Most of the things I use day-to-day are unimportant—a rotating collection of gadgets I’m reviewing but have little connection to. Keyboards are the exception. If I’m going to talk about what I use on a daily basis, the keyboards are the most interesting part. I don’t do anything just a little bit. I know this about myself, and that’s why purchasing my first “fancy” mechanical keyboard a few years back was a conflicting experience. On one hand, it was really cool. On the other, it knew it was going to be very expensive as far as hobbies go. Now, here I am some years later with… well, let’s say a lot of keyboards, soldering equipment, keycaps, and spreadsheets to track the arrival of delayed keyboard components. In the interest of brevity, I thought I’d just tell you about my three favorite keyboards in no particular order.
CA66 – LCARS Edition
The CA66 is a solid custom keyboard, but I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best from a construction standpoint. It came out a few years ago, during a time when many of the features enthusiasts currently demand were still unheard of. However, the rarity makes the CA66 special. The barebones kit originally retailed for about $250, but used boards regularly sell for several hundred more. I’m not sure how much mine is worth, but I’d never sell it and find out. It was one of the first projects I planned from start to finish with a particular theme in mind, and it turned out wonderfully.
I love the shape of the CA66 because it reminds me of the curvy consoles that were common in the TNG era of Star Trek, and that’s the aesthetic I wanted: all LCARS, all the time. Naturally, it took many months for the CA66 to arrive after I purchased it. The first thing I had to address was the color. I chatted with noted keyboard designer Ryan Norbauer, who had previously sold an LCARS themed keyboard. He pointed me in the direction of a powder coat that would replicate that “Enterprise beige” from TNG. It cost about $100 to have the board painted, but the result was perfect. Next, I mocked up some GNDN labels in the Star Trek style using my very limited design skills. Printing them only cost a few dollars, thankfully. The last stylistic piece of the puzzle was the keycap set, a limited edition kit called DSA Galaxy Class. This is an officially licensed Star Trek keyset that was sold a few years back in the Roddenberry Store for about $200. Like the board, I had to order these caps far in advance.
I assembled this keyboard with 67g Zilent switches, which are a silenced tactile switch. That means you can feel a tactile bump on each press, but they don’t click and even the bottom-out sound is muffled with internal silicone pads. This helps reduce the echoey quality of the CA66, which isn’t as monolithic as some more premium boards. The total cost of the project was around $600.
The Decent 65 is a recent addition to my collection. And by “recent,” I mean I ordered the parts more than a year ago. The board itself is mid-range, at least in the world of custom keebs. It’s aluminum, solidly constructed, and Cerakoted in a light blue—it’s the finish that makes it special. There are no LEDs, hotswap sockets, or brass weights like some more expensive keyboards, but the cost was still almost $400 with the custom color. I wanted the blue because it was bound to be a good match for GMK Belafonte, which is a Life Aquatic-themed keyset that was available for order in early 2020. It’s a gorgeous set; just look at the side text on that enter cap!
The long wait was expected, and the build was pretty simple once I had the parts. I soldered in clicky Box Pink switches, making this one of the few clicky mechanical keyboards I have. That seemed right for the aesthetic, though. I’m sure the Decent 65 wouldn’t sound as nice with tactile switches as some of my boards, but the clicks are all you hear. It’s a delightfully obnoxious keyboard that also happens to be so, so pretty. The total cost of the project was about $700.
Unlike the other keyboards on this list, the RAMA M65-B is undeniably a high-end custom board. RAMA is an Australian industrial designer who has created several highly sought-after boards, including the M65-A, Kara, and U80. The M65-B presale happened in late 2019, and it didn’t ship until early 2021. The kit I ordered (black anodizing, internal brass weight) cost about $500, plus a bit more for shipping six pounds of aluminum and brass from down under. Yes, that’s a lot, but for keyboard folks, RAMA is potential “endgame” material.
While the M65-B was available with a solderless hotswap PCB, I chose the soldered version so I could use my preferred layout with a normal (non-split) backspace. The hardware fits together with an incredible level of precision, and it even comes with branded screws. When complete, it looks and feels like a solid chunk of metal—it’s just an incredible object. For switches, I decided on a highly tactile hybrid switch known as the Holy Panda. I really like these switches, though Ryne will forever disagree with me. The heavy landing complements the dense metal construction, but it’s so solid that heavy typists will probably get fatigued using it.
I didn’t go into this project with a particular aesthetic or reference in mind—the M65-B is just an excellent, all-purpose mechanical keyboard. I currently have a set called GMK Nightrunner on it, which looks great. The black anodizing (which is flawless by the way) could match a lot of keysets, and I’ll probably take advantage of that as the makeup of my collection changes. As currently assembled, the M65-B cost about $900. Although, the M65-B without keycaps or switches regularly sells for $750-800 on the secondary market.
Looking in on someone’s hobbies from the outside can be a strange experience. You often don’t have the context to understand the appeal, and the expense can seem crazy. I’m aware that I might increasingly come across like those washing machine collectors on YouTube. I would maintain, however, that keyboards are at least a little cooler.
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About The Author
Ryan Whitwam (7131 Articles Published)
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would. He’s the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.