ABKO K935P V2 - Whew... I bought this thing fully expecting a cheap imitation of a Topre/electro capacitive board, but what I got was a lesson.This keyboard actually taught me a couple of things. For one, silenced Topre boards aren't necessarily quiet. What the silencing rings do is reduce the undesirable clacky tone generated on the upstroke from the slider hitting its housing. I've read this description many a time, but until I experienced it, it was hard to grasp. The result of this clack suppression leaves only the beautiful thock sound remaining. This board also comes damped to reduce the undesirable sounds even further. Mighty impressive for a board that comes in $100 cheaper than its nearest competitor. The sliders appear to be the newer generation NiZ sliders that have very low wobble and overall feel pretty nice. I'm told they are a bit scratchy and should be lubed, but I was never good at detecting that since I have no lubed point of reference. The key travel is impacted by the silencing rings due to how thick they are. If I was planning to daily drive this board, I might swap them out with something a bit thinner, but I would honesty not notice if I hadn't used a board that wasn't silenced (my Leopolds). Overall, the keycaps are nice for what they are, the board is plasticky but doesn't feel too cheap, and it's just been a good experience. The domes feel a tad off compared to my Leopold board, but for $130, I would probably just get used to it. The only TRUE down side for me is the attached cable. If you've got any modding skills, this is easy to overcome.
A few weeks with Topre keebs as my main boards has taught me a few things.
I prefer the tactility of Topre to the audible feedback of clicky switches.
This was perhaps the largest revelation, especially considering that I hated the feel of Topre when I first got my FC980C. It took me about a day or so to adjust from heavy and clicky to light and tactile. Switch weight was another thing I'm surprised about. The Topre domes in both of my boards are 45G. This was disgustingly light at first, but the tactility started taking over and it became evident that this feeling was enjoyable. One thing Topre does for me is bring together the speed of clickly switches and the awesome feel of tactile. I say speed because personally, I can type REALLY fast when I have proper feedback.
The Topre board is by no means silent out of the box. They do have versions with silencing rings pre-installed, but the thought of a silent typing experience sickens me. The click is replaced with a deeper, "thock" sound. It's inherently quieter than a click as well as being such a low tone that is does not travel very far. My assistant has already told me she doesn't notice it anymore.
Here's a brief explanation of how Topre (Topre is a company and the proper term is Electrostatic Capactive, but I will just keep saying Topre for ease of both typing and understanding) works from keychatter.com:
Due to the nature of Topre boards, they have some limitations. The first of these is board cost. Topre Realforce, Leopold, and HHKB boards are north of $230. That's after the price has come down over the years. This is a tough pill to swallow when you're spending this much for a stock board. Any customization at all and you're easily adding hundreds of dollars to the cost.
You couldn't go and build your dream board as easily as you can with MX switch style boards. As the years have gone on, you have a few more makers out there, but your choices are limited. After you get your board of choice, there are VERY few aftermarket cases, and those that exist are expensive. My Norbauer case was $400. For me this was fine because the craftsmanship and artistry is out of this world. You do have MX cases that run this high or higher, but not many options like my KBD 5 Degree case that is crafted from a solid billet of aluminum for $88. You also have $30 options. This is just not the case for Topre for now. This comes form the high cost of the boards and the relatively small market.
Along these same lines, Topre boards use Topre keycaps. There's a very limited selection of keycaps in this style. Most are for HHKB boards, so you're stuck if you're like me and have a Leopold. They have a different number of keys and the modifier keys are different shapes. To that end, you could install Topre to MX sliders, but even this presents a challenge. Most of the aftermarket slider have compromises. You have JTK sliders which have a reputation for poor quality, you have Niz sliders which were known for poor quality, but have gotten better in 2019... but they're too small for other brands and require modification to prevent movement. Novatouch sliders are many people's ideal sliders, but these come from a Cooler Master (yes, that Cooler Master) board that went extinct a few years ago. If you can find a complete set of these sliders, be prepared to pay $100+ for them. Lastly you have KBDFans to the rescue. These seems to be okay in quality from what I've read, but still require me to drill out my 2U housings to allow proper fitment of the keycaps. I went with the KBDfans sliders and I'll know later today whether or not this was the right move. I was tired of waiting for Novatouch sliders that were either missing the 2U sliders, or just a complete rip off in general. You'd think OH! You're done then! Buuuuuuuut you would be wrong. The spacebar is 6U (standard is 6.25U), so I need to find someone to make me a custom SA profile spacebar to match the keycap set I chose.
Was all this worth it?! - Well.... depends on the who. If you had asked me a year and a half ago what my keyboard budget was, you'd get $150 tops. That's changed drastically when you look at what I've done recently with Cherry Killer. That board was $391.80 in parts alone. But along with that I've got tons of new friends and a hobby that I love. My Leopold FC660C and Heavy-6 were considerably more at $820 with the parts I've chosen thus far. It's been fun and frustrating, but I still like it and don't have an ounce of regret.
What does the future hold? - I just ordered an ABKO K935P V2 for $128.94. It has excellent reviews AND comes standard with Topre>MX sliders. The ABKO uses the new Niz sliders that have gotten a lot of positive feedback, so it sound like this could be the way forward. A new challenger to the Topre crown is good for everyone. The makers at the top can't ignore a board that runs half the cost of theirs. I'm hoping this board catches on and we start to get custom cases and lots of attention. That board will be in later this week, so we shall see.