If you’re shopping around for mechanical keyboards, you’ve undoubtedly heard a lot of weird brand names and, of all things, colors. It can get confusing. One popular choice is the Cherry MX Red switch. So what are Cherry Red switches? Are Cherry Red switches loud? Are Cherry Red switches quiet? And are Cherry Red switches good for typing? I’ve been using them for more than three years, so let’s dive into these questions and more.
What Cherry Red switches are
Cherry is a company that’s been making switches for mechanical keyboards for decades. Even in the 1980s, there were different grades of keyboards, and Cherry was always one of the best. But keyboards got caught up in a race to the bottom, price-wise, and rubber membrane keyboards are much cheaper than mechanical switches. A $100 keyboard is a tough sell when a rubber membrane keyboard can cost as little as $5.
I was a lonely voice in the wilderness in the early 2000s saying that keyboards make a difference and $5 keyboards aren’t good for you. Fortunately, other people started figuring out the same thing, so Cherry is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. A good keyboard can outlast many computers, so I’m glad this is happening.
Cherry makes switches in about a dozen different varieties, and it names them by color. The red variety are quiet, without a click, but they aren’t like typing on oatmeal like a $5 membrane board. They register keypresses better than a cheap board does, but they aren’t loud like an IBM Model M or a Cherry MX Blue. They’re quieter than even a Cherry MX Brown switch. I like clicky keyboards, but at work, I find a Cherry MX Red to be a good compromise. I can type on a Cherry MX Red switch-based keyboard without sounding like a heavy metal drummer.
Why does it matter?
If you’re not picky about keyboards, you’re probably not the audience for Cherry switches, or most other mechanical keyboards. Some people don’t care much about keyboards, which is why $5 keyboards exist. I’m not sure anyone likes the cheap $5 keyboards that bargain basement computer stores sell, but if you don’t mind a $15 Logitech keyboard, a more expensive keyboard may be a waste of money for you. If you think any keyboard that costs less than $50 is junk, and even dislike some pricey keyboards, you’re the kind of person Cherry MX switches exist for.
Probably 80-85% of computer users don’t have strong opinions about their keyboards. But 15 percent of a market is enough to support a product.
Are Cherry Red switches good?
Cherry Red switches are good quality hardware. The feel may or may not be what you prefer, which is why Cherry makes crazy numbers of switches. I like tactile and audible feedback, but when I’m typing notes during a meeting, the noise gets distracting. A Cherry Red switch gives a quality typing experience without being overly loud. It’s louder than the PCjr-inspired rubber chiclet keyboards that are also popular today, but so is a membrane keyboard.
The Cherry Red switch reminds me of an Apple IIe keyboard. It’s not clicky like a IIc or the Apple Extended Keyboard, but it was still nice to type on.
Are Cherry Red switches loud?
Cherry Red switches don’t make a lot of noise, but you may find a Cherry MX Red keyboard is a bit louder than a membrane keyboard. The reason for that is the switches are mounted in a steel plate. So when the switch bottoms out, you’ll get a bit more of a clang than you get when rubber contacts fiberglass. I put o rings on mine to quiet it down and it helped.
Cherry MX Red switches aren’t silent, but they definitely aren’t loud. I find they’re a good compromise at work.
Are Cherry Red switches good for typing?
I’m the rare security professional with a journalism degree, so I get stuck writing a lot of blog posts and documentation. Cheap and poorly designed keyboards frustrate me to no end, but I find Cherry Red switches are good for typing.
If you learn to type on them just right, you can type faster on Cherry Red switches than others by pressing them about halfway. I’ve never been able to make that adjustment and it makes it very difficult to type on other keyboards if you ever do. But arguably if you make that adjustment, there’s no better switch for typing than the Cherry Red.
Should you buy one?
I bought one, a HyperX Alloy, in 2018 and I like it. I do recommend buying locally, and at a store where you can try typing on the keyboard before buying one. Keyboards are really subjective and can take getting used to. But if you like the keyboard in the store, you’ll probably like it once you get it home. And if you don’t, you’ll probably have 2-4 weeks to return it.
If you’re used to buying $15 Logitechs, any mechanical keyboard can give you some sticker shock. Consider a tenkeyless model. Since they dispense with about 20 keys, they can sell for 20% less than a full-size keyboard. I’m surprised how little I miss the keypad, especially since I grew up in an era when a keypad was one of the hallmarks of a serious computer. If you live in Excel all day, you might want the keypad. But if you don’t live in Excel all day, you might find losing the keypad liberating.
One important thing to me with keyboards is whether one can flip the keys out and rearrange them into a Dvorak layout. Usually it’s possible, but the last couple of keyboards I’ve had have flanges on each key which are vertical in the QWERTY row, horizontal in the ASD row, and vertical in the bottom row (or is it the other way round). Most of the keys are swappable, except for two pairs: F/H and U/J. So if I type by sight and not memory my Hs are Fs, my Fs are Hs, my Us are Js, and my Js are Us.