Author Topic: vintage Cherry MX Blue switch  (Read 6509 times)

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Offline davkol

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vintage Cherry MX Blue switch
« on: Sun, 07 June 2015, 16:40:23 »
I find myself in a weird spot writing this review. I don't even like clicky switches and especially Cherry MX Blue. Nevertheless, I'm documenting vintage MX Blue switches here…

clicky MX switches

First things first. Cherry MX Blue is a relatively light, tactile clicky switch from the Cherry MX family. It was designed with typists in mind: additional tactile bump, hysteresis and audible feedback, compared to the original linear type. The spring is basically the same as in MX Red and MX Brown switches; just under 60cN force is required to bottom out. Both tactile and audible feedback are caused by the stem; see Lethal Squirrel's gifs. You can google "cherry mx force travel" (at Google Images) for feedback and force comparison among Cherry MX switches. You can clearly see that the feedback provided by MX Brown and MX Blue switches is different, although some people (on the Internet, surprise-surprise) claim that it's the same. Actually, it is very similar, if you type rapidly on a keyboard with browns and a click emulator enabled (e.g., Kinesis Advantage w/ a buzzer on). Human brain is fooled rather easily.

Other variants of this switch are MX Green and MX White. The green one features a stiffer spring and can be found under Cherry G80 spacebars or keyboard-wide on some CM Storm or WASD branded products more recently, for example. Ghetto greens can be made by placing stock MX Black springs into MX Blue switches. Modern MX White is stiffer too, but less clicky on the other hand, and very rare. Ergo white is a known mod (a white stem + a lighter spring, similar to ergo clear).

Jailhouse blue is another relatively popular modification. It makes switch travel shorter by blocking movement of the other part of the stem (and therefore the click).

vintage Cherry MX Blue

The molds and materials used to make Cherry MX switches have changed over time. You may have noticed that some older switches have a slightly different logo on the cover. Some people also rave about butter smooth old stems/housings, while others counter them with the claim that it's only heavy wear that smooths out the plastic.

My experience is based upon testing half a dozen Chicony KB-5191 keyboards (made around 1991) in varying condition from NIB to heavily used and filthy. I don't own most/any of them anymore (I'll quote the new owners' opinions at some point though). I have a separate modern MX Blue switch bought from WASD Keyboards in 2013, and an used 2012 Das III Ultimate (CST104) keyboard for comparison. Several switches, or their respective parts, have been put in a modern Cherry G80-1800 keyboard for the purpose of blind testing side by side.

From the modders perspective, each and every MX switch consists of a housing, a spring, a stem and a cover. The former three affect feel, while the latter can be modded dampen the upstroke, but alters only looks otherwise. Let's take a look at differences between newer and older switches that I've owned.

Old housings have a different texture on various surfaces. In terms of feel, housings contribute to smooth operation of vintage MX Black switches, but I haven't been able to notice any difference with MX Blue housings, regardless of stems used. I got a couple of enthusiastic comments from new owners of my switches/keyboards though. No conclusions to be drawn though IMHO.

Cherry Corp. reportedly changed the kind of steel used in springs around 1992. It may affect durability. It doesn't make any difference in feel IME.

There are photos of dark-blue, light-blue and green-ish vintage MX Blue switches floating around Asian keyboard forums as well as Deskthority. All of mine have been the same color, the same as current stock blues. However, newer stems have a distinctive "tooth" on the crossbar, and both feel and sound "sharper". I haven't managed to find any notable difference in the stem itself–with a naked eye though. Old ones are on the other hand "softer", the bump feels a tad bit closer to MX Brown/Clear and the click lacks the high-pitched peak similar to shuffling lego bricks. The change occurred around 1991 or 1992; I've had otherwise identical keyboards from the same batch, that had different stems.

Covers share the same texture with housings. The logo may, or may not be modern. I've found no rule to that.

All in all, it's apparently the stem that matters.

the click

Noise is a common concern. Are blues loud? Bare switches are about as loud as ordinary mouse microswitches. However, keycaps amplify the sound and make it about twice as loud. Thrice as loud, if you bottom out, thus I don't recommend smashing these switches too hard, because it kind of defeats the point of having clicky feedback in the first place.

You may notice some comments about keycaps, case or plate altering the sound of typing. I've tested both vintage and modern MX Blue switches/stems with both thin and thick, ABS and PBT keycaps (OEM profile in either case), as well as on a keyboard with and without a plate. As noted before, modern blues have a sharp, high-pitched click, which might annoy a lot of people. It certainly does annoy me. A metal plate and especially thin keycaps emphasize this effect. On the other hand, vintage stems and PCB mount make the click softer and more approachable. Thick keycaps deepen the sound, but the change cause by using a higher-density material (PBT or POM) is only a miniscular nuance. Surprisingly, the difference caused by thick PBT keycaps was overall negligible in case of PCB-mounted vintage switches.

There's a problem with clicky MX switches though… Some of them don't click at all, or at least sound muted. It's been repeatedly discussed around here. Therefore, you might want to consider alternative clicky switches, although there are fewer keyboards with them and aftermarket keycap options are rather scarce as well.

Buckling spring, esp. in IBM Model M keyboards, is louder and sounds much more metallic, but luckily deeper too. It reminds me of a machine gun or some workshop tools… or a mechanical typewriter, obviously. There's a noticeable ping as well; unicomps ping less IME.

The other quite easily available option is clicky Alps SKCM, most commonly white, or the modern clicky Alps clone by Matias. It's only slightly louder, but more importantly a bit lower-pitched.

It should be noted that buckling springs and many Alps switches or clones are significantly stiffer than Cherry MX Blue though.