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Switch review: C3 Tangerine v2

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C3 Tangerine v2
Hi Geekhack! This is the first of hopefully many switch reviews I'll be posting here. I encourage you to comment on this thread with opinions, corrections, experiences, photos, typing tests, etc. I also welcome feedback on the writing, presentation/format, etc.

Where to buy:

(As of Jan 15, 2020)

* The Key Company (USA). 10 pack for 6 USD + shipping.
* iLumKB (Singapore). 10 pack for 8 SGD + shipping.

The first version of the C3 Tangerine switch was a custom-colored Gateron linear in two varieties: black bottom with milky top and 67g spring, and all-milky and 62g spring. Only the 67g version was available in a Geekhack prototype run in the summer of 2018. These switches turned out to be very smooth, and are still considered some of Gateron's best linears. The success of the Gateron-made Tangerine switch also kicked off a wave of other group buys for recolored Gateron linears, with whimsical names and a variety of spring weights. This wave was only halted when Gateron refused to accept any more custom-color commissions. It also helped popularize the milky-top and black-bottom configuration that has now preferred by most high-end keyboard builders. (Interestingly, this seems to be a nonstandard switch design since Gateron doesn't seem to have a model number for it, whereas the all-milky switch for example is designated KS-3).

This new run of Tangerine switches could have a similarly big effect on the switch market. These are not made by Gateron, but by a manufacturer known to the West as JWK. This factory first became known for manufacturing the counterfeit ZealPC switches sold by KBDFans in 2019. Later, their involvement in producing switches (and stabilizers) for the Durock and Everglide brands gained them respect on top of their notoriety. JWK-made switches all tend to have some properties in common: they are very smooth, they have low wobble, they have impressively consistent and pleasant-feeling factory lube applied to the slider legs, the springs are not pingy or crunchy, and they react very well to switch films. These are all desirable traits for building high-end custom keyboards, so the community was eager to get their hands on another JWK-made switch.

Adding to the excitement was the announcement that these switches would have housings made of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) and not the typical polycarbonate and nylon blends. UHWMPE itself became somewhat of a buzzword/meme recently when Invyr released a line of linear sliders (without accompanying housings) made of the material. This particular engineering plastic can be difficult to work with and cannot be easily injection molded without special techniques and equipment, but the finished product has a very low-friction surface finish. The UHMW sliders were inconsistent in size and shape, but lived up to the promise of being extremely smooth and many keyboard builders liked their sound when lubed. The community was curious to see how a UHMWPE housing would work out, and this likely helped drive Tangerine v2 sales: The Key Company sold out of their entire stock in less than a week.

First impressions:

Aesthetically, they are very cute, especially the 67g version with the dark green stem. It really does remind me of a tangerine, or a tangerine-flavored hard candy. They don't feel or look unusual to the touch. This is interesting because the UHMW sliders look and feel very different from the typical POM blend switch sliders, so I was expecting the Tangerine v2 housings to look and feel unusual. More on the housing material later.

They clip cleanly into a few switch plates that I tested. They do not grip too firmly and can be easily removed with a proper switch puller tool. The PCB mount legs are sized well; they stay in place on a few PCBs I tested, without being too tight.

They are extremely smooth right out of the bag, probably the smoothest unmodded switch I have ever felt. There is a thin coat of oil on the slider legs, but they are still extremely smooth even after carefully wiping this off. For many builders, these switches will absolutely be good enough to solder without even thinking about modification.

The spring weights seem close enough to their stated values, 67g and 62g. I don't feel or hear any crunch, and not much ping. The force curve feels flat but not extremely flat, with a good amount of preload (WARNING: it's hard to judge springs without typing on a board full of them).

They have very little wobble at rest or depressed. The front-back wobble is slightly greater than Tealio v2, and the left-right wobble is slightly less than Tealio v2.

The stock sound is not very good in my opinion. They are not excessively loud, but sound is somewhat incoherent, with more of a "click" sound rather than a "clack". There is also a slight vibration that's noticeable on top-out and bottom-out. This is similar to the JWK-made Geekmaker and Everglide switches, as well as clear-top Gateron KS-9 switches and the various Zeal v1 switches. Installing TX switch films makes the sound loud, full, crisp, and resonant. With the film the switch also feels more firmly "connected" to itself and the keyboard as a single unit, making the top-out and bottom-out somewhat harsher than without the film. This is similar to how Durock Alpaca switches behave.

Here is a video taken by Discord user Kthrizzy#0001 that clearly demonstrates the effect of films on the 67g version:

The one hangup with these switches is the fact that they don't seem to be made of any exotic material, even if they are exceptionally smooth. They don't look or feel like the UHMWPE Invyr sliders, and people have noted that UHMW is typically opaque or translucent. It's possible that JWK misled C3 and the vendors about the nature of the housing, but it's also possible that they figured out how to make UHMW look like a normal switch housing. Jordan at The Key Company reported on Discord that the datasheet from JWK claims ">= 75%" UHMWPE content, and others have mentioned that UHMW could become transparent depending on the solvents used in the injection molding process.

Usage recommendations:

These switches are great and are worth the price each as long as you like the color and the crisp medium-pitch sound. Do you need to upgrade from milky-top Gaterons which are less than half the price? No, as long as you're planning to lube (or at least film) the Gaterons. But if you are investing in a premium build, C3 Tangerine v2 is a good choice to consider.

If you want a switch that is good to use right out of the bag with no modification at all, either this or Durock Alpaca is now my first recommendation. The ZealPC Tealio v2 used to be the best for this purpose, but its value as the "best stock switch" is now dubious considering how much more expensive they are than the Alpaca and Tangerine.

I personally think the sound and coherence improvement from films is worth the time spent opening and reassembling them. Open them one at a time and avoid wiping off the factory lube, if you don't plan on lubing them yourself. But if you do happen to wipe off the factory lube it's not a big deal. If the factory lube is removed, you might start to notice some scratchiness from the metal contact leaf.

The stock springs are suitable for use as-is. But if you're already opening the switches, you might as well lube the springs just to be safe.

Because these switches are already so smooth, lube choice is entirely a matter of preference. For a small amount of softness and sound dampening, use a low or medium viscosity oil like Krytox VPF 1514 or Krytox GPL 104. Thick grease helps offset the sharp sound and relatively harsh top-out. These are also a good switch to experiment with Christo-Lube and Elitekeyboards Mechlube (if anyone has any left); these greases add a pleasant silky feeling to switches (compared to the "buttery" feeling of Krytox grease), but they don't provide much dampening.

With low-dampening lube or no added lube, I think these switches would pair nicely with FR4 plates (softer feel) or aluminum or even steel (if you really like the crisp feel) in a top-mount or sandwich-mount keyboard. With thick lube I expect them to pair very well with brass, steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber, as well as more rigid keyboard designs like 4mm plate, integrated plate, and tray mount. I think softer plastic plates and plateless/half-plate will not complement these switches very well.

To-do list:

* Detail photos of slider and housing internals
* Caliper measurements of sliders, springs, and housing internals
* Spring weight testing with coins
* Evaluation in a full build & update recommendations
* Comparison with similar switches: Alpaca, Everglide, Tealio, Ink
2020, CC BY-SA 4.0


Great review, keep doing it. Thanks!

Awesome Review. Can't wait for more of them.
I've done a little testing too, I think they sound great lubed and switch filmed. It turns the 'click' into more a 'clack' (as it'll do with most switches). Once they go in a board I think that 'click' will help them keep a little more of their sound which I like. I do think though they have more wobble in all areas than the Tealios V2, but not much more.

Thanks for the detailed write up. It's definitely a good read! Hoping for more for other switches.

Would you be able to provide some form of a side by side comparison with other switches? There was some comparison to Tealios and Alpacas, but would be interested to see a more detailed comparison and inclusion of more switches such as Creams and Inks.

All in all, well done and we need more of this!


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