A quiet mechanical keyboard

I need a quiet mechanical keyboard. I also want it to be small, to fit on my laptop desk. And I want it to be cheap. And durable. I don’t want much, do I? I might as well ask for world peace while I’m at it.

The Velocifire TKL01 claims to be all of the above, and delivers more than I expected.

The magic words for a quiet mechanical keyboard

The IBM Model M is not a quiet mechanical keyboard
The IBM Model M, my weapon of choice, isn’t a quiet mechanical keyboard and it isn’t cheap either. It’s a classic, but no longer socially acceptable to use at work.

While traveling for business back in September, I talked with a mechanical keyboard enthusiast. I told him I like IBM Model M keyboards but can’t use one in the office. He told me a secret.

The magic words to look for if you’re hunting for a quiet mechanical keyboard are “brown switches.” Mechanical switches come in multiple varieties and they use the color to describe their characteristics. such as how loud and how bumpy they are. Blue switches are heavy and clicky. Red are light and clicky. Brown are light and quiet, so you can use them in an office, but they give more feedback than cheap rubber dome keyboards.

Cherry is the premier maker of switches for mechanical keyboards these days, but several knockoffs exist. At the low end, you’ll be getting knockoffs.

The Velocifire TKL01

A quiet mechanical keyboard
The Velocifire TKL01 is a good choice for office workers who like to listen to their keyboards at a reasonable volume.

Since the Velocifire TKL01 dispenses with the numeric keypad, it only takes up 14.5 inches of space lengthwise, making it ideal for small desks. Using knockoff Outemu brown switches makes it cheaper than Cherry switch keyboards. Since it uses brown switches, it’s almost as quiet as a rubber dome keyboard, and you can make it quieter if you need to. It costs $30, which isn’t much more than a decent rubber dome keyboard. Yes, I know you can get a sub-$10 keyboard. You don’t want one of those.

The tenkeyless design allows you to center it better on your desk, which helps ergonomically.

It also has a USB connector, so it connects to modern computers without any adapters. And if you’re wondering, it will work on a Macintosh. The Mac doesn’t recognize it but just cancel out of its dialog box that says it doesn’t recognize the keyboard and it works like any generic keyboard would.

The quiet mechanical keyboard vs keyboards of old

The Velicifire TKL01 is noticeably quieter than an IBM Model M but if you pound the keys like John Bonham, it still makes some noise. I’m pretty sure if I’m typing and talking on the phone with someone at the same time, they hear it, but at least it doesn’t sound like I’m jackhammering a driveway. It doesn’t give quite as much resistance and feedback as an IBM Model M, but it does give much better feedback than my $15 Microsoft or Logitech rubber dome keyboards while keeping the noise at a reasonable volume.

It’s a compromise. It feels better than any rubber dome keyboard I’ve used. I’ve used worse mechanical keyboards too. And I don’t think the first mechanical keyboard I had in the 1990s was quite as nice as this. It’s not as nice as a Model M or a Northgate. But if a Model M or a Northgate is a Grade A keyboard, and a good rubber dome keyboard is a Grade C, this one’s feel rates a Grade B. Which isn’t bad. And it has the advantage of modern amenities like a Windows key, a USB connection, and hotkey functions on the function keys. Once I get used to hitting Fn-F3 to launch the calculator and Fn-F4 to launch Media Player, I’ll really hate not having that on other keyboards.

What’s bad about it?

What I don’t like about the keyboard is that the key tops are just a bit narrower than standard. The difference is a slightly less than a millimeter, but enough to throw me off if I don’t hit a key dead center. For me, that takes some getting used to. You may not notice it. Aftermarket keycaps that fit the Velocifire are available on Ebay but once you buy a set, you have a $40 keyboard, not a $30 keyboard.

The LED backlighting was kind of cool at first but I got tired of it quickly. Hitting FN-down turns it down. I got tired of that level too. Hitting FN-down again turns it off. I might like them better at night, or when I’m in a different mood.

It’s not a perfect keyboard. But it’s $30. There are worse keyboards than this one out there for $30.

The good thing about these types of keyboards is that you can repair them if switches go bad, if you don’t mind desoldering a couple of connections. By swapping out bad switches, you can repair them indefinitely. I figure if I ever have to do that, I’ll swap in equivalent Cherry MX switches. And sometimes you can fix a bad switch.

At any rate, at $30 you can’t really go wrong with this keyboard. I’d buy it again.

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