in that regard.

The Eagletec keyboards in this model can also be had with fixed rainbow LEDs, blue LEDs, and RGB LEDs. Because I had several keyboards already that featured a backlight, I decided to safe a few dollars and go with the non-lit version this time around. The spread is less than $20 between the least and most expensive.

I actually purchased two of these ‘boards. One in black and one in silver. They are otherwise identical. My plan was this: I would install a set of “typewriter” key caps on one of them, then use some of the existing, alternate color keys to fill in the other. That’s what I’ve done, with the silver one enjoying the variety of some of the black keys I pulled. The black ‘board has received the typewriter-style, round keys in white and chrome. I’ll cover my impression of the typewriter keys in another review. Suffice it to say that they work and are not as difficult to adapt to as you might imagine.

Unboxing:

These keyboards are altogether standard in their packaging. Nothing comes with the ‘boards, and no extra money has been spent to make the box “glitzy”. They don’t even open in the standard, clam’s shell fashion, but simply ask you to pull the ‘board out the side.

Nothing good or bad so far.

The black ‘board is finished without flaw, though the logo plate caem askew on the silver one. I attempted to peel the logo plaque off, but it proved to be impossibe, without damaging it. Hmm. Oh, well. I’ve been quite lucky with these cheap keyboard thus far. Something has to give, and I imagine that quality assurance has to be one of them.

The Eagletec is a reasonably sturdy board in terms of structural rigidity. It’s light, but the curves in the aluminum top plate allow a fairly thin material to act stiffer than it otherwise would. When looking at the underside, the cost-cutting measures do show out. Primarily, this is in the elevator feet at the back. These are the most vestigial sort of feet. They don’t provide much lift, and they are the type you often find on the lowest common denominator keyboards. That said, they’re probably sufficient to the purpose. Just keep in mind that they are not nearly as robust as on some other designs.

The USB cable is not detactchable, though I believe that this isn’t much of a concern in a full sized keyboard. The cord is also not braided. It does feature a hook and latch tab to allow you to manage extra cable length, if needed.

I find that the overall design is good looking. The floating key design makes no bones about what it is. Especially with the tall typewriter keys on, this is a very “guts on the outside” keyboard.

Everything worked just fine, and other than the misaligned logo, everything looked as it should have. This is the sub $40 range of keyboards, so that meets, if not exceeds, expectations.

In Use:

With the Outemu blue switch, this keyboard is a typing tool. A loud machine that has somewhat above average key resistance, good tactility, and plenty of the crunchy goodness most people are after when they get a mechanical. Bad for noise-averse work spots, good for maximum feedback when you’re clacking along.

Key caps are reasonably sturdy ABS with business-like logos on them (for the non-backlit version). I believe that the backlit versions come with double-shot key caps, but these are not thusly manufactured. i believe that they are pad printed, but it is possible that they are laser-ablated. My bet would be on pad printing. The key feel is just fine out of the box. About what you would expect from ABS keys. The key shape is what I’d call the average conical, square shape you’ll find on most mechanicals. it’s a good, easy-to-use shape, and should not provide any mechanical impediments to typing. Legibility is a little better than the average see-through doubleshot, and there is not “gamer style” applied to this keyboard.

Typing experience is what you’d expect. That is, quick and responsive to touch, plenty of feel. Like all the other Outemu blue keyboards I’ve tried. It should be said that it’s more and more common to find the 87 key layout at these low prices. Not so much with the full size ‘boards. Thus, if you’ve got to have that number pad, this is going to be a nice option for you.

Usage Case:

If you just need a full size, no frills typing keyboard, this might be one of the best deals out there. Getting into that for less than $40 is pretty awesome. The clean looks of the ‘board make it a good candidate for hot rodding, as well. Any kind of technicolor rainbow would look fine on either the silver or the black. My slight issue with the silver version does give me some pause, as do the cheesy elevator feet.

Overall, I think that this keyboard can give you anything a more expensive ‘board, like the Azio, can give, in terms of the pure typing experience and visual interest.

Final Thoughts:

For someone just breaking into mechanicals, or who just doesn’t have a lot of cash to throw at the problem, this is a pretty sweet deal. How likely are you to get a lemon? I don’t know. I also don’t know if the durability of these inexpensive keyboards is going to be as high as something two or three times the price. If it’s not? Shrug. Get another one or upgrade when the time comes.

For the seasoned mechanical keyboardist, this might be great fun as a tinkering platform, or as a loaner you can hand a friend who is interested in checking a mechanical out.

All in all, most of these inexpensive keyboards have more similarities than differences. Your best choice simply depends upon what form factor works for you, and what your visual aesthetics demand. Thus far, I’ve never had one fail to work, and all of them have provided me with a quality typing experience. If the quality and price of mechanicals have ever allowed a broad cross-section of the populace to try them out, it’s today. Good times.

Cheers, and happy typing.

I’d like to correct and clarify a few things about the review I recently wrote about Wintersun’s “The Forest Seasons.” At the time of the review, I didn’t know some crucial details. I’ll share these with you now:

This was not, as such, a Wintersun band project. Essentially everything you hear on the record, short of the chorus and backing vocals, were written and performed by Jari. This includes the drums.

Yes, that’s right. It’s all Jari, musically. He plays all the guitars, all the bass, and created all the orchestration.

This was not a fact that was well establish during the marketing of the album. We knew, Jari being Jari, that he did a lot of the stuff on his own, but I was under the impression that the other members came in and laid down their tracks in some form or fashion.

Because of the history of the band, it being essentially a one-man operation initially, we know that he’s capable. Traditionally, though, musical projects of this sort find themselves in need of, at the least, a drummer (provided that the major musical force doesn’t play the drums).

Apparently, due to the lack of time and space in a studio, Jari elected to skip this step, and use synthetic drums.

Yes, that’s right. Kai didn’t play on the album, and the drums are programmed. Mind=blown. I was totally fooled. The drums sound great. The programming and fidelity Jari managed kind of knocks me for a loop. That being said, from hearing a live version of the first track with Timo Hakkinen playing the drums, these tunes will rock a little harder in the live setting.

Does this revelation take away from my enjoyment of the album? No. I’m sad that the rest of the guys aren’t heard on the album, but it is what it is. My level of respect for Jari’s production chops has moved up a notch. One can detract, saying that programmed drums are not in the spirit metal, of course. Remember, though, that Jari had to write all of the drum parts, and contrive to create them. He did a good enough job to fool me, even after a lot of listens. There are some very intricate drum parts on The Forest Seasons. The drums DO NOT let the record down, in my mind.

In any case, as a correction, I have to let you know that the bass, the guitars, everything is Jari here.

 

(It isn’t my intention to make music reviews a feature on this site, but this is way, way too long to stick into a review at a retail page, and so here it lands, in among the soup of shaving and archery and the occasional hoisting of heavy objects.)

Edit: There are some factual inaccuracies in this review. I stand by the spirit of them, but please also read This Correction to get the full story.

When approaching the prospect of creating a piece of art, there are many different ways to go about it. For art, music in specific, that attempts to cater to a “popular” aesthetic, one of the primary target points has always been to be instantly relatable.

There is a magic to a piece of music that, upon first hearing it, almost feels like you’ve always known it. Rather than discovering the piece, it’s almost as if you’re simply being reminded of it. After listening once or twice, most people can hum along to the melody and probably sing along to the chorus. Simplicity and graceful economy are their watch-words. Rock and Roll and other popular musical forms try for this. Short songs, good beats, sensible chord changes, and not too many of those. Nothing that requires a recalibration of your sensor array.

Wintersun…doesn’t write music that way. At all.

They are, if anything, all about extreme, almost absurd detail. Sometimes, you can have been listening to their albums for years, and still be hearing little details you hadn’t noticed. They are obviously influenced by classical music, and want to imbue their music with the complexity, grandeur, and reward for the careful listener.

In light of this, rushing to judgement with a new Wintersun record is, in the end, a tactical blunder. I had some preliminary thoughts after the first few listens. A good half of those thoughts have proven to be ill-considered already. I’ve listened to The Forest Seasons a good fifteen times or so times now, and I’m still getting to grips with it, still learning a lot of things. I’m not changing my mind about it, but I’m beginning to ask better questions, and come to more refined answers.

1) Expectations, Controversy, and Crowdfunding:
A great deal of time has gone by since Wintersun first came along. Their first and eponymous album was and still remains one of the most staggering works of guitar savagery and epic metal to be committed to a recording medium. Don’t agree? Fight me. Seriously. Like with fists. As with other artists who hit a grand slam home run on their first at-bat, this created a problem. A big one. If the album had been good, interesting, and largely ignored, Jari probably would have gone back with Ensiferum and recorded with them, doing the awesome work he put in on their first two records. With Wintersun the album being what it was, though…how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after that?

So, the daunting and terrifying task of trying to improve upon a record that may have gone as far in that direction as Jari could go. What could he do? Sure, he could have put together another clinic on sweep picking and shredded our faces off. Many bands live by doing the same thing, catching the same lightning in the same bottle again and again. It’s not a bad way to go. Fans will shout, “Gimme more ‘o that!” all day.

Jari…wasn’t going to do that. He wanted MORE. Because how could anything but more do? Thus, it took him very close to forever to put out Time I. I won’t lie. I was a little disappointed at first. Not bummed, but Time I was a whole different kettle of fish. The density of the mix was such that much of the guitar and drum wizardry was very hard to pick out. Much of the complexity rejected a good understanding of the full picture. You had to TRY. Not just once. For a while. Like many of my favorite things, it rewarded effort and dedication. I have but few complaints, after these years have gone by. The primary one? It’s just too damned short. If you strip out some of the orchestral intros and outros, you’re looking at only about 30 minutes of actual metal. Oh, what epic metal it is, but having waited 8 years for it…dang.

Here we are, 5 years removed from Time I, and the promised second half of that album is still only a rumor and a legend. Money issues. Studio fights. Writer’s block. Insufficient recording space, gear, time, and so forth. Acrimonious words and bellyaching. Some fans gave up on Jari and his perfectionist ways.

Enter the interim goal. The do-able album. The crow bar that might get Wintersun somewhat back into the good graces of both its studio and its fans. A thing called “The Forest Seasons”. As has become somewhat common in today’s world, it came to us via a crowdfunding effort, which would correspond with the studio selling physical media. It would allow both parties to make money, and to cater to different “levels” of fans.

You may have some vauge idea of which level I’m at. Yeah. That one. The one that sees me write an absurdly long review, when I don’t make it a habit to review music, movies, or books. The one who named his parakeet Jari. So, there’s that. Bias, let me tip my hat to you now.

Much has been said about all the hullabaloo outlined above. I’m not going to add to it here. I backed the crowdfunding effort. It was an easy decision, because I had the money to spare. I was willing to wager about $52 on the promise that I’d get a new Wintersun album. I was not alone. The campaign raised about $500K, and smashed the funding goal multiple times over. Evidently, there were enough fans who still really wanted what Wintersun was selling. And what were they selling?

2) The Album in Concept:
The idea behind The Forest Seasons was that it was an album that Jari could accomplish with the tools, money, and time available to him, an album that, while painstakingly produced, was recorded in whatever way he could find, even in bedroom closets and at odd hours when his neighbors wouldn’t complain. It wasn’t Mr. Right (Time II), but it was Mr. Right Now.

In addition to being what he COULD do (in his vision), it was also a concept album of sorts. I say “of sorts” because I find it to be a bit more of an overarching theme than an actual concept. Essentially, Jari’s idea was that he could do a metal album that covered the same thematic ground as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Great, crazy, wonderful idea. The sort of madness we expect from Jari. Is it in any way a cover of that piece? No. No actual notes in common. Just the idea of a four-season epic metal symphony.

There are four parts. They’re each about the size of a movement in a symphony (although that’s not what The Four Seasons is…but let’s not go there.) In lyric content, I would have to say that, true to the name of the band, the idea of cold and dark and winter dominates here. Even in Spring and Summer, it’s mostly about the classic Wintersun themes. Musically, you can squint to see the seasonal elements, but only if you really want to do it.

All that said, the album hangs together thematically to me. I just feel like the seasonal element feels a little like a theme stuck onto the songs at the end, not really cooked deeply into them. Which is fine. It’s something I can let go of. Each song is its own thing. I don’t necessarily expect Wintersun to give me a bouncy jig. Jari carried some folk metal elements with him from Ensiferum, but not that many.

3) The Music:
There is more Black Metal influence here than any other Wintersun release. There is still the epic and grandiose element here, the dramatic swells and the hundred layer-deep complexity, but there is greater menace, darkness, and stretches of disquieting atmosphere.

It is clear that, with this record, it was not about the guitar wizardry. Precious little remained to prove after Wintersun’s debut in this regard, as that album is altogether loaded with terrifying solos and riffs that hit like steam hammers.

At the same time, it isn’t quite at the other end of the spectrum, like Time I, where it flirted with Power Metal at points. (Not that there is anything wrong with Power Metal, for me.)

The first track, “Awaken from the Dark Slumber” or “Spring”, begins with a segment that has a disinctly Dimmu Borgir vibe. With the haunting strings beneath a driving mid-tempo beat, some odd chord progressions that work to flirt with the edges of dissonance, and all harsh vocals, this very Symphonic Black Metal phase goes on until about 5:40 of the first song.

From there, a hint of an epic theme is initially stated, then is washed away a bit in a quiet transition phase of symphonic instrumental. From there, we go into the classic double-kick gallop and epic harmonies you would likely expect from Wintersun, building into the extended refrain, first stated with Jari’s high shriek and an underpinning of Jukka’s low death growls.

Much of the musical interest during this part is going to be created by the synth orchestra, with the guitars primarily sticking to rhythm and a few riffs. The solos, such as they are, don’t really amount to anything noteworthy, considering the technical facility of the guitarists in question. There’s certainly space, had Jari wished to implement them, for titanic solos. Perhaps, in the live versions, they might take advantage of these openings.

In the latter part of the song, a male chorus appears, and this may be the part of the record that most recalls Time I. It also recalls moments here and there of early Ensiferum.

As with earlier Wintersun, the individual notes of the bass guitar are low in the mix, and difficult to discern. Bass will often get buried in a crowded mix. The recording doesn’t feel thin, and visuals of Jukka playing make it clear that he’s throwing stuff down there, but you’d have to strip all the backing tracks away to really hear what is going on (more on this later).

Kai’s drumming is flawless, but you get the sense that on this track, he’s certainly within himself, not having to sweat or strain. Unlike the bass, he is front-and-center. Don’t get me wrong. Kai, even when he’s not going full tilt, still brings it. His fills and changes are all perfectly accurate, and the song only falls into that “double-kick lull” for a short period of time. What I mean by that is the steady, mid-tempo double beat that carries on without any variation. You’ll see this for long stretches in some bands.

On to the second track, “The Forest that Weeps”, or “Summer”. Beginning with an acoustic guitar and almost Japanese synth instrumentation, it kicks into a head-nodding riff and a sparse drumline that, to some extent, lets the guitars drive the song for a few minutes. We get some harsh vocals from Jari, but he soon dusts off his clean vocals and shouting vocals to give the song some variety. Shades of Time I here, again, but with a harsher, more forthright tack. The lead rhythm riff here really carries it. In between the almost rock-like basic drums that live in the early parts of the song, Kai gives us some eccentric, asymmetrical playing behind the refrain. The big chorus shows up for a second, but tails into an instrumental bridge.

That bridge is a folk/Japanese tinged variation of the theme the guitars stated earlier in the song. A snare-drum brings us into the twin-guitar part of the show. Interestingly, it isn’t really a wailing solo, but a rather measured theme and variation segment above a nice rhythm. Maybe a little disappointing, if I’m honest. This part kind of beggs for some sweep-picking wizardry. It’s good and rhythmic, but feels a little bit like wasted time.

Orchestral bombast follows, with massed choruses and the whole ten yards. You want epic? Yeah. Here it is. In the latter part of the song, Kai does some deviously complex stuff with splitting up the beat and super-controlled double kick work. He plays both the easiest and most difficult of his material in this song, and has moments where he probably has to almost try hard. Almost.

The song fades away into the sound of the sea, and we’ve found ourselves at the half-way point in the record. Nominally, spring and summer are still pretty chilly. Because the band is named Wintersun. These dudes are from Finland. What do they know about warm weather?

Track three is entitled “Eternal Darkness” or “Autumn”. It’s the darkest and most evil song Wintersun have ever put out. I hear a good measure of Emperor in the early parts of this track. A super-distorted guitar and all kinds of evil, atmospheric stuff is going on here. They let Kai actually blastbeat on the drums for a solid stretch, and Jari’s voice is at its most aggressive.

Little by little, more typical Wintersun elements creep in atop the blastbeat, but dilute the menace of the track only just a tidbit. The blast turns to a more complex and gallop-influenced beat, with the orchestral backing tracks swirling behind it all and adding all manner of weird flourishes.

Giving us a bit of a break, an instrumental segment with a bunch of pretty sweet fills by Kai and a neat melody on the guitar ensues. Jari does an almost Shagrath-like vocal inflection here and there, giving an interesting wrinkle between his higher shrieks. More drum badassery by Kai, and some really solid guitar interplay. As this segment develops, it gives us our only real, wide-open guitar solo. It gets over too fast, but it’s something.

Another bridge, this time accomplished with the acoustic guitar and its evil arpeggio, quickly building into symphonic bombast. More Dimmu Borgir sounding stuff goes on, but is drawn inexorably back to the epic nature of the band Wintersun, with the very end of the song almost giving you that perfect fusion of what record one and two were. The whole thing ends abruptly, as if the transmission were cut, and it leaves you with a moment of highly dramtic null.

The final track, “Lonliness” or “Winter”, begins slowly and with a quiet, almost harp-like intro. You’re almost brought to mind the first orchestral theme in the Harry Potter movies. Metal happens, though. Slow and stately in pace, there’s a doom metal feel to the song. Fellow Finns, the band Swallow the Sun, would probably nod at this one and say, “Yeah, that’s cool.”

The music dies back down to what, in comparison, is fairly unadorned. Jari’s clean intro vocals are some of his most heart-felt. This clean vocal is interspersed with his harsh delivery, as the song’s metal elements surge back up behind him. This song is certainly the ballad of the group. For a wonder, Jukka’s bass is actually audible in this one, and carries a bit more of the musical load, as the drums and tempo here are such that Kai is effectively taking a breather.

The final track is certainly mostly about the vocal performance. Some tasty guitar work shows up at around minute eight, and I will say that the riff they pull out catches in my head and rattles around for days. The many-layered vocals as the song gets into its final minutes are really beautifully applied, and and the soaring clean singing Jari pulls out equals anything he has shown us on earlier recordings. This is the other version of epic that Wintersun can do, where it’s not about the speed or the riff, but about the evocative and emotional element of the song.

We float away from the last song on fading chimes of music and the sound of wind before all falls quiet.

4) Lyrics and Vocal Delivery:
I’m going to go against a lot of listeners here and say that there is more variation in lyrical content here than on Time I. I think that, in the main, Jari’s written some good songs here. They may be a bit chorus heavy for some people, but there is a lot of stuff going on with the different lyrics, the different dramatic places where Jari is taking us with this one.

Jari has been working on his singing. I feel certain of this. He has a larger repertoire of tonality here than on his earlier stuff, where it was just the high shriek, the clean, and the slight break-up shout. He has found a some true deathy sounds, as well as the Shagrath-style groaning vocal, for lack of a better description. I think that he pushes his standard harsh vocal to levels of menace he hadn’t done in the past, and he’s also pulled off some really heart-wrenching cleans, too.

Having Jukka (and Teemu, to a lesser extent) lend their deep bass growls to the proceedings also introduced some cool tonalities to the mix. Overall, I have no issues with the vocal performances here.

5) Production:
Many complain that the guitars are too low in the mix on this record, and that the drums and vocals are too loud. While I think that the studio mix of Time I certainly suffered from having the guitars buried too deep in the mix, I’m not sure that I totally agree with the criticism here. I think that the drums and vocals are where they need to be. The thing that is making the guitars indistinct is the presence of such large amount of synth backing tracks.

Then again, more than a few of the synths are pretty wonderful, so you have to decide what you’re looking for. If Jari wants to bury the guitar and use it as something more instinctually felt than heard, should we gainsay that choice? We certainly can, if we so choose, but again, there’s more going on here than we’ll easily be able to appreciate upon first listen. We’ll have to chase it.

I don’t think I fully appreciated the music until I listened to the instrumental version of the album, which are included with the Forest Package (the crowdfunding package).

Also, it should be said that, unlike some disks, the better your stereo is, the better this one will sound. If you’re lucky enough to have a pair of really great headphones or a pair of high resolution speakers, you’ll be able to appreciate a lot of elements of this album that would otherwise smear together like chalkmarks on a rain-soaked driveway.

Finally, if putting one of the best drummers on the planet front-and-center in the mix is a sin, I will go on record as saying that I fully endorse sin.

6) Value (CD version vs. The Forest Package)
If you chose to back the crowdfunding effort, you received what the band termed “The Forest Package.” This is an all-electronic package with no physical media, available for download at the moment of the album’s release. To my knowledge, there is no effort to replicate the package now that the crowdfunding is over. It’s possible that some or all of it will eventually find its way into some deluxe version of the album, but I don’t have any news about that. For now, you either bought in or you missed out.

Included with the package were the following perks:

1) The album itself, both in full-resolution .wav format and high quality mp3.
2) An acoustic version of “Loneliness”, the fourth track.
3) The full Forest Seasons album as an instrumental (no vocal track).
4) Isolated tracks of each of the Forest Seasons songs (two guitar tracks, bass, drums, vocal, and orchestration).
5) Re-mixes of both the first two albums.
6) The “Live at Tuska” concert from 2013.
7) A photo album and some 4K backgrounds

Provided that you have the capability to burn a disk to audio format, you can use the full .wav format to get a bit-perfect copy for playing on your audio equipment. I don’t see the lack of a material copy as a big deal, especially because it seems like it would have been unfair to Nuclear Blast to totally ace them out of the whole gamut of sales options.

The acoustic version is interesting, but I view it as more of an afterthought, really. It doesn’t add a lot of value, in my book, but is well executed, as far as it goes. I don’t envision myself listening to it that much.

Now, the instrumental version of the album…that’s a whole different story. I imagined that it might be something I’d listen to, maybe once, but I think, in this case, it’s actually a really great tool to help understand some of the musical elements. With the vocals taken off the top of the mix, a lot of the denser elements of the orchestration and the musicianship become clearer. Some of the stuff Kai is doing, particularly, becomes pretty jaw-dropping when you can hear the extent of it. Also, a lot of complexity in the synth-orchestra tracks snaps into focus. One thing you leave with is the understanding that Jari puts a lot of effort into stuff you’ll never really be able to hear. This is a feature of significant value.

The isolated tracks probably delve into nerding out a bit more than I have yet done, but they give you the chance, should you wish, to hear what Jukka’s doing on the bass, back there behind the wall of sound. If you’re trying to learn how to play the songs, I can see this as a big benefit. That, or you can re-mix the album in any way you see fit by throwing all the tracks into an audio mixing engine and balancing them as you prefer. Drums too loud? Too quiet? Jari has made most of your arguments irrelevant. If you want a lot more grit, a lot more “metal”, you can turn the guitars up and turn rest down a little. If you listen to the rhythm guitars in exclusion, the sound is a lot more like an old Dismember track than you might think. Wintersun, below all the intricate frosting, still has some metal going on. If you’re of the opinion that you want more of that, you can make it happen. It’s just a matter of knocking a few decibels off of the rest of the mix and punching up the guitars. Or, you can just shrug and never listen to any of it.

The remixes of the first two albums are punchy and sound good. I think that they help Time I feel a little bit less muddy at points, but I never had a problem with the first album. It was 10/10 already in my book. Adding the intro beforehand makes it a bit more cohesive with the later albums, but I don’t know if I’m a fan of it really. Almost feels like the weird additions and subtractions they do to the Star Wars movies. Just leave it alone. All in all, though, it gives you full .wav and high quality mp3 versions of both albums, so even without big differences in sound quality, it’s a perk.

Having a live version of a lot of the songs is cool. Because of the relative dearth of material, there’s not a lot of songs missing from this live set. In my listen, I don’t see major revelations about the band, but it’s good stuff. They pull it off live. I’d almost love to see them strip the songs back, using no backing tracks, but just having a keyboard player covering that ground when they play live. I think re-arranging the songs so that it’s all happening, all fluid and able to respond to the chemistry of the night, would be wicked. Whenever extensive backing tracks are at play, I feel like the band is a little hamstrung by that. They are on rails. The songs have to kind of go exactly as they did in the studio. Shrug. Maybe that’s just me. Still, a neat perk, and one that might have sold for full album price on its own.

Finally, the photos and computer backgrounds. These are neat, but they are the kind of things you would likely be able to download from a band’s website or from the record label. They are, at most, a small perk.

So…was the package worth it? To me, yes. For one, it was a vote that said that I still cared and was willing to venture some cash against the fact that Wintersun would remain solvent. I’m not saying that I haven’t gotten angry and impatient with the slowness and the excuses put forward for said lack of progress. Like most “big fans”, I wanted more, faster. That said, if you’re more of a casual fan, or not inclined to nerd out about a Wintersun record, the CD or mp3 download is probably sufficient, and a lot more economically sensible. Unless you didn’t own the first two records. That seems like a weird and hard to fathom place to be, but it’s possible that a few people who found the band recently or who recently became financially secure might have been there.

I’m sure that there was a percentage of people who were disappointed in what they got with the package, but everything was outlined, there were no mysteries other than if you’d be fully satisfied with the album itself. My feeling is that you’d have been disappointed with either method of purchase, if the album didn’t do it for you. It’s kind of a yes or no proposition. I’m not in the business of telling people what to think. I can only share my experiences with the album. No buyer’s remorse. I may well get the physical CD, just because I can, and it won’t make the difference between making the rent or not.

7) Final Thoughts:

Where does The Forest Seasons stand in the pantheon of Wintersun albums? Well, it’s a little difficult to compare any of them to any others. Each one has it’s particular thing that it shoots for.

For me, the first album is and will always be dead, solid, perfect. In extreme metal, there are a few records that just do everything right. Ask a hundred metalheads, and they’ll name a lot of names in this regard. There will be acrimonious disputes, name-calling, and possibly a fist fight. Anyone, though, who even has a dog in the fight when it comes to talking about Wintersun, will nod and say, “Yeah, that first album fricken’ ruled.” Because it did. If you’ve played a guitar, and you want to humbled, go ahead. Listen and lament. Behold the solos and tremble. More than that, they integrate perfectly into the songs, never seeming tacked-on or at odds with the musical vision. Sometimes, guys run off and basically make a perfect record by doing almost everything. Kind of like what Old Man’s Child did with “Ill-Natured Spritual Invasion.” (Which I also recommend.)

Time I sacrificed the purity of purpose of the first record for an overarching dream of being as epic as humanly possible with the instruments involved. It mostly succeeds. The material that is included is, after one takes the time to decode it and let it really begin to make sense, pretty damn amazing. To my way of thinking, the Sonic Pump studio-live version of the whole album is better than the released album in every useful measure, and really shows a bit more of what Jari was hoping to do. Watch that whole “concert”, and you are almost shocked into silence. It helps you understand a lot about the music that wasn’t clear upon just listening. Jari shot for the stars and almost did all he hoped for (my thinking). The downside?

Time I is just too damn short. Also, I feel like, lyrically, the album is a little short on ideas and themes. The stuff that is there is glorius, but it feels like there is some connective tissue missing, as if it is the beginning of a tale we have not yet heard all the way through. Because, let’s face it, that’s what it is. Time II was supposed to be out in 2013. Maybe that’s not Time I’s fault, but that’s how it is. The density of the mix, too, leaves a lot of the “real” instrumentation so buried that it’s hard to tell what’s going on (something that has also become an issue with Forest Seasons). It takes a lot of listens and a really revealing stereo to get down beneath the surface and understand the bones and gristle of this disk. These concerns leave it as a 9/10. Still amazing, but not perfect.

That brings us, at last, to The Forest Seasons. I won’t kid you. It’s not a perfect album, either. It has a lot going for it, but it has some strikes against it, too. One of the primary strikes against is that…well, it’s a Wintersun album, and the bar is set very high. We know what is possible. We want to have our faces melted and our hearts frozen, then set on fire, then flown into the gray, frigid sky in the talons of an eagle. On every track. It’s a tall order. Mere joy is not enough. We demand euphoria.

The Good:

1) It’s Wintersun. It does a lot of the Wintersun things. There are glorious choruses, beautiful themes, superb musicianship, etc.
2) There is more outright darkness, more menace, than on anything they’ve released yet. There are a few parts of this record that are, for all intents and purposes, Symphonic Black Metal. This could also be a bad, if you’re reaching from Folk/Power Metal, and previous Wintersun was about as harsh as you were ready for.
3) This disk is of a reasonable running time, and feels fairly complete in itself. Some have said the songs feel over-inflated, but brevity is not necessarily what you listen to Wintersun for. No one would ever accuse them of playing Grindcore.

The Bad:

1) The mix hides a lot of the good work done with rhythm guitar, which is actually doing some fairly gnarly stuff beneath there. Feels a little like a cheat, but that was the direction that the production went.
2) Simply too few solos. These are long songs, and I like all of them. That said, there are a few glaring places that just scream, “Put the big sweep-picking badassery here,” but instead leave us with an area of the songs that feels a little like we’re waiting for something to happen. I don’t know why Jari elected to play it so conservative here, but we just don’t get that frantic payoff that you might expect. I’m not talking about turning the record into a self-indulgent vehicle for guitar masturbation, but with two players who are so damn good, it feels almost counterintuitive to have much of what they’re doing hidden, and restrict the more audible material to a lot of harmony playing that either one of them could do while windsurfing. Just sayin’.
3) The concept album kinda falls flat. If they simply hadn’t said anything about it, and left us to decide what to make of the songs, I’d have been happier.

So, the verdict? I’d probably call it 8.5/10, verging on 9/10. My big hope is that they can use the momentum of this album, the money they garnered, and the ensuing concert season they’re embarking upon to get another record out in the near future. It may be far too much to ask, but the wise course for them would be to shoot for another album within 18 months, even if it’s another crowdfunded effort that ISN’T Time II (provided that the quality is good, and they can find adequate material to entice another round of such investment).

The big dream, of course, is Time II. We know they have songs. We know that the ones they’ve played live have the type of brutal shredding that we want. They just need to record those bad boys and let us have our happiness. Or grimness, or whatever.

End of the road? Still a Wintersun fan. Still one of the faithful. Still glad that there’s more to listen to. Still hungry for more.

Cheers, and happy devil-horns.

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!