Back on Keyboards – Is premium worth it?

Whilst I was typing I had a thought for a different article. When it comes to keyboards and their accessories, is there a real difference between budget friendly and premium? Let’s explore.

I think a good way to approach this is to separate the varying components of a keyboard and compare them individually. I have premium and budget examples of all.


These are probably the most overpriced in the hobby. I bought a set of GMK Kaiju keycaps from at a cost of $150. They are very nice and fit the idea of the board I was making, but they are in no way worth $150. Thankfully the community is starting to wise up to this and is moving towards alternative options. GMK is considered the best on the market, and they are frequently unavailable and are struggling to fulfill orders. Yet, when I look at various websites, there are always new GMK sets available on group buy.

So, this seems to me that GMK is producing very limited numbers of their sets, forcing people to pay large sums for sets that they particularly want. Social media commentators like to try and justify why GMK are better than their rivals, but the logic they use just doesn’t wash with me. The quality of the keycap is measured in its material, thickness, and printing quality. Let’s break those down:

  • Material: This will be the eternal debate between ABS and PBT. I can’t tell the difference. Just make sure they are double shot, and you are all good.

  • Thickness: Generally, the thicker the better. In this area, I do agree. Thinner, cheaper keycaps sound horrible and feel even worse. They do feel cheap. However, there are plenty of budget options here that are just as good as GMK. I use AKKO keycaps on a number of my boards, and I think they are really good. They come in many different heights – ASA, OEM, and Cherry are the most popular and I have examples of each. So, there is some overlap here, I would stay clear of the very cheap sets, mid-priced sets are your best bet.

AKKO’s Midnight Double Shot PBT Set
  • Printing quality: This is where people try and justify the cost of the more expensive sets. Often the examples they show, you would need to get out a microscope to spot the difference. Unless you were super obsessed, you would never notice the difference and may not even see it if it’s pointed out. What is usually not debated is that double shot injected caps are the better quality, with dye-sublimation usually found on the cheaper sets.


I think overall this is where a premium stabilizer has a clear advantage over a budget one. Budget ones can still be made to sound good, but they take more work. Most agree that Durock screw-in stabilizers are the best, but this is being challenged by Owllab V2 stabilizers which purport not to need modding to sound good. A poorly tuned stabilizer is usually the cause of your rattly space bar or enter key, and this is almost invariably because the stabilizer is a cheap one.

There are various mods that can be done to make the sound better such as the holey or band aid mod, as well as lubricating the stabilizer with Krytox 205G0, Krytox XHT-BDZ, or Dialectric grease. Sometimes though, this just isn’t enough. This is because the stabilizers themselves are lose, the metal wire is not perfectly straight, or they are just flat out the wrong size. As stabilizers are one of the least expensive components of the board then I would certainly recommend getting good quality ones.


There are literally hundreds of switches out there with all sorts of different properties from colors, feel, materials, springs, and sound profile. And in my opinion, these are like wine. If you like a switch, then you like the switch. No one switch is really better than another. As an example, I have JWICK Blacks and Gateron Oil Kings. Both look the same, both a lightly factory lubed, and both feel nearly the same stock. The JWICK’s are £2.50 for 10 and the Gateron’s are £6.00, nearly three times the price. I really couldn’t recommend one over the other.

The nearly indistinguishable JWICK Black and Gateron Oil King

Going back to the wine analogy, if you like Lambrini then you are lucky, but if you like a Domaine G. Roumier wine, well it still is wine at the end of the day! I have some lovely switches that are very different in feel, such as the Durock POM and the AKKO Starfish. Both are linear and I like them both equally. The Durocks retail at £7.50 for 10 and the AKKO for £13.99 for 35. The easiest way to illustrate the cost variance is how much it would cost to deck out a 65% keyboard with 70 switches.

The Durock would be £52.50 and the AKKO £27.98. That’s a big difference. Both benefit from lubing and filming, so really it comes down to personal preference. Similarly, I think that Tecsee Purple Panda’s are just as good as their more expensive cousin the Glorious Panda.

Sometimes though there is merit in purchasing a good factory-lubed switch. It can take away the investment in time and money in lubing each individual switch. It does take dedication and time to do this, and some switches are almost as good from the factory. Some of the best are the Gateron Oil Kings, KNC Keys Red Jackets, and Prevail Epsilon Switches. These tend to set you back from £6 to £7.50 for a bag of 10. There are some notable exceptions with the aforementioned JWICK Blacks, and AKKO’s Diced Fruit switches being on the cheaper side.

The Actual Board

This is a bit harder to quantify as I only have 1 board that is considered premium. I have several boards that collectively cost well over £300, but these are not considered premium boards, they are budget boards with premium components. As a novice and not an Engineer, it’s difficult for me to tell the difference in quality between the £134 AKKO Mod 007V2 and the £429 Phase One 65. Both are aluminum and gasket mounted. Both come with case foam and a polycarbonate plate. Both have hot-swap PCB’s and weigh as much as a bag of cement. So why is one 4 times the price of the other?

To my untrained eye; not a clue. Both have some lovely design features and high-quality finishes. The knob on my AKKO does hit the side wall a little bit which is a shame, but this doesn’t really mean it’s worth 4 times less than the Phase One. Both sets of stabilizers were replaced and, in any case, stabilizers don’t justify a premium price tag. The real reason for purchasing a premium board is exclusivity. Premium Boards are usually limited in number and budget is usually readily available.

This means that the setup costs for the premium boards are far more expensive as only a small number will be produced. They can also have more unique design features than budget boards but this again isn’t always the case.

My Drop ALT – AKKO ASA Keycaps and Lubed AKKO Starfish Switches

If I must give an honest opinion, I do not really believe that the premium price tag is worth it. If you are after a keyboard with an extremely specific design feature then you are going to have to look at the premium market, but in terms of build quality and sound, well even a cheap board can achieve that with the right modifications. And to be clear, even the premium boards need modifying.


The realm of the custom keyboard is a strange one. A lot of it comes down to personal preference. There are some areas where paying more, does genuinely mean that you are getting a better product. I have some amazing feeling switches and stabilizers and they are not cheap ones. To counter that, I have some budget chassis that sound just as good as a premium board.

The uniqueness of a premium board can be a draw if that is important to you, and some do have some pretty striking design features. Budget boards can feel cheap, but others feel remarkably similar to ones 4 times their price. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference, you can make a budget board feel premium with enough modifications, but it isn’t as unique as a premium.

Happy gaming!

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