Author Topic: Triple Review - MonsGeek M5W, Ghost Judges WoB, Gazzew U4T 68g  (Read 1743 times)

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Offline applehugger

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Well, after sort of losing interest in keyboard builds over the last few years after purchasing not one, but two used Topre R2 fullsize 55g keyboards (they really are phenomenal), I needed a new keyboard for a garage PC I set up. I bought a cheap somewhat compact $30 hotswap keyboard from Amazon, but it piqued my interest in keyboards again and I decided to see what was out there.

I really got into vintage keyboards, but when it comes to modern stuff, a few years ago, there were basically no options for someone like me who needs a regular fullsize keyboard (or at the very least, any options were prohibitively expensive group buy stuff). I used to buy cheap Chinese mechanical fullsize keyboards, desolder all the switches, and solder in some new ones to try out. After a while I stopped trying switches as I landed on two that were my favorite - Kailh Box Pink and Box Royal. The Pinks are weighted perfectly, have that super sharp and crisp tactility that you get with clickbar switches, and are inexpensive. Box Royals are a little pricier, but they are an MX-style switch with actual tactility, and as someone who likes tactile switches more than clickies or linears, they really scratch that itch in a way that no other modern key can except for Topre. Once you've tried Orange and Salmon Alps, most stuff pales in comparison.

With all that out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the custom keyboard community now has multiple affordable options for people who want a fullsize, custom mechanical keyboard! It's about time - I have nothing against people who like 60% keyboards, but I need to get actual work done in Excel all day, every day, so something that has fewer than 104 keys just isn't for me.


MonsGeek M5W

Ordering and Initial Impressions
I ordered this keyboard directly from MonsGeek, and it arrived exactly one week after I placed my order. This keyboard is a tank. Seriously - I see why people say all-aluminium keyboards can be used as weapons. This thing weighs 5 lbs 6 oz, which is less than a pound off my 122-key IBM Model M terminal keyboard! It was packaged very well and came with a lot of nice extras, including four different key switches, a really cool coiled USB-C to USB-A cable, various items for sticker and force break mods, and a whole second set of screw-in, gold-plated stabilizers (pre-lubed clip-in stabalizers come preinstalled). It did not come with a keycap puller nor a switch puller, which I think is strange. I have plenty of the latter and one switch puller, but it would have been nice to have a cap/switch puller combo instead of four random switches imho.

Despite MonsGeek cautioning that small defects may be present in the anodization, my keyboard is completely defect-free and the black anodization is perfect. Even the inside of the case looks flawless!

Build Process
The M5W uses an acrylic plate and south-facing hotswap sockets. I would have much preferred a metal mounting plate. The keys don't clip into the acrylic very securely, so removing keycaps often partially dislodges the switch. I know that acrylic is supposed to give a softer typing feel, but I definitely cannot notice a difference. This keyboard still has a harsher bottom out than something like Topre (which isn't a bad thing - I appreciate both the soft but firm Topre feel and the harsher feel of traditional mechanical keys. One isn't better than the other).

The keyboard is held together with eight allen-head screws, and I had no issues with those. I was planning on lubing and clipping the stabilizers, but they were already lubricated and completely rattle-free (not even the spacebar stab makes so much as a peep), so I ended up leaving those alone. I think it's cool that screw-in stabilizers were included, but I wasn't going to put in effort replacing the ones on the keyboard that are already better than I've found on any other keyboard.

The hot swap sockets work great, and the PCB accepts switches with fixing pins. This is great - the switches I use have no side-to-side movement. The keyboard also includes foam between the plate and PCB, foam attached to the bottom of the PCB, and loose optional case foam to go in the bottom of the case. I opted to leave all of the foam in place.

A user guide was included, but did not have any information about how to build the keyboard. I didn't need instructions, but for someone just getting into the hobby, all of the various stickers, pieces of foam, extra stabilizers, etc. may be confusing without any guidance.

Programmability and RGB
MonsGeek has a software package for the M5W that controls programming the keyboard and setting up the RBG lighting. I'll be honest - I played around with the lighting for a few minutes but I am not a fan of backlighting on desktop keyboards, so I just turned it off. I can confirm that the RGB does the RGB thing. Each LED is individually addressable, which is nice if you're into that sort of thing.

Although the software can be a little bit confusing when starting out, it is miles better than most keyboard software I've used or seen. It's pretty intuitive, set to English by default, and I did not encounter a single bug while using it. It's definitely more polished than the software from some cheaper Chinese keyboards I've used, some of which is barely functional. I especially appreciate that the software writes changes to the keyboard firmware, so it is not necessary to keep the software running or even installed after setting up key remapping, macros, lighting, etc. The keyboard supports complex macros, multiple profiles, and honestly has more capabilities than I'll ever use. Recording macros was very easy and they all execute flawlessly every time. I tried the Windows and MacOS versions of the software and both were identical.

Wireless Capabilities
Although I don't need a wireless keyboard in my home office, it does look cleaner. I've tried connecting via the included labeled USB dongle, via Bluetooth, and via USB. They all work flawlessly.

The one major issue with this keyboard is that the switch to select between wired mode, Wireless Mac mode, and Wireless Windows mode is underneath the Caps Lock key. What. Were. They Thinking. This is a major pain to access since not only do you need a keycap puller handy if you often switch between wired and wireless modes, the Caps Lock key tends to get unseated when the keycap is removed. I literally have no idea why MonsGeek didn't put the switch on the back of the keyboard like literally every other wireless keyboard I've ever seen.

Overall Thoughts in the M5W
This keyboard is awesome! For a reasonable price, you get an extremely well-built keyboard with excellent software and hardware features. I love the design - it's clean but not boring. Just a few years ago, nothing like this existed, especially nothing in this price range. Although it isn't perfect, I think it is the best option on the market for anyone who wants a custom, all-aluminum full-size keyboard. Monsgeek still sells the M5 (non-wireless version), but it's exactly the same price as the M5W, so there is no reason not to get the wireless version.


Gazzew U5T 68G Switches

As aforementioned, I really like tactile switches. Until the Kailh Box Royal came along, there simply weren't any MX-compadible options. I actually have a keyboard with linear Alps SKCC switches that have a bigger tactile bump than Cherry MX Browns!

I used to daily drive Box Royals, and they are a really awesome switch. I also have a super cool Northgate Omnikey with NOS Pine Black Alps (the same as Salmon Alps and totally different from Bamboo Black Alps), which are my gold-standard for traditional mechanical tactile switches. Box Royals feel a little unrefined compared to Pine Black/Salmon Alps, and they definitely don't sound as good, but they are still a great option for MX-style switches that are actually tactile.

I came very close to putting Box Royals into my M5W, but I decided to see what else was out there. I see that the V2 Zelios switches are now actually tactile (I don't consider V1 Zelios' to be tactile switches), which is a positive change, but the completely outrageous price of Zelios' has unfortunately not changed.

A lot of people on Reddit and various keyboard forums mentioned the Gazzew/Boba U4T tactile switches. What intrigued me about them was their purported smoothness - the somewhat rough and unrefined (although not scratchy) feel of Box Royals is what lets them down compared to Alps tactile switches. Although the U4Ts are very expensive at $0.65 per switch, I splurged on an order of 110 for this keyboard.

Key Feel
Well, in summary, these do not disappoint. I prefer switches that are on the heavier side, and the 68g versions are perfectly weighted for me. The tactile bump, like on Box Royals, Alps tactiles, and Topres, is at the very top of the keystroke and rounded in nature. I prefer more rounded tactility, hence why I tend to gravitate toward tactile switches over clicky ones. The smoothness was not overstated - these are very smooth tactile switches. The tactile bump feels very progressive and just super nice. Although they are a bit less tactile than Box Royals, they are still genuinely tactile switches. I was up to typing at my usual 90 WPM in no time.

Sound
The T in U4T stands for "Thock." Make no mistake - these are not thocky switches. Topres are a million times more thocky, and although I wouldn't describe Alps switches as thocky, Alps tactiles wipe the floor with every other switch type when it comes to sound. If my Pine Black Alps are the London Symphony Orchestra, the U4Ts are whatever is playing on pop radio these days. They sound plasticy, powdery, and thin. The only MX-style switches that escape this overall sound profile are clickbar box switches (and, from what I've heard, the Zeal ClickEZ switches).

I'm gunna be honest - although I love the sound of an Alps keyboard, I don't place much importance on how a keyboard sounds. The U4Ts don't sound amazing, but the sound isn't offensive, and key feel matters way more than sound to me. Although you can parse out minor differences between various MX-style switches, you can't escape the overall sound profile.

Reliability
Having read that U4Ts had a high switch failure rate, I ordered extras, and I'm glad I did. Two switches were dead out of the box. Although I may have been able to open them up and fix them, this is completely unacceptable and inexcusable. I have literally never had any other new switch not work out of the box, and this batch of 110 had two duds. I even ordered 150 NOS Yellow Alps switches a few years ago - they had been sitting for well over 20 years, and yet every single one worked perfectly.

Considering how darn expensive the U4 line of switches is, I am extremely disappointed in Outemu and Gazzew's quality control. I will likely never order these switches again after this experience. I know that two dead switches seems like not too big a deal, but when switches that cost less than half as much have a wayyyy lower failure rate, it really puts me off the product.


Ghost Judges WoB Double-Shot PBT Keycaps

Behold, the best keycaps you can get for under $50:


Don't they look great!? I have a set of BoW GMKs, and although I prefer the sharper font that GMK uses over the more rounded font on these Ghost Judges, that is entirely down to preference. The set came well-packaged in three different trays. Every keycap was defect-free. My spacebar has the tiniest bit of warpage only on the shorter side (the side facing away from you), which is impressive. The legends are consistent, razor sharp, and also defect-free. I actually like how ABS keycaps shine over time as I think a used keyboard looks cool, but there is something to be said about being able to get keycaps like this that are in the same Cherry profile as GMKs, cost one third of what a GMK set costs, and are made out of a more durable material. I mean, how can you go wrong?


Summary

I tend to be long-winded and I'm not sure how many people will read this, but I hope it is helpful. Since full-size custom mechanical keyboards are still relatively rare, I was unable to find many reviews about the M5W. Although the U4Ts are the new hot key switch right now, I couldn't find anyone else comparing it to Box Royals or Alps switches. If you made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read this review!
« Last Edit: Fri, 17 May 2024, 20:29:33 by applehugger »