How to savor each perfect keypress without waking the neighbors
Sometimes you want to go loud with your favorite hobby and let your mechanical keyboard perform a clicky concerto for everyone within earshot. Other occasions call for subtlety; for the kind of typing experience that still feels good but is less likely to cause partners, roommates, and coworkers to start idly (we hope just idly) plotting your demise. Situations like these call for quiet mechanical keyboard switches.
It may seem like a contradiction in terms if you’re only familiar with the loudest mechanical keyboards and the people who love them, but it’s true. Even the quietest mechanical keyboard switches can provide a typing experience that is precise, satisfying, and sometimes even tactile, all while making barely enough noise to be heard over your computer’s cooling fan. We’re about to introduce you to five of them, but before we do, let’s talk about common features found in the sneakiest of switches.
Check out our comprehensive guide to the world of mechanical keyboard switches.
Jump to a section:
- What makes for quiet mechanical keyboard switches?
- The 5 quietest mechanical keyboard switches
We call them mechanical switches because they’re little machines, made from metal springs and contacts, as well as plastic housings and stems. They have more moving parts than the rubber dome switches common to budget boards or the scissor switches found in Macintosh-style “Chiclet” keyboards, and more moving parts means more noise; ergo, mechanical keyboard switches tend to be louder than others.
That said, certain aspects of design, as well as aftermarket customization, can lead to particularly quiet mechanical keyboard switches.
- Linearity: Linear switches do not have a perceptible “bump” in their travel at the point where the switch actuates (meaning where it sends a keypress signal to your computer). Since these keys simply glide up and down without any particular friction point, they only tend to be noisy when they “bottom out,” which isn’t typically required for effective typing.
- Dampeners: Additional parts can be added to the switch to reduce the amount of noise emitted. These dampeners often take the form of rubber O-rings or foam pads, and they can both absorb shock and lessen rattling sounds. On a related note, simply applying masking tape to the underside of a keyboard’s printed circuit board can make a surprising difference in its sound profile.
- Lubrication: Especially demanding enthusiasts may disassemble their switches and manually lubricate some of the parts inside with specially designed solutions, reducing sound and creating smoother-feeling travel. This should be performed with care, as it is possible to damage or over-lubricate switches in the process. Some switches are sold pre-lubricated, but most come dry from the factory.
Did You Know?:If you’re hunting for a pre-built keyboard that feels amazing without all the racket, check out our guide to quiet mechanical keyboards.
Some switches are built to be especially noiseless in operation. Here are five of the most popular and community-favored quiet mechanical keyboard switches.
The Cherry corporation’s MX switches helped define the shape of the modern mechanical keyboard industry and hobby, but that doesn’t mean their design is dated. Cherry MX Silent Red switches build on the linear fundamentals laid out by the famed Cherry MX Red line with built-in sound-dampening, making what was already a fairly quiet switch extra stealthy. At a cost of $1 more per ten-pack compared to standard Reds ($4.99 versus $3.99), you do pay a slight premium for the peace and quiet, but it’s still hardly a splurge. As linear switches, these are particularly well-suited for gamers who need to register their keypresses as fast as possible.
The Orange Healio line is purpose-built to be almost completely silent for all but the most hard-driving typists. These linear switches are designed to provide extremely smooth travel out of the box without need for lubrication (though you may want to see how they feel with it anyway), and their fully transparent housing means they’re well-suited to RGB-forward keyboard builds. Orange Healios will run you a comparatively steep $12.99 per ten-pack, but that isn’t an unheard of price for boutique-oriented components.
These quiet mechanical keyboard switches from Gazzew are noteworthy because they’re tactile instead of linear: as you press them down, you’ll feel a bump at the point where the key actuates — but you probably won’t hear it. These switches are made to stand at the intersection of silent satisfaction and typing accuracy, making them a standout pick for use in shared spaces by writers, coders, or anybody who wants to feel good pressing keys without making it everybody else’s business. You can pick up ten Boba U4s for $6.50, which is a surprisingly low price considering their build quality and factory lubrication.
Did You Know?:Not sure where to pick up your new keyboard of choice? Let our guide show you the best places to buy mechanical keyboards.
We return to linear switches for the Silent Alpaca Linear set, though this model is set apart by its gasket-mounted stem that features two silencing pads on each side. These pads eliminate rattling noise in the movement of the switch with no lubrication or other aftermarket modifications necessary. The subtle pink of the stem is set off by a slightly smoky translucent housing, making these arguably the best-looking switches on this list. Granted, they’re going to spend most of their time obscured by keycaps, but a little extra style never hurts. These switches are available starting in packs of 50 for $35, which works out to ten switches for $7 for comparison purposes.
Topre switches use a different format than the MX-style switches otherwise featured on this list, but they’re absolutely worth trying out on their own terms. Each switch comprises a conical spring, rubber dome, and electrostatic sensor, with the Type-S variant integrating a silent membrane and other sound-dampening measures to eliminate distracting key chatter. Though keyboard enthusiasts often praise the hearty “thock” of standard Topres, sometimes you want the feel without all the sound.
Topre Type-S switches were created exclusively for use in the HHKB Professional Hybrid Type-S, putting the finishing touch on an adaptable, precise, and satisfying keyboard that you can use anywhere without upsetting the neighbors. For even more options, check out the full range of high-end keyboards from HHKB.