Fast, precise, quiet, and comfortable, Topre switches are among the best in the mechanical keyboard space
They might not be as famous as the classic Cherry, but Topre switches deliver a memorable and satisfying typing experience that’s hard to get any other way. From the technical details to the pros and cons, here’s everything an enthusiast could want to know about this iconic keyboard component.
Check out our comprehensive guide to the world of mechanical keyboard switches.
Only built by the Japanese manufacturer TOPRE, Topre switches are electrostatic, capacitive keyboard switches that provide many of the features of mechanical switches — like enhanced tactility, reduced noise, and a non-mushy bottom-out — with a uniquely smooth feel.
Topre switches are built with a key switch plunger held above a rubber dome by a key switch housing. Inside that rubber dome is a spring, and a printed circuit board (PCB) is below the spring. When you press a Topre switch, the plunger moves toward the dome, pressing on the spring. As the spring compresses, a sensor on the PCB detects when the electrical capacitance between the spring and the keyboard breaks the threshold necessary to count as a keystroke.
While Topre switches use a spring just like traditional mechanical switches, the bulk of the resistance generated by the switch comes from the rubber dome. They also use an electric current instead of the mechanical activity of a switch to identify when actuation occurs during a key press. Consequently, Topre keyboards have characteristics that other switches cannot replicate.
What makes a mechanical keyboard mechanical is the specific device it uses to register each keystroke: a spring-activated switch inside each plastic keycap. These switches are separate parts and give mechanical keyboards the crisp and satisfying feel they are known for. While they deliver the premium feel of a mechanical switch, Topre switches are constructed a bit differently. They use a combination of rubber dome and spring, and each switch (although a discrete part) is connected to the others via the rubber membrane they share.
These and other subtle distinctions have created debate within the mechanical keyboard community. Some consider Topre keyboards mechanical, some call them semi-mechanical — and a small minority even think they fall outside that definition altogether. That said, this ongoing discussion hasn’t kept Topre keyboards from earning a name for themselves as some of the best in the space.
Topre switches are comparable to the Cherry MX brown, the most popular tactile, non-clicky switch. Generally speaking, Topre switches produce higher-quality thock sounds and have a more crisp feel; they’re also legendary for how smooth and quiet they can be. Topre switches and Cherry MX browns are both fast switches, and neither requires much force to achieve actuation. Cherry MX browns have, however, about double the lifespan of Topre switches, as they tend to last around 100 million key presses.
Did You Know?:HHKBs are consistently ranked the top Topre keyboards by enthusiasts. Read this review by Switch And Click to learn more.
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of Topre switches, let’s look at some of the pros and cons associated with them.
- Lifespan: High-quality Topre switches can take about 50 million keypresses each, which equates to years of nonstop typing. Since the entire keyboard is composed of switches that can each last 50 million keypresses, Topre keyboards should last as long as you’ll ever need.
- Feel: Topre switches are perhaps most notable for their feel. Each key press is smooth as silk, while also providing just enough of a tactile bump to provide noticeable feedback without being distracting.
- Speed: The unique design and light construction of Topre switches makes them incredibly fast under your fingers, making them a popular choice for gamers.
- Precision: The feel and speed of Topre switches don’t take away from their precision. In fact, Topre switch keyboards offer perhaps the most precise typing experience of any mechanical keyboard.
- Sound: Topre switches are well known for their distinct — and satisfying — Thock sound, and silent Topre switches are among the quietest switches on the market today.
- Rarity: Topre switches are only used in a limited number of keyboards, like the HHKB line.
- Price: Mechanical keyboards aren’t usually considered a cheap hobby, but price is still a factor for enthusiasts. Topre keyboards can be priced somewhat higher than comparable keyboards, with premium options typically costing a few hundred dollars.
Topre keyboards have proven to be particularly well suited to programmers, gamers, luxury consumers, and those with wrist issues.
- Programmers: Topre switch keyboards are ideal for software developers and knowledge workers who spend long hours in front of their computer monitors. Programmers need a comfortable, high-accuracy keyboard that can perform over extended use and keep the excess noise to a minimum.
- Gamers: Fast, precise, quiet, and comfortable, Topre switch keyboards are an excellent choice for serious and even competitive PC gamers.
- Luxury Consumers: Because Topre switch keyboards have exquisite feel and provide an unmatched typing experience, they have become particularly popular among luxury consumers and those who just love high-quality electronics.
- Health Issues: Topre switch keyboards also work well for those with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or other bothersome wrist issues. Their design doesn’t demand much movement per keypress, and some models have even been built with advanced ergonomic contouring that can help reduce typing fatigue.
With their compact size, ergonomic design, maximum connectivity, and high customizability, HHKB keyboards set the standard by which all Topre switch keyboards are measured. Interested? Check out our entire selection of adaptable, precise, and satisfying keyboards.