Mechanical Keyboards: MX vs Topre

Exploring the Depths of Mechanical Keyboards: MX vs Topre

Mechanical keyboards are a perennial favorite among a certain section of computer enthusiasts, typists, and gamers who yearn for a higher level of tactile feedback, personalization, and durability than a traditional membrane or chiclet-style keyboard can offer. Today, we will focus on two of the most prevalent switches used in these keyboards: MX (more precisely, Cherry MX), and the lesser-known but highly revered Topre.

If you're familiar with mechanical keyboards, you've probably heard about Cherry MX switches. On the other hand, Topre might be a name that's new to you. However, both offer distinct and compelling benefits for different use cases. Let's explore the differences between the two.

Cherry MX Switches

Cherry MX switches, designed by a German company called Cherry, are some of the most common and diverse mechanical switches on the market. They've become something of a gold standard in the mechanical keyboard industry due to their consistency, reliability, and variety.

One of the key features of MX switches is their color-coding system, which denotes the characteristics of the switch. For instance, Cherry MX Red switches are known for their smooth, linear actuation with no tactile bump, making them popular among gamers. On the other hand, MX Blue switches offer a tactile and audible click, which is cherished by typists. The MX Brown switches sit somewhere in between, with a light tactile bump but without the audible click, catering to both typing and gaming needs.

Cherry MX switches are typically characterized by:

  1. Variety: A wide range of switch types catering to different typing styles and preferences.
  2. Durability: High lifespan (around 50-100 million keystrokes depending on the model).
  3. Modularity: They are easy to modify and customize due to their widespread usage and popularity.

Topre Switches

Topre switches, created by a Japanese company named Topre Corporation, are a different beast altogether. These switches are a hybrid between a rubber dome and a spring switch, sometimes referred to as "electrostatic capacitive non-contact switches." Unlike MX switches, which are purely mechanical, Topre switches have a rubber dome that provides the tactile feedback and a spring underneath that is used for capacitive sensing (i.e., to detect a keypress).

Topre keyboards are often praised for their unique 'thonk' sound and 'bouncy' feel when typing. Many enthusiasts love the smooth keypress and distinct tactile feedback that Topre switches offer, although they can take a little getting used to if you're coming from an MX background.

Key attributes of Topre switches include:

  1. Unique feel: Combining elements of membrane and mechanical switches, Topre switches offer a distinct and satisfying typing experience.
  2. Quality: Topre keyboards are known for their excellent build quality and durability. Their switches are rated for up to 50 million keystrokes.
  3. Limited customization: Topre boards aren't as customizable as their MX counterparts as new parts and boards are just now becoming available to the aftermarket scene, with layouts and MX compatibility that traditional mechanical keyboard users are accustomed too.

The World of Keycaps: Expanding the Horizons of MX and Topre Keyboards

Another critical aspect that sets apart mechanical keyboards and heightens their appeal is the wide range of customizable keycaps. This is an area where MX switches have traditionally held the advantage, but recent innovations have broadened the options for Topre users as well.

Keycaps are like the cherry (mind the pun) on top of a sundae; they can add an entirely new look, feel, and even sound to your typing experience. They come in different shapes, profiles, materials, and colors, providing an endless array of customization options.

The world of keycaps is wide, with various profiles designed to suit different preferences. Here are a few popular profiles:

  • GMK: These are high-quality, thick ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) keycaps with a Cherry profile (lower and gently sloped) that are known for their vibrant colors and legends that don't fade over time.
  • SA: Standing for Spherical All, these keycaps have a spherical touch surface and a high profile. They have a vintage aesthetic and are often seen in multi-row sculpted sets.
  • MT3: Designed by Matt3o, MT3 is a high-profile keycap with a deep spherical top. These keycaps have a unique retro feel with a focus on ergonomics.

Expanding the Topre World: MX-Compatible Keycaps and More

Traditionally, Topre keyboards had their own unique sliders that didn't allow for MX keycap compatibility, limiting the range of customization options. However, recent developments have significantly expanded the possibilities for Topre users.

Topre themselves have released TKL 45g keyboards like the Realforce RGB and Realforce GX1 that come with RGB lighting and, importantly, MX-compatible keycaps. This compatibility significantly broadens the aesthetic options for Topre users, as they can now use any keycap set designed for MX stems.

For those who have traditional Topre keyboards, there are now MX-compatible Topre sliders available. By replacing the standard Topre sliders with these, you can use any MX keycap set on your Topre keyboard.

Moreover, the advent of aftermarket electro-capacitive PCBs has opened a new world of customization options. These PCBs allow all the layout varieties that make MX keyboards so diverse, from standard full-size and TKL to 60%, 65%, and custom layouts. This has led to a trend where keyboard makers are designing their MX keyboards to also have an electro-capacitive option, further bridging the gap between the MX and Topre worlds.

In conclusion, the already vibrant and varied world of mechanical keyboards and keycaps is becoming even more so. Whether you prefer the variety and customization of MX switches or the distinctive feel and premium build of Topre, there are more options than ever to make a keyboard that's truly your own.

MX vs Topre: Which One to Choose?

Choosing between MX and Topre largely comes down to personal preference, needs, and budget.

If you want variety, modularity, and a lower entry price, Cherry MX might be the way to go. There are countless keyboards available with these switches, catering to every need, from gaming to typing, and in all sorts of form factors.

On the other hand, if you're after a premium, unique typing experience and are willing to pay a little more, Topre could be a great choice. Their keyboards are often seen as endgame boards in the mechanical keyboard community due to their excellent build quality and distinctive feel.

Both Cherry MX and Topre switches have their place in the mechanical keyboard world. The best way to know what works for you is to try them out yourself, if possible. Either way, you're in for a much more engaging typing experience than with a standard membrane or chiclet-style keyboard. Happy typing!