Recently, we went to a Seattle Mechanical Keyboard meetup. There were so many different switches to try there, most of which we’ve heard but some we haven’t. A special switch that we didn’t know much about was the Topre switch, which someone told us a mix between a rubber dome and a mechanical switch. Interesting, so we did a lot more research about what it is and if they’re better than Cherry switches. What are Topre switches, and are they better than Cherry switches?
Topre switches are electrostatic, capacitive keyboard switches that have the feel of a rubber dome keyboard with all the benefits of a mechanical switch such as more tactility, less noise, and a non-mushy bottom-out. They are available on a limited number of keys. Topre switches are similar to Cherry MX browns with more “thonk” and a crispier tactile feedback. It is difficult to compare Topre vs. Cherry because there is a large variety of Cherry switches, and it is up to personal preference in the end.
Topre switches are only available in certain keyboards and have a unique feel. Some love them, and others don’t feel that they’re worth the premium price.
History of Topre Switches and What are They?
Topre switches are made by TOPRE Corporation. They are a Japanese manufacturer and are the only people that make Topre switches. TOPRE Corporation started making mechanical keyboard switches in 1983. Topre switches were first patented in 1986.
They are electrostatic capacitive non-contact keyboard switches. What does this mean? When you press a Topre switch, the first thing that moves is the plunger, it gets pushed down. This compresses the rubber dome, and a spring lives inside of the dome. When the electrical capacitance between the spring and the PCB (printed circuit board) reaches a certain amount, it registers a key press. Each rubber dome and conical spring is easily replaceable if one happens to break as they are all their separate parts.
Here is TOPRE’s patent for this kind of switch for more information.
These are also some of the most expensive switches on the market. Many Topre keyboards are over $200.
How do Topre Switches Feel?
Topre switches are comfortable and snappy to type on. They were designed with the primary goal of being a typing keyboard.
When typing on a membrane keyboard, the keyboard feels very mushy due to the membrane. Topre keyboards have a rubber dome that can be adjusted to change the tactile feedback. This enables Topre switches to not feel mushy when bottoming out or pressing the key until it’s at the very bottom.
Many feel that due to Topre’s special design, these switches must be tried out before committing to one due to its high price point. However, because of this, they also resell nicely without suffering much of a loss.
If you’re used to Cherry Browns, Topre switches can be described as similar, but with a better sound that’s less rattly or noisy and a crisp tactile feedback. Typing on it is very smooth. Some say it’s like “typing on pillows.”
They come in different force options, ranging from 35g to 55g. These are average forces because it doesn’t have a homed in actuation force or point.
There are many differing opinions on Topre switches. Some say that it’s just an overpriced rubber dome keyboard. Others feel that Topre switches are the smoothest switches in the world to type on.
What do Topre Switches Sound Like?
If you’re going to buy a Topre keyboard, it probably will be for the sound. It has a low-pitched bumpy sound and does not bother the ears while you’re typing.
There is no springy or clangy sound that you may hear in Cherry MX switches. It’s a mellow and soft sound.
What Mechanical Keyboards Have Topre Switches?
There are a limited number of keyboards available with Topre switches. It’s not possible to trial Topre switches by themselves like MX style switches such as Kailh or Cherry because you need a special PCB, housing, spring, rubber dome, and plunger. To get Topre switches, the only option is to cannibalize a pre-assembled mechanical keyboard with Topre switches.
A big benefit for Topre switches is that you can replace the individual rubber domes if one starts feeling mushy or different than the others. You can also get higher force rubber domes or lower force ones if you want. For the keyboards below, the “actuation” force ranges from 35g to 55g of average force.
Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB)
The Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) is legendary within the community for its design and Topre switches.
HHKB makes several different keyboards, all of which are relatively similar. The Happy Hacking keyboard’s design first emerged in 1992 by Professor Eiiti Wada. The HHKB is light and compact with a 60% layout with 60 keys. It easily fits in your bag for easy transportation and saves space on your desk.
The HHKB is primarily all plastic. It is a light and compact 60% keyboard. It has two open spaces on the bottom left and bottom right spaces with the brand being on the bottom right side. It has a clean design in stealth black or grey.
The bottom of the keyboard has two rubber feet and 2 flip-out feet with 2 different angles. The back of the keyboard offers 2 low-powered USB drives, which you can connect mice or USB ports. However, being low-powered, it won’t be able to power headsets.
There are six DIP switches on the back as well. The bottom of the keyboard explains exactly what each DIP switch does.
The layout of this keyboard is non-standard with the FN key being on the same row as the Shift key. It may be difficult to get used to this layout. The backspace is also lower than it normally is by one row, so it sits right above the Enter key.
A downside is that there are empty spaces on the bottom of the keyboard that are unused. Why not add 2 keys there instead of empty space? The CapsLock is also not a dedicated key. Instead, it exists on another layer. Where the CapsLock currently is, there is a Control button instead.
Overall, it takes time to get used to this layout. However, once people have gotten used to this keyboard, others were not able to switch back to the regular layout without feeling disadvantaged.
The Pro Hybrid Type-S model and the Pro Hybrid can connect to PCs wirelessly via Bluetooth or via a USB-C cable. The Pro Classic is only able to connect via USB-C.
The Pro Hybrid Type-S and the Pro Hybrid both are fully programmable. You can make your own custom keymaps using their keymapping software. The curvature and layout of the keyboards reduce hand and finger fatigue because you leave the home row keys much less often due to the closer Backspace.
The keycaps are PBT plastic with dye-sublimated key legends that never fade. You can also choose to have blank keycaps rather than printed.
Now for the price: The HHKB ranges from $190 to $280, depending on which model you pick.
Cooler Master Novatouch TKL Mechanical Keyboard
The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL Keyboard has hybrid capacitive switches. It has N-key rollover, only for Windows. This keyboard is not compatible with Mac computers. It’s also a TKL keyboard with 87 keys.
It also has a repeat rate modification, which changes what happens when a key is held down, ranging from 1x to 8x. I’m not sure why this would be super useful other than for gaming.
There are two kickstands in the back with 4 rubber feet. The Cooler Master branding is super subtly in the back of the keyboard. It has a Micro USB cable which is detachable.
It has a black case with white laser-etched legend keycaps. Unlike other keyboards that may not let you switch out your keycaps due to its non-standard stem, this keyboard does. It has a MX-stem, which is compatible with custom keycap sets.
The keyboard comes with O-rings to make the keyboard quieter if necessary. However, the keyboard is very quiet in the first place. The switches have 45g of force for actuation and 4mm of travel distance.
One downside is that the Cooler Master Novatouch is not available in most retail stores, not even Amazon. It is available after-market, however.
The base price of the FC660C is $239 on MechanicalKeyboards.com, and the FC980C is $259. Both come in different colors, such as black, blue and gray, white, and gray. They come with two switch options, the Topre 45g and the Topre Silent 45g (for $10 more).
Here is a sound clip of the Leopold FC660C with Topre 45g switches with the stock factory lubrication. The stabilizers have been lubed.
Here is a sound clip of the FC980C. They sound very similar. The only difference in them is size. The full-sized version differs from other full-size keyboards in the fact that it’s a compact version. The arrow keys are positioned in a cut-out area between the number pad and the alphanumeric keys. The browser buttons such as Home, Delete, PgUp, and PgDn are on top like the function row. The image below shows this.
Both keyboards come with dye sublimated PBT keyboards with black/white legends depending on which keyboard color you go with. They have a detachable cable design with a mini-USB port. It also has four DIP switches on the back to swap key functions like Ctrl, Alt, Fn, etc.
The Topre Realforce is available in different varieties. There is a full-sized black keyboard with RGB version with ABS keycaps, a full-sized white PBT keycap version, a full-sized black PBT keycap version, a TKL Dye Sub PBT white and gray version, a TKL Dye Sub PBT black version, and then the variable Topre versions in black or white.
They have cable management built into the back of the keyboard. There are 4 DIP switches on the back. There are four rubber feet with 2 kickstands for some typing angle adjustability. The typing angle without the kickstands are already slightly inclined.
The variable Topre keyboards have 4 different weights on the keyboard: 30g, 45g, and 55g. The Esc key has 55g of force. All of the keys have 45g of force except the following: 1, Q, A, Z, 9. 0, -, +, O, P, [, ], L, ;, “, >, and ?. Mechanicalkeyboards.com has this in visual form on their product page.
The prices of all the versions are over $200. They range from $209 to $259. The switch options range from Topre Variable, Topre 55g, and Topre 45g.