When I first started typing on a mechanical keyboard, the only switches available, at least I thought, were the clicky and loud switches. I started to wonder exactly why mechanical switches can be so noisy. So, I did some research, and this is what I found out. What makes a mechanical keyboard switch so loud?
Clicky mechanical switches such as Cherry MX Blues have a mechanism within each individual switch that produces a high-pitched clicking noise when the key actuates. Inside a switch is a stem, a plastic bottom and top housing, a spring, a slider component, and a leaf switch. When the key is pressed, the slider component builds up force on the leaf switch as it slides down. When the slider releases, it hits the housing, causing the clicky sound. Other switches that are also clicky have followed the Cherry MX Blue model, and most companies have kept the same color with some exceptions.
In addition of the mechanism of the switch itself, there are other sources of sounds that can make a mechanical keyboard make extra sounds such as rattles and echoes.
Why Do Clicks Matter?
There are two important factors to consider when picking a keyboard switch. They are sound and feel. For many, sound is a crucial element to consider because it’ll be something that you’ll listen to everyday as you’re typing.
For many, having a clicky mechanical keyboard makes them feel as if they’re typing super-fast. When people think of mechanical keyboard, the thought of clicks instantly enters their mind.
If you plan on doing things such as recording videos, live-streaming gameplay, or bringing your keyboard into your workplace, it may be a good idea to avoid getting these loud clicky switches. We have a guide on the top 5 quietest switches. But since you’re here, you probably want a clicky switch.
What Are Some Other Sources of Sounds in Your Mechanical Keyboard?
While certain switches may be quieter than others, a switch that emits a higher-pitched sound tends to be get picked up more on microphones and is more disturbing to those around you.
A deep, low-pitched sounding switch on the other hand, will be less intrusive and tends to not get picked up by microphones as much, even if it’s louder. The lower-pitched sound is generally much more pleasing on the ears and is a sound most keyboard switch manufacturers and enthusiasts attempt to go for when buying a keyboard.
Other sound factors include the amount the switch rattles and shakes. Rattling is when the switch is not fully secured or machined to a tight tolerance, this makes the moving components inside the switch bang against each other instead of smoothly sliding up and down.
The rattling increases the noise output of the keyboard and makes the sound output much more unpleasant.
The material of the keyboard also makes a difference when it comes to sound. A plastic case will create more sound for each key press. An aluminum case or acrylic is denser and will dampen the sounds more, causing less ringing.
Another factor is the stabilizer. Stabilizers can make rattling sounds when they are not effective at reducing the shakiness, especially the space bar. For different techniques and strategies to make your keyboard more silent, we wrote a thorough guide on how to do so. This could also help with clicky switches because you want to only hear the switch click, not the stabilizer rattle or the spring clang in the background after each press.
Guide to Clicky Mechanical Keyboard Switches
Now that we know why these switches make their clicks, let’s look at some animations to see exactly what happens.
Input Club has an animation that shows the blue stem being pressed, the slider building up force, releasing and then hitting the bottom housing, producing the clicking sound.
There is a YouTube video that visually shows the movement of these switches happening. He cut out a cross-section of the switch housing so that the inside is visible, and the switch remains fully functional.
There are many different clicky switches out there. The mechanism above only applies to clicky switches. Tactile switches have a tactile bump, but they do not have the second slider mechanism that produces the sound.
Clicky Mechanical Switches, What They Sound Like, and More Information
|Switch Name||Actuation Force||Total Distance||Actuation Distance||Sound Clip|
|Kailh Box White||50g||3.6mm||1.8mm||https://youtu.be/n89OaleL2cg?t=312|
|Cherry MX Blue||55g||4mm||2mm||https://youtu.be/lAmiYr0GjaY?t=22|
|Cherry MX Green||52g||4mm||2.3mm||https://youtu.be/ECK1Ym5V8Xw?t=25|
|Kaihua Box Pale Blues||42g||3.7mm||1.93mm||https://youtu.be/eZuHJGoJQSs?t=173|
|Kaihua Box Jade||30g||3.7mm||1.95mm||https://youtu.be/vKnH_SZbT1A?t=354|
|Kaihua Box Navy||40g||3.5mm||1.82mm||https://youtu.be/93PCro8hB_A?t=14|
*Kaihua Bronze switches are also known as Thick Gold or Platinum switches.
Another thing that may be confusing is that some people say Kaihua or Kailh. They are basically the same company and the same switches. Kaihua is a brand under Kailh.
The table above covers most clicky switches that are available right now. If we are missing any, please let us know and we’ll fix the list with updated information.
What Are BOX Switches?
Kailh/Kaihua makes BOX switches. These switches were initially created to be used in gaming cafes, cafes with rows of computers that people can pay to use and play games on, in primarily Asian countries.
The Kailh BOX switches are rated IP56, which we learned about in our article about waterproof keyboards where we also explained IP rating. IP56 means that the switches are dust-protected, permitting only little dust, and is protected against high pressure water jets from any direction.
They’re easily recognizable with their box design around the switch stem. These were designed to prevent food dust and water/drink spills from people using them within gaming cafes. Due to their IP56 rating, they’re much more durable and protected than regular switches. They keep food, crumbs, dust, and liquids away from the keyboard PCB.
These BOX switches cost $3.00 10 switches, making them 30 cents each.
Where to Try These Switches
There are a lot of factors that contribute to the sound of your keyboard, including the case material, stabilizer quality, and the keyboard switches (of course). We listed out all the clicky mechanical switches available on the market right now, including the actuation distance, actuation force, total travel distance, and a sound clip of each switch type for your reference and convenience.
As always, it’s better to personally test each switch prior to filling up your entire keyboard with it and then realize that you don’t like it after all.
Some places to get switch testers include NovelKeys and MechanicalKeyboards.com. NovelKeys offers different size switch testers, ranging from 4-slots to 49-slots. They are acrylic with clear keycaps. You get to choose your choice of switches. Below are all their options for switches. YES, there are a LOT of options.
MechanicalKeyboards.com provides a 6-slot switch tester for $15. You have the option of including different switch sets, including Cherry MX, Gateron, Greetech, Kailh, and Outemu.
Amazon also has a few options as well. This Glorious MX Switch Tester includes 14 different switches of Gateron and Kailh brand along with O-rings. They do not come with a testing board or keycaps unlike the two above.
This 4-slot Cherry MX switch tester allows you to try the basic Cherry MX switches (Red, Blue, Brown, and Black) with a minimalistic case and clear keycaps. They also have one with 9 slots and includes additional Cherry MX switches (Green, Grey-brown, Grey-black, Clear, and White, as well as the original four).
Another good option for experimenting with Kailh BOX switches is this Kailh BOX switch tester kit with clear keycaps, an acrylic testing board, a keycap puller, and 9 BOX switches (Navy, Jade, White, Red, Black, Brown, Yellow, Blue, and Orange).
There are many places to try out different switches prior to getting them. If spending money is not possible, you can also look for mechanical keyboard meetups where people will bring and showcase their custom-made keyboards for people to try out and type on.
Many switches that are interesting to explore include the ZealPC switches and the panda switches, which are a combination of one part from one kind of switch and the other parts from another kind of switch.
As always, happy typing!