Throughout the past year of switch releases, the mechanical keyboard community has been blessed with a number of new manufacturers and switch technologies unlike any year before. However, even as the community continues to grow and evolve in its tastes and new vendors pop up to fulfill the desires of these new keyboard hobbyists, clicky switches are still as prevalent as ever. In spite of clicky switches being the least popular choice for more established hobbyists from among the big three types of switches - linears, tactiles, and clickies - clicky switches are still being included in prebuilt options from up and coming brands like Keychron and Lofree, brands which are unbelievably far from the days of OEM-only switch options. In fact, these companies are even expanding beyond the traditional blue colored, traditional MX-mount style of switches as well when it comes to their clickies. Given the fact that clicky switches seemingly won’t be going anywhere any time soon and receive so little coverage from more established keyboard community members, it is probably worth laying out the roughly three categories of clicky switches which beginners will encounter when they first enter the hobby. After all, a surprising number of people throughout the years have started their mechanical keyboard journey with a prebuilt clicky keyboard!
#1. “Click Jacket” Clicky Switches
Figure 1: Popular click jacket clicky switches including Razer Greens, Cherry MX Blues, and Gateron Greens.
The oldest noise producing mechanism within the traditional, MX-style switch footprint is that of ‘click jackets’. First debuted by Cherry in the 1980’s, this mechanism relies on a two part stem construction with a loose, movable piece of plastic fixed onto a stationary portion of the stem. As the stems of a click jacket switch are pressed inwards, the movable jacket will bounce up and down several times over, producing a distinctive rattly, plasticky click noise when past the point of actuation in the switch. Having been around for nearly 40 years, nearly every switch manufacturer has at one point or another attempted making their own variations of this mechanism, with some of the more recognizable modern variants for newcomers being Cherry MX Blues and Razer Greens. As a result of the common occurrence and long history of this mechanism, manufacturers have worked out the cheapest and most efficient ways to produce these kinds of clicky switches and thus they often are on the lower end of switch costs ranging sub $0.40 per switch. However, that is not to say that that price is necessarily based purely on efficiency of production, though, as it has something to do with the perceived quality of the mechanism as well. As was glossed over when briefly describing this mechanism in action, click jackets are a tad inconsistent in the sound that they produce, with each keystroke carrying some combination of pingy metallic tones as well as grinding plastic tones depending on how hard and fast the switches are pressed.
#2. “Click Bar” Clicky Switches
Figure 2: Various click bar clicky switches produced by Kailh throughout the years.
Not even 1/4th the age of the click jacket mechanism and yet significantly more refined, the ‘click bar’ mechanism is what produces the pristine clicking noises present in most of the premium clicky switches available to date. Debuted and almost exclusively championed by Kailh, who only came into the switch production market as early as 2015, this mechanism comes in the form of a thin metal pin attached to the bottom housings of a switch that is raked over by a fixed outcropping on the stem when it is pressed inwards for a keystroke. As the small outcropping rakes over the metal pin, it causes it to bend and then snap back into its original position, producing a sharp tactile feedback and rather loud, but pointy clicking sound. Unlike the click jacket mechanisms which are a bit more prevalent across all manufacturers, Kailh is really the only manufacturer which produces clicky switches with this sort of design and so they can demand whatever price point they want, with current offerings ranging anywhere from $0.35 per switch for their cheapest, most bland designs all the way up to $0.75 per switch for premium, seasonally relevant or festive offerings. Further differentiating them from click jackets as well, the sounds produced by click bar switches are often much louder, more clear, and sharper and are often heralded by more seasoned keyboard enthusiasts as the ‘superior’ clicky mechanism, even if that is just their opinion. In the case of famous click bar clickies like the Kailh Box Navies or Kailh Box Jades, their noises produced are often compared to pens clicking or staplers firing in terms of their tone and overall volume!
#3. …Other Clicky Switches
Remember all of those innovations that I alluded to at the start of this article? Well, a good amount of those developments revolve around new noise-producing clicky switch mechanisms that are currently fairly uncommon in their execution and not exactly widespread (yet). Grouping them all together as a result of their less established presence may be a touch misleading to you all, though, as you may think that all of these new clicky switches produce sound in the same way and they don’t. Take TKC Blackberries, for example - these switches use an ‘Aristotle-style’ mechanism based on vintage Aristotle switches which is similar to click jackets in execution, but with a few more fixed points to make their sound a bit more consistent. Well what about Zeal Clickiez? These 3-in-1 switches use click leaves which are small, folded pieces of metal that act like click bars, but while being more robust and producing sounds similar to community favorite vintage Alps switches. Or even toss in the radically different “snapple cap” style plate spring mechanism in Novelkeys’ new Cream Clickie switches, which produces sound by having the stem press into and warp a thin metal plate to produce a clicking noise, and you can understand why I’ve sort of lumped all of these new, intriguing switches together. To assume we’ve seen all of the possible different ways that sound can be produced in clicky mechanical keyboard switches would be foolish of us, and I’d imagine within a year this third, ‘everything new and interesting’ category will have continued to grow.
And with all of that information packed into just these few short paragraphs, I’m sure you’re now an expert on all the different types of clicky switches out there. If you’re feeling slightly less confident about your understanding, though, I can’t possibly encourage you enough to do some testing of your own! Like anything in the mechanical keyboard hobby, preference is always king, and even though you may have some idea of how to differentiate some of the different clicky switches out there now, you likely won’t know which sound best for you until you test them out on your own keyboards. Or, if you don’t quite feel like splurging out on switches just yet and want to learn some more first, maybe you should check out my other articles on ‘Just How Different Similar Linear Switches Are’ or ‘How I Categorize Tactile Switches’.