The 10 best mechanical keyboard switches you’ve never heard of
Red, blue, and brown switches are great, but there's a whole world of mechanical keyboard switches for clack, thock, and quiet typing.
Whether you’re building your first mechanical keyboard or your tenth, finding the right switches can be a challenge.
With linear reds and blacks, tactile browns and clears, and clicky blues and greens, deciding which type of switch to get for your mechanical keyboard can be difficult — and it only gets worse once you realize those are only the tip of the iceberg.
There are hundreds of mechanical switches available today, each of which feels, operates, and sounds slightly different from the last. There are switches that are heavier or lighter, louder or quieter, with stronger or softer bumps. Some are smoother to press down, while others will have less wobble when typing. With all of this in mind, it can be daunting to try finding the exact switch that works for you.
(The one good thing is that, due to the lack of enthusiast-level clicky switches on the market, you really only need to worry about linears and tactiles.)
Luckily, we’ve done the heavy lifting already, reading up on the newest and best switches available today. Here's our list of 10 great MX-style switches that aren’t the usual red, brown, and blue options that came stock with your mechanical keyboard — and why you might want them.
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Best linear switches
If you’re looking for a great linear switch that requires no modification out of the box, then Gateron’s latest switch may be the solution for you. The Gateron Oil King comes from the factory pre-lubed and without any of the housing wobble that usually necessitates switch films; you can pretty much use them stock and get the same results as a heavily-tuned switch.
The switches feature a nylon upper housing, a POM stem, and a bottom housing made with the same plastic blend as Gateron’s Ink switches. This provides a fairly deep and consistent typing sound. And inside all of this, there’s a 65-gram spring that finds a nice middle ground in terms of weight, although it can easily be swapped out for something lighter or heavier.
The only issue is that some users report inconsistent lubing, though it will likely level out over time as the switches become broken in, and most users probably won’t notice the discrepancies at all.
An improvement on the venerable Gateron Black Ink, the Gateron Box Ink V2 switches slightly alter the sound profile and greatly improve stability, but still benefit from switch film and lube to bring out their full potential. While they are a bit more expensive than the Oil Kings, the dust-proof stem makes them more resilient, and the proprietary ink material on both the top and bottom housings creates a deeper sound profile.
The only real issue with these switches is the lack of lubing from the factory, but this also provides an opportunity to fine-tune these to your liking — if the 70-gram switch isn’t quite to your liking, or if you want to swap in a different stem, you’ll have a great opportunity to do it when applying lube.
While they may look like standard Cherry MX Blacks, these switches are far from the standard, slightly scratchy switches that you’ve likely encountered before.
The RNDKBD Ultraglides are technically MX Blacks, but these switches have been mechanically worn-in, a process that involves using a machine to actuate each switch an absurd 320,000 times, replicating the “vintage” switches that some enthusiasts will harvest from old keyboards for their buttery-smooth typing feel. These switches do need a bit of extra work to really shine (I ended up putting new springs and Deskeys film in mine), but they don’t need any lube to be smooth. As a result, Ultraglide switches have a certain dry smoothness that can’t be replicated easily.
JWK Jwick Linears are 23 cents per switch, have full nylon housing, and sound great in most keyboards. Plus, they come lubed from the factory, so you don’t need to add any (although it won’t hurt). What more do you need if you’re building a keyboard on a budget?
Overall, JWK’s Jwick linear switches are seen by most enthusiasts as a great starting option thanks to their clean sound profile, multiple spring weights, and their near-constant availability. The springs range from 45 to 65 grams, and the switches create a relatively high-pitched, but clean sound without any spring ping or rattling. They don't compare to the deeper tone of more premium options, but there aren’t many switches that are comparable at such an affordable price point.
The Novelkeys Cream is a strange switch — it starts out scratchy, but over time becomes incredibly smooth. This is because the switches are made from a material that easily wears down and becomes “broken in” over time. If you’re looking for a switch that’s smooth without any lubing or modification, and have the patience to break in your switches on your own, Creams are a great choice (and, in my opinion, it’s really interesting to be able to see a switch being broken in real-time). It can be hard to find standard Cream switches, which have a 70-gram bottom out, though. Novelkeys still has the blue “Launch Edition” Creams in stock, which use a 63.5-gram spring instead.
However, if you’re looking to buy Cream switches on the aftermarket, it’s worth noting that there are two different kinds: The original tooling, which is no longer produced, and the new tooling, which the Launch Edition and new Creams are made from. Here’s a quick write-up on the differences, in case you’re interested.
Best tactile switches
After quite a bit of drama surrounding the “Holy Panda” switch, these switches ultimately came out on top. In most ways, they’re considered the best of the bunch: They’re simple, smooth, sound great, and have a solid tactile bump.
Drop’s Holy Panda X switches have a 60-gram spring, a polycarbonate upper housing, nylon bottom housing, and POM stem — all fairly standard materials for a switch of this caliber. As a result, they’ll help to create a keyboard with a medium-pitched sound. Along with this, they have a fairly strong, yet rounded tactile bump.
In ThereminGoat’s write up on the switches, he compares them to both other “panda”-style switches and the original “Holy Panda” frankenswitches, writing: “This is the only switch [...] that deserves the Holy Panda name” (although the Glorious Pandas do have a similar tactile bump, albeit with more stem wobble).
Coming in at 26 cents per switch, these Akko CS Jelly Purple switches deliver a lot. They have a simple, medium-pitched typing sound, and surprising smoothness for the price. They aren’t perfect by any means, but their accessibility makes them a great option for anyone just starting to look at tactile switches.
While Akko doesn’t provide any information on the materials used in their switches, they provide useful data on the tactility of their switches. Looking at the graphs, it can be seen that the Jelly Purple switch has a fairly sharp tactile bump that actuates just below 60 grams, which provides a responsive, medium-weight typing experience.
Silent tactiles that don’t feel mushy can be hard to come across, but it seems that the Boba U4 switches have it figured out. These tactiles provide a responsive tactile bump and relatively satisfying bottom-out without the typing feel being too inhibited by the silicone silencing materials inside the switch.
The Boba U4 is a good silent switch choice. They’re made from a proprietary plastic mix, and have both 62-gram and 68-gram options, which cover both the lighter and heavier ends of the spectrum. While they do need a bit of lube to really shine, they provide great tactility and a satisfying, muted sound signature without being prohibitively expensive.
With a longer stem and louder sound profile than their silenced counterpart, the Boba U4T is a great switch with a noticeable tactile bump. The switch has a deeper typing sound, and needs only a quick application of lube to both sound and feel great — although the factory-applied lube is often enough.
These switches are made from the same proprietary plastic blend as the silent Boba U4 switches, and have the same offerings of 62-gram and 68-gram springs. While this switch doesn’t have anything unusual to distinguish itself from other tactile options, it’s solid all around and a fantastic option that will shine in most builds.
Zealios are a tried and true premium tactile with a strong bump and a satisfying sound. They’ve been around for years, and the original V1 Zealios were one of the first “premium” custom switches to truly challenge Cherry’s own MX line.
These switches are manufactured by Gateron and use custom-designed molding to create a unique typing feel and experience when compared to any of Gateron’s mainline switches. In addition, the production by a large company means there are countless options for weight: 62, 65, 67, and 78-gram springs are all available stock.
Zealios V2 switches are a bit expensive compared to the competition, but they’re great if you want extreme tactility. These switches have almost no travel time before the bump, and the bump itself takes up most of the travel, meaning that it’s hard to fully bottom-out on these switches after getting past the actuation point.
More mechanical keyboard guides
- Mac users: These are the best keyboards, keycaps, and switches
- 7 ways to make your mechanical keyboard quieter
- How to clean your disgustingly filthy keyboard
- The 8 best USB cables to elevate your custom mechanical keyboard
- Are ceramic keycaps the next big keyboard trend?
- How to lube mechanical keyboard switches and stabilizers