Why Are Topre Keyboards So Expensive? The Answer Is Simpler Than You Think


You’ve seen people test Topre boards such as the HHKB, Realforce, Leopold, and some Topre-clone boards too, and many rave about the way they sound and feel. Topre boards, why are they so expensive?

Topre keyboards have a hefty price tag because the electrocapacitive switches are solely manufactured by a single company, made in Japan, go through rigorous quality standards, and are in low demand compared to more common mechanical switches.

That may be the short answer, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether you should purchase one and try it. Are they really worth the premium price that you see on countless different websites?

What Makes a Topre Keyboard Expensive?

There are many reasons why this can happen. Topre keyboards have a lot of history with their switch patent and manufacturing process.

Electrocapacitive Method of Actuation

Topre switches are non-contact switches. They actuate via a special PCB that has capacitive-sensing capabilities.

When you initially press a Topre switch, there is a spring on top of a rubber dome that compresses. At a certain level of compression, the PCB can sense that the switch has been actuated.

Image credit: http://xahlee.info/kbd/keyboard_switch_mechanisms.html

Manufactured By a Single Company

Topre switches are manufactured by a company named Topre Corporation, a Japanese company that does much more than just these switches.

Topre Corp. also does “automobile-related products, refrigerated vehicles, air-conditioning equipment-related products, and electronic equipment products” (Topre.co.jp).

For many years, they held the patent on Topre switches. However, in the mid-2000s, that patent expired.

Despite other companies now being able to make Topre-clones, the Topre name was exclusive for many years and gained quite a reputation for themselves.

Low Demand

People who buy specialized keyboards buy them for a unique purpose. The more common purpose of a mechanical keyboard is for gaming. However, many also prefer them for typing.

The typist group occupies a smaller percentage compared to those in the gaming group.

Within the typing group, even fewer people would want a Topre keyboard.

There is low demand for these boards, which means the price doesn’t need to go down at all.

Alongside this, there is an exclusive feeling when one purchases a Topre keyboard.

Rigorous Quality Standards

The keyboards that do feature authentic Topre switches, the HHKB, Leopold, and Realforce, they all go through extensive quality control.

These keyboards have a well-known reputation for having long-lasting builds that stand the test of time.

Are Topre Keyboards Worth It? An In-Depth Look at the Realforce R2

We bought ourselves a Realforce R2 TKL to test the Topre switches out and see if the board is worth it.

There are many factors that make up if a keyboard is worth it. These factors include: keycap quality, overall build quality and design, additional features, switches, stabilizers, durability, feel, and sound.

Build Quality and Design

The Realforce R2 TKL Topre board is made entirely of plastic, with the exception of the stainless steel plate. The board is very sturdy and does not display any flex with manual force.

The outer case is made of thick and durable plastic that does not creak either. No piece of this board feels cheap.

The kickstands on the back have a nice rubber coating on them, and they don’t just slide off and get lost like other boards.

The rubber feet are textured and don’t come off easily either. There are cable routine channels in the back for wire management.

The only downside to the R2 is the rubber nondetachable cable. It’s nothing special, but it does match the overall old-school aesthetic of the ivory colored board.

To take apart the case, there are some screws to remove. However, the top of the case connects to the bottom via clips. To take it apart, you have to pry them open.

Overall, the design and build quality are timeless. Despite being made of plastic, it’s a very durable plastic.

Switch Sound, Feel, and Durability

Topre switches are a very unique switch, that’s for sure. It’s hard to compare it to any mechanical switch.

But, we shall try.

The Realforce R2 TKL we bought came with 55g Topre switches. The tactility is similar to lubed Drop Holy Pandas with Tribosys 3203, with the legs lubed.

However, rather than a sharp entry into the bump, it’s very rounded. It is similar to a rubber dome keyboard, except it’s much more consistent and has a higher resistance.

Alongside this, the bottom out is not mushy (like silent switches), but it’s not exactly a satisfying thocc either.

The sound isn’t the most amazing. It’s relatively quiet on the downstroke. However, because of the 55g resistance, the upstroke hits the top and creates an inconsistent clack.

This can be modded with silencing rings and lube to create a more silenced experience. However, that requires taking the board apart and rebuilding it.

Here is a sound demo of the Topre switches are being lubed and silenced on YouTube.

As for durability, these Topre switches are tested up to 50 million keypresses. This is significantly lower than most mechanical switches, which vary in their testing.

Gateron and Kailh switches are guaranteed up to 50 million keypresses. However, Cherry switches are rated up to 100 million keypresses. The Corsair OPX Optical switches are rated up to 150 million keypresses.

Keycaps

The keycaps are a two-toned ivory and dark ivory colorway. This makes it perfect for the office aesthetic.

They are made of thick PBT plastic, and the legends are dye-sublimated. They will definitely stand the test of time.

On the sides of the keycaps are side-printed legends for additional functions.

The profile of the keycaps are somewhere between OEM and Cherry profile.

The stem of the keycaps are specially designed to fit into Topre switches, which require a round stem that clicks into place.

So, unfortunately, Topre switches don’t work with regular cross-shaped stem keycaps. However, there are adapters you can purchase that will let you do that, but that costs a bit more.

Overall, the keycaps are durable, easily legible, and look professional.

Stabilizers

The only key that has a special stabilizer on the Realforce R2 is the spacebar.

All of the other bigger keys (enter, backspace, left shift, and right shift) do not have special stabilizers. However, the Topre switch under them is the length of the key.

The bigger keys are louder than the other keys, but the rattle sound occurs during the upstroke and when you press the key off-center.

Additional Features

The TKL version of the R2 has a number pad function on the secondary layer. There is a Num Lock on the top right of the board.

Turning Num Lock on lets you use the keys around the letter I as a number pad. They are staggered instead of the typically ortholinear number pad that most people are used to, but it’s nice to have.

Benefit of Buying Authentic Topre

One of the best things about Topre keyboards is their high resale value.

If you purchase a board at $250, test it for several weeks, it’s very likely you can fetch a similar price on the aftermarket to other keyboard enthusiasts.

For this reason, I highly recommend that if you are really considering this, go out there and try it out. You might end up losing a couple of dollars, but you’ll live on knowing whether you love/hate Topre.

Conclusion

Topre switches and Topre keyboards are its own experience. Without trying one with your own hands, you’ll always be left wondering if you’re missing out on something or not.

Topre boards are very expensive because they’re manufactured by a single company with rigorous quality standards, have low competition out there with Topre clones due to having the design patented only to expire recently, and a low demand in the marketplace.

In the end, they are expensive. But they have a very nice resale value, which makes trying them and selling them in the aftermarket easier.

The boards are high-quality, as we saw in the Realforce R2 TKL, and there are other ones available as well that you can read about in our Best Topre Keyboards article.

So are they worth it? I would say so. They’re worth trying. Some say they never go back to mechanical after Topre. And some just like having a Topre board for extensive typing sessions. Others do not prefer the way they feel. So it depends.

I hope you do get the opportunity to try them.

Betty Van

Betty has been using mechanical keyboards since 2014. She has experience as a pediatric occupational therapist and helped start Switch and Click to learn more as well as help people enter the mechanical keyboard hobby and learn more about peripherals as a whole.

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