I bought a mechanical keyboard with Cherry Brown knockoff switches in it, but found it was too loud to use on conference calls. Fortunately, if you want to quiet down a mechanical keyboard further, you have some options. Here’s how to quiet your mechanical keyboard with o-rings.
What are o-rings?
O-rings are just what they sound like. They are flexible rubber rings that fit inside your keycaps. It’s easy to overpay for them. You can get a package of 120 on Ebay for a few dollars. If you’re willing to wait for them to come over on a slow boat from the far east, you can get a package of 120 for around a dollar.
I paid around $5 to get them from a US seller, who got them to me in less than a week.
If you want to try something today to see if it makes a difference, rubber bands from the hair care section of the dollar store will work if you double them over, but they’re tricky to install so I don’t think I would want to do that 87 times. They would be fine for experimenting on a few keys though.
How o-rings quiet your mechanical keyboard
The o-rings do two things to quiet a mechanical keyboard. First, they absorb some of the shock from striking the key. Second, they shorten the travel a bit so your keys don’t bottom out completely against the metal plate. The clack of the switch remains, but most of the clang from striking metal goes away.
It doesn’t make the keyboard silent, but it does make it noticeably quieter.
Admittedly, it also changes the feel. My Outemu Brown-based keyboard (Cherry MX knockoffs) was somewhere between a Logitech keyboard and an IBM Model M in terms of feel, and the o-ring dampeners definitely moved it closer to the Logitech. It feels better than a Logitech, but I noticed the reduced key travel. It’s not a showstopper for me, but if someone tells you there’s no difference, what they mean is there’s no difference for them. You may or may not notice it.
I’ll get used to it and I’ll live with it because I still like it better than a rubber dome keyboard. I like mechanical keyboards because I find they help reduce wrist pain. But as a guy who likes old clackety and clangy IBM keyboards, this just isn’t the same to me.
It doesn’t silence the keyboard, but you can hear me even on a rubber dome keyboard. If you ask anyone who’s worked with me in the last 20 years to say five things about me, chances are all of them will say, “He types fast.” The other four things will vary.
Installing o-rings on your mechanical keyboard
To install them, remove the keycaps with your key puller. Most modern mechanical keyboards come with one. If not, they’re cheap. Just snap the puller over the key and pull straight up. The key comes off rather easily. Press an o-ring onto the stem inside the key, then push the key back onto the keyboard. Be sure to press the key all the way down to seat the o-ring completely. Otherwise you’ll have uneven keys for a while.
Large keys like Enter, Backspace, and the shift keys need three rings on my keyboard–one for the switched post and one for each of the two immobile stabilizer posts. The keys are quieter with rings on the stabilizer posts as well. That said, the rings are more effective on standard-size keys than on large keys. The Enter and spacebar keys make less noise than they did, but they are still audible since they have more space inside to echo.
I tried doubling up on those loud keys. I’m not sure that it really helped any, but I had extras, so I decided to leave them there.
On my 87-key tenkeyless keyboard, it took me about half an hour to install o-rings. A full 104-key keyboard might take 45 minutes. You can opt to not install o-ring dampers on seldom used keys to save time, or to give you extras to double up on larger keys.
What effect do o-ring dampeners have on backlighting?
I’ve seen mechanical keyboard enthusiasts claim the o-rings don’t affect backlighting. It depends on where the letters are printed on your keycaps, and it may depend on what color o-rings you buy, but I definitely noticed my black o-ring dampeners dimmed my backlighting a bit. I don’t care, as I’m not trying to light up the room with my keyboard, and I could still see the letters just fine.
But if you’re concerned about your backlight’s brightness, keep in mind they can affect it and consider purchasing translucent dampeners or at least dampeners that are close to the color of your backlight.
Quiet your mechanical keyboard with o-rings: In conclusion
I think o-ring keyboard dampers are a compromise. They quiet the keyboard, but they don’t silence it. They make a keyboard feel a bit less mechanical, but they don’t take away all of the feedback. In environments where loud typing can be a distraction for others, installing o-ring keyboard dampeners is a compromise that lets you continue to use a mechanical keyboard in an environment where it would otherwise be rude.
I’d probably be pretty mad if I’d spent $15 on them, but for $5, I think I’m OK with the results. If you’re unsure, buy a $1 package from overseas. You’ll be more disappointed with the wait than with the result.