Cherry MX Switches: Choice in Cherry Flavors
There are four most commonly used Cherry MX switches for mechanical keyboards. They are identifiable by the color of their key stem if the key cap is removed — though you should have no problem recognizing them by touch. Below we break down how each switch differentiates itself from its peers. Not-so-coincidentally, these four choices are the four you must choose between with the new RK-9000 lineup.
Cherry MX Blue
The Cherry MX Blue switches are very commonly available inside mechanical keyboards. The feel is very much intended to please the typist audience. When the plunger is pressed, it forces a center piece to push down on the switch until the center piece can push past the switch and activate it. When the plunger is raised by the spring, the center piece is pulled back up and the switch deactivates.
This disconnection between the plunger and the center piece that activates the switch gives the MX Blue its distinct audible and tactile click. While a touch typist can train themselves to move on to the next key after a successful click response, a gamer is unable to ride the activation point multiple times when a single button needs to be mashed over and over. If you find your keyboard is predominantly used for typing then you will likely enjoy the feel — though you will likely not want these installed in a Street Fighter arcade cabinet. We will test whether that latency actually exists later on in the Single-Button Speed Test, but it feels like it does.
The switch also has a reputation for being very noisy. Part of the reputation is that almost synonymous nature of mechanical keyboards and Cherry MX Blue switches in the past. Still, even when compared to other Cherry MX keymodules, the Blue variety is quite loud. If your coworker or significant other has an old gelatin dessert mold expect to find a new “Blue Cherry” flavored snack on your desk in place of your keyboard.
Cherry MX Brown
The Cherry MX Brown switches are considered to be a compromise between the needs of typists and the needs of gamers. The plunger is resting directly against the switch with a slight bump resting between the initial state and the activated state. Once you pass the point of commitment and the switch activates you are given a bit more room before the key bottoms out. When you release the key, the spring presses back up and the switch deactivates at rest under the bump.
If you are typist you will retain some of the bump feel without having a harsh click. If you are a gamer, the activation point is just a hair under the bump and can be driven over and over without the full key travel. Even crossing the bump, the MX Brown switch does not feel the slight lag as the MX Blue counterpart. The plunger does not need to go through an intermediary part to affect the switch.
The MX Brown switches tend to be quite a bit quieter than the MX Blues — this is expected, of course, as the MX Blue switches are designed to click. They are by no means silent but they are often marketed as quieter than Cherry MX Blue mechanical keyboards. For a good comparison, the Razer BlackWidow Stealth keyboards use Cherry MX Brown switches because they are “stealthy” compared to the Blue switches of the original BlackWidow.
Cherry MX Black
The Cherry MX Black switches are considered to be focused on the needs of a gamer. The plunger rests directly against the switch as is the case with the Cherry MX Brown switches though there is no bump to overcome before the activation point. The plunger, when pressed, just responds with a linear resistance; there is basically no feedback that the activation occurred apart from, of course, looking at your monitor.
There is essentially no feedback for a touch typist to signify a successful keypress without needing to bottom out the key. On the other hand, a gamer will typically bottom out their keys and the MX Black has no harsh resistance between the switch’s open and closed states. It is also possible for the user to ride the actuation point if they happen to find out where exactly it is.
The MX Black switches tend to be considered the quietest Cherry MX switch. While there is obviously noise when the plunger bottoms out, there is not really anything else to make noise before then. I expect that the firm spring helps slightly dull the impact as well.
Cherry MX Red
Cherry MX Red switches are also considered optimized for gaming. Red switches do not differ too much from Cherry MX Black switches. The plunger rests directly against the switch and there is no bump to overcome before the activation point. The plunger, when pressed, just responds with a linear resistance and there is basically no feedback that the activation has occurred. The difference between the Red and Black switches is that, unlike the firm press required to activate a Black switch, the Red switch has very light resistance.
A touch typist would probably dislike the MX Red switches as there is no feedback apart from bottoming out that a successful press has occurred; even then, it is said that the lighter spring makes accidental clicks more frequent. Many, but by no means all, gamers enjoy the Red switches because of the light force, quick travel, and no intrusive bump required to activate.
While the MX Black switches are quiet, the MX Red switches are not. I expect the reason why Red switches are louder than Black switches is due to the lighter spring. With a lighter spring, there is less to dull the impact when the key bottoms out.
Cherry MX Red switches are considered rare despite an abrupt resurgence in North America over the last half year. Corsair’s recently released pair of mechanical keyboards both use MX Red switches. In this very roundup review, we get a chance to play around with the RK-9000RE, Rosewill’s Cherry MX Red mechanical keyboard.