Everyone wants a quieter keyboard now. Up until a year ago it may have been “cool” to sport an RGB mechanical keyboard at home, and to geek out on what kind of Cherry switch you preferred. But when everyone’s working from home, clackety keyboards quickly lose their charm.
Sure, you could buy everyone headphones. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to buy a quieter keyboard—for everyone. That means a rubber-dome design, rather than mechanical switches.
Further reading: The best wireless keyboards
We won’t get into the quality of the typing experience, which can be very subjective. Quiet keyboards can be measured objectively, not just by your frayed nerves.
We gathered up five wired keyboards: three mechanical-switch and two rubber-dome models. We placed a calibrated sound meter 2 feet and 45 degrees to the left of the keyboard and then repeatedly typed the phrase “I love the PC” for 30 seconds while logging the sound level.
We then averaged out the noise levels and ranked the five keyboards from worst to best. The results shouldn’t surprise you at all:
- IBM Model M keyboard (buckling spring switches) 65.5 dBa
- Razer Black Widow Chroma (Razer Green Switches) 64.5 dBa
- SteelSeries 7G (Cherry Black) 62 dBa
- Logitech K310 (rubber dome) 58.8 dBA
- HP keyboard (rubber dome) 56.7 dBa
The noisiest model by our measurement is an original IBM Model M keyboard from the 1980s. It uses buckling spring switches, which require more force to type on than most modern keyboards but provides that solid clunk when you press the switch. The original manufacturer still makes and sells the "New Model M" IBM keyboard for $105. Unless you want to be banished to the basement, however, we recommend you avoid this keyboard.
Next on our list is Razer’s classic Black Widow Chroma, using Razer Green switches. We were honestly surprised that the Black Widow Chroma was as loud as it is. Unlike the ker-chunk sound of the IBM Model M, the Razer Green switches have crisp and snappy release that we didn’t perceive as being almost as loud. Granted, 1dBa is a significant increase in sound.
Razer no longer sells the BlackWidow Chroma, but we suspect most keyboards using its Green switches will be similar. There's hope for Razer faithful: The company also markets a set of quieter mechanical switches that are usually dampened with O-rings. For example, the Razer BlackWidow Elite (about US$140 on Amazon) offers RGB and orange dampened switches.
Also rather noisy was an elderly SteelSeries 7G keyboard with Cherry MX Black switches. At 62 dBa, it was clearly quieter than the Model M and the Razer Black Widow Chroma, but we attribute some of that to the worn-out switches. SteelSeries no longer sells a Cherry MX Black, but the SteelSeries Apex 3 RGB (US$50 on Amazon) gives you 10-zone lighting with what it calls a Whisper Quiet Gaming Switch. That’s a way of saying it’s a rubber-dome switch without horrifying mechanically-obsessed gamers.
There's no denying the audible difference between a rubber-dome keyboard and mechanical switches. You can see that with the fourth keyboard we looked at: Logitech’s washable K310 (about US$55 on Newegg), which averaged out to 58.8 dBa.
The only quieter keyboard we looked at was the free HP keyboard. You know the one we’re talking about—it came “free” with every OEM PC you’ve ever purchased, whether you wanted it or not. If you don't have a stack of them in your garage, you can buy the HP USB Slim Business Keyboard for just US$15 on Amazon. That is a very small price to pay indeed for peace and quiet at home.